- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

The Dr. Jekyll and green Mr. Hyde of the comic-book world finally have gotten their day on the silver screen. Scientist Bruce Banner’s monstrous problem of the “Hulk” lives in theaters today thanks to the efforts of director Ang Lee of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame; the Academy Award-winning special-effects house Industrial Light and Magic (ILM); and a historical storyboard encompassing thousands of sequential-art panels for the filmmakers to keep the main character faithful to his origins.

“If you had walked into our art department two years ago, you would have seen the walls full of all sorts of images, and if there were four walls, two and one half were filled top to bottom, floor to ceiling, with images of the Hulk, created by the many comic-book artists, including Jack Kirby, that have given life to his story for the past 40 years,” says Kevin Feige, one of the film’s executive producers and executive vice president of Marvel Studios.

For those unfamiliar with the Hulk, he first came to Marvel Comics’ offices in 1962 thanks to the superhero-creating duo of artist Jack Kirby and writer Stan Lee. The pair tapped into the relatively unknown effects of nuclear radiation to develop a misunderstood character fueled by gamma rays and rage that wreaked havoc.

“I wanted to create a hero that people saw as a monster, like Frankenstein — who was really a good guy, he just had all those villagers chasing him with torches — but adding the Jekyll-and-Hyde dimension,” Mr. Lee says from his Los Angeles office. “The original Hulk was not just a monster, but kind of good looking — a guy that you could get used to, if it wasn’t for the green skin and his tendency to smash everything to pieces.”

That original comic-book series got off to a rocky start, which Mr. Lee writes off to the creators working on so many different books that the Incredible Hulk was not given all the attention he deserved. The original book ran for just six issues before being canceled, with the Hulk returning in a couple of issues of the Avengers and co-headlining in the Tales to Astonish title.

It was not until March of 1968, six years after he first smashed his way out of Mr. Kirby’s pencil, that he got back his own title, the Incredible Hulk — this time for good.

Over time, the Hulk’s legions of fans have kept Dr. Bruce Banner and his jade-green, rock-jawed alter ego alive through not only comic books, but a successful CBS television series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno that ran from 1977 to 1982, three more telefilms aired by NBC in the late 1980s and three cartoon series.

In retrospect, it may have been a very good thing it took this long to release a Hulk movie, as today’s technology has vaulted past Mr. Ferrigno in green makeup to allow the movie’s visual-effects designers to create a big green guy far worthier of his comic-book prototype.

Just as the pop-art Hulk can do just about anything but control his anger, today’s cinematic Hulk also seems invincible. ILM got him to lift 5,000 pounds, jump three miles at a stretch, run 100 miles per hour and survive a growth spurt that takes him from man-size to mammoth in mere moments.

To transform the image of actor Bruce Bana from the mild Bruce Banner to the amazing Hulk took some of ILM’s best wizardry, as the effects team logged 2.5 million computer hours and 6 terabytes of data.

The ILM team consisted of 69 technical artists, 41 animators, 35 compositors, 10 muscle animators, nine modelers, six skin painters, five motion-capture wranglers and three art directors who created more than 100 layers of skin that showed veins, wrinkles, wounds, dirt, wetness, blemishes and hair that were layered one on top of the other to create a computer-generated masterpiece.

The Hulk’s amazing physique required the creation of 1,165 muscle shapes capable of an entire range of movement, and the team had to capture thousands of facial expressions that Mr. Feige considered crucial to his believability.

“It is difficult to convince the human eyes, to trick them and fool them, that something is alive and real when it is not; the face changes, the eyebrow moves, the lip quivers. There are hundreds of facial expressions that we take for granted — but don’t do it right, and the viewer’s eye will see it,” Mr. Feige says.

“Going into this movie, everyone was comfortable knowing the wide and long shots would work — ‘Jurassic Park’ was 10 years ago now, and the raptors still look wonderful today. The bigger question was the medium shots and close-ups of the face so that it would be beautiful and expressive as it went through a variety of emotions — Hulk smash, Hulk sad, Hulk mad.”

Those emotions, along with the ability to express them, should convince audiences they are seeing a living, 15-foot-tall behemoth on the screen.

Of course, real-actor involvement and a story also will help. In the movie, Mr. Bana plays the emotionally damaged but sympathetic research scientist Bruce Banner, who receives a lethal dose of gamma radiation while trying to save a colleague as his confused love interest, Betty Ross (Jennifer Connelly) can only look on in horror.

He doesn’t die; instead, a genetic flaw, inherited from his mad-scientist father, played by Nick Nolte, is triggered. Now, when Banner gets enraged, he becomes an unstoppable brute on the outside but still remains a really good guy on the inside — a trait Mr. Lee found crucial in his hero.

“The story makes the reader care about Bruce Banner so that when Bruce explodes into the Hulk, it is a big event, and the reader, or movie viewer now, cares about him, about the fact that he is tortured that he cannot control the metamorphosis.

“He is struggling to find a cure, and yet, at the same time, subconsciously, deep down, he starts enjoying the feeling of being the strongest, most indestructible person. Anyway, it was by playing up the human side of the Hulk that the monster [became so] popular.”

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