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'Thor: Love and Thunder' VFX supervisor says Taylor Swift inspired the screaming goats
VFX supervisor Jake Morrison reveals the pop star's connections to the goats, plus how they built Omnipotence City and made Gorr's shadow monsters.
During a recent Zoom conversation with SYFY WIRE, Love and Thunder's VFX supervisor Jake Morrison recalled how the gag was an unintended byproduct of an effort to make the sometimes-tedious visual effects process a little less mundane. Take, for instance, the standard industry practice of using a "turntable," a tool that allows for a 360-degree view of a specific digital model. "You have to do them, they’re super needed, but from the creator’s point-of-view — if you're talking to [the movie's director and co-writer] Taika Waititi or the studio — they’re dull as dishwater," Morrison explained to us. "So what you try and do is try and spice it up a little bit."
Morrison reached out to Framestore (the VFX vendor that worked on the goat models and animation), asking for "a grab bag" of everything they had rendered up to that point. "I always try and get a little vignette where the goats — or any creature — does something that shows you the character," he added. The goats (known as Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder) originally appeared in the pages of Thor Annual #5 almost 50 years ago. A dash of contemporary meme culture seemed in order.
"Some genius at Framestore found this Taylor Swift track, which I didn't know [about]," Morrison said, referring to a viral edit of her song "I Knew You Were Trouble." "It had a goat scream in the track and they actually timed it and mixed it, put the whole thing together, and sent it back to us in edit, which was the coolest thing I'd ever seen. We showed that to Taika and the studio just as a, ‘Here's how the goats are looking.’ And the next thing you know, the goats are screaming all the way through the movie. It's a good example of one organic process it is working at Marvel. If somebody has a good idea, it happens. Nobody's gonna say, ‘No, no, no — these are silent goats...’"
Morrison — who has been involved with the Thor film franchise since the very beginning — went on to discuss the inherent difficulties one faces in trying to make the titular Asgardian relatable for a mainstream audience. "He’s effectively a prince and it's very hard to feel sorry for princes," remarked the VFX supervisor. "He's also incredibly good-looking. It’s Chris Hemsworth, so he's already like one of the most perfect specimens in human history. It's not CG, he just looks like that."
While he's now an Oscar-winning household name and Hollywood juggernaut, Waititi was fairly obscure before he boarded the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The writer-director seeming came out of nowhere, upending the Thor paradigm with a "riches to rags story" in 2017's Ragnarok. Almost overnight, one of the least popular Marvel characters — at least in terms of their standalone outings — became a fan favorite.
"What Taika did — which I thought was incredibly fun and brave and gave us a lot of visual opportunities — was to take the character and tear it down," Morrison said. "You cut his hair off, you destroy his hammer, you do this whole Samson thing. Then you put up on a planet where everybody's a superhero. Everybody's a god on Sakaar, you level the playing field. Taika is a big fan of underdogs. He hates anything that gets too big for its boots, which I think you see in all his work. But he couldn't do that again, because that's been done [in] Ragnarok. So the movement from there is, ‘Now, it's about emotional growth [and] how Thor grows as a person.' The whole start of it, where he's in the guru robe with the top-knot and all the rest of it…that's Taika just going, ‘Well, what's Thor’s next move?’ It's putting up walls and barriers and trying to protect himself from everybody."
Having traversed the cosmos with the Guardians of the Galaxy after Avengers: Endgame, Thor sets off on a solo adventure when he learns of a deity-killing menace called Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale). This new path reunites the prince with King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and a Mjolnir-wielding Jane Foster (Natalie Portman returning to the MCU for the first time since The Dark World). Turns out Gorr is on a Thanos-like mission to wipe all gods from existence with the help of an omnipotent being known as Eternity.
"We get to go through the entire universe front-to-back," Morrison continued. "You're on a journey, they’re all journeys, the Thor films. You get to go on a journey with him and you see him mature and change and fall in love and all the rest of it. It's a very different film. Taika always does what people don't expect, which is what I love about working with him ... And, of course, as with all the Thor films, you get to go everywhere and you never go anywhere twice. You always seem to have to build a new planet every five minutes."
One of those planets is Omnipotence City, the divine meeting place of the gods, where Zeus himself (Russell Crowe) holds court in the lush Golden Temple. The VFX job of building this digital space and then filling it with every god imaginable — from Bao to Ninny of the Nonny — was quite the undertaking.
"I think it's one of those things that the audience won't even consider," Morrison continued. "From a visual effects point-of-view, when you build a crowd system, you normally start with standard scenes. So if you're building a football crowd, it's gonna be bipedal humans, generally speaking — there's variants in there, there’s different skin tones, hair, clothes, all that stuff. Taika’s brief for that one — everybody brief on the entire movie, actually — was, ‘Don't do anything twice.’ So building a crowd system where you've got all the gods and you never see the same one repeated is just an enormous challenge."
Despite the fact that Gorr poses a serious threat to them all, the gods prove themselves to be nothing more than complacent cowards, forcing Thor and his posse to take on the Butcher (who has kidnapped the children of New Asgard) by themselves. The villain's weapon of choice is the Necrosword, a blade capable of spilling ichor (the blood of the gods) and summoning horrific shadow creatures. According to Morrison, Gorr's army of monsters follow a specific set of rules.
"I'm always suspicious of movies that don't have any logic, even if it's popcorn logic," he affirmed. "Here's the thing about the shadow creatures: when you see them form in New Asgard in the little girl's bedroom or in the streets, whatever the object is that’s casting the shadow has a direct influence on what the shadow creature looks like and behaves. So for example, if it's the Snapdragon in Molly's bedroom — the first girl who gets nabbed — the creature that comes out…if you look at the shadow on the wall, the wall has got little pincer-type things like some plants do. By the time ‘Nippy,' as that particular creature is known to his or her friends, [takes form] it's got huge caliper pincers. That's true of every single shadow creature in the movie. If it was a bike that casts the shadow, you're more likely to get a creature that's like a snake-y, sinusoidal creature. The challenge is, ‘Let's make sure that we don't ever see the same creature twice.’ We did a couple of times just because everyone really fell in love with one or two of them and asked us to put them in [more than once], but the systems were built so you never needed to repeat the same effect twice."
Thor: Love and Thunder is now available to stream on Disney+. The film can also be purchased via Digital and VOD platforms for $19.99 ahead of its physical home release (Blu-Ray, DVD, and 4K Ultra HD) on Tuesday, Sep. 27.
Looking for some more sci-fi? Check out shows like Resident Alien, Brave New World, Project Blue Book, Eureka, Heroes, Intergalactic, and more streaming now on Peacock.