Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Already getting some great buzz on my latest piece, the MOE for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Here is the first article. It shares a bit about how the job came to fruition, its impact on my business and my amazing team of artists and producers that brought this piece to life.

I'm looking forward to sharing the work... But that will have to wait to the Blu-ray comes out. So check it out in theaters, I highly recommend seeing it in 3D!

In other news, it's great to be able to call it Captain America… Instead of its code name: Freezer Burn.

MOE = main on end / aka, main title sequence

 a little gift from the russo brothers

a little gift from the russo brothers

A bit about the look and execution style:

Prior to the pitch, a small team from Sarofsky attended a special screening of the movie in LA. Even though the movie was not yet finished, the film spoke in a very clear voice to us.

As directors, Joe and Anthony Russo imprint some individuality on each of their projects. With Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russos produced a narrative that evokes 1970’s conspiracy thriller cinema, but, of course, with a modern twist. Keeping that in mind, we wanted to create a main title sequence that acknowledged their inspiration. So we worked within a visual style that has simple, graphic compositions with strong, legible typography. This look is a clear nod to the spy style and political thriller title design of the 60s and 70s.

Not to be ignored was also the fact that this is an iconic superhero movie. So it felt appropriate to reference the comic book genre in some way. Keeping with the simplistic compositions we had already begun developing, we were also inspired by the graphic styling of the Captain America, Nick Fury & SHIELD artwork of their comic book origins… Specifically the op-art approach that Jim Steranko created for both
 of those books.

It was at that point that our look began to take form and started speaking in its own unique voice. Working within a limited color palette (mostly black and white), we were able to create simplistic compositions utilizing the minimal character illustrations and other graphic elements. The use of positive and negative space as the viewer moves from one composition to the next takes the look to another level, using the theory of gestalt to its full potential. And, in stereoscopic, this is brought to life in a way we’ve never seen before.

In addition to our black and white look, we also played with a hit of red here and there. Visually, this provided an element that we could use to create drama and suspense. It also allowed us to highlight the concept of Hydra in a simple, bold way. The overall palette of black, white and red also spoke to Russian constructivism, which is a nice nod to the true roots of the Winter Soldier from the original comics.

The typeface we worked with for the main titles was Din Condensed, which was an ideal fit for this project. Din Condensed is a beautiful, modern typeface that harkens to the 60s… Perfectly working with our established visual language. Also, it’s easy to read!

While this approach has strong connections to past references, we feel that it is an authentic, ownable approach for this movie… Especially because the simple compositions, minimal color palette and dramatic bold graphics have a completely unique feel in 3D.
— erin sarofsky

A bit about our process:

We had a relatively small amount of time (which included the Thanksgiving holiday!) between flying out to LA to see the rough cut of the film and flying back again to deliver the pitch. But in that time, we coordinated with several different artists to develop a solid pitch with multiple distinct concepts.

On the day of our pitch, the Disney/Marvel team saw four other companies in addition to us. Although we were the newcomer, we received a strong response to our concepts, specifically the solution that I collaborated with David Mack on. Not even 12 hours went by before the pitch team landed back in Chicago and Disney/Marvel had awarded us the job.

From there, we launched into development and pre-production mode. David Mack joined us in Chicago for a couple days of concepting, illustration, and development with me. I also kicked off the internal team on material preparation, general model construction/testing, and additional illustration and concepting. I started assembling the overall story in animatic form by compiling everything from pencil illustrations to semi-developed motion tests.

In general, we received preliminary approval on a sketch, which then went into motion testing, followed by implementation into the edit. We had frequent sessions with the Russo Brothers, EPs, and post-team at Marvel.

Development moved quickly into production as the large CG team at Sarofsky began dialing in the artwork with the assistance of Marvel-provided materials (3D models, photographs and the actors’ scans). These assets kept us on track with each individual character’s features and uniforms. We kicked off teams in After Effects, Cinema 4D and Softimage to maintain constant pipeline movement.

As things began to take shape, Josh Bodnar came in to tighten everything up and finesse the edit. We were thrown for a loop when, late in the process, Marvel added an extra credit to the sequence. Steven Piet, another seasoned editor, came in to save the day. He maintained the integrity of the original cut, while accommodating the additional credit.

As the edit was locking and shots were becoming closer to final, Andy Zazzera, our Head of CG, planned carefully to build everything simultaneously in standard 2D and stereo 3D, so that we could constantly maintain a current stereo version of the main-on-end titles. We developed a handful of robust, custom tools to tackle complex stereo notes on the fly with virtually zero disruption to the pipeline. We utilized Smoke as both a conform tool and as a basis for playback in stereo through a 4K, 3D TV. Testing and tweaking continued throughout.

In addition, a small team was sent to LA on multiple occasions throughout the process to meet with the Marvel team and discuss progress, especially during construction of the stereo version. These meetings both ensured optimal understanding of the project and allowed us to implement necessary changes, secure in the knowledge that we were all on the same page.

As a testament to our crew’s talent (especially that of our producer, Erik Crary), and to the production team at Marvel (who were accessible and engaged in the entire process), the Sarofsky team finished the project on time, as scheduled.
— erin sarofsky

Credit list:

Erin Sarofsky, Lead Main Title Designer
Erik Crary, Producer
Andre Zazzera, CG Supervisor
Matthew Crnich & John Filipkowski, Co-Visual Effects Supervisors
David Mack, Illustrator / Concept Artist
Josh Bodnar / Steven Piet, Co-Editors
Rachel Steele, Executive Producer
Patrick Coleman, CG Artist
Duarte Elvas, CG Artist
Tinizsi Gadegbeku, CG Artist
Nick Hopkins, CG Artist
Alex Kline, CG Artist
Xiu Sheng Liang, CG Artist
Cameron Spencer, CG Artist
Tnaya Witmer, CG Artist
Michael Burke, Associate Producer
Jenine Early, Digital Artist
Mike Moe, Technology Consultant
Rob Engle, Stereo Consultant
Halley Winer, Production Manager
Katie Bates, Production Coordinator
Brent Austin, Production Assistant