In Loki, Marvel Studios’ new episodic adventure now airing on Disney +, the God of Mischief, in various incarnations and timelines, is wreaking havoc on the mysterious Time Variance Authority … aka VAT. Directed by Kate Herron, the show stars Tom Hiddleston as the famous Asgardian, along with Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Sophia Di Martino, Wunmi Mosaku and Richard E. Grant.
One of the main visual effects studios bringing Loki’s special brand of chaos to life was Studios Method. The Method team, led by VFX Supervisor Seth Hill and VFX Studio Manager / Producer Sabrina Gagnon, delivered 450 shots on the project, including:
- CG elements and compositing of plates on the TVA environment
- the timekeeper’s chamber and the battle, including the construction of the space itself and CG characters – timekeepers and digital doubles such as Loki and Sylvie – and the composition to bring the elements together
- compositing on the Bridge Platform stages
- creation of CG characters like Loki and Sylvie as well as their integration into CG and live-action elements
With a team of around 200 artists who grew to 300 when extra hands were needed, Method oversaw the project from their Montreal studio. “The pandemic was in full force and that actually made it easier for us to work as a global studio,” Hill notes. The work was almost entirely managed by artists, animators, composers, producers and so on. based out of home, and we’ve incorporated people who, under more “normal” circumstances, work at many of Method’s other locations, including Vancouver, Los Angeles and New York.
Method has worked on five of the show’s six episodes to some extent, although most of their work has been on the opening sequence which takes place in the Gobi Desert, where Loki falls through a wormhole. ; The Expanse environment, in particular the cafeteria, which involved a considerable amount of creative development to produce the sense of a city that continues endlessly; the timekeeper’s room involving three timekeeper characters resembling lizards all in CG; the clothes disintegrator robot; Pompeii and the eruption of the volcano; and a short section in the first episode involving a DB Cooper character refloating a commercial airliner.
Guided by the artwork provided by Marvel, Method, as the sole visual effects provider on the Timekeepers and Expanse footage, “helped develop the artwork in this artwork to what you see on screen.”
The Time Variance Authority Expanse, the headquarters of the organization that controls everything that happens in every possible timeline, presented an interesting visual challenge. “Since there would be an infinite number of these possible deadlines, the entire workforce, workspace, living space, office buildings, ports for small cars that we planes floating around – everything – should go on and on, ”says Hill. “So it’s an endless expanse of structures that repeat themselves and continually expand, that are extinguished forever, completely removed from time and space. It couldn’t have the equivalent of our Sun. It would be this infinite construction with completely artificial lighting.
Marvel’s direction was that the space should have a mid-century modern feel, taking inspiration from architects such as William Pereia and Oscar Niemeyer. The method would receive action plates shot against a window or balcony and a blue screen. “Then we built everything beyond it mostly in 3D,” says Hill. “It really wasn’t something that would support a DMP [digital matte painting] approach because the depth itself is so much of an illusion.
He continues, “We modeled a lot of this location in Maya and then built and replicated it mostly in Houdini. We rendered everything in Katana RenderMan. We found Katana to be great at handling massive scenes.
Method’s largest and most complicated job involved a fight between several characters overseen by the Timekeepers, three lizard-like creatures, in the Timekeeper’s Chamber.
“The live-action plaques included the main deck the characters stood on and the back doors of the elevator,” Hill describes. “As the set extended up to the wall behind the timekeepers, almost everything was replaced from the middle of the stairs so that we could incorporate the fog, the light-up logo on the wall and the timekeepers themselves. Beyond this section of the set, everything else has become a CG extension.
“One of the main challenges of the footage is that all we see is blue screen lighting, which adds additional difficulty when we add CG elements,” he continues. “It’s hard to make anything look real, even the real people on the plates look like CGI due to the very deep green lighting. “
The red lighting, called “Electric Salmon”, was from the original production design. “We made changes to the current logo, but the idea for a large, light-up logo came from the original creative brief,” Hill adds. “We then tried to take advantage of this to introduce additional color contrast into the scene.”
Hill decided to add a “type of reddish neon sign” on the wall behind everyone to give them some color, so “we would have some of that bleeding in the live-action and CG characters for them. bring out of this entirely blue-green world. “
He also notes the added challenge that the whole scene is covered in fog. Not a dry ice fog, or a lingering atmosphere, but some sort of thick fog that involved “doing enough simulation work heavy enough to drape all that geometry in fog that the actors would go through and wander around like they do.” The distinctive thick fog effect was all CG.
Another big part of Method’s work was the Gobi Desert sequence, the show’s introductory rhythm, which links the story directly to the events at the end of Avengers: Endgame. “One of the main challenges was that the live action plates were shot on a small outdoor stage surrounded by a blue screen,” says Hill. “It’s a small space that we then modified to look like a big, wide open desert.”
Hill points out that you can actually find scan data of entire parts of the world in places like the US Geological Survey online, sharing, “That would never make a final photo, but it’s a great place to start. capture the look and structure of much of the landscape, such as the way sand dunes flow over a large area. And that’s where we started trying to find something as real as possible to create the basis for the scene.
Using much of this information as inspiration, Hill’s team designed and built a model of the entire environment in Maya. According to the VFX supervisor, “We rendered all the 3D spaces in Katana. We also built a lot of the space further back with the DMPs, as it was the best way to customize each shot to what it needed to be. Obviously the whole sky and everything was a total replacement because otherwise you have a blue screen all around. And once you’ve started to replace the sky and totally swap it out, you’ve got to start blending into the horizon, and you’ve got to find ways to start pulling that forward. We have the impression that the sky is in the distance advancing towards the end of CG and DMP. It really was the best approach for the turnaround time and versatility required.
Reflecting on their latest foray into the MCU, Hill concludes, “It’s always exciting working with Marvel Studios. So much thought and creativity goes into the MCU and everything they do, and Loki was certainly no exception.
Dan Sarto is publisher and editor-in-chief of Animation World Network.