‘Avengers: Infinity War’: Why Josh Brolin Had to Stand on Tables While Playing Thanos

It’s hard to think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as being underappreciated, but in a way, they are. And of all places, they tend to be underappreciated in their visual effects work. 

It’s common knowledge that visual effects cram shots of almost any given Marvel movie, especially the more recent ones. So when someone asks “How did they do that?” it’s all too easy to answer, “With a computer.” While that may be superficially true, behind-the-scenes photos still reveal some clever tricks, particularly for bringing Thanos to life – and not all of them are made with keyboards and mice. 

Josh Brolin smiling
Josh Brolin | Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

How did VFX create Thanos? 

Thanos is basically a very large version of Gollum from the  Lord of the Rings movies. That series pioneered what are called motion-capture effects, where an actor on set wears a suit that tracks their movements and feeds data into a computer. Visual effects artists take this data and build effects around it, with the goal to make for a more convincing illusion than creating a character entirely from scratch. 

In fact, according to Hollywood Reporter, some of this work was done by the same company that worked on Gollum: WETA Digital, the VFX company that made the Lord of the Rings movies. They and Digital Domain, a company originally co-founded by James Cameron, helped turn Josh Brolin into an eight-foot-tall hulk with a small h. 

“Joe Russo [who with brother Anthony directed the film] came up with the idea of telling the story more from Thanos’ point of view. Thanos went from supporting villain to one of the main characters driving the plot,” VFX supervisor Dan Deleeuw said. That meant the team had their work cut out for them, and by most accounts, they delivered spectacularly 

What do fans think of the Thanos effects?

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On a recent Reddit forum, a fan showed a picture of a scene with Chris Hemsworth and Brolin, with Hemsworth in Thor costume minus arm coverings, and Brolin in his mo-cap suit standing on top of a platform so that Hemsworth will have something to look up at. This is from one of the most famous scenes of the movie, where Thanos taunts Thor by saying, “You should have gone for the head.” 

Fans are impressed by these pictures, partly because they show how effects are used in places where they don’t appear to be. One fan said, “It’s crazy to me to the only real thing in the final image is chris himself, even the arms have a digital image over them. I never would have guessed the armored arms was digital, always thought it was a costume. Infinity war is hands down one of the greatest achievements in digital special effects.”

Another fan guessed, “The reason why his arms are digital is likely to avoid folding in the material they were made of in past movies. As skintight muscular scalemail doesn’t really exist and wouldn’t bend the way they want it to look?”

Have the Oscars recognized Marvel’s VFX?

As successful as Marvel Studios has been so far, not one of their 23 films has won the Visual Effects award from the Oscars. Several movies have been nominated, including the very first MCU title, Iron Man. But it lost to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Iron Man 2 lost to Inception. The Avengers lost to Life of Pi, Iron Man 3 lost to Gravity, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy lost to Interstellar, Doctor Strange lost to The Jungle Book, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lost to Blade Runner 2049.  

And yes, the two films in which Thanos played the biggest role lost too. Infinity War lost to First Man, and Endgame lost to 1917. At least Thanos will always have the snap.