BLACK WIDOW Exclusive Interview With Visual Effects Supervisor Matthew Giampa

To celebrate the 4K and Blu-ray release of Marvel Studios' Black Widow, we recently caught up with visual effects supervisor Matthew Giampa from Scanline VFX to talk about his work on the film!

Ahead of the recent 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray release of Marvel Studios' Black Widow, we were granted an exclusive opportunity to sit down with visual effects supervisor Matthew Giampa from Scanline VFX to talk about his team's stunning work on the Cate Shortland-directed blockbuster.

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Since Marvel Studios famously spreads out its VFX work to multiple studios, Giampa and his team primarily worked on the show-stopping bridge sequence, which saw Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) square off against the deadly Taskmaster (Olga Kurylenko) for the very first time. 

In addition to discussing his work on this film, we also talked about Aquaman, X-Men: Dark PhoenixJustice League, and Joker as well as his career at large. He also offered some excellent advice for aspiring filmmakers and VFX artists, which is absolutely worth a listen. 

Check out the full audio interview in the video below!

Time Stamps: 

  • 0:00 - Since you were sitting on the movie for a very long time, how aware were you of the major plot points?
  • 0:53 - What is it like working for Marvel Studios?
  • 2:20 - Did COVID allow you to go back and add finishing touches or were you locked long before the shutdown?
  • 3:35 - What’s the turnaround time from the minute you accept a project to when you deliver the final shots?
  • 5:10 - Working on grounded movies like Black Widow vs. VFX-heavy features like Aquaman
  • 8:45 - Process behind seamlessly blending practical photography with digital environments?
  • 12:40 - Working on Taskmaster and protecting that big reveal?
  • 14:00 - Intricate process behind working on faces (i.e. What happened on Justice League?)
  • 17:35 - His path to becoming a visual effects supervisor
  • 21:10 - His approach to a client pitch meeting and what he looks for in collaborators
  • 25:35 - Has your job ever ruined a movie for you, like possibly knowing spoilers beforehand?
  • 27:10 - When watching the final product, does the perfectionist in you ever notice a shot where something might be a little off, but it's something that only you would notice, and does that even bother you at this point?
  • 29:15 - What's the one thing you wish aspiring filmmakers knew about how to work with a VFX team to make the process as seamless as possible?

ROHAN: Since you were sitting on this movie for so long, did you know all of the plot points a year or two in advance or were you just aware of the segments you worked on?

MATT"I actually had a pretty good understanding of the majority of the project, I was lucky enough to go through a couple of the pre-screenings of the movie, in a rougher form, so I had a good idea of what the movie was going to be and some things changed for the final product, but for the most part, I had an understanding of how it was going to go. I was very fortunate that I was actually able to screen the film, I went down to LA to meet with Marvel a couple times."

ROHAN: It's no secret that pretty much everyone wants to get inside the head of Marvel Studios, so as someone that's been on the inside, what's your experience been working for them?

MATT: "It’s actually a really, really great experience. Luckily, I feel like Marvel is a very well oiled machine, they have a very tried, tested, and true system they continue to use on a lot of their movies. They’re really, really organized when it comes to getting you the information and data you need to create the kind of effects that you need to and just being able to work with them on this movie kind of made me realize how organized and how well thought out a lot of their movies are from the beginning and again, everyone over there is really a pleasure to work with and everyone was very positive, they kind of understand the process.

It was really good, especially for this movie, it was great that they were able to give us answers and get back to us very quickly with questions and anything that we needed because this is actually the shortest post-schedule they’ve ever had before COVID happened. Obviously, COVID extended that out a bit, but the original due dates were the shortest schedule they had for post-production out of any of their movies so far."

ROHAN: Due to the pandemic and the shutdown, were you ever able to go back and fine-tune anything during the time off or was the film ready to go before everything got canceled?

MATT: "We were pretty much complete on everything by the time COVID actually hit, there were a few small things we were still working on, but we would’ve had those done before the movie came out, but since COVID hit, we had to get settled into working from home and even from the client side of things, they had to figure out how to review things properly on a theater screen.

