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September 13
2022

ISSUE

Web Exclusive

FRAMESTORE GOES TO WAR FOR THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios and Framestore.

Battered teenage Groot was made slightly taller and beefier with chips, charring and dirt.

Battered teenage Groot was made slightly taller and beefier with chips, charring and dirt.

Among the army of visual effects vendors working for Marvel Studios Visual Effects Supervisor Jake Morrison for Thor: Love and Thunder was Framestore, which was responsible for the opening scene featuring the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor and Korg taking part in the Indigarr battle, a crystal temple and giant goats. “The battle has a Mad Max intergalactic feel to it,” notes Framestore Visual Effects Supervisor Matt Twyford. “Indigarr was an alien planet, and you had to be made immediately aware this was not happening on Earth. That’s why we had the monstrous stones, strange galactic objects in the sky, and is a blue, dusty, sandy environment with a warm grade over the top. It was shot at ILM’s StageCraft volume down in Australia.”

Initially executing the destruction of the crystal city was viewed to be the biggest challenge, but even with it being redesigned the rendering went smoothly.

Initially executing the destruction of the crystal city was viewed to be the biggest challenge, but even with it being redesigned the rendering went smoothly.

“The battle has a Mad Max intergalactic feel to it. Indigarr was an alien planet and you had to be made immediately aware this was not happening on Earth. That’s why we had the monstrous stones, strange galactic objects in the sky, and is a blue, dusty, sandy environment with a warm grade over the top. It was shot at ILM’s StageCraft volume down in Australia.”

—Matt Twyford, Visual Effects Supervisor, Framestore

There were positive and negatives working with StageCraft. “We ingested the environment from ILM and dropped in all of the battle action,” Twyford explains. “You have all of the actors and extras in the environment, so they are naturally working with it. The lighting was an identical match. But because it was a 3D environment projected onto a curved screen and there are time delays, you can’t do 3D tracking. On the complicated shots, we used the assets from ILM and re-rendered through our track camera where we based it on the set rather than the volume. On other shots, we were doing enhancements, and that was done with simple one-point tracks in compositing. otherwise you would get strange distortions in geometry.”

Visual references for the battlefield were World War I trenches and stumps of burnt trees as well as the graphic black smokestacks from the Gulf War.

Visual references for the battlefield were World War I trenches and stumps of burnt trees as well as the graphic black smokestacks from the Gulf War.

Booskans are fighting the native Indigarrians. “We added energy weapons and hover bikes, which are not things you can relate to on Earth,” Twyford states. “The [rowdy, aggressive] Booskans are anthropomorphic like people, but we adjusted the proportions of their legs and arms.” The creature designs for the Booskans were provided to Framestore. “Their headpieces were created, and a few prosthetics were put on the arms and legs,” Twyford describes. “They had four or five different variations. We then recreated digital-double versions of the main bad guy and four hero guys. Then we had a whole raft of crowd variance as well. Because the prosthetic heads were fixed and solid, we rebuilt their faces so they could emote, scream and even talk.”

“We ingested the environment from ILM and dropped in all of the battle action. You have all of the actors and extras in the environment, so they are naturally working with it. The lighting was an identical match. But because it was a 3D environment projected onto a curved screen and there are time delays, you can’t do 3D tracking. On the complicated shots, we used the assets from ILM and re-rendered through our track camera where we based it on the set rather than the volume.”

—Matt Twyford, Visual Effects Supervisor, Framestore

Multiple designs were created for the submissive Indigarrians, which had prosthetic ears and noses. “Originally, the Indigarrians were much more alien and had insectoid eyes,” Twyford reveals. “However, they needed to fit with the performances, especially of the king. We went with a light touch where we made sure that the blue of the skin was clean, added a tiny bit of alien texture to it, and did some work on iris in the eyes. We made sure that they didn’t look like painted people, but you still got the 100% performance, which was driven by great piece of acting.”

Vehicles like hover bikes driven by the Booskans helped the viewer to immediately realize that the battle is taking place on an alien environment.

Vehicles like hover bikes driven by the Booskans helped the viewer to immediately realize that the battle is taking place on an alien environment.

