VFX Voice

The award-winning definitive authority on all things visual effects in the world of film, TV, gaming, virtual reality, commercials, theme parks, and other new media.

Winner of three prestigious Folio Awards for excellence in publishing.

Subscribe to the VFX Voice Print Edition

Subscriptions & Single Issues


August 09
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

DIGITAL DOMAIN ENCOUNTERS DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Digital Domain and Marvel Studios.

Digital Domain had to come up with how effects simulations would work and look to show what happens when two universes collide with each other.

Digital Domain had to come up with how effects simulations would work and look to show what happens when two universes collide with each other.

Living up to its title is Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where filmmaker Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) infuses his horror sensibilities into the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the sequel that stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong. Digital Domain was hired by Marvel Studios Visual Effects Supervisor Janek Sirrs (The Matrix) for a 100 shots that consist of the aftermath of two universes colliding with each other, a Sinister Universe version of the Sanctum Sanctorum, and the revelation of a hex conjured by Wanda and the attempt to capture her in the Mirror Universe. “For this show, it was a standard pipeline,” Digital Domain Visual Effects Supervisor Joel Behrens states. “We didn’t have to go outside of using our typical tools. We did V-Ray for lighting and rendering, Houdini for our effects, Nuke for compositing and Maya for asset builds.”

“We had the ground level of buildings built as set pieces and dressed accordingly per universe, and then they would do a LiDAR scan of that. We would get the geometry from the LiDAR data, build out the actual extensions based off the ground-level buildings and maintain that architectural look that was already established with the ground level, and run our destruction simulation, which in this case was a pseudo anti-gravity destruction.”

—Joel Behrens, Visual Effects Supervisor, Digital Domain

Filmmaker Sam Raimi brings his signature comedic spin on the horror genre to the MCU with the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

Filmmaker Sam Raimi brings his signature comedic spin on the horror genre to the MCU with the release of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.

High-resolution digital doubles of Wanda and Doctor Strange were created by Digital Domain and shared with other vendors.

High-resolution digital doubles of Wanda and Doctor Strange were created by Digital Domain and shared with other vendors.

The Mirror Trap proved to be the most challenging look to develop and required 20 other versions of Wanda to appear in the various reflections.

The Mirror Trap proved to be the most challenging look to develop and required 20 other versions of Wanda to appear in the various reflections.

On his way to find the Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum inhabited by the antagonistic and alternative version of himself, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) traverse through two different realities of New York City that have collided together and are ripping each other apart. “There were a lot of effects simulations and visual design that needed to happen to come up with that look,” Behrens reveals. “On a backlot location in London, there was a basic intersection and street that you see multiple times throughout the movie in various universes. We had the ground level of buildings built as set pieces and dressed accordingly per universe, and then they would do a LiDAR scan of that. We would get the geometry from the LiDAR data, build out the actual extensions based off the ground-level buildings and maintain that architectural look that was already established with the ground level, and run our destruction simulation, which in this case was a pseudo anti-gravity destruction.”

Plates were shot in Iceland, while portions of the grand staircase and foyer were practically built for the Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum.

Plates were shot in Iceland, while portions of the grand staircase and foyer were practically built for the Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum.

“You can’t have it [the set of destroyed buildings] drifting away too quickly. Otherwise your buildings are gone by the end of the shot. It was finding that balance of how to keep interesting motion up there, along with these large, smoky, viscus-liquid tendrils that pull away from the buildings as well as the pieces of debris. Then, on top of that you’ve got the incursion from the other universe colliding and floating through space, whether in real-time or in a slightly slow-motion fashion to heighten the interest of the motion.”

