Waititi describes how he “pulled off” Ragnarok’s most surreal shots.
2017 has been a great year for seeing eye-candy at the movies. May gave us Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2’s colorful cosmic action. In July, Luc Besson delivered his lofty visual effects explosion, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. And in a couple weeks, Disney/Pixar is set to wow audiences with their supernatural stunner, Coco. I’ve watched Taika Waititi’s Jack Kirby-esque sci-fi romp, Thor: Ragnarok twice now and I think it also deserves a mention in the in the “most striking movie” conversation; in addition to being one of the year’s most superb VFX extravaganzas it also features one of the year’s most impressive-looking sequences.
If you’ve seen Thor: Ragnarok or its trailers, then you already know the moment I’m talking about. In the scene, Hela The Goddess of Death takes on an army of Valkyries who look as though they’re slowly spilling out of the sky. The moment plays out in slow motion and is dimly lit, with intense rays of white light casting stark black shadows. If you were to pause the scene you could mistake the tableau for a heavy metal album cover, and as a flashback within the context of the film, the moment is simply jaw-dropping.
In an interview over at The Verge, Waititi discusses the cutting-edge technology he used to create the unique sequence. Waititi explains that to shoot the scene, he utilized a new technology called “Satellite,” and that this type of shot has, “Never been done on film before.”
It was about a hundred strobe lights, strung together, and they all fire off within about a second of each other, all in sequence. You shoot a subject with a Phantom camera, which is shooting at 1200 frames per second. The effect you get — instead of the bullet-time camera rig, where you’ve got 50 cameras in a circle, in this case the cameras stay still, but the light is traveling around, and the shoot has these big long shadows everywhere. So you get this light wrapping around your subject in a way that’s very surreal and dreamlike, and doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s something you can never really see in real life. And so it’s something that’s very specific in its use and its look, but it’s something I’m very proud of, because it’s the first time in cinema that’s been done.
Nowadays movies and TV series are so good at creating hair-raising visual spectacles that we’ve grown spoiled. It’s easy to forget how many hundreds of (wo)man-hours special effects teams put into bringing White Walkers to life on Game of Thrones, dropping Chris into the sunken place in Get Out, or cutting together a knockout movie trailer like Black Panther‘s. For some, knowing the secret behind a shot’s VFX magic spoils the illusion, but if you’re like me, the stories describing all the blood, sweat, and tears filmmakers put into rendering just a few seconds of screen time are their own kind of magic.