After nine riotous weeks of episodes, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law wrapped up its first season earlier this fall. The live-action Disney+ series followed the journey of Jennifer Walters / She-Hulk (Tatiana Maslany), a high-profile lawyer whose life is turned upside down when she gets gamma-related superpowers. The first season of She-Hulk was jam-packed with delightful and unexpected moments — as well as some new VFX techniques, which were used to bring Jen’s She-Hulk form and a wide array of other elements to life.
One of the more subtle examples of this was carried out by the team at FuseFX, which worked on multiple CGI components of the show, including “set extensions” that added real-world elements to the windows of Jen’s apartment and the GLK&H law office. The team also contributed significantly to the The Incredible Hulk homage in the show’s season finale, as well as other crucial components of the show. In celebration of She-Hulk recently wrapping its first season, ComicBook.com spoke with supervisor Josh Galbincea all about the technical and aesthetic components of FuseFX’s work on the show.
ComicBook.com: What made She-Hulk a project that you and your team wanted to be a part of?
Joshua Galbincea: FuseFX has history with Marvel. We’ve done other shows for them before, [like] Loki. So, we were already connected with Marvel and the Atlanta office. A lot of She-Hulk was shot down here in Atlanta, so it just made sense to move some of the work to our location. When I found out about that, I actually told my supervisor, “Marvel, that’s me. I want it,” and the rest is history.
Since you’ve worked on other Marvel projects and DC projects — are you a comic book fan? And if so, what is it like to work on these projects?
Yeah. I’m a fan boy of everything Marvel, and a lot of DC. I grew up reading comics. My dad collected comics and action figures and stuff like that. So I’ve always been involved or around that comic book culture, epic stories and whatnot. For me, it’s a dream come true. It’s just so much fun to bring the larger-than-life kind of characters to the screen. I’m not sure why it hits more than it ever has with today and people, but I think we just appreciate heroes, and we appreciate heroes that aren’t perfect. There’s an entertaining aspect of it. It’s cool to see people with powers and things that we don’t have, but I think the real power is in watching these flawed characters overcome crazy circumstances and things. That’s what makes you connect with those kind of people and stuff like that.
Growing up, I was a fan of Spider-Man and I still am. You have Spider-Man, but you have Peter Parker who related to almost everybody as this nerdy kid who was picked on in high school. I think a lot of people can relate to that, and I think it’s cool. And a lot of people relate to She-Hulk as well.
Can you describe exactly how VFX set extensions work, especially in instances like She-Hulk where they’re more subtle?
That’s invisible effects. Invisible effects are literally in 98% of all content made from the last ten years, and will be that way moving forward for forever. The two biggest things for us were the law offices and Jen’s apartment — anytime you’re inside of the law office or Jen’s apartment, which is a huge chunk of the show, is all blue screen, set extension work from outside. The apartment building might’ve been easier to find somewhere in Sherman Oaks or somewhere like that, where you could rent the space and do that.
The law offices are a little bit more tricky, because when you’re shooting on a location like that, it becomes a difficult thing to make sure it’s the right angles and things like that. I think for Marvel, and for us working with Marvel — one of the biggest things about shooting blue screen versus reality is that you can art direct after the fact. [And] we know that Marvel is huge into their aesthetic and getting everything perfect, so if you’re on the 40th floor of a law office in downtown Los Angeles, you have no control over the sun. But if you’re on a stage, you can light it any time of day you want and put the background in there. And then after the fact, if you want to rotate it a little bit or move a building left — let’s say there’s someone sitting and there’s a little building poking up behind their head, you can rotate the background just a little bit, and break reality just a little bit, where no one notices. It creates, more compositionally, a beautiful shot.
We did that, literally, for every shot that we did inside of Jen’s apartment and the law offices, where we would make little tweaks here or there. Just to try to get everything to be compositionally perfect.
