Thor has always stood apart from the typical lineup of superheroes. His background is rooted in Norse mythology, where he’s depicted as a hammer-wielding god of thunder – a story that comic book writers Stan Lee and Jack Kirby adapted to the Marvel universe by having him banished to earth by his father Odin.
That fantasy-based origin story means that filmmakers faced a considerable challenge when taking the tale to the big screen. Yet, the movie Thor –helmed by Academy Award-nominated director Kenneth Branagh – has exceeded expectations in translating the comics to modern audiences, thanks to strong performances and a classical visual style.
Helping to develop the film’s unique look was a group of 21 graduates from Full Sail’s Computer Animation program. These grads – Matthew Bauer, Zach Brinkerhoff, Maurice Cox, Gottfried Eder, Carson Del Greco, Clarke Godwin, Andrew Hwang, Steven Jin, Roy Mann, Kevin Melia, Robert Merrow, Lyndsey Pendley, Justin Ray, Katie Rodtsbrooks, Eric Sibley, John Temple, Eric Timm, Robert Tobin, Jay Wilson, Alexander Wolfe, and Marvin Yanez – worked on Thor’s visual effects at different studios throughout Hollywood and at different times in the film’s production.
“It was really awesome when I was put on it,” says Steven Jin. “I came into the studio and they had all sorts of concept art and all these models built that we could look at. It was cool just seeing the characters and kinds of things I’d get to work with, and it definitely helped my process because we had all of these ideas to go off of.”
Steven worked as a pre-visualization artist on the film at Third Floor Inc, where he came on board during pre-production to help create the 3D animatics. These rough animations would serve as a guideline for how the effects would look in each scene, determining the camera movements and flow of the action you see on screen.
“Since pre-vis is the beginning of the whole process, everyone gets to throw their ideas in,” he says. “If you think that the camera should move in a different way in a shot, you can go for it, and then they will present it to the supervisor, and the supervisor will present it to the director. Then if they like it you’ll get to see your shot in the movie.”
Months later, after principal photography had finished, the footage was passed to another group of artists and animators to complete the special effects and clean up work for the final print. This included Clarke Godwin, who was brought in during the last weeks of production to handle Thor's 3D conversion for theaters.
Clarke is a stereoscopic compositor at Stereo D studios, where he was responsible for the painstaking process of rendering each frame of the film twice and aligning them to create an illusion of depth. It’s a technique that has seen some criticism in recent years, but Clarke assures that the technology behind these conversions is continuing to make strides as Hollywood pushes for more 3D content.
“Working on the 3D portion was scary because there’s a lot of people out there who are against 3D, but we tried to make it an artistic addition to the film, and not a gimmick,” Clarke says. “I think we did a great job with this movie, and it’s really exciting, I hope everyone enjoys the work we did, and hopefully it sets a precedent for 3D from now on.”
In addition to his technical work on Thor, Clarke has had plenty of previous experience working on comic book adaptations, with credits on Green Hornet and Captain America: The First Avenger. He admits that the Thor mythology was a definite change from the relative reality of the other two films, but that the more sensational style was a welcome change for the visual effects teams.
“This was definitely a different style of film, but I think we all did a great job with it,” he says says. “There’s some pretty sweet scenes with the Destroyer that I’m really proud of, and when you see shots of yours like that up on screen, and it’s so exciting to be reminded that’s what you get paid to do. From the reactions from the people I know who are into the comic book, I think we did our job.”
Thor has kicked off the summer movie season with thoughtful take on a beloved comic book hero, offering something that’s relatable to both fans and newcomers. The project is also another important piece of Marvel’s ongoing film canon, which also includes characters like Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America – all of whom will come together for the eagerly anticipated ensemble film The Avengers in 2012.
“I really like being able to introduce this character to people, and work on something that’s part of a whole series,” Steven says. “It just feels great to see all the advertising for these movies, and makes you proud to be involved in this huge amazing process. It’s a powerful moment.”
“It’s pretty funny actually, if a group of us are ever out together at a bar or restaurant and a trailer comes on for something we’ve worked on we’ll all start shouting for it,” Clarke adds. “It’s pretty awesome. I’m really proud to work on the movies that I do because there’s so much work that goes into them, and you get to touch a piece and say that you helped make it look the way it does.”