How VFX gave Doctor Strange Gargantos and a magic makeover

Superhero wizard Stephen Strange returned Marvel Studios to the top of the box office with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madnesswhich allowed Benedict Cumberbatch’s titular hero to explore the countless dimensions of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Not only did the film introduce a long list of new characters, but it also brought filmmaker Sam Raimi back to Marvel after the evil Dead director helmed the original pre-MCU trilogy of Spider-Man films. Unsurprisingly, Raimi delivered one of the franchise’s darkest and most horrifying films to date, with terrifying zombies, gruesome deaths and Gargantos – a massive tentacled creature from a nightmarish dimension that tore Manhattan apart in the wilderness of the movie, Opening Scene.

In order to bring this and other scenes to life, Marvel relied on a host of visual effects studios that each focused on making certain scenes and elements of Multiverse of Madness on the screen. Digital Trends spoke with Olivier Dumont and Michael Perdew of the VFX studio Pictures of Luma, who served as the studio’s VFX supervisor and senior VFX producer, respectively, about their work on the Battle of Gargantos, as well as the visual overhaul they developed with Marvel for the magic of the film. They also shared their thoughts on some of these strange doctor rumors that were circulating long before the film hit the screens.

Doctor strange casts a saw blade spell in a scene from doctor strange in the multiverse of madness.

Digital Trends: Before we get into your process and such, approximately how many shots did Luma’s team work on in the film?

Michael Perdew: It was 266 shots, I believe.

Alright, so let’s jump right into that opening scene with Gargantos, how has that character’s big debut evolved over time?

Olivier Dumont: Well, we received the first concept from Marvel which gave us the general shape of the creature. It was out of context, though, so we did a lot of iterations with it, making sure the scale would look good with the footage they shot and also the color. It was a lot of back and forth. The eye, in particular, went through many different styles and changes to make sure we got the most out of it. The creature also has runes all over its body. They weren’t there at first, but we added [the runes] to establish the relationship between the creature and Wanda – which people might catch and, later in the movie, figure out why they were there. A big part of the work on the creature was also the animation style. We tried to find a good compromise between something that looks animalistic, but at the same time, there is intelligence and emotion. So there was a lot of work to do on it.

At first everyone thought the creature in the trailer was going to be Shuma Gorath, but it ended up being a different, sprawling Marvel creature, Gargantos. I heard you were a huge Marvel fan, Michael, so what did you think of all that early speculation?

Lost: Yeah, I don’t know what Marvel’s plans are for Shuma-Gorath, but in the comics, Gargantos is a variant of that character anyway. So we basically had to lift the design elements of Shuma-Gorath while working on Gargantos.

The interview has just begun, and we’re already down a deep Marvel geek rabbit hole…

Lost: Right? As a child, I grew up playing Marvel vs. Capcom Games and read the comics and stuff, so it was really, really fun to have [Gargantos] in the movie. As soon as I heard he was in the movie — because there have been a few iterations of the movie over time — we raised our hands. We were like, “Hey, we love creatures and Luma is a massive creature store, so can we please, please, please make this one?” I basically begged to get it. And like Olivier said, you usually start with the literal comic book translation and then explore all these options for how animalistic it is, how cartoonish it is, and so on. Basically, how do you ground something that has such a bizarre design?

At the end of the day though, I was really happy that they had probably the most literal translation of this character possible, right down to the orange eye which was controversial for a minute and then it wasn’t the case. I was so happy with it.

Doctor strange stands in a deserted street in an early shot of doctor strange in the multiverse of madness.
Doctor strange stands in a street facing the monstrous, sprawling creature gargantos in a scene from doctor strange in the multiverse of madness.

Both Dr. Strange and Wong showcase new magic in this scene unlike anything we’ve seen before in the MCU movies. What happened to the overhaul of their sorcery appearance?

Dumont: Marvel wanted to show something different than what was shown in the other movies with the mandala-like spells and that glowing orange effect. They wanted to have something a little more concrete. The idea was to go back to the comics and look at spells that hadn’t been seen before in the movies.

For example, the Fangs of Farallah is the spell with the big cat head that goes in. He’s depicted in the comic as just a mouth with fangs, but we’ve extrapolated that to make it more understandable for the short time you see him. The same for Chains of… Wait, what was that again, Michael?

