One of the most visually pleasing scenes in Thor: Ragnarok was created with almost no CGI. Aside from bringing back a number of familiar Asgardians, Ragnarok introduces lots of brand-new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe; including, Surtur, Hela, Valkyire and Grandmaster. Of course, the MCU isn’t just about new and returning characters, but about crossing over the established superheroes in the franchise. Though much of the focus for Thor: Ragnarok was on the inclusion of the Hulk, Doctor Strange’s cameo was one of the movie’s more entertaining scenes.
Much like Ant-Man featured a post-credits scene that was actually a clip from Captain America: Civil War, last year’s Doctor Strange ended with a post-credits stinger featuring Thor discussing his mission with Stephen Strange in Ragnarok. That post-credits scene, like the rest of Ragnarok, was directed by Taika Waititi – and although the meet-up ends with Strange deploying some VFX-based magic, it turns out the bulk of the sequence was assembled in-camera.
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The latest episode of the Empire podcast (h/t io9) features Waititi breaking down his work on Ragnarok. When the discussion turned to the Doctor Strange cameo and how it came together, the director revealed it was surprisingly simple to shoot:
“It’s classic old jump-cuts and cutting to Chris [Hemsworth] doing a little wobble as if he’s just arrived and just a little bit of a sound effect. For me, it was great because it’s like ‘Oh, we didn’t need to do some sort of sparkly kind of illusion VFX sort of stuff.’ That stuff is very satisfying as a filmmaker.”
Despite the lack of visual flair in the scene, the abrupt cuts mixed with the two character’s varied reactions make the moment a stand-out in the film. It effectively demonstrates Strange’s powers and how he has grown more comfortable with them since his solo film – at the same time that it places the all-powerful Thor in a comedic position of weakness, yet again.
As CGI has evolved, it’s allowed for some impressive feats in both live-action and animated projects. Unfortunately, it sometimes becomes a lazy shortcut for spectacle. Nowadays, giant monsters and otherworldly action sequences don’t impress audiences as much as they once did. So while Marvel films – and Thor: Ragnarok especially – still have plenty of those things, those moments are buoyed by more grounded elements.
For Ragnarok, strong character work, comedy, and Waititi’s knack for filmmaking helped to add substance to the spectacle. Hopefully, some of that clever usage of camerawork will carry over into Doctor Strange’s appearances beyond the movie.
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