I did want to ask about the law offices, because I’ve watched every episode multiple times and I would find myself looking at the LA skyline, and trying to triangulate where the office is. What was it like trying to recreate that, and being able to bend reality a little bit, but still have it be something that was recognizable?
Before coming to Atlanta, I was LA-based for 13 years. It’s funny, because being in the industry, I’ll see movies or TV shows and I’ll be like, “That’s right around the corner from my apartment!” It’s just really funny. So for us, we had really, really high-res maps of downtown Los Angeles that Marvel provided for us. They were High dynamic range, multiple times of the day. So basically, in 3D, that became our skyline. Then, we took a detailed 3D model of downtown Los Angeles, and then basically Marvel gave us kind of a Northeast, Southwest kind of approach of “Okay, the conference room is facing this way, Jen’s office is facing this way. Pug’s office is facing this way. Nikki’s office…” They also provided 3D set scans of the entire law office.
So we basically did what’s called layout, where we took that office building, we plopped it into downtown Los Angeles in an accurate layout of where we wanted that building to be. Then, we were able to set up the background. We did all custom tools that we created for our artists. Like if they said “Hey, I have a shot with Nikki’s office.” Okay, well then you can use this gizmo, or this tool, and it’ll bring up the background and the camera angle for Nikki’s office. And then after the fact, they could have sliders and adjustments that would slightly rotate or move the background as needed so they could do a lineup or match. Then the artist had another layer of control, where they could rotate to help that compositional thing that I was talking about earlier. We did that for literally every angle, every shot that we had of that office.
It was quite the undertaking. The majority of that was setting that up. A huge chunk of time was setting that up. That way, when we got to the compositing side of the VFX shots, it was already laid out for the artist, and they could make those final little adjustments and tweaks. A huge undertaking, but super, super, super fun.
I also was really fascinated to learn that She-Hulk is the first Marvel project in HDR. How did the specifics of that impact the work in that you and your team ended up doing?
It’s a lot more complicated than just 4K. Personally speaking, I think HDR is the future of better content. 4K, 8K, 16K — at some point, you get diminishing returns. The cool thing about High dynamic range is that your eye can perceive way more stops of latitude than current TV and technology can show. HDR is just another step to get us closer. You can get deeper blacks, brighter brights, richer colors, and I think that is way better of a storytelling tool than resolution.
But for us at FuseFX, we had to overcome some challenges. Everyone, actually, had to overcome challenges, because this is the first time any studio has dealt with Marvel mastering in HDR. It used to be, back in the day, the outside of a window would be clipped white, and there would be no detail back in that area. It would just be pure white. That’s not the case with HDR, though. So a lot of shots inside of Jen’s apartment — let’s say the morning time — there’s a little breakfast nook area that she sits at, and you’d have shots where you would have a blown out window outside. But if you were to expose down the shot, all of that detail would be back there, including color. You could have a shot that looks bright white, but if you were to expose down, it would be green trees and all that stuff.
So, [there were] a lot of challenges to overcome there, because we had to comp extra careful, to make sure things were physically accurate. And obviously, this is Marvel, and we need to go above and beyond and make things great. We had to build a bunch of internal tools to make sure artists could check their work, make sure that their values and colors and all of that stuff look correct at the brightest brights and at the deepest blacks. It was hard, because coming out of the pandemic, it flipped the industry on its head. And a lot of people are work from home — so not only is it hard to review in HDR internally at the office, which had some challenges — but then you have the challenge of, if an artist is working from home, are we transferring HDR over the Internet to their computer? And even if we are, do they have personal HDR screens that they can view that on? That’s why we had to come up with a bunch of internal tools, to help the artists check different values and stuff like that, to make sure everything looked correct outside.
I think that’s probably the way things are going to be from now on for Marvel. Because the cool thing about HDR is, it’s backwards compatible. If you have a shot that looks good in HDR, chances are you can clip off those brights and put it into SDR. The problem before was that you were doing two times the amount of work — you were mastering for SDR, standard dynamic range, and then HDR. And then, after the fact, when VFX studios would supply their work and they would start to tweak in HDR, they’d realize, “Oh, we need extra tweaks.” So, it was a little bit of a learning curve for everybody. But I think, for all of the studios involved, including Marvel, we found some really cool ways to be forward-thinking and move forward with HDR first.
