Ever heard of Leander Deeny?
With just two major film credits, the scrawny, English stage actor is a long way from being a household name. But thanks to the magic of CGI, Deeny has one of the summer’s most memorable screen roles in “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
Deeny provided the emaciated frame for the skinny Steve Rogers, making the patriotic, but physically deficient soldier’s transformation into the hunky freedom fighter portrayed by Chris Evans all the more dramatic.
Deeny, who had a bit part as a police officer in “Atonement” and has performed Shakespeare on stage, declined to comment for this article. He’s listed simply as "bartender/Steve Rogers body double" in the credits, and so far his contribution to the Marvel release has flown largely under the radar.
His comic-book film debut wouldn't have been possible were it not for some cutting-edge digital effects. To achieve the virtual trickery, Paramount enlisted Lola Visual Effects. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company had performed similar magic doubling Armie Hammer so he could play the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network.”
“Leander is the unsung hero of this,” Edson Williams, visual effects supervisor for Lola, told TheWrap. “He was very dedicated and he was very aware of mimicking Chris’ timing. He wasn’t trying to get his performance out there. It’s his biggest credit and it’s a role where you never see his face.”
Lola employed three main techniques to make the all-American Evans appear weak and spindly, a combination of digitally shrinking or scaling down Evans, body doubles (that’s where Deeny came in), and grafting a digital file of Evans’ facial performance onto Deeny’s frame.
To attach Evans' head to Deeny’s body, the filmmakers would first shoot Evans in a scene. Then they would have Deeny watch what Evans had done on video playback, so he could mimic his movements precisely. Lastly they would film a clean plate, this is a pass devoid of principal actors that allows the background to be replaced behind the shrunken Evans.
Capturing the Evans’ expressions by grafting his face to Deeny’s body presented some challenges, namely that the necks of actor and his double were dramatically different. That necessitated having Lola digitally graft or project footage of Evans’ face below the Adam’s Apple onto Deeny’s frame. Had they tried to match the actors at different anatomical points, say below the chin, the differences would have been too pronounced for the trick to have worked.
“The heady replacements were tricky, because you were taking the head of a rhinoceros and putting it on the body of a gazelle,” Williams said. “The difference in muscles, in connective tissue was so vast, that it was very difficult to make the necks match up.”
“It’s almost always Chris Evans’ adams apple.”
The body, on the other hand, you’d never know it, but at least 10 percent of the time, it belonged to Deeny.