While the content put out by Marvel Studios is diverse and sometimes tonally different from each other, one thing they all have in common is that they’re visual effects behemoths. The hard work of these technical wizards was celebrated this year at SIGGRAPH (stands for Special Interest Group on computer GRAPHics) with a look at Marvel’s three Disney+ originals, which also marked their first foray into episodic storytelling (if you don’t count the connectivity between each and every MCU project). What follows is a recap of what I learned about WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki.
Tara DeMarco, overall VFX Supervisor on the series for Marvel Studios, celebrated the fact that over 3,000 shots were completed for the series, nearly 1/3rd of which are in the epic finale. The process started by researching camera lenses from TV through the decades, with some of the effects including making some tricky shots look as if they were captured in-lense in the ‘50’s-90’s.
The Hex was done by Rodeo FX and Julian Hery served as the VFX Supervisor on this work. The process started by acquiring several CRT TVs and studying how magnets affected the image. One detail you might’ve missed is that when the Hex is shown in daylight, the sky reflects off it. The Hex also changes colors with Wanda’s emotions, becoming a chilling red during the climactic battle with Agatha.
Industrial Light & Magic worked on the different kinds of magic included in the series. Having already developed Chaos Magic in Avengers: Infinity War, some of the groundwork was already done. However, a new form of magic we hadn’t seen yet from Wanda was called Creation Magic, which was partially inspired by a comic cover from House of M. This magic is born out of Wanda’s grief and bursts from her chest and hands like an emotional bomb. This type of magic incorporates building blocks plus layers of TV static with glitches.
Originally planned as Marvel Studio’s first TV series, the pandemic delayed The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which features over 2,500 VFX shots, which is on par with the amount in Avengers: Endgame. Eric Leven served as the VFX Supervisor for Marvel Studios. One fun fact about the series is that many of the helicopter sequences were inspired by the 1983 action film Blue Thunder, which was one of the last helicopter chase movies produced before computer effects were possible. Previs work by Third Floor also helped determine how the new Captain America might use his wings to aid in the way he fights, including unused development where his wings are used to throw the shield or even to fire vibranium feathers at targets.
Weta Digital handled the opening air chase sequence and VFX Supervisor Charlie Tate shared that it includes 412 visual effects shots. Story changes necessitated even more shots added to the opening, which included Redwing assisting Falcon take down helicopters. Because Redwing had only ever been seen from the top, Weta had to design the underside of Falcon’s helper, coming up with the idea for a revolving weapon carousel. Weta also handled the shot where Sam Wilson debuts his Captain America costume, transitioning from a digital double that crashes through a window to footage of Anthony Mackie in the studio.
Speaking of digital doubles, they were created by Rodeo FX, who not only created digital versions of the show’s live action characters, but also the iconic shield. The models proved so effective that the team was able to transition from a digital double to a live-action plate without any visual disturbance, making each movement appear seamless. Rodeo FX also helped develop the city of Madripoor, inspired partially by the eccentricity of the buildings in Hong Kong.
Another 2,500 visual effects shots were created for the first season of Loki, with Brad Parker presenting on behalf of Marvel Studios. Some of the work from this presentation overlaps with what fans saw in the Loki episode of Marvel Assembled, such as the effects of the TVA’s shield portals being inspired by David Lynch’s Doom. It did, however, point out a few Easter Eggs that you might not be aware of.
Trixter created the continuous camera shot that starts at our own sun and moves towards the Citadel at the end of time. VFX Supervisor Ben White shared that this single shoot took 9-months to complete and of the 120 people who worked on Loki at the effects house, most of them touched this shot at some point. While the shot wasn’t meant to be scientifically accurate, they have amazing reference footage of the sun while other aspects had to be improvised, leading to some stylization. The stargate in the shot is a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey and an Easter Egg that goes by quickly is the Collector’s ship stealing the Voyage satellite.
Industrial Light and Magic designed the Void, embedding the landscape with one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (the Lighthouse of Alexandria) and another MCU Easter Egg, the palace of Wakanda. They worked on Alioth and alligator Loki, for which they weren’t able to scan a real alligator into the computer, so they used online reference from several gators. Getting the animation of this character right was tricky because real alligators don’t move a lot.
All three Marvel Studios shows are now streaming on Disney+ with the studio’s first animated series, What If…?, premiering August 11th.
Alex joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and has been a lifelong Disney fan. His main beats for LP are Disney-branded movies, TV shows, books, music and toys. He recently became a member of the Television Critics Association (TCA).