Branagh's VFX Journey with Thor
BD: What about Digital Domain creating Jotunheim?
KB: That was something where we were on the same page fairly early with the world. And then the development of the Frost Giants was something we worked on with Legacy, the makeup and creature design company, as well as with Digital Domain, so there was a lot of interplay between all of them. And I think they did a magnificent job of conveying the sense of this decaying world. And a lot of that, I must say, in terms of the to and fro of where the creative insight came from -- getting back to your earlier question about learning curve -- an understanding that one didn't have to come up with everything. For instance, with Jotunheim, the ice planet, we were always sending Digital Domain pictures we'd found in books, galleries, paintings from classic studies by JMW Turner, a shot of the Arctic with lights above it from some latest internet discovery. And seeing how they responded and came back with tones and color and architecture and way to do snow and ice and quartz/ice/snow substructure to the physical landscape of Jotunheim. And one of the features of my vfx journey through this was to have those great hits of re-energizing and refreshment when you'd go to visit Digital Domain or you'd hear from Buf, which absolutely led you on to another chapter, another field.
And then, of course, what I hadn't been ready for was the firestorm at the end as these shots would pour in. We've got 1,309 visual effects shots in this movie, and, although you've seen versions all the way through, as everybody wants the latest, best, most refined version, it's like they all land on the doormat with about five minutes left to go before the release is due, and you've got to cut them in, you've got to color them, you've got to 3-D them. And all of that was quite the learning curve.
BD: And what was the 3-D experience like?
KB: I was excited [but skeptical] about it. I'll always remember as a kid my mother told me that one of the best evenings she had in the cinema was going to see House of Wax in 3-D in Belfast. My conversation with [Marvel producer] Kevin Feige was: "May we do this? You and I, we sit down and work out how we learn about 3-D so that we can be assured we understand what we are doing, and that we can enhance the story?" And he said, of course. And I have to say, God love them, because they wrote a very, very large check to get this right, because they are fiendishly proud of their visual effects work, so I was thrilled to see that. So we did start working on that: we met with Stereo D, which did the conversion in the end. And they took me through the process and, crucially, without making it bland, the depth script on it, so we didn't give people headaches or blind them or make them dizzy. Expect, on occasion, where we wished to disturb, essentially we tried to craft the way we chose to emphasize layers of depth, whether it was in New Mexico or [the cosmos]. There's a lovely wide shot [of King Odin's Vault set]: it's tilted, it has crossing verticals, it has the steps, and you feel the size and the cavernous nature of this underworld place in Asgard, where 3-D, comic book framing, the costumes, the design and the way it's lit are really, for me, a very satisfying example of how we made 3-D, and the transition from a comic book world into a movie has its own very distinct character.
Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.