The Kiwi who killed off Iron Man celebrates Oscar nod

Author
Ethan Sills,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Jan 2020, 8:21PM
One of the key sequences in the film's final battle, which Weta Digital created from scratch. Image / Supplied
One of the key sequences in the film's final battle, which Weta Digital created from scratch. Image / Supplied

The Kiwi who killed off Iron Man celebrates Oscar nod

Author
Ethan Sills,
Publish Date
Wed, 15 Jan 2020, 8:21PM

While Taika Waititi dominated local headlines when the Oscar nominations came out yesterday, he's not the only Kiwi planning a return trip to the Dolby Theatre.

Veteran Weta Digital visual effects supervisor Matt Aitken is part of the team nominated for Best Visual Effects for Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Endgame.

It's the second nomination for Aitken, who was previously nominated in 2010 for the team's work on District 9, and a repeat nomination was something he never expected to happen.

"I thought at the time I should really make the most of that because that was the going to be the only time that ever happened, but here we are."

The awards season has already seen Aitken and his fellow visual effects artists recognised with nominations from the Visual Effects Society in America, and a win this weekend at the Critics' Choice Awards.

Despite the success, Aitken, who is currently in London working on his next project, kept his expectations in check while watching the announcement livestream in his hotel room.

"You allow yourself to hope but you never really expect it, so when it does come through, it is just amazing. I was really blown away, it's so exciting."

Weta Digital's Matt Aitken speaks at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in California on January 5. Photo / Getty Images

Weta Digital's Matt Aitken speaks at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in California on January 5. Photo / Getty Images

He says the nomination is acknowledgement of the artistry and talent of the team of around 570 Wellington-based artists that he oversaw.

While the three-hour blockbuster featured plenty of digital landscapes and effects, the Weta team worked on Endgame's climatic battle, beginning when the film's central villain Thanos bombarded the Avengers compound.

The sequence then sees the heroes of the Marvel universe go to battle against Thanos and his army – a battalion made of thousands of aliens that were entirely digital creations courtesy of Weta.

The team also had to create digital copies of the dozens of superheroes featured in the battle, as well as build the decimated battlefield from scratch.

Aitken says it was a daunting task, as the battle served as the conclusion to all 21 previous movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and if the visual effects weren't right, then the payoff fans were hoping for wouldn't be there.

He feels that the team delivered above and beyond with their work, and that the reaction from fans has been bigger than they ever anticipated.

"The payoff for me was seeing the film for the first time with a general audience, and seeing the moment when Doctor Strange opens the portals and all the heroes come onto the battlefield.

"Hearing the roar from the crowd when they saw that moment, the work was paying off, it was fantastic," Aitken says, adding that seeing that scene for the first time brought tears to his eyes.

The most pressure came in the sequence's final moments, when Robert Downey Jr's Iron Man sacrifices himself by using the Infinity Stones to end the battle.

Aitken says he knew about the moment for nine months before the film came out, and they had to assemble a small team to work on the scene and protect the secret.

The scene was a delicate moment, with the team having to create Tony's wounds and make it clear to the audience they were fatal without distracting from Downey Jr's performance.

"We also had to allow him to have his dignity in those final scenes and not make it so gory that it was detracting from the audience's ability to be with him in those scenes," Aitken says.

The nomination shows that the team's efforts have paid off. Aitken says that in the 20-plus years he has been with Weta Digital, it has grown into one of the top visual effects houses in the world, and working with the likes of Marvel shows how in-demand a team based in "a little country at the bottom of the world" has become.

While he would love to bring the trophy home next month, Aitken says it's an honour just to be nominated, especially as his peers in the visual effects branch nominated Endgame for the award.

"I love the work, I think it's what I was born to do. It's just the perfect job for me, and I'm so privileged to have landed in that role, and getting the Oscar nomination is just the final icing on the cake."

The Academy Award winners will be announced on February 10.