Chances are, your phone can display High dynamic range images now. So I think that’s where the content is going. You can’t even go to Costco and buy a $500 TV that’s not HDR at this point. All screens are going HDR, from the smallest ones in your hand, or the biggest ones you can fit in your house. I think that’s exciting, and I’m really glad that we got our feet wet on this project with that. Even new things, like the way that glass can refract a huge bright light, or She-Hulk’s skin reacts to something. These are all important things to be able to show that add to the realism. It makes you feel like your eye is actually seeing something that’s real.
I really loved the Incredible Hulk homage in the finale, and I loved hearing that FuseFX helped contribute to it. What was it like to go into that footage and recreate it, and alter it into what we ended up seeing?
That was actually super fun. I didn’t grow up with the original show, but I remember watching reruns in my grandparents’ basement, on their little tube TV back in the day, because they had that forever. So I was very familiar with the original ’70s Incredible Hulk, and Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. So for me, it was super fun working on that. I loved working on that. That’s kind of like my Man of Steel moment. When I got to work on Man of Steel and I showed up to work like, “I’m making Superman fly. This is incredible.” That was the same thing, where it’s just like, “I’m a part of previous history and modern history, both at the same time.”
I’m so glad that Marvel did that. It’s just a really genius on multiple levels. It’s a love letter, it’s super cool and it’s a super stylized opening. But also, in the last episode, it completely adds to the whole meta [element], which the whole show crescendoed into in that last episode. It’s this very, very meta moment that was super rad.
Marvel actually got original film scans from the TV show. And when we work on shots, we work on something called handles, which is the shot, first frame, and the last frame. But we work on extra frames outside of that, just in case they want to slip the edit a little bit. But for that sequence, we couldn’t, because they had film scans from the TV show, but the camera masters were long gone. So we worked in and out from the first frame to the last frame of that sequence, because that’s literally all they could pull from the scan. It was a one-to-one, shot-for-shot, frame-to-frame recreation of that.
[Marvel] provided us those film scans, obviously, in a digital working file. And there was a lot of work to do on it, because we preserved as much of the original film scan as we could. There’s a shot where Jen Walters — or, I should say, Bill Bixby’s Bruce Banner — is in the chair, and the chair is turning while he is looking at that old screen. We painted him completely out, and preserved as much as the original paint as we could. Then we had a shot of Jen Walters in the chair doing the same thing as Bruce Banner. We had to color grade, put her in, do a little bit of degradation to help it match that old ’70s film stock look. And then, because his hands are covering the control panel, we actually recreated that entire control panel in CG, so it matched where her hand placement was. Then we had to do a little bit of warping, a little bit of projection on 3D, to make it all fit and look photo-real.
It was a lot of work. It’s so cool, because when you see it, you can go find it on YouTube, the clip of Bruce Banner and it’s one-to-one. It was super fun working on that whole thing. And we did that for every single shot. There’s a shot where Lou Ferrigno was flipping the car, and we painted him out and then put the bodybuilder standing in for She-Hulk. It was really cool to just be a whole part of that thing, and to see it come together. And even the voiceover, the old school, raspy voiceover. It was just so cool to be a part of that and to see it come together. We loved it, and I know Marvel loved it. It was just awesome.
What would you say surprised you the most about the experience of working on She-Hulk?
It pushed our team to the limits, in a good way. I was surprised by joy. It was more rewarding than I thought it would be, especially with the magnitude of work that we had. I was absolutely completely humbled by my team and the supervisors, the artists, everyone coming together. The long days, the problem solving. I’ve supervised shows before, maybe or maybe not to this magnitude, but definitely not to the standard. So it was really hard, because we were going in and looking at every single pixel and making sure it was perfect. There’s a lot of argument of “Do you really need to do that? Is this good for the story?” Well, yeah. They’re not the best of the best if you’re not making it the best. So, you got to make it the best you can be.
