A visual journey into the Hex

Come on this ‘WandaVision’ journey with Rodeo FX.

In this special breakdown of visual effects studio Rodeo FX’s work for WandaVision, visual effects supervisor Julien Héry breaks down, with behind the scenes images, the way Wanda’s Hex was created for the show.

Here he discusses the design influence of old-school TVs and cathode ray tubes, and how it also impacted upon moments when the characters go ‘through’ the Hex, including the moment Vision starts deconstructing.

Concept behind the Hex: Early on when starting on Wandavision, we were provided concept art that showcased the idea of the Hex being made of glitches. Soon we started with moving concepts, playing with the idea of static and moire pattern. The whole idea was to go away from a magical force field, but rather to ground the effect in the TV realm to maintain the whole idea in the show. We bought old CRT TVs and played around putting a magnet on them and recorded the result. We were looking for real life artifacts that we could reproduce in a glitching TV barrier.
Moire: We would then use the moire pattern each time there is an interaction with the Hex. Then we had to search for more elements to symbolize the different state and activity phase of the Hex. Starting with collecting different visual inspiration on a moodboard, we then built a procedural system that would provide us the ability to add different TV elements based on the storypoint. We used a glossary with VFX supervisor Tara DeMarco, to make sure we were also talking about the same specific elements, as each element could have his own pace, frequency, and look. The more we advanced in the story the more ‘modern’ the Hex would become, playing around with more advanced glitches related to compression artifacts or loss of signal. That would perfectly showcase the erratic nature of the Hex.
Technique: The Hex was based on a CG layout geometry in order to get proper placement. On a few shots we simulated this geometry for interaction, to get it to distort and bulge when characters or vehicles interact with it. Then this geometry was provided to our compositing team. We did build a procedural animated texture system that allowed us to control precisely the Hex look.
Brick system: Using a ‘brick’ system that allowed us to enable/disable different parts of the Hex depending on the shot requirements, it also allowed us to complexify the look until the very end by adding new bricks. This procedural system was also very useful to control precisely all the animated components of the Hex as well as providing us an almost infinite level of details depending on the camera position relative to the Hex.
Monica goes through: At the beginning of the production we were provided with concept art, we started by creating a moodboard based on imagery that would help pinpoint the look and feel of the concept art in a plate photography. In parallel we did started playing around with a few moving concepts, there was always the idea of the connection between the different monicas, we started with the idea of points clouds being distorted and smeared, like being inside a TV static. Though this idea would not play very well with a bright and colorful background, so we explored more organic approaches.
The final shots: During production we were provided with green screen plates of Monica in different outfits covering all decades. Since we didn’t yet know what the final screen placement would be, we chose to extract those plates and generate trails and distortion in Houdini based on their original position. Those different elements would later be used in comp to distort and ‘glitch’ the different monica, while still keeping the ability to change their position. Then in Nuke we placed and animated the Monicas and created a smeared connection between them. The final assembly would be done in Flame, where we built the whole environment. That allowed us to quickly iterate on environment design and animation, and turnaround different looks and variation rapidly. The idea behind this environment was to visualize what it would look like to be inside a CRT tv electron beam, yet introducing artifacts from more modern TV sets.
Vision deconstructs: We received a Vision asset from DD. Based on this, we built all his internal parts, wiring system and a skeleton. The whole wiring system was procedurally generated in Houdini. We then body matchmoved every shot of Paul Bettany, to be able to replace his different body parts, and re-simulated his cape when necessary.
FX: The FX team then cut Vision into small hexagons that would allow us, later on, to create a path for an energy pattern to be revealed prior to the peeling of the area. On the internal cables, we added some lights travelling that would slow down throughout the sequence to emphasize Vision’s death.
Pixel sorting: For the destruction parts, we modeled ‘hero’ pieces that allowed our animation team to drive the main beat of the destruction. The FX team would later use those proxies to drive their simulation. We added a layer of “pulled wires” that were linking those bigger pieces of skin to the body. Those tiny wires would then break at a certain length. Early on, the concept of “pixel sorting” was used to link every element we created for the show. One of the biggest challenges was to translate the well known 2D technique that was present in our initial concept into a 3D world effect to get proper perspective and interaction with Vision.
Final touches: Then a fine layer of dust was added to link everything together. In order to visually link Vision with the Hex behind him, we created this last layer of smearing effect our FX supervisor came with this idea of a FX simulated organic layer driving a 2D distortion . We used this 2D layer to smear and displace the pixels toward the Hex.