The multiverse is hot right now.
From “Everything Everywhere All At Once” to “Star Trek” to the DC Extended Universe, each multiversal story carries with it its own style, rules and implications on reality. Now, as the Marvel Cinematic Universe aims its post-“Endgame” storyline through the multiverse the stakes are ever-increasing. Creating the multiversal, mind-bending looks for the new blockbuster hit “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a tall task for VFX artists working on the Sam Raimi project, but the innate flexibility of these stories allows for creative expression to thrive.
“The hardest part on this kind of project is sometimes not the execution of the work itself, but sometimes it’s just finding what is it that we want to do,” Alexis Wajsbrot of Framestore VFX told Variety. “Because it’s so large, and we could come up with so many different ideas. There is lots and lots of concepts of different ideas. We are very, very involved in the creative process on a shot like that.”
Wajsbrot supervised his team at Framestore that was in charge of a few sequences in the new film, including the wild multiverse jump scene in which Strange and America Chavez slam through 20 separate multiverses in 40 seconds. Creating such an effect requires immense amounts of time, attention to detail and creativity.
Olivier Dumont and Michael Perdew, VFX artists at Luma Pictures in charge of the Gargantos fight scene at the beginning of the film, share Wajsbrot’s thoughts on the difficulties of creating these multiversal effects.
“When you animate a human and you have two legs, it’s easy,” Dumont, senior VFX supervisor and creative director for Luma, said about creating the Gargantos creature. “But, when you have eight legs to animate, it’s a challenge. And then you have to animate that in the middle of a street that is very busy with a lot of things that it’s going to interact with. So it’s like, how far do you go in terms of work?”
When asked what was most difficult about creating the tentacle creature from the multiverse, he adds, “It was trying to make something that is so comic-booky as real as possible. You know, there is nothing that exists that looks like this. So nobody has any reference, and it can be anything.”
Perdew, senior VFX producer for Luma, has had a personal relationship to this project for a while now. Being a self-proclaimed “dork,” the artist is overly familiar with Marvel’s comics.
“I’ve been personally begging for this character for years, since about 2014,” Perdew said. “And the character in the comics has two names: Gargantos is a variant of another character called Shuma-Gorath. So if you see the design, it’s more an allusion to that character.”
Fans such as Perdew will spend hours watching Marvel content to search for any and all Easter eggs that may be present. Wajsbrot and his team spent months and months incorporating these small details into the multiverse jump scene, where fans would have to watch frame-by-frame in order to notice the various allusions to the comics included in the worlds. In the black-and-white world, for instance, there is a blimp in the background that has a Hydra logo on its front.
References like these are peppered throughout the sequence, some of them sure to excite comic book lovers.
“One was an Incan statue world, which ended up in the movie because Kevin Feige thought, ‘Well, that could be a great world to put the Living Tribunal in.’ So that world became the Living Tribunal world,” Wajsbrot explained. He adds, “We proposed a jungle and Kevin Feige said, ‘Well, it could be cool if it was Savage World.’ It’s a world that exists in the Marvel Universe, so we had to add dinosaurs. We had to model and texture and render and animate dinosaurs for two seconds, which is extremely not cost-efficient.”
While Wajsbrot cannot confirm that the Living Tribunal, an almost omnipotent celestial being from the comics, or Savage World are really in the MCU, there is no doubt that Marvel is tipping its hat to the possibilities the multiverse opens up. In each of these sequences, though, giving the artists time is of utmost importance. Wajsbrot first started working on the 40-second multiverse jump in September of 2020, almost a full year and a half before the film was released. Dumont and Perdew had around six to eight months to execute their scene after principal photography.
“Time is the single most important thing,” Perdew explains. “And the best way that you get time is by having a really clean and clear plan.”