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Neil Burke joins in with our Marvel Heroes weekly them with a full shoot set in the frozen realm of Nilheim and shows our heroes battered and broken. Neil couples his shoot with an extensive BTS detailing his set-up from concept to realisation.
As soon as I saw that it was Marvel Week I knew what I wanted to do; the Avengers laid to waste in Niflheim, the Norse realm of primordial cold and frost with a mournful Thor looking on. It came to me in an instant almost fully formed and I jumped head first into planning the shoot, which I decided I would do indoors instead of heading out into nature and finding the perfect location which is what I usually do. I chose to replicate the conditions of Niflheim indoors partially to challenge myself and partial because, well, even with all the rain we’ve been having recently in Manchester, I was really going to struggle finding snow.
Sacrificing a shoebox lid, I poured in my snow (a mixture of bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, icing sugar and flour which my wife was kind enough to mash up with a knife to get the desired consistency) and used my tablet case as a background (which I later swapped out for a BBQ apron I got with a bottle of Jack Daniels for Christmas one year).
After heading into the back garden to gather up some leaves and twigs and laying them in the snow, I set about displaying my figures. Iron Man was placed in such a manner that he looked as if he was slowly crawling, half-dead, his suit shutting down. Spidey I posed in a propped-up seated pose, arms by his sides, legs straight out, dead or close to it. Captain America I decided was also dead, covered by a thick layer of snow, the first to have fallen in the battle.
What really brought the scene to life, however, was posing Captain Marvel (Khn’nr/Mar-Vell, not Carol Danvers) on his knees, leaning over the dead Captain America. This, I decided, was far more emotional a focal point than having Thor standing surveying the destruction, this little corner of the scene carried more weight than I ever anticipated and I knew instantly that it should be the heart of the shoot. Next I used ketchup flicked from a teaspoon to replicate blood and then it was time to work out the lighting.
Now, as I said, I usually shoot my figures outside, and using natural light, however, shooting this in my kitchen meant I had no access to any real natural light so I had to improvise. In the end, the best I could manage was to plug in my portable studio and hold it over the scene in a variety of different positions in one hand whilst operating my camera with the other. It was tricky, to say the least, and my first couple shots were on the blurry side, but I think it worked out well in the end.
After tidying everything away and bathing my figures, I uploaded the photos (all 117 of them), to my Drive before going through them and getting rid of any that either was not good enough or were just plain awful. Those remaining, I separated into three folders: Behind the Scenes, B-Sides, and Actuals, which was no easy task.
Then it was time to edit and my go-to app for editing is Snapseed. For a free app, it is really quite special and has a lot of options.
A CAPTAIN, SHATTERED
This is the money shot, Captain Marvel leaning over the lifeless corpse of Captain America and to achieve the desired look for it I used the Glow tool. First I ramped the glow level up to the maximum 100, then I set the saturation level and warmth to 0. That now taken care of I used the highlight option on the Tune Image tool and pushed it up as high as I dared before adding a vignette but instead of making the edges of the photo black, I went the other way and made them white, really white. The reason for this was that using Glow, Highlight and Vignette in this manner gives the illusion of frost and cold, which is perfect for Niflheim. All that was left was to fiddle with the Contrast and Shadows and use the Exposure Brush on Captain Marvel’s torso to bring out the details of his abs a little more as manipulating the shadows and contrast levels had left the area near-black.
For this shot I wanted to focus on the slain villain, Kurse, with Thor standing over him (armed with his axe made from the axe and spear of a Constable Zuvio Star Wars figure that I melted together having cut off the spear’s strap). As I did with the previous shot, I followed the same pattern of Glow and Highlight, the only difference being that with the Vignette I heading towards black.
IRON MAN, CONQUERED
Here, I wanted to continue with the idea of each photo in the set having a different feel and I thought a desaturated, kind of bleak, war movie vibe would be a sure fire way to mix things up and so I used a vintage filter and added a slight grain to give the photograph a little texture.
With this photograph I simply tweaked the exposure and messed with the saturation/brightness/contrast/highlight until I was happy with it and that was all, really. Originally, I wasn’t going to use this as anything other than a B-side but the angle and the blurred red and blue splash that was Spidey in the background won me over.
This was the first image I had in mind and while I like it, I don’t think it packs quite the emotional punch as the majority of these images do. This particular photograph is also the one with the least amount of work done to it in post. I merely turned it black and white and tinkered with the exposure across his armour. A small detail I like here is the line of snow reaching down his cheek from his eye, almost like a tear. Totally unplanned and yet oh-so fitting.
A collection of shoot B-Sides
Thanks for having me, Exclu!
Neil Michael Burke
A huge thank you to Neil for sharing this shoot for us alongside a full insight into his setup for our Marvel Heroes Week. We love the creativity that has gone into this and the time and care taken to realise the shoots potential. Be sure to catch more of Neil’s work over on Instagram at the above tag.