For the wacky “WandaVision” series on Disney+, in which Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) conjures an imaginary sitcom world to cope with the death of Vision (Paul Bettany), Marvel tapped old-school VFX to recreate the various TV tropes, while at the same time relying on digital effects whenever necessary in pulling off the clever conceit.
“It was fun to be able to do [retro] visual effects for the sitcom and then to be able to do full modern for a few of the episodes,” said Marvel’s production visual effects supervisor Tara DeMarco of the 3,010 shots that technically outnumbered the shot count on “Avengers: Endgame.” The black-and-white scenes for the first two episodes (“Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience” and “Don’t Touch That Dial”) were depicted as era-specific as possible through makeup, costuming, camera lensing, and Tungsten lighting (used for all the period settings).
“Except for the case of Vision, where we knew he would have a CG face,” DeMarco added. “Episodes 1, 2, and 3 [‘Now in Color’] were done by MARZ, who helped us develop the black-and-white Vision look because we didn’t know when we started filming how to preserve Paul’s performance. We took early shots from filming and started testing what it would look like when the CG panels on his cheeks and forehead would move.”
The facial capture process for the various Visions (black-and-white, red, white) was the same throughout. They applied particular makeup and a bald cap on Bettany along with a tracking marker pattern that mirrored where his metal crown fit, and the VFX companies would matchmove track all of his facial expressions. “We had all these incredible ’50s sitcom expressions with cheek puffs and all,” DeMarco continued. “Once we figured out how to manipulate those panels to preserve the performance, it was fine.”
For Wanda’s magical effects in the kitchen during the black-and-white scenes, the VFX riffed on early TV techniques pioneered on “Bewitched,” using puppeteered props on wires and editing tricks. Then they digitally removed the wires and added a handful of CG elements “to help with the complexity and mayhem, when the kitchen goes crazy and we didn’t have enough time to gather more props,” DeMarco said.
The creation of the color blossom transformation in Episode 2 was handled digitally by Framestore and based on real optical effects, analyzing what happens with film separation. “We wanted an effect that could’ve been possible playing with hand painting and an optical printer,” DeMarco said. “The idea was that each color was separated and relayed onto an optical printer and then the stars that go through the animation were made to look like hand-painted effects on there.” After Framestore recreated film being pressed together and developed, it was important to have the proper balance of color distortion to match the ’50s texture and the look of the colors for the remainder of the series.
One of the most challenging effects, however, was creation of the Hex barrier in the town of Westview (handled mainly by Rodeo FX). The look they wanted to replicate was the static you’d see on old CRT TV screens when magnetized and spread out. And, when zooming in close, you see the skinny lines and extreme pixelation. This was WandaVision at its retro best. “The Hex needed to be a boundary and an environment and a representation of who Wanda wanted in and out of her perfect compound,” DeMarco said. “So we kept it invisible and it swallowed Monica [Teyonah Parris] at the beginning, and we just wanted a hint of the language of television.”
But when Vision penetrates the Hex barrier and disintegrates, we lean further into the RGB color separation and static, and then the pixel-like breakup of Vision’s body. “We would film an A side and a B side for anything that needed to be seen or rewritten or might go through,” DeMarco said. “There would be the real world version of the object and the sitcom world of the object, and then it was really about the transition and the color of the Hex to help us get from A to B. So we’d start with our two filmed pieces and then find a neat way to use that language of television to go from one to the other.”
Yet, in handling the VFX-heavy Episode 9 (“The Series Finale”), comprised of the library face-off between Red and White Vision and Wanda battling Witch Agnes (Kathryn Hahn) in the sky, Marvel got to revert back to what it does best: thrilling action. The VFX team utilized digital doubles, wire work, green screen, colorful simulation for displays of magic, and other CG mayhem. “The big challenge was the amount of MCU work in one episode at the end of our schedule, making sure we had the support for both [battles] with enough film elements and so much CG,” DeMarco said.