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Method Studios Gets Psychedelic for Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’

Method Studios tackles the ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ sequence, a mind-bending journey through parallel dimensions that guides Doctor Strange through the multiverse.

Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange follows talented neurosurgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he learns the secrets of a hidden world of mysticism and alternate dimensions from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) after a tragic car accident. To prove the mystical world’s existence to a skeptical Doctor Strange, The Ancient One sends him on a mind-bending journey through parallel dimensions, each with its own unique environment and properties. Deluxe Entertainment Group-owned Method Studios handled the bulk of this “Magical Mystery Tour” sequence guiding Doctor Strange through the multiverse, and bookended the sequence with shots of him leaving and then re-entering the ordinary world.

Working from concept art from Marvel, Method artists set out to develop a look for each piece of the MMT, gathering reference images and animations, and experimenting with pacing. “When you’re tasked with creating content that’s magical in nature, all the traditional rules fly out the window,” said Method VFX designer Olivier Dumont. “We defined our own rules for each dimension, aiming to keep the visuals connected to Doctor Strange and feel like an extension of him, even if they were largely abstract.”

The sequence begins with The Ancient One pushing Doctor Strange out of his own body. His surroundings distort as he flies out of the room, through the clouds, into outer space, and through a wormhole into the multiverse. Method referenced NASA’s library of high-res imagery to create photoreal CG environments of both the Earth’s atmosphere and the view of Earth from space. “Spectacular photos of space are widely available so it was critical that our work matched that level of detail and realism. Our research was extensive and we built everything from scratch, which also gave us the most flexibility in making shot adjustments as production needed,” explained Chad Wiebe, Method VFX Supervisor. For Doctor Strange himself, the team augmented footage of Cumberbatch shot using a Cyclops motion control camera rig while also creating a fully digital hero version of the character for shots that would have been impossible to shoot practically.

From space, Doctor Strange flies through a wormhole reminiscent of the comic’s original 1960s psychedelic look. On the journey, he encounters the Speaker Cone, where pulsating shockwaves break him into smaller Stranges: the Biolume, with turbulent, explosive shapes and fluid movements; the Soft Solid, which features infinitely-repeating fractal patterns (including ones of Doctor Strange’s face and hands); the Quantum Realm, with repetitions and kaleidoscope patterns, also incorporating multiple digital doubles; and the Quiet Realm, where he finds himself in a cave-like structure with glowing energy material. From there, another wormhole transports him back to Earth.

One of the biggest challenges in creating the MMT multiverse was imagining entirely unique environments, materials and physical behaviors for each dimension -- giving viewers a deeply otherworldly feeling throughout. Method’s team of concept artists relied on vaguely familiar but significantly distorted or abstract reference materials such as photographs from unique bioluminescent environments and micro images of cancer cells. “We had an initial mandate to stay away from using realistic imagery like star fields, nebulas or clouds,” Method VFX supervisor Doug Bloom said. “The dimensions needed to have distinct matter and materials that wouldn’t necessarily be identifiable to the average viewer.”

In addition to completing R&D, rendering and compositing passes to properly evaluate what would look best in a 3D CG environment, Method created CG environments for the mystic Himalayan training facility Kamar-Taj and the octagonal rooms that serve as portals between the sanctums in Kamar-Taj, New York, London and Hong Kong. Method supervisors spent several days on location in Kathmandu, gathering more than 20,000 reference photos to establish an authentic feel for the city in a variety of lighting and weather conditions. Working off this reference footage and a Kamar-Taj set constructed in London, the Method team produced full digital establishing shots and augmented Kamar-Taj with CG and 3D set extensions, including large extensions for the rooftop training area.

Method also contributed VFX that intensify Doctor Strange’s car crash, which included practical and full CG shots; created digital close-ups of Strange’s hands to illustrate his resulting injuries; and provided effects that convey the magical power of the elders and their tools, from battle weapons to armor.

Directed by Scott Derrickson, Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt and Scott Adkins, with Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton.

Source: Method Studios