When Marvel’s Doctor Strange starring Benedict Cumberbatch was released last year, one of the most talked about characters wasn’t one that you might think. It was Strange’s cloak of levitation, a piece of the doctor’s wardrobe that has its own magical powers and often helped out in tricky situations.
To give the cloak the right kind of character, visual effects studio Framestore took the on-set cloak worn by Cumberbatch and generated a CG version. To do that as accurately as possible, they 3D design tool Marvelous Designer, which is aimed at building clothing and fabric as if it is being crafted for real. Framestore visual effects supervisor Alexis Wajsbrot takes AV3 through the process.
Watch Framestore’s breakdown for Doctor Strange below
AV3: Doctor Strange’s cloak is almost like a character in itself in the film – can you talk about the initial discussions you had about how it would be brought to life?
Alexis Wajsbrot: It was clear that Strange’s cloak of levitation was a key asset in the movie from the very beginning. During the early talks, Aladdin’s flying carpet was heavily referenced, as it needed to both help Doctor Strange as well as bring a comedic element to the movie. He was always handled like a real character and as Framestore just successfully delivered Rocket and Groot for Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel thought Framestore could bring the cloak to life.
AV3: For those who don’t know much about Marvelous Designer, what is it about the way the software works that makes it useful for building and simulating CG cloth in VFX?
Alexis Wajsbrot: MD works using patterns, you build cloth in the same way a real tailor would build it. It’s incredibly useful to get the cloth matching the real one as close as possible as we are using the same techniques.
The main reason we decided to switch to MD was to get believable wrinkles and better cloth simulation. Traditionally modellers add wrinkles to the cloth when they build it, which caused the cloth to have an inconsistent topology density as well as not being able to fully unfold it, as the cloth may have too much fabric or not enough depending on how the wrinkles were modelled.
With MD, the topology density is always 100% consistent, and we can fully unfold it as we model the cloth unfolded using the pattern and then we simulate it in MD to get the extra wrinkles.
AV3: What did MD let you achieve for the cloak of levitation?
Alexis Wajsbrot: Thanks to MD we managed to get an exact CG version of the real cloak. We managed to get a first model very quickly of the Cloak, which allow us to unlock the other departments; Rigging / Animation / CFX, to get first pass of shots at a very early stage.
It’s a lot easier for modelers to tweak patterns rather than tweak a posed model, it allowed us to get very fast interaction / results of any given feedback. The model being a perfect topology, we also got more realistic result in CFX simulation.
AV3: How did you use MD to model and build Doctor Strange’s cloak? What patterns made it up? Can you talk about interacting with the costume department or the actual costume on this side of things?
Alexis Wajsbrot: In order to build Doctor Strange’s Cloak, the costume department provided us with the real patterns of the practical cloak. This was new for Framestore, so we worked as much as possible with the costume dept. At first they were surprised by our request, as they don’t usually share the patterns, but as soon as they understood the reasons and saw the first results, they 100% teamed up with us to get the best possible CG cloak, so we could switch seamlessly from a live action cloak to a CG one.
Our lead modeller Nicolas Leblanc started to re-create all those patterns in Marvelous (43 in total) using photos as background and the 2D/”roto like” tool.
We then stitched them together area by area, we simulated them with a medium density and pinned them on Strange’s model. Once the entire cloak was built, we increased the density to get some nice detail and we manually adjusted the fabric’s pose, then we exported all the meshes to Maya.
Ultimately we made the final adjustments and additions in Maya, adding thickness and the seams.
AV3: Can you talk about how the Marvelous Designer workflow worked on Doctor Strange, in terms of going from that tool into other tools used at Framestore for the final shots?
Alexis Wajsbrot: We mainly used it as a modelling tool and passed it to Maya as obj. We exported two versions, an unfolded flat version, which was useful for a quick re-topology and texturing, as well as a second version in pose with the simulated wrinkles and detail that MD provided.
AV3: What would you say was the toughest shot to pull off that featured the CG cloak?
Alexis Wajsbrot: The most iconic shot would definitely be the shot where Strange takes the cloak, throws it in a 360 spin above his head before perfectly landing on his shoulders in the corridor. It ‘s really the shot where Strange becomes the sorcerer supreme.
Having said that the most complicated shot is the one where the cloak saved Strange from falling into the relic chamber, as we worked really hard to get the best possible silhouette.
Check out Marvelous Designer on the AV3 Store