Lost: “The Chains of Krakkan.”

Dumont: Right!

Lost: One of the fun things we did was incorporate the magic of the 60s Doctor Strange comics. [In those comics] he said these very eccentric, exaggerated and dramatic phrases when casting certain spells. There is a list of 20 or 30 of them the low…

BY FORMER HOGGOTH HOSTS!

Lost: Yes! Exactly! We would reference this list and I would point to one that sounded funny and then Olivier would look up the comic book reference and we would put our heads together and say ‘Can this one you can translate into something that would work in a movie ? And then we were working with our art department. It’s really fun as a concept artist or visual effects artist in general to see this 1960s comic, especially in the Steve Ditko style with its drawn lines and basic shapes, and to think to yourself: “How can I make this real? ” It was very fun.

Doctor Strange takes on Gargantos in exclusive ‘Multiverse of Madness’ clip

What were some of the big challenges in creating that opening scene?

Dumont: Well, it was shot at a backlot in London. They built the first two floors of buildings, and then we had to expand them. This creates challenges in terms of lighting as you need to know where the sun is and the shaded areas etc. Luckily most of what was shot in London was covered, which made it easier, but we still had to compensate for that stuff and adjust the lighting for both the creature and all the other objects.

The hardest part for me, however, was making sure we followed the continuity. For example, the creature is moving down a street, destroying stuff, so what happens in the next shot? You have to keep continuity there. Obviously, everything becomes almost full CG at the end because of the amount of destruction. So we had to identify and pay attention to the most important things that we needed to carry over from one shot to the next, so that the sequence seemed to be continuous.

So we had some full CG blueprints in there, but building those environments and categorizing all the elements that are being touched by the creature and moved, all of that took a long time to figure out.

Digital Trends: Well, you have eight tentacles of action to follow…

Dumont: It’s funny to me because I thought animating a giant creature that has eight tentacles would be the hardest part. But the animation team we have at Luma is amazing. For me, it was painless. Everyone working with the creature was so good that animating those tentacles didn’t seem that hard, even though it’s a huge job.

People look out the window of an office building with a green screen outside in a scene from doctor strange in the multiverse of madness.
People look out the window of an office building with a giant eye and tentacles outside in a scene from doctor strange in the multiverse of madness.

Luma worked on both Doctor Strange films. How did Sam Raimi’s involvement change the experience this time around?

Lost: I’ve worked on both, and I’ve also worked with Sam Raimi before on Oz the Great and Mighty. So we already had a taste of his style. [With Multiverse of Madness], it’s all the normal Sam Raimi visual flair: more gore, more POV shots, and so on. We knew we were working on a big action scene, so we knew we would also have a bunch of extras running around in panic and all kinds of chaos. It’s very, very fun.

We also planned that with Sam, we would first show the bloodiest version of whatever we’re working on. There’s a scene where Gargantos dies (rest in peace) being stabbed with the sharp end of a stick, so of course we went in knowing we had to make it as violent as possible while still being in a PG movie -13. So we weighed the balance between the realism of blood and its color, and all the other tricks you go through. And with Sam Raimi, we knew that the modifications and the general vivacity had to be very fast, very rhythmic. There is no filler with him. We don’t dwell on a hero plan where it goes in slow motion, for example. It was actually quite refreshing, to be honest. It’s good to do an action scene where it’s like, action, action, action, action…

What was it like working on this movie so far in advance – especially on a scene like this – and then seeing all the rumors and speculation floating around leading up to its release?

Lost: Yeah, it’s so much fun. I’m keeping an eye out for some comic book movie blogs, and I’ll have Reddit or ComicBookMovie.com open all day to see what they say. I remember early speculation that Shuma-Gorath was the film’s main villain, for example. I knew it wasn’t, but seeing the excitement build is so much fun. Of course things start to leak and you obviously can’t comment on anything even if it’s completely wrong or 100% accurate.

Dumont: I liked the Tom Cruise one – that he would be Iron Man.

Lost: Yeah, and it’s funny because you don’t necessarily see the whole movie [while we’re working on it], That is. So some of these rumors, as far as we know, might be true. We don’t even know when we’re working on it!

marvel’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be available on June 22 on the Disney+ streaming service.

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