For the first time ever, Marvel Studios entered the world of television with WandaVision. Thanks to the introduction of Disney+, the Kevin Feige-led outfit was able to craft a cinema-quality show for the small screen, broken up into chunks as the House of Ideas found itself reinventing the world of event programming. Part of why the Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany-starring series worked so well is that it maintained the same quality as Marvel’s silver screen counterparts.
Even though it was a small-scale character study looking at the Scarlet Witch and Vision, the series still ended up using 18 different visual effects vendors on over 2,000 shots throughout the series. That includes Rodeo FX and visual effects supervisor Julian Hery.
While Hery isn’t a stranger to superhero cinema — he also has credits on Aquaman, Deadpool, and Amazon’s The Boys amongst others — WandaVision marks his first foray into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We recently caught up with the effects guru to break down some of WandaVision’s biggest moments.
Keep scrolling to see our full chat!
ComicBook.com: Everything’s kept so close to the vest with all this Marvel stuff, and this is your first rodeo with the studio. When you’re out bidding for one of these projects, how much did you know about the show itself? I’m not sure how much you can actually get into, but before you even signed on, what did you know of the look and feel of WandaVision?
Julien Hery: Pretty much nothing. I didn’t get to read any scripts. When we were talking about the show, we didn’t know what the story was or the characters involved. Until now, I basically discovered at the same time as everybody what was basically the storyline of the whole show.
I think the main challenge here is, okay, we have obviously great concept art. But how does it move? How does it behave? It’s very different. It’s almost like when you get a cartoon, like a flat 2D cartoon. How do you treat it in 3D? You can get go so many different ways. You have to basically translate that into a moving frame, and something that also lives in the realm of plate photography, which is fairly different. I think that was the starting point, and based on that, we tried a lot of different ideas.
With something like this, you have so many people involved, and this person’s going to interpret a script differently from this person, so on and so forth. With something like T he Hex, I know Jac Schaeffer has talked about the TV static it pulls inspiration from.
By the time you guys were brought in, was the TV static something that’s scripted or directed, is that something that’s set in stone? Were you guys forced to watch hours and hours and hours of white noise to get that right for references?
Yeah, we started with that concept, where you basically only see static, but then based on those static, it’s like…when you build that, you don’t want it to feel like a force field too much, like something that we’ve already seen. We wanted to tie The Hex with the TV realm of the whole show. We wanted it to feel like TV, so we started basically to deconstruct a TV signal.
What we did was take used TVs on the market, like old CRT TVs, and we filmed them while putting magnets on top of those screens to see what kind of aberrations we could have from that kind of TVs. That’s what you see in the first episode, when Monica is touching the Hex. You can see those moire patterns, magnetic moire patterns. That’s based on what we saw when we put a magnet on the screen.
So that’s the idea that we tried to incorporate inside the Hex. And the further we go, the more digital and complex it gets. It starts fairly…I wouldn’t say basic, because that’s a lot of element to build it, but more like old TVs. The more we move forward, the more you can see something closer to digital and digital glitches and stuff like that. We actually built a whole glossary for us to discuss with Tara [DeMarco], and to be able to pinpoint this element of the Hex was maybe moving too fast or was too bright, so we built a whole glossary so we could talk the same language.
Then The Hex itself differs. You mentioned how it grows physically and it changes colors. I’m not sure how technical you want to get at all, but Wanda changing it from blue to red, how much did that change the workflow on your end?
That’s a totally different recipe, basically. It’s funny, because it was all a journey, this project. I don’t think it was one of those projects where you get a clear idea from day one and you just have to execute it. I think throughout the course of the show, which we worked on for almost a whole year, we changed the look of the Hex countless times. The more we got advancing into the show, the more we found, “Oh, this is a nice idea that works well in daylight. Let’s bring this idea to the nighttime shots.” It was an evolving idea.
