How VFX bring new dimension to Sam Raimi’s ‘Doctor Strange’

When we last saw Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he made the world forget that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) was the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in No Way Home. Now, in Sam Raimi’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Strange returns for a second solo act after a six-year hiatus during which fans first learned of the existence of parallel universes.

The title of the sequel speaks to the unraveling story in which Strange protects newcomer America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to open star-shaped doors to other dimensions, from an enemy who is trying to steal her powers. Visually, the MCU’s familiar vibrancy and sheen shines onscreen, but The Evil Dead writer puts his own spin on Michael Waldron’s screenplay, blending elements of intense horror with a dark carpet of color and a menacing Danny Elfman score .

Production Visual Effects Supervisor Janek Sirrs (“Iron Man 2,” “The Avengers”) turned to a dozen VFX providers to create the thrilling adventure that takes viewers deeper into the multiverse.

Among the challenging visual effects set pieces was the film’s “dream” opening sequence, in which Doctor Strange and America run from a demon through the Temple of Vishanti, a vivid, cloud-shrouded world that feels like a cross between Salvador Dalí and David LaChapelle feels: bright and photorealistic. Another is a brave action sequence between Strange and Gargantos, a squid-like monster ripped from the comic pages, on the streets of New York, where the beast wreaks havoc on the city in its bid to conquer America. VFX also opened up a wider doorway to the Kamar-Taj, the Mystic Arts training ground and home of Strange’s favorite ally, the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Wong), before it is burned down in a fiery rage by a very incensed antagonist.

But the crème de la crème is a complex series of shots in which Strange and America travel through countless otherworldly dimensions to escape their enemy. It’s a revealing sequence that goes by quickly, but the meticulous attention to detail that goes with it was set in motion way back in 2019
comes from a single line in the script that says “…then they go into a portal ride.”

Two humans crash through the multiverse while giant beings look on "Doctor Strange Multiverse of Madness."

Actors Xochitl Gomez and Benedict Cumberbatch fall through the multiverse portal.

(Marvel Studios)

An unfinished version of the above scene.

The same scene before the visual effects were finished.

(Marvel Studios)

Sirrs used Framestore to create the moment, which was monitored daily by VFX supervisor Alexis Wajsbrot. The team sought to bring a visually fresh aesthetic to the world of Doctor Strange, something more organic that felt different than the first film. “Sam’s idea was that each dimension has to be a big statement because we only stay in them for a few seconds,” notes Wajsbort. “Each world had to be a world that we can identify very clearly.”

Brainstorming sessions and Previs mock-ups paved the way for the takes, but it was an early note from producer Kevin Feige that helped them refine the concept. “He had the idea that it should be the same environment that switches. So we took the same New York street and changed it from world to world,” says Wajsbort. More than 20 original environments were summoned during the approximately 40-second sequence, including a prehistoric dimension with a roaming dinosaur, a comic book dimension, a world that turns the characters into blobs of color, and a block dimension that turns their skin into tiny squares.

The kinetic scene evolves into a fast-moving dynamic free fall, with Strange attempting to grab an unconscious America before visually slowing down. “Once America Awakens we wanted to switch hero roles as this is the first time Strange has starred in it, but America has done it several times before. There was a point where we wanted her to drive and Strange to be the scared guy,” says Wajsbort. “You can see it when she grabs his neckline and leads him away with her arm and they jump into the hatch.”

Visual effects were also needed to create digital doubles of the actors to create the scene. Clothing, hair and skin were all simulated to match the ambient lighting, while animators used reference shots of facial expressions to build the emotions. The execution of the action relied on the small details of the universes – something the team continued to perfect for up to three weeks before the film’s release. “It’s very easy to make the worlds very lifeless, but when we started adding different things like giant bees, fish, cows… it added more life to them,” says Wajsbort. How VFX bring new dimension to Sam Raimi’s ‘Doctor Strange’

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