—Joel Behrens, Visual Effects Supervisor, Digital Domain

Animation and motion tests were conducted for the debris. “You can’t have it drifting away too quickly. Otherwise your buildings are gone by the end of the shot,” Behrens remarks. “It was finding that balance of how to keep interesting motion up there, along with these large, smoky, viscus-liquid tendrils that pull away from the buildings as well as the pieces of debris. Then, on top of that you’ve got the incursion from the other universe colliding and floating through space, whether in real-time or in a slightly slow-motion fashion to heighten the interest of the motion.” As with all of movies by Sam Ramai, a certain automobile is seen floating in the background. “Some of the floating objects like the Oldsmobile Delta 88 were hung off of a large crane arm on wires to have them slightly spinning and drifting through a scene,” Behrens remarks. “It was taking a look at that and matching it. Sam and Janek wanted everything to have a hyper-real, more than slightly slower than real-time look in this universe from the incursion. We tended to go with a heavier slow-motion, high-frame-rate-shutter look for these elements like the Brooklyn Bridge or the subway that is crashing through the ground behind them or the Empire State Building.”

Plate photography was shot in Iceland of the black sand beaches to create an otherworldly feel for the Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum.

Plate photography was shot in Iceland of the black sand beaches to create an otherworldly feel for the Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum.

A car that cameos in the films of Sam Raimi is an Oldsmobile Delta 88.

A car that cameos in the films of Sam Raimi is an Oldsmobile Delta 88.

Different iconic landmarks appear in the Sinister Universe, such as the Brooklyn Bridge in a Victorian Steampunk Gothic style sliding through the ocean.

Different iconic landmarks appear in the Sinister Universe, such as the Brooklyn Bridge in a Victorian Steampunk Gothic style sliding through the ocean.

The Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum was treated as if it was a haunted house.

The Sinister Sanctum Sanctorum was treated as if it was a haunted house.

A haunted house aesthetic was given to the original model of the Sanctum Sanctorum to create the Sinister Universe version. “We didn’t modify the silhouette or the shape of the building, but changed the materials it was made out of, such as using large, weathered pieces of stone that had large cracks in them,” Behrens states. “We had vines that went up the side, and it looked like it had been a 16th century mausoleum that has seen a lot of age and wear over time.” The building is slowly being pulled apart by a massive dark void. “You have this large chunk in the upper right-hand corner that is slowly pulling rocks apart from the construction along with these sinewy, inky tendrils that come off of it,” Behrens adds. “Then, once you go inside the Sanctum there is some weird universe stuff going on. Inside the foyer you’ve got the Grand Staircase, and behind it is this odd otherworldly beach where the surf is rolling up and [there’s] a gigantic, red ominous moon.” Plates were shot in Iceland, while on set Cumberbatch walked on a mirror that had some actual sand on it. “It was a fairly complex simulation to tie in with the surf edge as waves break on the beach,” Behrens says, “and we had these tributaries around the staircase that we wanted water to pool in so Doctor Strange would walk through the water. They played him dry for wet, so we also had to try to make his boots look like that they were getting wet from the water he is walking through.”

“[O]nce you go inside the Sanctum there is some weird universe stuff going on. Inside the foyer you’ve got the Grand Staircase, and behind it is this odd otherworldly beach where the surf is rolling up and [there’s] a gigantic, red ominous moon. … It was a fairly complex simulation to tie in with the surf edge as waves break on the beach, and we had these tributaries around the staircase that we wanted water to pool in so Doctor Strange would walk through the water. They played him dry for wet, so we also had to try to make his boots look like that they were getting wet from the water he is walking through.”

—Joel Behrens, Visual Effects Supervisor, Digital Domain

Doctor Strange encounters Wanda in an orchard that is an illusion, disguising a darker reality that builds upon the Marvel Studios television series WandaVision. “WandaVision had that digitized, almost pixelated television look for the hex as it got dropped and revealed what was actually happening in the world,” Behrens notes. “For this one they wanted it to be more natural and organic. We decided to tie it more into her smoky red magic and the dark hole magic. The idea of this wall of her magic that reveals the universe was tricky because we didn’t want it to be like a simplified wipe-away or dissolve. We had this swirling stuff that, as it wiped over certain branches of the trees, the smoke would cling and almost pull away, so you got this interaction between the wall and the objects that it intersects with as it was revealing that.” The trees appear significantly different in the post-hex world. Comments Behrens, “They went from a fairly normal, healthy trees to these twisted, decayed trees.” Practical trees were constructed around the actors, with the rest being a digital set extension. “We struggled with drifting fog that didn’t look too much like smoke because they didn’t want it to feel like a burnt-out forest that the characters were standing in,” Behrens says. “There is a lot of talking back forth in that scene. We ended up doing background extensions and atmospheric simulations as well as the CG dark hole.”