So to answer your question about the blue one and the red one, it was two totally different … I mean, kind of the same methodology, but two different recipes, let’s say. The blue one was fairly subtle, almost invisible, just a hint, and the red one is way more visible and present. When we started to do the red Hex on the first episode, it was looking nice at night, but then when we started to do the daylight one and it was looking a bit fake, a bit flat, a bit not selling in the environment. So we started to see that, “Oh, maybe it could be like a real TV, having a reflection from the environment, from the sky, from the trees, and from the actors, so it will be sitting right next to the actor to grant it an inner reality, let’s say.”
We started to bring that back into the first episode, where now we have a bit more reflection onto the surface.
We also played around with a lot of ideas that finally got stripped down, because I think what was interesting working with Marvel was that it’s a creative journey. You have to go really far to maybe at some point see that, okay, well, now we went too far, let’s try to strip it down and make it less-is-more, and then it’s going to be it. But at least you cover the whole area of the creative possibilities, and then you really choose the one that you feel is selling the best on the show. I think that’s the thing that strikes me the most with working with Marvel, is that they don’t close any door. They left all the doors open. They try everything. Even doing a full 360 degrees turnaround.
I remember when Monica is getting inside the Hex towards the end of the show, we did the first concept in February or March, then the moving concept, then they shoot the sequence, so we did still frame concept and another moving concept. It was ever-evolving. At some point, they were still like, something could be better, something could be better. I remember joking with Tara. We went back to version one that we did at the very beginning of the show, and that was it. Everybody was liking it more. But we kind of explored everything. I did find that pretty interesting, this liberty of just trying things.
Everyone loves a little bit of creative freedom, right? Try it, and then you can say you at least tried it.
Exactly, exactly. Which is very rare, especially on this kind of business, being able to try things, and yeah, sometimes you fail. Well, yeah, version one was better. But at least everybody got a chance to see it in every color, in every way, and then when you say it’s the version one that works the better, then you know that because you’ve seen everything.
You built the Hex and you’re essentially killing Vision at another point. Then in the middle of this all, you built a town from the ground up.
Yeah, exactly. That’s very interesting, because it’s totally different area of visual effects, as you were saying, building those kind of environments. It’s almost as tricky, if not more tricky than building those superpowers and that destruction, because as you were saying, nobody has ever seen a real-life laser beam going out of a forehead, so you can build everything, and you can just, let’s say, make it cool.
Whereas in a town, everybody knows how towns work. We spent a lot of time making it right. There’s a lot of tiny detail that you won’t spot right away but that makes it real, like traffic lights and trash cans. A lot of things can go wrong on those kinds of environments, even to the sides of the curbs and how many cars there are. You have fire hydrants. All those tiny props, tiny things that make it real. All the electric cables.
I found that very often it’s really tricky to do something everybody is super used to seeing. Like, let’s say the biggest challenge of visual effects would be building a real CG face of a human. It’s super tricky because human beings are trying to detect a real one as opposed to something not living. It’s a bit the same thing with a town. You have to build it the real way, with a real town layout in mind. It has to work as a real town, and then you can film it from every other direction and it should work.
Now, is any part of that rover at all practical? I know you guys used it in several shots. Is that entirely a CG model? Did they build that front chunk at all, or was that completely a model?
It was super interesting to see it. I had the chance to see it on set. They did build it for real, so that’s the real thing. It’s like three meters high, so more than nine feet. It’s a super big build. It was an awesome craft. The only thing is that it doesn’t drive very fast, and you have to pull it with a car that we had to erase, you know? So you had to make it drive. So there’s a few shots where basically it’s going to the Hex, and we did replace it with a CGI set to add some more speed.
And then all the interaction with the Hex, those are all full CG rovers. We had plate references, so they lifted with a crane the rover, and they had it do some actions, but we found that we need more speed, more violence, and something a bit more struggling, as opposed to something a bit more smooth and a bit heavier.
The one sequence we absolutely needed to talk about is my single favorite shot of the show, is when Monica starts to cross over into the Hex. It’s just so damn cool, man. It’s more Doctor Strange than Doctor Strange, and it’s just so … I don’t know what else to say. It’s incredible.