Most of the explosions are CG. “We had reference from the anime feature Akira for the smoke and explosions,” Twyford remarks. “It was a graphic, almost gamey look. There was also reference from World War I of trenches and stumps of burnt trees. As well as from the Gulf War where there was this graphic black, solid smokestacks. It made the environment feel quite surreal. We rendered a whole batch of explosions, smokestacks and bullet squibs in 3D, and half were rendered shot by shot, and the other half we used as generic elements for the compositing team to place when and where they needed.”

The Indigarr environment was shot at ILM’s StageCraft volume in Australia, with Framestore adding in the battle elements.

The Indigarr environment was shot at ILM’s StageCraft volume in Australia, with Framestore adding in the battle elements.

“The [rowdy, aggressive] Booskans are anthropomorphic like people, but we adjusted the proportions of their legs and arms. Their headpieces were created, and a few prosthetics were put on the arms and legs. They had four or five different variations. We then recreated digital-double versions of the main bad guy and four hero guys. Then we had a whole raft of crowd variance as well. Because the prosthetic heads were fixed and solid, we rebuilt their faces so they could emote, scream and even talk.”

—Matt Twyford, Visual Effects Supervisor, Framestore

Producing the crystal temple, which the Indigarrians are defending from the Booskans, was originally viewed as the biggest challenge. “It’s huge,” Twyford notes. “600 meters high. We needed to collapse it, and when you put a complicated simulation and essentially crystal through the renderer, things are going to explode. But it actually worked quickly. Although it did get a massive redesign, most of the dynamics setup in look development transferred to new design quickly. A lot of time was spent on modeling because it was a high-resolution model. For the collapse, we went to our effects guys who, within two or three goes, nailed it. We got feedback from the director and [Marvel Studio President of Physical, Post Production, VFX and Animation] Victoria Alonso, who wanted to play more of the comedic value, so we added in a few more twisted bits left over.”

Making a cameo appearance are the Guardians of the Galaxy. “They’re like old friends because I’ve worked on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 and Vol. 2,” Twyford reflects. “I know them inside out as to what they require in terms of visual effects. I love Groot and Rocket. We were reusing a lot of basic assets and adding new costumes. Effectively, Groot is the teenager that you see in Avengers: Endgame, but he is slightly taller and bulkier. As we come across him in the middle of a battle, he is quite a bit battered. Groot is chipped, charred, dirty and frustrated because they wanted a holiday and are not getting one!”

Korg went through a redesign which allowed for his rocks to flex more without viewers noticing.

Korg went through a redesign which allowed for his rocks to flex more without viewers noticing.

Thor’s rock creature sidekick Korg was altered. “Originally, he was rocks moving against each other,” explains Twyford. “Then there was a YouTube skit done with Deadpool, which had a slightly different technique, and the director found that to be more interesting. It wasn’t absolutely solid rocks moving around. We came up with new way to do facial expressions where the rocks flexed, but you don’t see  them do it. That allowed us to open up a whole new level of performance for Korg.”

“We had reference from the anime feature Akira for the smoke and explosions. It was a graphic, almost gamey look. There was also reference from World War I of trenches and stumps of burnt trees. As well as from the Gulf War where there was this graphic black, solid smokestacks. It made the environment feel quite surreal. We rendered a whole batch of explosions, smokestacks and bullet squibs in 3D, and half were rendered shot by shot, and the other half we used as generic elements for the compositing team to place when and where they needed.”

—Matt Twyford, Visual Effects Supervisor, Framestore

Great fun was had in visually developing the giant goats. “They were based on a real goat design and are literally two to three times bigger and a lot beefier,” Twyford states. “The heads were built as maquettes, and in our minds we assigned characteristics to them. One is more suave and sophisticated like James Bond, and the other is more Dumb and Dumber and happy-go-lucky.” Despite having to hand over the goats to other vendors, working on Thor: Love and Thunder was not a chore. “[Director] Taika Waititi wanted people to enjoy the movie, and we enjoyed making it. You could see that everyone was having a bit of fun and adding a bit of a laugh in along the way.”


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