Avengers: Age of Ultron introduced fans to several new characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but perhaps none were more unique than Vision. After portraying the voice of Tony Stark's A.I. assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. for years, Paul Bettany finally got a chance to shine in front of the camera, coming to life before our very eyes as Vision. Ahead of Avengers: Age of Ultron's debut on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD, I recently had a chance to speak with prosthetics supervisor Nik Williams, who helped bring Vision to life, designing the intricate makeup that Paul Bettany wore on set.
Nik Williams first got his start in animatronics, working on Little Shop of Horrors, How to Get Ahead in Advertising and Frankenstein throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He started working in prosthetics in the 2000s on Stardust, Eastern Promises and Ninja Assassin, while serving as a special makeup effects artist on Kick-Ass, Nanny McPhee Returns, Cloud Atlas and 47 Ronin. Take a look at our conversation below, where he talks about using 3D printing technology to bring Vision's look to life, how long it took to apply this makeup to Paul Bettany and much more.
Can you talk a bit about how you first got into this line of work?
Nik Williams: Basically, I started working with Jim Henson back in the mid-80s on films like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. Basically, at that time, the materials that we used are the ones they use in prosthetics. It was sort of a natural progression, and I started doing prosthetics as well.
For a job as big as this, is this something that you actually seek out, or did Marvel come to you?
Nik Williams: It's very difficult to search out for jobs, to be honest. You have to know people, know somebody who wants to use you. They've actually got to know and like you before to get the thing. Marvel basically came to Jeremy Woodhead to do the makeup, and we've worked with him on a number of things. We did the Vision makeup on Paul (Bettany).
Did you have a lot of time before shooting started to get everything worked out for Vision's look
Nik Williams: In designing the whole thing, we actually came on in December (2013) and I don't think we started filming until May (2014), so we had almost five months to do this. Originally, when we started, we weren't sure how much was going to be makeup. The initial thing we did was actually a full-body costume. That was something we were originally doing, but it was decided that wasn't the look we were after. So, we ended up with the costume in the movie.
How intense of a process is it to get Paul Bettany camera-ready every day?
Nik Williams: That's the thing, you want it to be as quick as possible, because having somebody like Paul in the chair for too long costs the production a lot of time and money. We assembled as much as we could of the makeup, although it was in several pieces, we actually pre-assembled it all, so it was a relatively quick thing. I think it was only a couple of hours, to actually get the makeup on, and for that amount of makeup, it's not very much time.
Not at all. I've heard stories where some costumes or makeup effects take five or six hours a day just to get everything on.
Nik Williams: Yes, we did Robert De Niro's makeup for Frankenstein, and I think it took eight hours to put the makeup on, and three hours to get it off, for the full body. You start work at 2 in the morning and you finish at 10, and then of course you can't work the next day. The idea is to make it as quick as possible in the chair, but, make sure it's good as well. It has to work.
Was there a particular run of comics that you were influenced by with this design, or did it all come from Joss Whedon?
Nik Williams: It was very much guided by Joss. I mean, we looked at all the comics, you start looking through Marvel and Vision changes. He's yellow in some of them, he's red in some of them. We were very much guided by what Joss and the Marvel team were heading towards.brog
I know it was quite a long and extensive shoot, but how long were you and Paul there for?.
Nik Williams: I can't remember the exact time, to be honest. I think it was about six to eight weeks. Eight weeks, maybe, I can't really remember. There were doubles and all sorts of stuff as well, but yeah, I think it was about eight weeks.
I haven't gotten to see any of the special features yet, but will fans get to see any of your work in the bonus material, that shows the process you go through?
Nik Williams: You can, on this one. It was very much different to anything else that we've done. Basically, the makeup was designed in 3D and actually printed in 3D, and then we molded it from that. Although we did do a full cast of Paul, we actually scanned him as well, because we were trying to get the robot look, the cyborg look. All the facets have to be straight. You can't sculpt them. It's easier to draw it in 3D, and also, the actual material we made it from is clear. So, the inside is back-painted, the red, and all the lines on the inside have to match the lines on the outside. So, technically, this is a very different approach to anything I've ever done.
I saw a 3D printer for the first time a few years ago, and I was blown away by what they can do. How has that technology changed the work you guys do?
Nik Williams: To be honest, I don't think you could have done the makeup nearly as well, any other way. To be able to print it so the lines all correspond on the inside and outside, I don't even know how you'd go about doing that, if you didn't do it on a computer. The rule with makeup is you're trying to make it organic, whereas this one, you're trying to make it not organic, which is where the computer thing is brilliant. You can get things absolutely crisp.
Is there anything you're working on now that you can talk about?
Nik Williams: Um... probably not (laughs). There are things I'm working on, but I'm probably not allowed to tell you about them.
There is such a huge slate of Marvel movies we'd have to imagine you'd come back for more.
Nik Williams: Yeah, hopefully. I'm hoping that too (Laughs).
Is there anything you can say to younger people who might be interested in this line of work, about what they should study and what they should look out for?
Nik Williams: Oh, that's a difficult one. An awful lot of what we do is knowing materials, but the trouble with that is, the materials that are out there, tend to be expensive, so it's very difficult to learn that. I guess to someone who's interested in doing this, it's important to study nature, studying human anatomy. Looking how people change with age, seeing how they're affected when they're hurt.
Nik Williams: I guess the thing that, for us, was really fascinating is the combination of doing makeup with visual effects as well. You're designing it with them in mind, and they're doing their bit with you in mind. That's a really exciting thing, combining two departments that, as a rule, don't get to do these things together as often as they might.
Great. That's my time. Thanks so much, Nik.
Nik Williams: No problem. Nice talking to you.
Avengers: Age of Ultron debuts on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD October 2, and you can currently pick up this superhero movie on Digital HD formats. Are you looking forward to revisiting this blockbuster superhero sequel from the comfort of your own home this weekend? Let us know what you think, and stay tuned for more updates on Avengers: Age of Ultron and the rest of Marvel's highly-anticipated lineup.