“Some of the floating objects like the Oldsmobile Delta 88 were hung off of a large crane arm on wires to have them slightly spinning and drifting through a scene. … [Director] Sam [Raimi] and [Marvel Visual Effects Supervisor] Janek [Sirrs] wanted everything to have a hyper-real, more than slightly slower than real-time look in this universe from the incursion. We tended to go with a heavier slow-motion, high-frame-rate-shutter look for these elements like the Brooklyn Bridge or the subway that is crashing through the ground behind them or the Empire State Building.”

—Joel Behrens, Visual Effects Supervisor, Digital Domain

A swap gas-like fog that has a pinkish-orange color drifts around the trees.

A swap gas-like fog that has a pinkish-orange color drifts around the trees.

A portion of the post-hex orchard was practically built around the characters.

A portion of the post-hex orchard was practically built around the characters.

It was important to avoid the real orchard appearing as a forest ravaged by a wildfire.

It was important to avoid the real orchard appearing as a forest ravaged by a wildfire.

In order to imprison Wanda in the Mirror Universe, Doctor Strange conjures a Mirror Trap. “There were all sorts of permutations, such as being glassier, but we went for it being more mirror-like and reflecting a digital environment as well as a digital-double version of our actress,” Behrens explains. “When shooting the footage on greenscreen for Wanda, we had a few witness cameras for some of those reflections; however, because these mirror pieces were at different angles and magnifications of her, we ended up using a digital double for quite a bit of that.” The decision was to have a lot less distortion in the mirror images. “We needed to see clearly what is happening with Wanda,” Behrens explains. “We had spikes built out of this mirrored glass as well so you could see her reflections, in which we used a combination of both digital-double and plate reflections. It was tricky coming up with the look because you didn’t want it to feel like a flat chrome surface. So we were trying to put imperfections on the front glass, smudges, a bit of dust and dirt, scratches, small cracks, things that were grounded in reality,  because the initial passes did not look good when they were strictly a purely reflective material. It looked incredibly CG. It’s always about those imperfections and realism that you can add to those pieces that hopefully fit it in there and make it feel realistic.”


Share this post with

Most Popular Stories

THE RETURN OF HAND-DRAWN AND STYLIZED EFFECTS ANIMATION
27 September 2022
Exclusives, Film
THE RETURN OF HAND-DRAWN AND STYLIZED EFFECTS ANIMATION
If you’ve noticed that a raft of animated films, shows and visual effects projects have been toying with more hand-crafted effects animation lately, you’re not alone.
LOOKING AT HIS DARK MATERIALS THROUGH THE AMBER SPYGLASS
03 October 2022
Exclusives, Film
LOOKING AT HIS DARK MATERIALS THROUGH THE AMBER SPYGLASS
Extensive creature work sparks fantasy series finale.
FRAMESTORE GOES TO WAR FOR THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER
13 September 2022
Exclusives, Film
FRAMESTORE GOES TO WAR FOR THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER
Thor: Love and Thunder, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Indigarr battle, a crystal temple and giant goats.
SOUTH AND EAST ASIAN VFX STUDIOS MEET LOCAL AND GLOBAL DEMAND
03 October 2022
Exclusives, Film
SOUTH AND EAST ASIAN VFX STUDIOS MEET LOCAL AND GLOBAL DEMAND
Inside the South and East Asian VFX industry boom.
THERE IS HORROR IN THE CLOUDS IN NOPE
07 September 2022
Exclusives, Film
THERE IS HORROR IN THE CLOUDS IN NOPE
Being conventional when it comes to the horror genre is something that does not apply to filmmaker Jordan Peele
cialis online buy cialis