Behind-the-scenes Of Crafting An Action-packed Movie Collection – Framestore’s 156 shots of high-VFX were delivered from its London studio and overseen by Alexis Weisbrot – a frequent MCU collaborator over the past decade and CG supervisor for
“Every time you step into the MCU, you know you’re in for a wild ride, but exploring the Multiverse with a director like Sam Raimi takes things to a whole new level,” says VFX Supervisor Alexis Weisbrot. “From intricate simulations and lighting challenges to perfect digidoubles, stunning environments and fantastically creative FX work, The Multiverse of Madness really blew us away. You also have a sequence like the portal journey, which was just amazing – it gave us a chance to put together something really bold.”
Behind-the-scenes Of Crafting An Action-packed Movie Collection
Framestore’s Pre-Production Services (FPS) joined the project before filming began to preview the opening sequence, working closely with director Sam Raimi. “We were constantly sharing progress with the visual development team, so we could see how the post-production team approached the creature and environment design and really took those ideas and ran with them,” explains visual supervisor Kaya Jabbar. “We designed our shots to help create a more cohesive look to the scene that goes beyond character and camera blocking.”
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“The story begins with a battle in Vishanti’s temple, located in the clouds in the space between universes, which Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) visits to retrieve Vishanti’s book. He is chased by a flame-banded monster who stabs him and arrests his companion America Chavez (Xochitl Gómez). Working with designer Charles Wood, the Framestore team drew inspiration for the temple setting from around the world. “Charles Wood created some incredible concepts,” says VFX Supervisor Alexis Weisbrot. “The main stage has a very Portuguese influence with a touch of the Vatican. The large windows in the background were inspired by Notre Dame, along with some Moroccan architectural influence.” Framestore’s pre-production team worked closely with the art department to help bring their designs to the stage, showing how large parts of the temple could move and act as a walkway for the characters. “With environments that are constantly moving and characters in multiple levels of gravity, it was important to prove how each shot should be executed on green screen,” adds visuals supervisor Kaya Jabbar. The techvis phase was useful for visualizing the action on the scenes and splitting the shots into multiple passes for each character to sell the different temple orientations. The Framestore Pre-Production Services (FPS) team worked closely with VFX Supervisor Jörundur Rafn Arnarson to determine the shooting methodology to fulfill the pre-production brief.
“With Doctor Strange and America standing on top of moving and spinning debris, it was impossible to predict where the sun (in this case, a giant stained glass window) would be at any given moment in the shoot,” explains Weisbrot. “Most of the time we had to reflash the board in the comp to fit where the light source was.” On set, cinematographer John Matheson set up a rotating light fixture so that the actors’ lighting would rotate from blue to red. The main challenge was how to combine this lighting with the temple ruins as well as the cloudy environment. “The environment had to be pre-composed so that the VFX team working on the stained glass scene could properly refract the light on set,” adds Wajsbrot.
“We rendered most of the environment in white to give the Comp department maximum control over the color and intensity of the lighting in each shot, whether it’s coming from a mysterious subcloud glow, an off-screen nebula, starlight, or a giant stained glass window,” he says.Head of Environment Matthew Chandler.
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After receiving some sketches from Marvel, the Framestore team began creating concept art to flesh out the details of the creature. Associate Animation Supervisor James King and the team created motion tests to determine how the demon would look, separate, change, and move. “We did a lot of motion studies,” adds Wajsbrot, “to see how the creature might move—the scene starts out as an underwater creature, the webs look like tentacles, but as it lingers it becomes more spider-like. up and moves along the hard surface of the stage.
The CG team worked to create the logic of the strips that build the creature. Thanks to a clever configuration built by lighting supervisor Andre Hitsoy, each of the fire bands went from clear skin to charred skin and burning edges before ending in fire and ash. Framestore’s FX team then created animated maps to manage each stage of this development. “We did a dynamic transition on the strips we got from the animation to bring in more secondary movement and add a sense of believability,” says FX supervisor Jonathan Lydon-Toole. “We then ran simulations on the character, creating layers of fire, smoke, fog, ash and embers until we got a distinct look and feel.”
For each shot, the Framestore team had to artfully direct the fire: its details, its location and the direction of the wind. “The fire is connected to the narrative of the scene,” explains Weisbrot, “when the creature gets angry, the fire gets stronger.”
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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness sees the return of Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), a scarlet witch who hunts America Chavez with the intention of absorbing her power and opening portals between parallel universes. Chavez’s portal effect was developed in collaboration with Weta Digital. “The FX design was very complex,” Weisbrot says. “From iteration to iteration, it went from a flash style to a more crystalline look to the final effect with a portal inside.”
“The idea was that the portal would ‘break the slab’ and allow us to see other universes through the opening,” explains CG head Sylvain Degrot. “Our VisDev team, led by Horacio Mendoza and Owen Jackson, initially came up with a 2D motion concept that was very well received. From there, we went to a 3D version that would sell the idea that it physically existed on set. This journey led us to the final concept, a portal made of crystal.
The stability of the portal edges corresponds to America Chávez’s ability to control his power. As he feels more confident with it, the form of the portal becomes more stable. Framestore’s FX team developed a setup in Houdini that follows this logic – the boundaries of a stargate constantly shatter and release debris into another universe, then immediately begin to rebuild. “The rate of regeneration causes stress on the outer edge of the portal, causing it to crack. The portal also acts as an air chamber and sucks in some props and particles around it. It was a very demanding effect that was very artistically focused on telling the story,” says FX Supervisor Jimmy Leung.
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Doctor Strange rescues Chavez from Maximoff, signaling the start of an incredibly challenging and creative VFX sequence as the pair jump across 20 completely different universes. “The portal journey was one of those dream sequences where the team really flexed their creative muscles,” Weisbrot says. “It’s almost like you’re given a blank piece of paper to work with: OK, why don’t we add some dinosaurs?” Is there a Hydra Easter Egg? Was there a nod to Escher? Any giant bees? It certainly wasn’t easy, but I think everyone was thrilled when the end result came out so perfectly.”
Framestore’s VFX and animation teams provided preliminary input for this sequence, which went through several iterations before the final effects were created. “What started as a free fall evolved into multiple shots of the same New York street interlaced in different universes, with the urban environment changing from brick and glass to pipes, bones and jungle,” Weisbrot continues. As Doctor Strange descends, the sequence becomes increasingly surreal, with the environment transitioning through 2D animation, pixelated squares, and even a universe made entirely of color. “When we were making the overhang, we started collecting ideas for different worlds,” Weisbrot says. “The creative process was aided by many different departments, from Art, VisDev, DMP – ideas could come from anywhere on the team and the best ones made it to the queue.”
“20 unique individual worlds in 40 seconds is not a gimmick,” commented Chandler. In the first iterations, the portal journey sequence consisted of about 12 worlds that had to be built in 3D and several 2.5D DMP designed worlds. Each setting had to be unique and follow the lines of the New York street created by the client. “We wanted to get started as soon as possible, so we started by previewing each world. Once the customer approved it, we started gathering and creating whatever developments we needed to build them,” says Chandler. “This was achieved by working on a purely overhead environment in collaboration with the animation team,
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