Thor: Ragnarok visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison, who previously worked on both prior Thor movies, helped Marvel and director Taika Waititi to create a very different world for the character, with this most recent installment in the MCU. In the film, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself having to get back to Asgard to stop the destruction of his homeworld and the end of civilization there, at the hands of the scarily powerful Hela (Cate Blanchett). Utilizing a refreshing level of humor and fun throughout the story, Thor must get his duplicitous adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the fierce warrior Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) all fighting on the same side, if they’re even going to have a chance at being victorious.
During a press day at Marvel Studios to discuss some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the Thor world, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with VFX supervisor Jake Morrison for this 1-on-1 interview about why now is the perfect time to have such a fun Thor movie, the evolution in effects since he first started working on visual effects for Marvel, having to figure out how to do whatever the filmmakers come up with, how they pulled off the big Thor vs. Hulk fight scene, the biggest visual effects headache on this film, working with so many VFX vendors, and whether there are any visual effects from previous films that he wishes he could go back and change. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: I loved Thor: Ragnarok! The movie is just so much fun! We need to have some fun these days, so why not deliver that in a Thor movie?!
JAKE MORRISON: I couldn’t agree more! If there was ever a better time in the world to have two hours and ten minutes of just unbridled fun, I’m completely with you there, 100%.
It’s really cool to see how the Thor movies, which weren’t necessarily as fun as some of the other Marvel movies, can find a new life, in this way.
MORRISON: Taika Waititi, our director, approached this not as a sequel, but as a do-over. He was like, “I’ll come in and do your movie, but really, I want the chance to come up with something fresh,” and I know Kevin [Feige] and the rest of the gang were really keen on that. And Chris [Hemsworth] was, too. His comedy chops are really good. They shot some crazy stuff, when we were in prep down on the Gold Coast. Taika and Chris just disappeared, over a weekend, and went and shot the whole Darryl thing. He was sitting there in his board shorts and his flip-flops with the hammer. They did that before we’d actually rolled any frames on the film, and I think that really set the tone.
Taika is an improv director and he’s really good at getting great performances out of actors, and everybody was ready for something cool and new. Everybody [at Marvel] is not afraid to do that. If there’s a better idea, they will do it. No matter at what point in the process it is, how painful it is or how big the change is, they’ll be like, “Actually, this is a better idea and we should do that.” And you’ll be like, “Okay, all right, it is better.” It’s just a constant process. I’ve worked on all three Thor films, completely randomly. It wasn’t a plan to have worked on all three of them, but I’ve seen it through the different flavors of Thor. There was the Shakespearian one, the heavier one with The Dark World, and then to get into this one was a breath of fresh air.
You began your tenure with Marvel on Iron Man 2. What was the appeal of working on visual effects for a Marvel movie when you started, and does it feel like there’s been a big evolution since then?
MORRISON: Yeah, definitely! At the beginning, there was probably an understanding that there were things you couldn’t do, so storytelling was based around the things we could do. It was always pushing the envelope, but it was based around being practical. That’s not there anymore. Whatever stories they can think of, there’s not a question of doing it. The exciting thing about being a visual effects supervisor here is that they go, “That’s the story. This is it. Hulk is gonna tell jokes.” And you’re like, “What?!” And then, they’ll go, “You know, the director is gonna be a visual effect in this picture, and tell jokes.” And you’re like, “What?! Oh, god!” And then, they’ll go, “And the comedy is all gonna come from the visual effects.” It’s never a question of, “Can you do it?” We just work it out.
It’s exciting, in the sense that it’s always being on the cliff’s edge going, “I don’t know!” It forces you to come up with different techniques and new ideas on the fly. It’s much more of an improv thing. A good example of that would be when I worked on the first Avengers picture. I was second unit supervisor on that one, and we had a Hulk vs. Thor fight in the Helicarrier. Chris is 6’4″ and Troy [Brenna], who is the stunt guy for Hulk, is 6’7″. We had a big thing strapped onto Troy, so that he was 8’6″, like Hulk is, but then it just looked like two guys wrestling, and I had to do a lot of work on top of that. For the fight scene in this, which is the centerpiece in the arena, I wanted the fight as real and visceral as possible without just relying on the CG. Obviously, Hulk is CG, but I didn’t want it to be so super over-animated. I wanted you to really feel like you were in there, in this Grecian wrestling thing. We’ve tried the 6’4″ to 8’6″ thing and that didn’t work, so I wanted to do it the other way around, where Hulk was 6’4″ and Thor was 4’8″. The math scales down that way.
So, we talked to our stunt coordinator to see if there was a stunt guy who could do that, and there actually is. There’s this English guy, called Paul Lowe, who doubled for Harry Potter. He’s built like a boxer, and he’s a super cool dude who’s 4’8″. We flew him over to the Gold Coast, and then we choreographed this whole fight and put them all in the mo-cap suits. Now, there’s a fight where, if Thor is throwing a punch to Hulk, he’s actually punching up and over and Hulk is punching down, and if Thor runs around the back, he can make a kidney punch. We were able to do all of this full-contact wrestling, but to the right scale. Then, we mo-capped the whole thing and Chris learned the fight portion that our scale mo-cap Thor did. We do that entire thing on a blue screen set, and then you plug the two things together and it just works. That’s a good example of coming up with some stuff on the fly.
What was the biggest visual effects headache on this film, and was it something you were expecting?
MORRISON: The film has nearly 2,700 visual effects shots, which means that only 2% of the film didn’t run through the department. Basically, 98% has effects. That meant that we had to have 18 different vendors. We were literally basing our day around the sun. We’d start by talking to Germany, and then pass through London, and then go to New York, and then go to the West Coast and Vancouver, and then go to Sydney and Melbourne. It was amazing! The sun never sets on the Ragnarok empire. All of our vendors were great. They were all basically race cars, and you just want to make sure they’re all humming at the right level. Everybody is working on stuff, at the same time, and there’s never a moment where they’re waiting for any feedback, or anything like that. So, logistically doing that stuff [was a headache]. And then, in typical Marvel fashion, if you can think of a better idea, we do it, so there are late changes.