Digital Domain’s work on Loki marks the latest in a series of collaborations with Marvel Studios that stretch back more than a decade and include both film and episodic projects. The award-winning VFX studio recently completed work on
Black Widow and
Wanda Vision (which won an Emmy with Marvel Studios for visual effects), and is currently working on
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and more.
During this time, the VFX studio has created everything from space battles to intergalactic purple villains to bringing the Avengers back to life. His work on the episodic series
Lokihowever, is one of his most memorable.
In fact, episode 3 of Loki contains more VFX shots than many feature films. This includes the total annihilation of a planet, fiery meteors that rain down constantly, the destruction of a futuristic city and more.
In the third episode of the episodic series from Marvel Studios Loki, the characters Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) find themselves on a doomed alien moon orbiting a planet on the brink of total collapse. The location sets the stage for a photorealistic look at celestial destruction, but it also tells the story of humanity’s future at a glance. Created by Academy Award-winning VFX studio Digital Domain, it’s one of the most unique and visually stunning hours of television ever seen.
“Creating the effects for ‘Lamentis’ was much more than just putting out impressive effects, it allowed us to tell the story of the rise and fall of an entire civilization without the need for a single word of dialogue”, said Jean-Luc Dinsdale, VFX supervisor for the digital domain. “‘Lamentis’ has so much going on, both on the surface and in the background, that it may take multiple viewings for fans to fully appreciate everything they see.”
On the run from the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA), Loki and his uneasy ally Sylvie find themselves on Lamentis-1, a habitable satellite of the dead planet, Lamentis. With the planet annihilated hours away, the duo are forced to work together if they have any chance of escaping.
To create the dying world of Lamentis-1, Digital Domain began by creating the massive, rocky planet it orbits, using Houdini. With the foundation in place, Digital Domain artists worked closely with Marvel Studios to test several iterations of Lamentis, including a habitable planet with water and vegetation, and another with a molten core. exposed. In the end, an arid landscape with no atmosphere was selected. The artists added the natural features of a planet of this type, including impact craters and deep shadows, and then they set about giving Lamentis character – and backstory.
Set in the year 2077 after humanity left the confines of the Earth, Lamentis is intended as a cautionary tale. Once the surface appearance was established, artists began modifying the sphere, adding multiple boreholes and cracks to show the results of years of surface mining. A massive crack almost tearing the planet in two was later added to emphasize its unstable nature. The digital creation and destruction of Lamentis and its moon Lamentis-1 was accomplished using a combination of Maya, ZBrush, Nuke and Houdini, with V-Ray and Redshift rendering the job done.
Digital Domain also introduced a ring of debris trapped in orbit after the Lamentis burst, leaving a rocky halo around the planet and setting the stage for a much larger scene of destruction, beginning with an almost constant barrage of heading meteors. towards the moon.
The moon of Lamentis-1 was considered one of the deadliest places in all of space and time, leading the filmmakers to develop a mix of practical and digital effects to enhance the surface. The actors performed scenes on partial sets surrounded by blue screens. Digital Domain then took the live action footage and filled in the rest, adding everything from color correction to accentuate the purple in the atmosphere, to the dead planet above. A near-constant stream of photorealistic CG meteors of various shapes and sizes was also featured in each scene, some leading to distant explosions added later, and others simply speeding by.
Almost immediately after arriving on Lamentis-1, Loki and Sylvie find themselves in the middle of a meteor storm. To help add an air of authenticity to the storm, Digital Domain based the fiery meteors on real physics. Speed, smoke trail and magnitude of impact were experimented with to find a realistic basis, before a touch of artistic license was employed to ensure a visually more dramatic result.
Along with the constant rain of fiery rocks, Digital Domain has helped populate the moon with signs of civilization, including a dilapidated town and mining equipment. Each background element started with individual elements created and digitally sculpted, then individual textures and details were added to give the elements a worn look and help make the alien landscape more familiar.
Eventually, through a bit of luck and magic, Loki and Sylvie find themselves in the relative luxury of a dining car. The ornate ensemble features a circular layout centered on a round bar, with two diamond-shaped windows and a glass ceiling. Although the audience only sees a small portion of the world through the train’s windows, Digital Domain has created a complete and cohesive virtual landscape to show glimpses of the ravaged world as the train speeds past.
After an unexpected train departure and a walk through an alien landscape under a magenta sunset, Loki and Sylvie reach the town of Shuroo. The futuristic frontier town was created with a mix of techniques, physical sets being part of the ground floor and anything above 12 feet added later by Digital Domain.
The city of Shuroo was created as a wild and colorful contrast to the otherwise arid world of Lamentis-1. Color plays a major role, with physical lights of various colors – including neon signs, electric signs and electric windows – joined by a multi-story cityscape illuminated by dozens of lights and reflections, all designed and added by hand. Several layers of detail were then added to give the city a realistic, lived-in feel, including wires, steam cracks, and a layer of grime lightly covering the entire city. But despite the city’s visual appeal, audiences and characters focus on the Arc, a massive, digitally created spaceship.
To build the Arc, Digital Domain created the necessary resources and built the ship based on the initial concept art. Once the base was complete, the artists added dozens of layers of detail, adding bumps to the hull, layers of paint to different layers of decay, and multiple light sources. The ship is then blanketed in layers of swirling smoke emanating from different parts of the ship to suggest it is active and ready to launch. Then the sky literally begins to fall.
To create Shuroo’s desperate final minutes, Digital Domain began by animating the complete implosion of the planet above. Procedurally created, artists have seen Lamentis shatter into thousands of pieces of rock, with massive sections of the planet jettisoned, while dozens more are pulverized under its gravity. Hundreds of meteors are hurtling towards the planet, triggering a massive sequence of events involving physical and digital effects.
The filmmakers began by coordinating the trajectory of the meteorites with Digital Domain, creating a blueprint for the destruction of Shuroo. Dozens of actors then react to the practical effects, starting with live explosions intended to simulate ground strikes while real materials were physically thrown onto the set to highlight the wreckage. Digital Domain then stepped up the destruction by adding fiery orbs ripping through skyscrapers, entire buildings falling to the ground, smoke, and thousands of small pieces of debris. In total, each shot involving the destruction of the city had over 60 layers of detail added by hand.
“When Marvel Studios presented us with their take on ‘Lamentis,’ we knew right away that it would be unlike anything viewers had ever seen before,” said John Fragomeni, Global President VFX at Digital Domain. “Our artists were able to create feature-level effects over an episodic period and create a world that was itself an essential part of the story. With ‘Lamentis’, I think we showed viewers something totally unique.”
In total, Digital Domain completed around 500 shots for the series, with around 300 appearing in the final version of the episode. The work originally completed for “Lamentis” also appeared in the opening minutes of the fourth episode, “The Nexus Event”, as part of the resolution that saw Loki and Sylvie rescued from Lamentis-1.