In 2019, Alexis Wajsbrot explained the work made by Framestore on Spider-Man: Far From Home. He then worked on How I became a superhero, Wonder Woman 1984 and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

What was your feeling about being back into the Doctor Strange universe?

In my opinion the first Doctor Strange film is one of the MCU’s most visually creative movies. I’m really proud of the VFX we achieved on the first one, so I was actually really excited to be involved in the second one – I knew it was going to be an incredibly creative ride.

How was the collaboration with Director Sam Raimi and Production VFX Supervisor Janek Sirrs?

I now know Janek Sirrs very well as I delivered the ‘illusion battle’ sequence for Spider-Man: Far From Home with him. I know what he’s looking for in an image, and his passion for art. Janek fully trusted us to deliver, and it was an amazing collaboration where I really felt we were working on the same team to deliver the best images.

I met Sam Raimi on set, and we instantly got along. He is really keen on knowing everyone’s opinion, to make sure the best idea wins, he is very calm, has a very strong vision, and he is very nice to work with, he is very supportive of the VFX team.

What were their expectations and approach about the visual effects?

Both Janek and Sam have a huge amount of experience and understanding of movie-making as a whole, so their focus is always how to make the best movie before how to make the best VFX. It was great to get feedback on previs from both of them, and notes on how to make the sequence better. I learnt a lot at their side. Janek was pushing to make the sequence special and something people have never seen before, from each spell that Doctor Strange casts, to every environment we visit.

How did you organise the work with your VFX Producer?

We did Doctor Strange fully in our London office and during covid, so it was only a WFH setup, which was a challenge! During prep, Framestore Pre-production services (FPS) was in charge of delivering the previs, while our visdev department was making concepts and compositions of the key effects we had to deliver. We always try to show some moving images as quickly as possible in the beginning, so we can get valuable feedback before proceeding along the pipeline. It worked really well, and I can definitely see all the progress we all made in terms of efficiency since Doctor Strange in 2016.

What are the sequences made by Framestore?

We were involved in the opening sequence of the movie, a sequence called the Vishanti Temple opening, which involved America Chavez and Doctor Strange running away from a ribbon monster we called the Demon Crawler. We also did Vishanti Temple return where Wanda burns the book of Vishanti.

We also delivered the ‘portal ride’ sequence where Doctor Strange and America flee Wanda Maximoff, travelling through 20 parallel – and visually distinct – universes in an epic freefall.

We were also in charge of a lot of the digidouble work : Defender Strange / Strange 616 / America / Wong / Christine / and more importantly the Rintrah

How did you work with the art department to design so many universes?

We mainly used our VisDev department, as they were involved from the get go with us. It was really a fluid relationship, as you can imagine, animation was driving the timing of the shot and what we would see of each environment, in parallel we had visdev doing some concepts, bouncing ideas with me and the team to find what were going to be the 20 worlds, we probably have as many world that are not in the movie 🙂

How was the sequence in which we cross many universes filmed?

We heavily prevised the sequence, which was initially supposed to be a freefall with some close-up elements of both Doctor Strange and America. But after a few iterations, to make it more original, it became a super slow-mo shot, where Strange and America are going through different universes on the same NY street layout.

The original plan was to shoot the close-up moments, so we techviz it using a bolt X motion control rig, as it was the only setup that was giving us enough speed to be able to shoot in slow motion.

After a few tests, it appeared to be too dangerous to shoot with a rig that fast that close to the actors’ faces. Janek also felt we would need more flexibility, and be able to change the camera until the last minute, so we did shoot with a five-camera array rig for facial references of both actors to inform the animators recreating the sequence in CG.

Can you tell us more about the hero digital doubles creation?

We were tasked with creating Doctor Strange 616 (from our universe), Defender Strange, Wong, and America Chavez. Marvel delivered a clearangle scanning technique with the Dorothy rig, which provided plenty of references for both model, texture and facial. Our two lighting/ lookdev leads (Andre Hitsoy and Stephen MacKershan) are extremely talented, and they took care of making both the costume and the facials photoreal. We also had a very strong facial modeller (Andrea de Martis), which made the facial process extremely easy.

How did you manage the challenge to create various universes that are seen for just a few frames?