We were playing with this magnet, as I was saying, on the TV screen, so it was like, “Okay, what can be bigger than a magnet? And when you have a bigger object or a stronger interaction, what could be?” So I was, “Okay, maybe we could do magnetic eruptions, the same thing as you have on the sun, like solar flares and stuff like that.” So at some point in the sequence, we have solar flares emitting from the Hex, but then it was one of those cases where that’s a bit too much, and you go a bit away from the storytelling point. That needs to be a bit more, not simpler but focused on the real action.
So we kind of strip it down quite a bit to something that is, in my opinion, way better, because it’s kind of … You know what we say like less is more. You get something that is still very complex, there are many layers and many things are involved, but you get a clear read of everything that is going on and you can read the action.
Did you ever go back to certain projects, whether it’s Age of Ultron, where Wanda’s first introduced, to reference, or for a little inspiration? Did you go to any projects, Marvel or otherwise, for just the right inspiration?
I’m not sure if it’s the right answer, but I will say no. I will say we go to the other Marvel movie for effects, like when Wanda has what is called the wiggly-woo, the magic effect. It has been established as a look, so we need to match it, so everybody recognizes the effect. It should be the same thing. But when we build something new, what I try to do is not look at what has been done already, so you don’t limit yourself. You try something, and I’m just afraid that sometimes if you reference too many other characters or other powers, you’re going to lean towards one, and then it’s going to be the same, in a way.
I was talking about Monica inside the Hex. We did really work a long time on this sequence. At some point, we were always like, “Okay, it’s looking too much like the bridge of Thor, the Rainbow Bridge. It’s looking too much like that.”
We were fighting this. That’s where I told Tara that no matter what, where we were going, we’re still going to go the Thor way. It’s going to still look a bit like the Rainbow Bridge. That’s something you don’t want to do, is mix up characters or mix up powers if not necessary. As you were saying, everybody will be scrutinizing.
Does this mean Thor’s showing up? Oh, man, sweet, that’s cool. That means Loki’s not far behind, man.
[laughs] Yeah, exactly. So you need to establish something when it’s needed. So it should not look like that. That’s why we kind of moved away from that. So yeah, we look at references from Marvel when it’s needed. Otherwise, for this show, I was may more into the motion graphics community, which just cool imagery, things like just for the purpose of almost like an art form, you know? I mean, that’s what it is. But I was more almost like what you will do with grabbing ideas from a painting or from photography. That’s more like what I was doing, as opposed to looking what others have done on other shows, so we can build something new, at least, or try to.
There was a piece that came out this month where [The Falcon and the Winter Soldier director] Kari Skogland said she could maybe even do without a second season of that show because the first season was just so personally fulfilling for her. She got to do everything that she wanted to do. Would you say that’s a similar situation with? Did WandaVision check off so many boxes for you personally or professionally?
No, for sure. Yeah, there’s a lot of things that we never did before or methodologies that we never tried at this scale or with this kind of client. I think it was, yeah, one of those show where, as much as you want to work on … You need to take your breath before doing a season two, because it was a huge challenge for everybody.
You mentioned putting hexes in Vision as he was disintegrating as well. I know they shoved Howard the Duck into Avengers: Endgame. Say, building Westview or something, did you sneak in any Easter eggs at all? We talked about people dissecting this stuff. Did you guys put your own stamp on a few things throughout your work?
Yeah, the car dealership. We had to find a name for the car dealership. It’s very tricky because you don’t want to have any lawsuits with using a brand. So it’s called the Rodeo, and we put signage and ads in front of the car dealership so it looks real, and saying, like, “It’s not our first rodeo,” and that kind of things. That was funny because that’s kind of the thing that you do for fun, but you’re prepared to say, “Well, we can change too.” But Tara was very amused by it, and it made it to the final cut.
WandaVision is now streaming in its entirety on Disney+.
What was your favorite moment of the show? Let us know your thoughts either in the comments section or by hitting our writer @AdamBarnhardt up on Twitter to chat all things MCU!