The Marvel Studios original series Ms. Marvel introduces Kamala Khan, a Muslim American teenager growing up in Jersey City. An avid gamer and super-hero megafan, she has an oversized imagination, especially when it comes to Captain Marvel. Kamala feels like she doesn’t fit in at school, and sometimes, even at home. That is, until she gets superpowers like the heroes she’s always looked up to.
Mihaela Orzea from Folks (https://folksvfx.com), which has North American studios in Montreal and Toronto, is one of the VFX supervisors for Ms. Marvel, which spanned a total of six episodes. The studio was tasked with building Kamala's hard light power - a combination of crystal-like shapes that expand at her will, creating a sparkling, multifaceted variety of light, streaks and reflections that encapsulate her body, like armor. The studio also created an entire-CG environment for the mosque scene, when Kamala saves a young boy from falling out of the window of the Minaret Tower. Each shot had to be customized and integrated with the mosque mock-up, built on the sound stage. Other Folks contributions included designing the drone destruction, where a killer CG drone attacks Bruno's apartment.
Here Mihaela Orzea provides insight into the studio’s work and the show’s VFX challenges.
Can you go into detail on the work you and your team did on the series?
“Folks helped with Kamala’s hard-light power in a few episodes. This includes the fight with the Clandestines in Episode 5, the saving of the young boy in Episode 2, and Kamala discovering her power in the first episode.
“Kamala’s power is very complex. It looks like a purple/bluish luminescent crystalline structure that may vibrate, grow or multiply. Kamala can also use her ability to create shapes that she can throw, use like a shield for protection, or cover parts of her body like armor.
“We also showcased Kamran’s similar ability in Episode 5. In this scene, a CG drone attacks him and Bruno. Kamran reacts fast to destroy the drone. He uses his hard-light powers in a very similar way to Kamala’s, just with a different flavor, another combination of shapes and colors. Kamran’s power becomes a gold central crystalline structure that will multiply in green clusters.”
What were some of the challenges you faced?
“Folks joined the project a bit later, which meant some of the effects were already defined. Each studio needed to use its proprietary software, and that may not translate in an identical way everywhere. We had to match some looks, and part of the challenge was the short time frame – we had to go through research and development very fast. I worked closely with the VFX supervisor Sandra Balej to help keep consistency between our shots and the similar effects in the whole series. Sandra’s work was beautiful – she would provide insights and multiple references of the many types of power manifestations for Kamala. Her detailed knowledge and guidance were priceless for our FX supervisor, Oleg Memukhin, who had to reinvent the methodology to get the needed look for the hard-light power using our internal Houdini tools.”
Can you describe some of the specific shots?
“In the second episode, Kamala saves a young boy that almost falls out of a window. In some of these shots, we had to add a partial set extension; in other shots, a whole CG environment was needed. We had Kamala’s element shot on a blue-screen stage. She had to climb onto the roof and ran across a minaret toward the young boy who was hanging. The boy was also shot as a separate element. A few vendors were working in parallel for this sequence. As there was not enough time to first achieve a look that everybody would follow, we had to be very creative and keep close contact with everyday developments. It ended up being a lovely sequence when all of the pieces were assembled.”
Do you have a favorite sequence?
“My favorite sequence would be Kamala's fight in Episode 5. The Clandestines are trying to steal her grandmother's bangle. She is confident, fast and strong, and uses her special powers for self-defense. It's a very dynamic sequence. Kamala is very creative and will jump in the air and rotate quickly, unexpectedly reaching her opponents. We had a chance to display many of her hard-light powers in this scene. This includes her extended arms, growing fists, extended legs, growing feet and intricate hard-light protective shield. Many individual components come together to determine the look of her powers - the crystal-like shapes and their growth, their inner luminescence and the dancing light leaks.”
How do you rate this experience?
“Ms. Marvel was a great experience. Our whole team was so pleased to interact with such a young and dynamic Marvel production team - Freddy, Sandra, Sandro and Janki - the hard work, flexibility, bright ideas and excellent communication were definitely important factors in our successful deliveries.”