EXCLUSIVE: ‘Falcon and the Winter Soldier’ VFX Head Talks How They Reinvented Falcon For the Show

falcon and winter soldier vfx
Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in Marvel Studios’ THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

The first and, maybe, the only season of Falcon and the Winter Soldier wowed audiences with its high-caliber sequences that rivaled any Marvel feature out there. It touched them with a poignant, resonant, as well as emotional story on race and purpose. We spoke to the show’s VFX supervisor Eric Leven, who gave us some insight into how the show was crafted in light of the pandemic and how some key character moments were influenced by the VFX department.

Along with Wandavision, Falcon took the brunt of all the effects of the pandemic delays. Disney+’s Assembled documentary for the series outlined their troubles, as they had to change their shooting locations unexpectedly from Puerto Rico to Prague. It also offered insight into how the pandemic limited their scope in location scouting. Leven gave us some details on what it was like for their department to work in spite of all the delays and how it worked to their advantage.

We actually never stopped. The VFX department never shut down. Obviously, the pandemic is terrible for everyone but for the VFX department, it was nice because we sort of rushed into production. With a lot of productions, their train is moving before all the tracks are laid down. When we stopped shooting, we were close to being done. I think we had a month to go. So when we stopped, that was a chance for us to take a step back, breathe, and think “How do we make these sequences better?” We had all the time to work that out which was nice. 

The show didn’t just reinvent Falcon’s mantle and costume but it also changed the way he engages in combat. Now that he has the shield, Sam Wilson has an array of new abilities and tricks at his disposal. We asked Leven what the process was like in exploring his fighting style from when we first see him in the first episode to when we see him carry the shield in the finale.

The shield was a big thing. We spent a lot of time with our pre-viz department just coming up with different ways he could be using that shield. Different poses and different things he could do with the wings. There was a lot of conversations about how active the wings were. There was a big note to make sure the wings were not too prehensile. We didn’t want them to seem like they had a life of their own. 

One notable change was Sam Wilson’s use of firearms. All of Falcon’s previous appearances in the MCU have seen him fire a few shots from his submachine gun mounted on his wrists. Leven revealed that guns were originally supposed to be part of Sam’s arsenal in the early stages of the show but were nixed as the VFX crew was staging his sequences. It’s a very fascinating detail that a lot of people may not have noticed and one that can be interpreted as a statement of how Sam operates as Captain America now.

I’ll tell you one of the things that came up. If you remember in all the other movies with Falcon, Falcon always has guns. The one thing we saw very quickly was, we had a pre-viz where he had the shield and he was shooting a gun over the top of it. It was just very interesting. I had a visceral reaction of, “Oh no. Captain America does not shoot guns.” So that was one of the first things to go. 

Now, we’ve seen Steve Rogers carry a firearm along with his shield in the past. Captain America: The First Avenger showcases Steve firing a weapon multiple times all throughout while carrying the shield. Granted, it was World War 2 and every one of them had to have a sidearm but in modern-day iterations of the character, he no longer relied on it. Leven also talked about how nixing Sam’s firearm resulted in more visually interesting sequences for the character.

In this show, Falcon never fires a weapon. He doesn’t have a sidearm and that was something that was part of the original design but we jettisoned that pretty early. One of the things I’m most proud of in this show is in the very beginning. Sam, in the script, when he approaches the wingsuit pilot he’s gonna get rid of, just pulls out his gun and shoots him. I remember talking to Zoe and Kari like, “I have a better idea that doesn’t involve him shooting this guy in cold blood. Maybe we could use it.” So that’s how we came up with the idea of him actually flying underneath him and pulling his parachute and getting that guy out of the scene. I was really happy with that.

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