Here’s how Marvel Studios transformed Chris Evans into skinny Steve Rogers for Captain America: The First Avenger. Playing a hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe requires actors to be in great physical shape, and Evans was up to the challenge of looking and moving like a superhero throughout his tenure as Captain America. Audiences first saw Evans’ superhero transformation in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.
However, how did they make Steve Rogers look small? While it’s more than fair to give Evans credit for his compelling portrayal of the beloved Avenger, Captain America’s skinny body double was just as important for Marvel’s Captain America transformation. Indeed, Steve Rogers’ before serum look was crucial in showing Captain America before and after the effects of the Super Soldier Serum, completing Steve Rogers’ journey towards becoming the MCU’s first super soldier.
Steve Rogers’ Captain America Transformation Explained
According to the Captain America exhibit in the MCU, Steve Rogers (before serum) was 5-foot-4 and weighed 95 pounds. Yet, Steve always had the heart and morals that would later make him the obvious choice to become Captain America. Once Dr. Abraham Erskine’s (Stanley Tucci) Super Soldier Serum was running through his veins, Steve was suddenly 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds of pure muscle, showcasing Evans’ true physique.
However, thanks to the magic of moviemaking, Evans played skinny Steve Rogers too, and none of this would be possible without Captain America’s skinny body double, Leander Deeny, in Captain America: The First Avenger. Together, Leander Deeny, Chris Evans, and Lola Visual Effects laid the groundwork for Captain America’s massive impact on the MCU. Indeed, Cap’s character arc lasted nearly a decade and helped define the MCU’s first three phases. So, how did they make Captain America look small?
How Marvel Built Skinny Steve Rogers’ Complex CGI
Marvel Studios used an elaborate process to turn Evans into a pre-super-soldier Steve Rogers, and they hired Lola Visual Effects to be in charge of bringing the transformation to life. The abbreviated version of the work required a combination of digitally shrinking Evans, using Leander Deeny as a body double, and grafting Evans’ performance on top of Deeny’s. This required filming scenes with skinny Steve Rogers in three different ways through a painstaking process. Reflective of the time and effort put in by director Joe Johnston and cinematographer Shelly Johnson while filming these foundational scenes, skinny Captain America would go on to inspire more stories about Rogers’ heroism down the line.
Marvel’s Captain America transformation began with the director and cinematographer filming only Evans doing the scene. They then had Deeny shoot the same scene and mimic Evans’ performance and mannerisms to the best of his ability. Finally, the crew filmed a clean plate shot of the scene that is just of the background and without actors. Once all of the versions of each scene were completed, it was up to Lola Visual Effects to bring them together to create skinny Steve Rogers’ final look.
They began by scaling Chris Evans down to Deeny’s size so they matched, with the plate shots used to digitally replace what Evans’ larger body previously covered (via The Wrap). This smaller version of Evans still had his natural build, though, so the next step was digitally placing Evans’ face on top of Deeny’s pre-Super Soldier Serum frame. That might sound simple enough, but Lola had to tinker with the process due to Evans’ facial structure and neck being bulkier than Deeny’s. Otherwise, skinny Steve Rogers would have had the face and strong jawline of Evans’ usual look and be disproportionate to how the character should appear pre-serum.
The end result of the process speaks for itself, as the CGI work still holds up several years and MCU Phases later. Marvel Studios even went back to the technique for Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Evans briefly played skinny Steve Rogers again in a flashback scene with Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), but this time Christopher George Sarris provided the smaller frame instead of Deeny. It isn’t known why Deeny didn’t return to help bring skinny Steve Rogers to life, but Marvel found a good replacement for him in Sarris.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier proved to be the last time skinny Steve Rogers has been shown in the MCU, so far, with the exception of his role in What If…? where he is unable to undergo the super-soldier transformation and remains skinny Steve (played by Josh Keaton) in an alternate-universe retelling of The First Avenger. However, Evans transformed into old Steve at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Since the older Steve was simply Evans’ version of Captain America several decades from now, the process of aging Steve up was done a bit more practically. Whether or not skinny Steve Rogers appears again in live-action will come down to whether Evans returns to the MCU.
What It Was Like Playing Skinny Steve Rogers
According to Lola Visual Effects supervisor Edson Williams (via The Wrap), the original Skinny Steve Rogers, Leander Deeny, is the “unsung hero” of The First Avenger. “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.” Williams compared the process to “taking the head of a rhinoceros and putting it on the body of a gazelle.” This underscores not only the physical differences between Deeny and Chris Evans, but the sheer acting ability of Leander Deeny, who also appears in Atonement, Holby City, and Endeavor.
As for Chris Sarris, Steve Rogers’ before serum body-double in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this was his first role in a movie. Sarris is an animator and video editor from Cleveland, Ohio, who tried but failed to be an extra in The Avengers but was cast in The Winter Soldier, which featured both Captain America before and after the serum. Sarris explained (via Screen Crush) that the process has been mostly positive. He also detailed an experience that could explain past rumors regarding skinny Steve Rogers appearing in Captain America: Civil War, as the actor received a phone call asking if he was available for the third Captain America movie:
Unfortunately, I would later be told that I was no longer needed. I was told the script underwent changes and the part was no longer in the film, although I would later learn this wasn’t completely accurate. By sheer coincidence I ran into one of the writers of Winter Soldier at San Diego Comic-Con 2016. He was somebody I spent a lot of time talking to while I was on set so I recognized him in a crowd and said hi. I asked if there was ever a “Skinny Steve” sequence in Civil War, and he told me no. More likely, the casting agency was just getting in touch with me since I had worked on the previous film just to have somebody on deck for the role if it came up again, without necessarily knowing if they would be needed or not.
What If’s Captain Carter Made Steve’s Transformation More Impactful
The animated debut of skinny Steve Rogers as Hydra Stomper in “What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” is just one of the many unusual Marvel stories inspired by Captain America’s transformation in The First Avenger. In an alternate universe where Peggy Carter takes the Super Soldier Serum instead of Steve Rogers, Howard Stark uses the Tesseract to give skinny Steve the power of Hydra Stomper, a large suit of armor that allows Steve to fight alongside Captain Carter. Echoing the heated Avengers scene in which Cap tells Tony Stark, “Big man in a suit of armor. Take that off, what are you?” Peggy reassures Steve in What If…? that he’s not “just a skinny kid from Brooklyn, now just in a big metal suit,” as the Hydra Stomper is only as good as the hero inside it.
Skinny Steve Rogers Will Return – But Might Not Stay Skinny
What If…? is not only slated for release in 2023, Marvel has revealed that the second season of the animated series will continue Captain Carter and Steve Rogers’ story in the 21st century. Somehow, Steve is still alive and piloting the Hydra Stomper in What If season 2, which implies that he will no longer be skinny Steve Rogers – a risky move for what is already a brilliant reinterpretation of the Captain America mythos. That said, with the tease that Steve will become Peggy Carter’s Winter Soldier equivalent, giving What If…? Steve Rogers Hydra’s version of the Super Soldier Serum could lead to interesting results. After all, anything can happen in this alternate universe.
Although the MCU’s Steve Rogers quit being a superhero in Avengers: Endgame, this just goes to show how much Captain America’s before and after transformation in The First Avenger has impacted Marvel’s storytelling. Despite being missing in action for years, Marvel will no doubt continue to shape the MCU’s future through Captain America’s lens. Throughout MCU Phases 5, 6, and 7, Steve’s heroic, timeless, and transformative journey will no doubt continue to inspire stories seeking to break the traditional limits of the superhero genre.
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