In its earliest iterations, the portal ride sequence consisted of approximately 12 worlds, which needed to be built in 3D, and a handful of DMP worlds. Each environment had to be unique, and follow the lines of the New York City street that the client created. Eventually it developed into the 20+ universes that we see in the film. From the very beginning, we knew that we wanted the jungle, paint, and cube worlds. The rest, we got to dream up from scratch.

Obviously we built most of the environment using the camera frustrum, that ‘s why it was so important to lock the camera. We heavily used Houdini and a procedural approach as much as we could. We always had a very strong CG base for all our worlds but we did a lot of touch up in comp and DMP.

The bottom line, is that it’s extremely hard to make the sequence looking great at the same time as cost efficient, it was always a fine balance to find.

Which one was the most complicated to create and why?

Cube world was a unique challenge. Initially the development started with scattering cubes on the surface of Strange, but after several versions we eventually went down the route of dicing him. Effects Technical Director Nacho Doctor experimented with different levels of slicing to create interesting variation over the face and bodies. The FX team worked closely with the Groom and Creature FX departments to ensure that the hair for each character was transplanted and simulated successfully in the new environment.

Paint world, actually the next world in the sequence was also very challenging, as at that point the characters are moving quite fast through the street, and all our first simulation were streaking way too much, at the same time we did not want to simulate in local space as it was very important to get the simulation physically correct.

Can you elaborate about the design and creation of the Vishanti temple environment?

Production Designer Charles Wood made some magnificent concepts. The main dais has a lot of Portuguese influence, mixed with hints of the Vatican, and the big windows in the background were inspired by Notre Dame, along with some Moroccan architectural influence. Framestore’s Pre-Production team and Art department to help bring their designs into the scene, showing how the large pieces of the temple could move, and serve as a pathway for the characters.

We modelled a huge library of debris, the “Ditko Road”, we simulated debris collapsing into each other, we simulated lots of clouds so our environment team lead by Matthew Chandler could layout it all so it makes sense. We had to do a lot of layout work per shot, to always make the frame easier to read with a strong silhouette, as it’s a constant moving environment, I can only say it was an extremely challenging world to pull off. The render times of moving clouds with many lights were gigantic!

In the instances where we had plate photography, Environment and lighting were delivering a lot of different light categories (with different direction) to comp so Comp could animate them, change their colour to match the plate. We had a very strong key light in our CG environment coming from the giant Notre dame window, which was often missing from the plate photography, so comp artists had to recreate it.

Is there something specific that gives you some really short nights?

America’s portal power was a very tricky FX to design. From iteration to iteration it transformed from lightning-style to more of a crystalline look, to the final effect shattering crystal with the sub-portal inside.

Which shot or sequence was the most challenging?

The portal ride was one of those dream sequences where the team really gets to flex its creative muscle.It’s almost like being given a blank sheet of paper to work with: okay, why don’t we add some dinosaurs here? A Hydra Easter egg there? A nod to Escher there? Some giant bees? It certainly wasn’t easy, but I think everyone was exhilarated when the end result came together so perfectly.

Our VFX and Animation teams delivered the previs for this sequence, which went through multiple iterations before establishing the final effects. What began as a freefall evolved into multiple snapshots of the same New York street spliced throughout different universes, the city environment morphing from bricks and glass to pipes, to bones, to jungle.

As Strange tumbles through, the sequence gets increasingly surreal, with the surroundings traversing 2D animation, pixelated squares, and even a universe made entirely of paint. It was a huge challenge, but so worth it when we saw the final cut.

We were all aiming to make this shot special and noticeable.

What is your best memory on this show?

I would say both at the very beginning of the production when we were doing previs and visual development. It was just great to see how efficient Framestore was to be able to produce the Rintrah, the Demon Crawler, some environment tests, and FX as well as very complex previs. It was really creative and fun.

Three weeks before the final delivery we showed all the sequences to the team, and their amazing reaction really made me feel confident that we would deliver on time and at the quality we wanted. Seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces was great!

How long have you worked on this show?

I started to do some visual tests in November 2019, and we delivered the last shot in the first week of April 2022. I know it was a long one!

What’s the VFX shots count?

Framestore delivered 156 shots for the film, if you count the portal ride as one shot.

A big thanks for your time.

WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Framestore: Dedicated page about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on Framestore website.
Janek Sirrs: Here is my interview of Production VFX Supervisor Janek Sirrs about Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Disney+: You can watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness on Disney+.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2022

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