How Method Studios created Surtur & his fire demons, dragons and major fight scenes in Thor: Ragnarok

As one of the major VFX vendors for the Marvel Studios film, Method created some of the major characters, thousands of guards, explosions and dragons.

Regular collaborator with Marvel, Method Studios, has created VFX for the major fight sequences, characters, beasts and environments for Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok, based on the Marvel Comics character Thor. The narrative puts Thor (Chris Hemsworth) against death goddess Hela (Cate Blanchett) to save Asgardian civilisation from obliteration.

Acting as one of the major VFX vendors for the film, Method studios delivered more than 450 shots, including the opening scene scene in which Thor battles Surtur and his fire demons in a rocky underground hellscape of Muspelheim, and a major fight sequence that sees Hela take on an army of hundreds of Asgardian Guards. Method Studios also fleshed out Surtur, the dragon, fire demons and the E-Guard soldiers.

Surtur is meant to be an imposing presence, filled with crusted magma flesh, 18-feet tall. Surtar was created entirely with keyframe animation. Method artists created the giant fiery beast by using geometry as a base, and by running textures through a muscle system to give directionality to the magma, which was then lightened for depth. 

Sculpted slag (mining waste) was added for definition and facial movements, but still kept the outline relatively fluid. To complete the volcanic effect, artists added FX-driven fire, embers and smoke.

The smaller fire demons, found closer to Thor’s stature, feature much more slag than Surtur and shatter when impacted.

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To create a large crowd, artists animated the close-up action and then used software to create thousands of fire demons that swarm Thor by descending from the roof and coming down columns of the cavern. Motion-capture footage of stunt doubles was used as a reference for the fire demons’ movements, which were amplified to make the creatures seem more animalistic. Method artists used a digital double of Thor in a number of shots, as the sequence was full CG.

Live action plates were captured on a small partial set, the artists created the vast cavern environment of Muspelheim digitally, with a flowing lava wall. The exterior of Muspelheim was inspired by Dirk Hartog Island, off the west coast of Australia, of which has a rocky and inhospital atmosphere.

Thor encounters an enormous dragon that flies by shooting fire from its gills. The entire wingless, CG beast was created by Method Studios. With reference to footage of rocket launches Method created the straight, fast flame of the dragon’s propulsion flames, and the amount of thrust so that it was just believable.

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The dragon’s skin was modelled after Surtur, but took on a more leathery aesthetic.

Hela arrives at Asgard and fights with hundreds of D-Guards, decimating them all single-handedly. Method Studios created the Asgard environment and hundreds of CG E-Guards, FX destruction and a CG Hela.

“The choreography of this fight sequence required extreme collaboration between animation, technical animation and FX as Hela fires out hundreds of weapons impacting the environment, CG characters and plate characters – timing was everything when bringing all of these elements together,” Method Studios explains.

All of Method’s Hela shots were crafted from Cate Blanchett’s face from the live action plates. Motion capture data supplied created a CG Hela’s body, costume and headdress.

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Later in the film Hela chases Heimdall (Idris Elba) and some Asgardians to a mountain stronghold, which is placed in a vast gorge and opens into a large, dimly lit cavern with crystal-embedded stonework. All of this was a digitally-created environment, involving rigging for destruction in some areas.

Method Studios created numerous shots in the Asgard observatory and on the palace terrace, which both required a huge amount of 3D environment work and matte painting.

Method Studios sister company Iloura, handled Thor’s encounter with Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) on Sakaar. Iloura VFX Supervisor Dan Bethell oversaw the work, which involved enhancing plate photography and inserting a full CG 3D environment. Artists inserted a digital double for the scene in which the Grandmaster melts one of his subjects into a disintegrating pile of flesh.