The swirling, glittering psychedelic world of spinning mandalas that we gave them, went waaaay farther out than any Marvel Studios title yet.
The film, from director Scott Derrickson and Marvel Studios, stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange, who uses mind-bending powers to vanquish dark forces set on destroying our reality. Seeing an early cut of the film, “Those five fantastic words Marvel Studios gave us took on new meaning,” says Erin Sarofsky, founder and executive creative director. “The movement, compositions, transformations and overall vibe of the movie were completely unique, next-level photoreal visualizations. We knew that whatever we did with the MOE, not only did it need to be beautiful visually, it also had to have all of those qualities.”
We also wanted the sequence to fit the film’s core story: Dr. Strange's transformation from self-obsession, to heroic concern for the greater good, in a warped world of impossible possibilities. To communicate all of that, we chose mandalas as the perfect symbol. In Eastern religions mandalas represent not only wholeness and the structure of life, but a universe that goes beyond the physical plane. Visually, each mandala offered us a cosmic map with infinite geometric possibilities.
Harnessing this potential, we designed a series of intricate mandalas, animating them in changing sequences of symmetry and repetition, that whirl and shift in space, and react with the appearance of each on-screen credit.
To begin, we created dozens of mandalas as vector designs, which we sent into 3D, and then textured to look like gemstones in a sparkling color scheme of gold, bronze and silver. From there, we warped time and space, layering levels of geometry and animation that build up and break apart. In short? We created an ever-changing, psychedelic mandala universe.
Emphasizing the phantastic rhythms and energy, we meticulously choreographed the animation of the mandalas to the glittering sounds of the music track. Following musical cues, our design transitions synched with the appearance of each on-screen credit. Sometimes? We did that with a dramatic camera move, and in other moments, with a flash of brightened tones.
The complexity of all this exceeded our visual goals. But it also presented huge technical challenges as we pushed to render the work with deadlines looming. One time-saver? We modeled and animated in Cinema 4, finessing scenes and camera movements with a lower-level proxy.
After being rendered as high-dynamic-range image files (EXRs) we composited the animated content to add color, and other effects. And finally, finished everything in high-definition resolution. Speeding it all to the finish line, we brought in additional servers to double our processing power.
In all, the 90-second Dr. Strange title sequence gave us the opportunity to reach new creative heights.