How Howard the Duck ended up in a nearly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in ‘Avengers: Endgame’

How many watches of

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How many watches of “Avengers: Endgame” did it take for you to notice Howard the Duck?
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Marvel Studios

  • Marvel fan-favorite character Howard the Duck appears in the big “Avengers: Endgame” battle for less than a second to the right of the Wasp.
  • Marvel VFX producer Jen Underdahl and Weta Digital VFX supervisor Matt Aitken told Insider how his appearance came together in the final few weeks of production.
  • Though “Endgame” codirector Joe Russo threw the idea out there, Underdahl says he and his codirector-slash-brother Anthony Russo didn’t know Howard would actually be added into the film.
  • Howard is only in the movie for 17 or 18 frames. The VFX team didn’t expect people to notice his appearance until the movie’s home release.
  • His appearance is a pretty natural fit. Howard was in an early version of “Infinity War” where Peter Quill would have stolen his ship, leaving him stranded on the planet Contraxia. That’s the portal we see him come through in “Endgame.”

Howard the Duck shows up for a few fleeting moments in “Avengers: Endgame” during the film’s climactic battle.

The visual effects team didn’t expect viewers to find the character – who was first introduced at the end of “Guardians of the Galaxy” – in the movie right away. But on opening weekend, excited fans not only found him, but started posting picture of Howard in the final battle online.

“I can’t remember exactly who it was, it was either [codirector] Joe Russo or [Marvel Studios’ president] Kevin Feige and we were talking about the different characters that were going to come through the different environments at each of the portals that had opened up,” Marvel visual effects producer Jen Underdahl told Insider of the idea coming up three weeks before visual effects needed to be completed on the film.

Howard the Duck is first seen speaking with the Collector after the credits roll in 2014's

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Howard the Duck is first seen speaking with the Collector after the credits roll in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
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Marvel Studios

“So you had Wakanda in one and you had Contraxia in another and we just got to talking in the screening room about who would be coming through Contraxia,” Underdahl added.

Introduced in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Contraxia is the planet where the Ravagers like Yondu (Michael Rooker), Kraglin (Sean Gunn), and Stakar Ogord (Sylvester Stallone) were seen. The team also believed it was the last location where Howard the Duck was seen. More on that in a bit.

Kraglin and Yondu are members of the Ravagers.

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Kraglin and Yondu are members of the Ravagers.
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Disney/Marvel

How Howard wound up in ‘Endgame’ with three weeks to go before the VFX team was done with the film

“Somebody threw out Howard the Duck and all of a sudden the room sort of laughed and was like, ‘Huh, wouldn’t that be a great idea?'” said Underdahl. “So that afternoon we gave Weta a call and said, ‘Hey, if we were able to get you an old model of Howard the Duck, do you think you guys could get him into some frames of that shot?’ They didn’t even blink. They said yes.”

Here's an earlier progression image that shows some of the work that went into creating the many portals that brought our heroes onto one battlefield.

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Here’s an earlier progression image that shows some of the work that went into creating the many portals that brought our heroes onto one battlefield.
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Marvel Studios

Russo told Comicbook.com in May he was the one to bring up the idea. But, at the time, he didn’t know it was something that could actually wind up in the film.

“We just thought it was such a cool idea and something for the fans, something for the people who really scrutinize the movie frame by frame, although it didn’t take long for them to find him,” said Weta Digital VFX supervisor Matt Aitken who thought viewers may not find the character until they could pause the film upon its home release months later.

Aitken was mostly impressed people were able to spot him in theaters because Howard is on screen for less than a second.

“It was tight. We had to rig and create a feather groom for Howard and get him into our pipeline and animation,” said Aitken of the amount of work that went into getting the small duck into the film late in the game. “He actually shows up in about 17 or 18 frames in the movie. So it’s definitely a fleeting glimpse we get of him, way less than a second of screen time.”

Weta Digital even had enough time to give Howard a gun almost as big as him for the scene.

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Weta Digital even had enough time to give Howard a gun almost as big as him for the scene.
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Marvel Studios

“I think if you looked at the complexity of getting him ready for the shot, and the amount of time that he’s in the movie, I think it’s probably one of the most skewed characters I’ve ever built for a movie, in that respect,” he added. “But it was so much fun. We really enjoyed it.”

The best part was that while all of this was happening, the directors didn’t even know Howard was really being inserted into the film. Underdahl says they didn’t even notice the character in the scene the first few times they watched it, which made the moment even sweeter.

“They didn’t even know,” said Underdahl. “The filmmakers had no idea we were going to try and get this in, so that when the shot came through, [and] we’re sitting in dailies, we let it play a few times. Then I think it might have been Joe [Russo] who was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s Howard the Duck!'”

“The whole room kind of erupted like, ‘That’s amazing!'” said Underdahl of everyone seeing Howard the Duck during the battle scene. “Mind you, we’re in the very end of the cycle. We have had this long three-year push, we’re right up against it. So to have something like that show up was our true gift to the room and it was appreciated across the board.”

Why it made sense for Howard the Duck to be there: He was in a version of ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Peter Quill originally would have stolen Howard's ship, leaving him stranded on the planet Contraxia.

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Peter Quill originally would have stolen Howard’s ship, leaving him stranded on the planet Contraxia.
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Marvel/Guardians of the Galaxy trailer

“There was a version of ‘Infinity War’ when we were going to spend some time with Howard the Duck and Peter Quill on Contraxia,” said Underdahl of why the idea even came up.

Underdahl said the scene would have involved Peter stealing Howard the Duck’s ship, stranding him on the planet. But it became too much of a side story.

“They’ve got to service all these different MCU characters and groups of heroes,” said Underdahl of why Howard didn’t make it into “Infinity War.” “So things like that, that kind of departure into Contraxia, it ultimately would’ve taken too much weight of the film. We had to kind of stay on target with the storytelling.”

“So when you’re watching the portals open in Contraxia in the background, we’re talking about, OK what are the things that we can see back there that are going to let us know kind of in a few frames where we’re coming from?” Underdahl continued. “We just started talking again about who would be there, flashing back to the story point for ‘Infinity War.'”

It was a nice way to bring in an idea that was discarded in “Infinity War” back into the fold in “Endgame.” And, hey, maybe we’ll see Howard confront Quill in James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”