Academy of Art University Alum Jan Philip Cramer of Digital Domain Leads Us to MARVEL at the Complexity of Avengers: Endgame

Academy of Art University

Since the debut of Avengers: Endgame in theaters on April 26, 2019, and especially with the recent release of the DVD on August 13, 2019, fans have been hungry for behind-the-scenes details about the blockbuster animated masterpiece. Questions especially circulate around what is definitely one of the most formidable villains of all time – Thanos. It may not be widely known, but a total of 12 animation companies worked on scenes for Endgame, and one of which was Digital Domain, whose groundbreaking visual effects appear in “Titanic,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Furious 7,” “Deadpool,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” and most recently, “Avengers: Endgame.” Digital Domain’s Head of Animation, Jan Philip Cramer, holds a BFA from Academy of Art University’s School of Animation and Visual Effects, and he recently discussed his company’s role in Endgame.


Contributions from Digital Domain

Cramer shared that Digital Domain had approximately 180 artists engaged with Endgame in Los Angeles and Vancouver. Most importantly, a team of 25 animators was responsible for delivering almost 400 shots, primarily involving bringing super-villain Thanos to life. Some of those shots are shown in this VFX breakdown video from Digital Domain.

“As I have now spent over three years with Thanos (with Infinity War and now Endgame), the opening reveals in his Yurt was very dear to me. I have looked at Thanos’ face every day and been an integral part of his creation and of his killing. I am incredibly proud of Thanos and seeing him come full circle was a nice poetic justice,” Cramer shared of his experience with Thanos.

When asked about the most challenging aspect of bringing a complex character that combined a real-life character and digital animation to life, Cramer responded that it was Thanos’ face. Actor Josh Brolin’s face was digitally mapped through facial capture software, along with every conceivable expression. This includes signature marks from the actor’s face, such as dimples and wrinkles that are unique.

Brolin would be present on the set and act out his parts and even dialogue wearing a mocap suit and a helmet camera. This allowed animators to capture a pure human performance that could be later translated into how Thanos actually moved. This involved using a massively refined machine learning system and a fully automated GPU rendering and Nuke Compositing process.

This allowed Digital Domain animators to push the limits like never before in creating a truly human digitalized film character who not only looked like the human actor but moved and displayed actual human nuances like him as well. And all this was accomplished through newly refined machine learning and animation processes that were first used in Infinity War and then perfected for Endgame to make Thanos leap off the screen as a living, breathing character.

Jan Philip Cramer, Animation, and Academy of Art University

Cramer also emphasized the contributions of his education at the Academy of Art University while earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from the School of Animation and Visual Effects in 2004. When Cramer started out to build a career in animation, he states, “The only work I had was my portfolio from the Academy. That was the only reason I got a job. I am super thankful for that.”

That job was at Sony Pictures Imageworks as a character animator, where he contributed to Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider. After working on James Cameron’s Avatar at Weta Digital, Cramer went on to join Digital Domain as Animation Director on some of the most advanced and groundbreaking films ever made.

“When I was around nine or ten, I decided that there were only two options for my life—I’d either create my own dinosaurs in movies or become a paleontologist,” Cramer recalls. “I didn’t want to take part in [outdoors] activities. I wanted to think and dream about things. I’ve always envisioned working somewhere I could create worlds and allow my fantasies to come to life.”

In 2000, the School of Animation and Visual Effects atthe  Academy of Art University caught Cramer’s interest. “Back then, there weren’t many schools that offered visual effects. The Academy put a lot of effort into showcasing the program, and it looked like they were passionate about it,” Cramer explains. “They have the knowledge, connections, and successful industry professionals teaching classes.”

Jan Philip CramerCramer deems himself fortunate to have mentors from the Academy of Art University that helped mold him into a successful animator. One of these was Victor Huang, who Cramer joined at Weta Digital to work on James Cameron’s Avatar. Of his Academy experience, Cramer shared:

“The Academy taught me to be an artist as well as an animator. I am constantly using all of the knowledge gained during my education, not just the animation specific parts. As an Animation Director, you have to design shots and have a broader understanding of art outside of your specific field. I am very thankful for having this broader focus.”

The Academy of Art University’s School of Animation and VFX is the only school that teaches in a real studio production environment, called StudioX. As the largest private art institution in the United States, the Academy provides cutting edge software and equipment, as well as instructors who are active in the animation and VFX industry. Students learn the basics as well as groundbreaking techniques from active creatives in a real-world studio environment. The portfolio each student completes before graduation will contain superior-level animation and VFX work that will help open the doors for an exciting career.

Read the full article here.

The School of Animation offers unique opportunities for 2D, 3D and stop motion creators with custom labs and state of the art technology. In class, students are given the opportunity to share their creations and share critiques and advice with one another.

Students are given the freedom to create their own short films. Every year the best short films from students are shown on the big screen. They are also given the chance to network with big names in the industry.  and The Academy of Art University is located in San Francisco and offers both on-campus and online classes in the School of Animation and VFX, where students can earn AA, BFA, MA, or MFA degrees. The Academy also offers degree programs in 21 other creative paths including Acting, Industrial Engineering, Game Development, Industrial Design, Fashion, and Photography.

Graduates from the Academy of Art University have been hired by notable companies including Digital Domain, Weta Digital, Disney Animation Studios, MARVEL, Sony Pictures, COSA VFX, Industrial Light & Magic, and Pi


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