LOS ANGELES — Marking 13 collaborations on Marvel feature films since 2010, Hollywood visualization house The Third Floor provided a mix of previs, postvis, techvis and virtual production across some 35 sequences in Thor: Ragnarok. The Third Floor, which celebrated 13 years in operation this fall, also worked on both prior Thor movies.
On Ragnarok, The Third Floor’s Shannon Justison led previs work to help director Taika Waititi and visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison develop and plan large-scale scenes.
“The previs needs varied by sequence,” says Justison. “For the opening in Muspelheim, it was about defining overall action and design. One of the challenges was visualizing how Thor would fight a fire god who was 18 feet tall. The scene also needed to be a swan-song for Mjolnir, introduce the character Surtur and set up the entire film.”
Surtur’s fire demon look and persona evolved with the script and was explored extensively in the previs. Using layered textures in Autodesk Maya and glows in Adobe After Effects, previs artists effectively represented the fire/flesh effects over multiple shots.
During shooting, Waititi performed motion capture for Surtur, as well as the huge stone creature Korg, while a realtime comp of the character he was playing replaced him on the video feed. Because of the differences in proportions, this helped inform the camera composition. Performances for Hulk by Mark Ruffalo were similarly retargeted through live motion-capture comps. The Third Floor’s head of virtual production Casey Schatz worked with production and the teams at Profile Studios to develop and execute the virtual production/performance capture workflow.
“By using virtual production, we were able to take the guesswork out of how the plates would work after the characters were added to the shot. Any issues with the intersection of the live-action talent and digital elements, camera framing or eyelines could be addressed immediately rather than in post,” Schatz says. “In addition, using facial and body markers for character mocap, we also placed markers on the Alexa 65 camera when shooting in the motion-capture volume. When outdoors or away from a mocap volume, we used Ncam to composite previously-modeled and animated assets.”
The Bifrost Escape required camera/sequence design as well as technical planning. Previs focused on establishing the camera and action as informed by boards while maximizing the freedom of the digital camera to further enforce the zero gravity environment. An in-depth techvis pass delivered detailed shooting plans for the rigs and lighting setups needed to achieve the high-intensity Bifrost realm.
The finale Bridge Fight called for comprehensive previs to develop proofs of concept and work out continuity and coherence across the complex battle.
“To help visualize and conceptualize the bridge scene, we first created a mockup of the sequence in an 8-bit animation,” Justison remarks. “The 11 hero characters and hundreds of extras were represented with simple icons that could be repositioned easily and used to rapidly describe entire beats.”
Other notable scenes visualized in previs by The Third Floor included the Stronghold, Hela’s Arrival and Thor’s landing on the planet Sakaar.
After principal photography wrapped, it was straight into postvis and, for a film with over 2,400 visual effects shots, there was plenty to go around. Almost every scene required postvis — from the Bridge Battle to the Hulk vs Thor fight to adding Hela’s iconic, all-digital headdress. Thor’s “Pure Imagination” arrival into Sakaar was an especially creative exercise that pushed postvis artists far beyond the regular postvis parameters of set extensions and digital characters. Previs still played a role well into post production, with the director frequently contributing sketches to inform new, all-CG shots for establishers or key moments.
“In postvis, we worked on almost every sequence, with the biggest and most challenging including Muspelheim, Bifrost Escape, Hela Arrives, Sakaar Chase, Hulk vs Thor, Fenris Throne Room and the Final Battle,” Justison says. “During post, we were sometimes working on 12 sequences at once, animating everything from spaceships to giants, on planets all across the galaxy. We loved the collaboration on this movie and seeing the scenes brought to life with Taika’s unique style and all of the creatives at Marvel. Working on this film was an honor and also just plain fun.”