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What Endgame looked like before adding special effects

When it finally made its way into theaters in the Summer of 2019, Marvel's epic superhero crossover flick, Avengers: Endgame, was the culmination of a decades-long adventure in cinematic storytelling. It was also a blockbuster success for Disney and Marvel Studios, bringing in nearly $3 billion in worldwide ticket sales.

Those jaw-dropping box office returns made Avengers: Endgame the highest-grossing movie of all time. Needless to say, that kind of success is the direct result of some seriously hard work — and we're not just talking about Kevin Feige's near-miraculous juggling act to keep all the various balls of the MCU in the air. No, the actual making if Endgame itself was a mammoth undertaking, beginning with a surprisingly dexterous screenplay, bolstered by strong direction from the Russos, and sealed with a wagonload of memorable performances from the A-list cast.

All of those elements are, of course, held together by the stunning work of the Avengers: Endgame visual effects crew, who are truly the unsung heroes of the production. If you've seen even a single frame of Avengers: Endgame, you can attest to the fact that they provided some stunning work, and did so while ensuring the film's effects serve the story, and not vice versa. If you want to see just how much work went into Endgame, here's a look at what the highest-grossing movie of all time looked like before adding visual effects.    

It took a lot of work for Captain America to fight himself in Avengers: Endgame

We're assuming that, by now, you have actually seen Avengers: Endgame. We're actually working under the assumption you've seen it at least twice (if not more), and are well aware that the film is literally bursting at the seems with tricky action sequences. 

The ingenious Captain America vs. Captain America showdown about halfway through the movie is among the film's most memorable. That moment comes when Earth's mightiest heroes travel back in time to their showdown with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Chitauri from the O.G. Avengers flick. During this sequence, Cap (Chris Evans) faces off against the 2012 version of himself. As you can see, much of the scene (including Loki's staff) was conjured via digital wizardry, but Evans was actually working with another live person in-scene. As it happens, that other Cap was played by the younger brother of the original Captain America, stunt double Sam Hargrave, who recently made his directorial debut with the Netflix hit Extraction

The Russos had a very specific look in mind for Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame

Given the epic scope, and often otherworldly nature of the Avengers: Endgame narrative, green screen and digital effects were going to be a necessity throughout much of the film. Those effects were deployed per the hyper-specific vision of directors Anthony and Joe Russo

Not all of the film's digital tweaks were used to create stark visual backdrops and monstrous alien creatures, however. It seems at least part of the Russos' plans led them to use digital effects to alter the hairstyle of Brie Larson's Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel). In one of Endgame's key scenes — in which Danvers discovers Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) trapped in wayward spaceship — the Russos not only used a combo of wire work and digital effects to create the feel of deep space, but also used digital touches to ensure their hero's hair was behaving in the zero-gravity environment.    

That Drax & Korg team-up in Avengers: Endgame is even more fun without the effects

Part of the fun of watching Avengers: Endgame was seeing how the creative team sorted the cast into unique pairings for a string of little buddy sequences throughout the film. One of the best pairings — and this is indisputable — united the happy warrior Drax (Dave Bautista) with Taika Waititi's stone-man Korg from Thor: Ragnarok. The hammy couple joined forces during Endgame's climactic final battle to take down one of Thanos' beefier henchmen. 

As you can see in these before and after pics, pretty much everything in the scene — save for Bautista himself — is completely digital. It's impressive that Bautista was able to maintain his war face while mounted on a bizarre, green screen contraption that's standing in for the vile alien creature. Such an incredible theatrical feat is clearly award-worthy, so where's Bautista's Oscar?

Valkyrie's winged pony in Avengers: Endgame is a lot less majestic sans effects

In terms of sheer scope, the climactic scene of Avengers: Endgame is about as big as any high-stakes battle in cinematic history. In this thrilling sequence, the entirety of the Avengers team shows up with an army to defend Earth and half the universe against Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his nefarious forces. The arrival of all those super reinforcements understandably required a lot of visual effects work. Every frame and every character required some kind of digital touch-up upon entering the fray. 

Just take the above entrance scene as an illustrative example. In the above stills we see the entry of Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlett Witch and Tessa Thompson's Asgardian warrior Valkyrie both before and after the addition of visual effects. You'll notice in the before picture how Olsen's arrival required a bit of wirework, while Thompson sits atop a mechanical bull type contraption that's subbing in for the majestic, winged stallion she typically rides into battle.  

Captain Marvel was just tangling with a guy in a Thanos suit in that fateful Avengers: Endgame confrontation

Even Josh Brolin's nefarious Thanos required quite a bit of digital augmentation during that epic battle sequence. We simply cannot imagine the organizational effort it took to ensure the production team actually got all the shots that the visual effects team needed to make that finale work. There are just so many moving pieces, and so many minor details to consider. 

The above shot features the hero who actually got up close and personal with the big bad guy during the fight. Brie Larson's mighty Captain Marvel may have had a relatively small role in Endgame, but she put a serious beatdown on the purple one, and very nearly ended the battle on her own. That scene required a ton of VFX work, if only to bring Larson's glowing, flying, laser-handed hero to life on screen. Surprisingly, Brolin wasn't even present for the filming of that confrontation. Instead, a stunt double appears to have stood in, encased in a comically muscled, mo-cap Thanos suit.  

That epic charge into battle in Avengers: Endgame is far less epic without its digital veneer

In the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, there's not a single moment quite as thrilling as seeing every single hero in the MCU assemble for the final battle in Avengers: Endgame. The scene began with that simple, "On your left, Cap" cue from Anthony Mackie's Falcon, and led to the heroes' daring charge into battle against an infamously "inevitable" foe. 

As it turns out, that thrilling charge was a lot less impressive before the Endgame effects team got to work. In fact, judging from the before pic, it's clear that most of the team wasn't even on hand for that charge; all the flying and/or super-sized heroes were added in post-production. Even less impressive in that before pic is the scale of the opposing force our heroes are charging against, which appears to consist of only a handful of enemies. Thankfully, the effects team brought some serious heat to the moment, ensuring that Avengers: Endgame delivered the grand goodbye the big screen Infinity Saga deserved.