So, we talked about the relics of Doctor Strange, the next big cinematic spectacle from Marvel, with those artifacts being the Eye of Agamotto and the Cloak of Levitation, but the purpose of those artifacts is to grant their wielder various magical powers and access to higher dimensions of reality.
But what the dimensions looks like, how magic works, how to get back and forth and a host of other considerations all have to be weighed and designed for a visual medium like film. In fact, it’s even trickier because the Doctor Strange comics are trippy enough in and of themselves, so the filmmakers have to weigh all of their designs against what’s come before, translating the artwork of artists like Steve Ditko into visual representations for the theatres.
The question of this look and cinematic translation was the center of a lot of talk during the set visit that a lot of reporters got to make earlier in the year and, apparently, the designs were all taken directly from the comics a lot more than any of us know.
Production Designer, Charles Wood, spoke with Comicbook.com admitting that they had a hard time with it initially, saying, “It was looking at how those other (alternate) dimensions are being portrayed in the comics. I looked at that stuff in the beginning and thought, ‘Oh my god, how could that ever translate into film?’”
But, in the end, they pushed past their initial reactions, accepted the challenge and just went for it — “Ditko was a huge influence in all of that, and we took that as a starting point, and took it from there, to try and come up with something very different.”
Yes. You read that correctly. Steve Ditko is their inspiration. The very same Steve Ditko who drew this…
In fact, that last one, Kevin Feige directly references in talking with /Film about director Scott Derrickson’s inspiration for the film saying that particular panel “was turned into a blacklight poster that he (Derrickson) remembered having. And that has been so much of the visual inspiration of the movie.” In fact, according to Mr. Feige, “…Steve Ditko and the art of Steve Ditko is a huge inspiration for us” and that “a lot of our interpretation of the multiverse and various dimensions come right out of all of the art of those early comics that Mr. Ditko did.”
To understand what Feige is saying, take a look at this piece from Ditko…
And then take a look at this concept art released just about a month ago.
Feige went on to admit, “It’s really weird. You don’t want to turn away from that.” He then went on to add, “It needs to be weird. It needs to be absolutely inspired from those images.” Feige was also careful to give a bit more definition to their particular concept of “dimensions,” as separate from “parallel realities,” warning that, often times, when people hear those words, they assume “Earth 616 and Earth 617 and Earth 618,” but that’s not what they’re doing.
As he describes it, these dimensions are –
“not just parallel realities … but there are the Dark Dimension where Dormammu inhabits; there are dimensions that are so mind-bending that you can barely perceive them; there are dimensions where a lot of the Ditko images come from; there are dimensions that are just mind trips that the human mind can barely fathom.”
It’s not all about Ditko though, as director Scott Derrickson admits to /Film. According to him, “the fantastical visual imagery of all the comics” fueled his vision for the film, “particularly the early Ditko stuff,” as we’ve already discussed, but also, “Into Shamballa, The Oath, a lot of the images that I have picked are from those three sources. And then individual issues.” Derrickson admits, however, that in the end, his goal was to “make the movie as weird, as visually weird in this day and age as the Ditko comics were at their time.”
So, tripping through weird ass dimensions is one thing, but the big thing on a lot of people’s minds is the magic. The sorcery. We all want to know how that will look, how it will act, what it’s rules are and where it comes from when it’s all said and done.
Derrickson starts off by saying admitting that he wanted “… to avoid having fighting be the casting of bolts of light.” He added to this thought, “… we’ve been drawing on the Emperor in Star Wars for over 30 years, you know, we’ve gotta start doing this some other way. You know, the magic power, the utilization of magic power.”
In the end, all of the fighting, as Derrickson says, was “… always within a context of something I think more fantastical and more surreal and more mind trippy than just the supernatural action of combat… fighting within a larger surreal canvas.” Ultimately, as he concludes, this surreal context “… was the thing I always wanted to preserve so that we’re never just watching fighting.”
Papa Feige had a lot more to say about magic though, than the director. This is more than likely due to the fact that Mr. Feige knows exactly what he’s allowed to talk about because, well, he is the one that decides that.
Again, as reported by /Film, Feige starts by addressing the nature of magic in the Marvel universe before Doctor Strange, mainly, in Thor, where magic was described more as super-advanced science that we did not yet understand. He says that they are more or less continuing on in that line of thought, reminding us that Doctor Strange is a man of hard facts, science and Western Medicine when he encounters The Ancient One, who then challenges him with Eastern Medicine, saying “it’s the same thing. Whether you’re looking at the ancient study of acupuncture pressure points or you’re looking at an MRI — she’s trying to say we’re talking about the same things here.”
Along those exact same lines, Derrickson says something almost completely antithetical to Feige, admitting that, “preserving the idea of magic was really important to me” and that “we didn’t try to explain it (magic) away or root it all in something scientific that by definition is not magic to me.” It seems, when you take both quotes in the context of the film, it’s in the tension of those two visions that the concepts, explanations and visuals will find balance.
In other words, where Feige is looking to ground their explanations, as Doctor Strange would, Derrickson is more like The Ancient One, more willing to keep the mystery and allow the magic to remain somewhat inexplicable and mystifying.
Feige actually admits that the visualization of the magic was probably the toughest thing to crack on the film. As he says, “Scott was very smart in not wanting it to simply be: someone shoots a bolt of lightning, and someone blocks a ball of lightning, so someone throws another bolt of lightning…” and so on. Certainly, he says, “There are interpretations of that. But we wanted to do something different, and we wanted to tap into this notion of the multiverse, of dimensions right next to our own.”
And, as he describes, the actual, full benefit of being those dimensions being so close is to “tap into those dimensions, and those other powers, and what could you do if you pulled aspects of those other dimensions into our realm.” This, ultimately, as he says, was all “in the interest of creating a visual tapestry that is totally different in terms of an action scene we’ve seen in any other movies.”
This is due to the fact that —
“We’ve seen light blast versus light blast before.” And, while he says we’ll certainly see some of that in this movie, “the four main action scenes have been structured around which power from which dimensions are they going to use to screw with our world now. So something that starts as a foot chase becomes totally unrecognizable. Something that starts as we’ve got to stop the clicking clock before it goes off is completely turned on its head. ”
In other words, this magic, all the spells that they cast and sorcery they perform, is very literally them finding ways to open portals into other dimensions, channeling the energy of those dimensions into ours and then manipulating it to fit the situation. Put another way —
“By the Flames of the Faltine!” or “By the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak!” or “By the Shield of the Seraphim!”
Ultimately, all of this work, all of this toiling, the years and years of work that they’ve put into the script before really even bringing Scott Derrickson on board, was to give us a canvas “for an action scene totally different than anything we’ve ever done before.”
I think we’ll take it…
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He has two cats and knows all things about Doctor Strange but little else.