So, it took a bit of time for them to kind of organize that during COVID, so it did give us a little more time to complete a couple of the shots and just kind of refine a few things since we had a little more time, but for the most part, yeah, we were about 99% complete by the time the pandemic actually hit in early March."

ROHAN: What’s typically the turnaround time from the minute you accept a project to when you deliver the final shots?

MATT: "It’s really dependent on the movie, there’s been some movies that have been production for a year or two years, but I find that typically a lot of movies are six to eight months post-production schedules and this one was about five months for post-production, so it was a little bit of a faster pace and you really had to schedule yourself out pretty well to make sure you were continually hitting the deadlines.

For them, they have to be a little more decisive in terms of the looks and the feel they were going for just to make sure we could complete in the time frame that we had, but usually we have another two to three months to be able to really fine tune stuff, which is really helpful for things like assets and everything to kind of be able to do a look test and work that in and then, the last couple months are usually taking everything that we’ve created and getting it into shots so they can see what they’ll be getting."

ROHAN: You've worked on VFX-heavy projects like Aquaman, Justice League, and X-Men: Dark Phoenix. How do those kinds of projects compare to something with more grounded VFX work like what you've done for Black Widow or Joker

MATT: "The one thing that’s really great about a movie like Black Widow, the creative process tends to be a little simpler because it’s grounded to realism and people kind of know what it needs to click and so, there’s a lot of reference material and there’s a lot of source material we can use to better understand what exactly it is that we’re trying to accomplish.

The environment for the bridge sequence was based in Scotland, but the bridge was actually in Norway, and so, we had reference material that we could use to build our environment off of and we just kind of knew what it needed to look like. There was some stuff that we were kind of going through in terms of the creative process with them to understand exactly what they were looking for with the background, because we were kind of going a little bit more stylized, a little more visualized with the environment in the background, we built out ten kilometers of environment in 3D, but then it came back to bringing it into more of a realism than to have more those more dramatic Marvel type of look and feel that they tend to have in a lot of the Marvel movies, and so, there was a bit of a creative process in that, in going back and forth with what exactly that design would be and ultimately they went with the more realistic look and so, a lot of that environment kind of gets lost in the darkness because of how dark that sequence is, but usually it’s nice, because in sequences like this or movies like this, you have a lot of reference material that you go by.

They have a really good understanding of exactly what they’re looking for, so it does make the creative process a little bit easier compared to if you had something like Aquaman where it’s very, very stylized and for that movie, in particular, we did a lot of work trying to make it feel as realistic as possible, but when you do that, especially with underwater sequences, it becomes very muddy and it’s hard to see underwater. They were obviously wanting something that was a lot different than that, because they wanted more visibility underwater and so we had to creative thinking to try and figure out a way to create a very stylized look that you get everything visually underwater, but it’s not extremely fake-looking as well. So, there was a lot of back-and-forth and there’s a lot more back-and-forth with a client on a creative project than it is when you have something that is more real and you have a client that knows exactly what they’re looking for in those types of environments and those types of scenes. "

ROHAN: What is the process behind seamlessly blending the practical photography they're shooting and the digital environments that you're creating?

MATT: "It can be a challenging process when - I mean, obviously the bridge and the fight sequences were filmed on a set, they built about a quarter of the actual bridge itself and then we had to do an extension to that. One of the most challenging things with that kind of stuff is you have a real bridge that you’re working with, which is nice since you’re doing an extension and you’re just matching what that is, but obviously, there are dimensions based off the real bridge they wanted it to be, so we also had to go with that and sometimes, they don’t always quite align perfectly in terms of dimensions and so there’s a little bit of key work that needs to be done to get it there, but you have real reference for a lot of this work and so it makes it very easy to go back-and-forth.