It was no easy feat, but I was just absolutely floored by the support that I had from my company, that I had from my team. How we all banded together, rolled up our sleeves, put our work boots on, and just got our hands in and got dirty and got it done. Some shots were way easier than others, and other shots went back and forth. But at the end of the day, I think it is just a really, really cool experience to be a part of, and see even the small amount of work that we had on a large -cale show like that.
As a Marvel fan, what was your favorite fan reaction to the series overall?
Literally everyone, even the trolls, loved the [Incredible Hulk] recreation. But I think a lot of people, including myself, really like how Marvel does this really cool thing of taking past characters from weird different versions. Like Abomination, that’s him from a different Hulk, but in this. I personally love, and I love to see them… I don’t want to say right the wrongs, but blend. They acknowledge their past. They don’t just shy away from it, and make 15 different Batmans. No offense. That’s not a statement. But they embrace it in a way that’s kind of tongue-in-cheek. But also ,it’s the MCU, so who’s to say there’s not a weird crossover or weird thing that happened or whatever. Or maybe Abomination is the same in all universes, and we just happened to have watched a different one? It’s really cool to see previous characters from Marvel’s universe also into this one.
The other thing that I think was really awesome was the first episode. I think the timing and the amount they had in it was perfectly-paced. I’m a huge fan of The Hulk, and it’s always good to have Mark Ruffalo in that role. I personally want more of him — [crosses fingers] Planet Hulk, hopefully. It would be good to see to get back a little bit of the raging Hulk. It was really cool to see that episode, because I feel like that’s such a good pacing, and a good amount of fourth-wall breaking to ease you into the show. Just to watch their dynamic together was really fun. Arguably the show’s not my demographic, but I absolutely loved it, and I thought it was perfectly-paced, and just the amount of right kind of funny. It could have been the wrong director, the wrong writing. It could have been really, really cheesy, but I thought it was perfectly balanced and really, really well done.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into this field and do what you do?
Oh man, this is tough. Okay. I’m going to make a few points here. You can always become a better artist. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, you can work hard at it and you will get better. So don’t let the fact that you can’t draw, that you don’t know 3D modeling software, or even if you do that you don’t have any good ideas, to hold you back. Just keep pressing at it, and you will become a better artist through either natural gifting or hard work. Both are attainable. One is given to you, the other one is earned, but you can have it if you want it.
The second thing is — you don’t need to go to college. Some people want to, and it helps them have the structure and the form to do so, but you don’t need it. I’ve been in the industry 15 years. No one’s asked me my GPA, where I went to college, what I studied, any of that. The only thing my degree did for me was, it helped me travel internationally for work, and then I met my wife at college. So I wouldn’t trade either of those things for anything else, but your grades don’t matter. Your subject doesn’t matter. If this is something that you want to do, decide whether you want to go or don’t want to go. Me personally, aside from meeting my wife, I probably would’ve just taken out $90,000 and moved to LA right away, and just got started sooner.
And then the third thing, fail as much as you can, and as often as you can. This is something I’m preaching to myself right now as well, because there’s so many things that I’m afraid to start. In my career, there’s been a lot of stumbles and stuff. I wish I would’ve started stumbling earlier, and just got it done and out of the way. If you want to get in visual effects, don’t be afraid to just start and make bad art and make bad videos, whether you’re uploading them to YouTube or showing them to the family. Show them to somebody — preferably YouTube, or somewhere where you can get non-biased feedback. But yeah, I would say don’t let fear hold you back. Just start and fail as much as you can, because it doesn’t matter if you’re in any career for a year or fifty years. You’re still going to fail, and you’re still going to learn new things, so don’t be afraid of that.
Season 1 of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is now streaming on Disney+. If you haven’t signed up for Disney+ yet, you can try it out here.
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