They got photography for the bridge and environment, so we can go back-and-forth and be like, “Is this matching to what this is?” If it’s not, then, “What do we do to improve that? Do we need to do some texturing? Or something else to make it look right?” So, when you have all that type of reference material, it makes it a lot easier to kind of match it what it needs to be and it helps with a lot of the realism for it. I think one of the most challenging things was obviously, when it came to the environment, and trying to make sure we had the exposure of the environment correct for the lighting. It was a bit of challenge, because obviously on set, they have all the lighting on the bridge, and there’s blue screens everywhere and they have lights hitting those blue screens, so those blue screens look like they’re a lot brighter than the actual exposure behind that would be.

One of the nicest things they had done is they did some reference photography of the bridge, with Taskmaster and everybody on set, where they turned off all the blue screen lights, so we got the proper exposure of what would be behind them and we could see how dark it would actually be. That really helped us determine what the exposure would be past that bridge and one of the challenges with that too is that since it did end up being such a dark scene, it was like, how do you create something that’s interesting in the background because it can become such a dark environment where you can’t really see anything and we needed to do a few things to make it look more interesting, so what we did was we looked everywhere we could add lights, like maybe around the river or if there were streetlights on the road and stuff like that, where we could just strategically place them to make it a more interesting environment and kind of light up that environment to make it more visible in shots throughout the whole sequence."

ROHAN: The Taskmaster reveal is probably the film's biggest surprise and since you worked on the character's introductory sequence, were you aware of her true identity beforehand or was that kept a secret even though you were actively working on the character?

MATT: "Surprisingly, when they were filming, it wasn’t the actual actor as Taskmaster doing it, they had a stand-in that was a male so they wouldn’t give away the actual story plotline, so aside from seeing the movie early on, when we were on set, I had no idea who Taskmaster actually was, so that was the interesting thing. But, I think they found an actor that had roughly the same height and kind of build so once they were on set, you wouldn’t notice the difference in height or anything, so we actually didn’t even know and we didn’t have to do anything to hide the reveal because it was a completely different actor. "

ROHAN: We all know what happened with Justice League and Henry Cavill's mustache, and I'm not going to ask about that, but I am curious about the timetable to properly complete VFX work on actors' faces? What is the process and how long does it generally take to complete effectively? 

MATT: "It’s a very tedious process, it actually takes quite a bit of time. There’s about three-to-four months of development of digi-doubles, just to make sure you get a high enough amount of detail into the characters themselves, so when you run them out, they look as real as they possibly can, especially up close. I think that when it comes to digi-doubles, it’s something that typically nowadays, you can get them to look pretty much identical to the actual live-action character themselves, but when it comes down to making it look real and something seems off, it’s always facial animation and features and quirks that a character tends to have that’s really hard to replicate and I feel like, in the industry in general, it’s still challenging to this day and people still have issues with getting it right.

It’s just the facial expressions and features that you get with a character, so there’s also a lot of strategic planning with shots, in terms of how to possibly hide that kind of situation with a fast-moving camera or whatever the case might be. It just kind of helps make it so that you can’t really tell the quirks and features of a specific character, but you get the look and feel of them as they move throughout. The other thing too, what I think is actually a lot easier, is an action sequence where there are a lot of moving parts, with a stunt double, we have a lot of good photography of Natasha’s face that we were able to take and basically project and move with the stunt double.

One of those things that tends to be a little bit challenging though is a lot of times their features are slightly quite a bit different, whether it’s their facial features or their hair features or their torso, whatever the case may be. They try to match as close as they can, but obviously there’s a lot of times where there’s a lot that’s very different and that’s where I think it becomes kind of challenging to be able to say if the stunt double’s facial structures are elongated in comparison, you’re kind of having to sort of jerry-rig like images to kind of fit properly or you’re gonna have to do some modifications or adjustments to the stunt double, to make sure that the features end up kind of matching the same as well, so I think that there’s definitely shots that are a lot more challenging than others.

I think there’s a lot of times where you would probably watch a movie and you wouldn’t actually even notice that it’s a stunt double or a digi-double in a lot of scenes, but then there’s obviously the shots that are dead giveaways like kind of what happened with Justice League."

For more from Giampa about his work on Black Widow, AquamanJustice League, and Joker as well as his career, be sure to check out the full 30-minute audio interview at the top of the page. It's absolutely not one to miss!

Black Widow is now available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD!

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