WandaVision was a tremendous triumph for Marvel Studios, earning no less than 23 Emmy nominations. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige has always been noted for his love of cinema, but WandaVision felt like a love letter to television instead – a superhero sitcom that became stranger and more fantastical as the series continued, finally unveiling Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff as the MCU’s Scarlet Witch.
The plot centered around a magical effect known as the Hex, which surrounded the fictional town of Westview. All the inhabitants had been plunged into a fluid, ever-changing sitcom reality, one that served Wanda’s every whim as she unconsciously used her Chaos Magic to seek a Happily Ever After with Vision. The Hex was almost a character in its own right, developing and evolving as it interacted with several characters – most notably with Wanda herself, when it turned from blue to scarlet, signifying her power. This outstanding visual effect has rightly earned WandaVision an Emmy nomination.
In honor of the Creative Arts Emmy nomination, Screen Rant spoke exclusively to Rodeo FX’s Julien Hery about his team’s work on the Hex.
Screen Rant: Before we get started, I did just want to say congratulations on the Emmy nomination. Well deserved! Hoping you have a great weekend with it.
Julien Hery: I hope so!
Attention is focused on the Hex – could you just tell us a little about how Rodeo made the Hex?
Julien Hery: To get pretty technical, it was always pictured as almost a TV screen, I’d say, to link into the realm of the whole TV – the backstory that ties the whole WandaVision show. To make that, we studied TVs, and established old TVs and OCR TVs, and we tried to find what those TVs are made of, what are their main characteristics; we played around with when you put magnets on a screen, you get those colorful moiré shapes, and we played with that. Each time there was an interaction with the Hex, we played around with that; we built some old TVs, filmed them with magnets on them, just to see how they behaved, and then we recreated a tool that basically creates those patterns. That’s an approach we usually avoid, but it really worked on this show. And then we added quite a lot of different elements then, for example when you look very closely at an old TV screen you can see a grid pattern, so we recreated that too.
The Hex was always supposed to evolve in time, and the look was going to be evolving too, so then we introduced more modern characteristics like compression glitches that you can see nowadays on internet videos. It started as a CGI element, so we placed the wall in a 3D layout, we always knew the size and proper positioning of the Hex, allowing us to sometimes do effects simulations. For example, there is an episode where Monica is trying to get inside the Hex with a Rover, and we were able to basically simulate how the surface will deform with the Rover, so it could bend and deform. That basic geometry, that shape, was then passed on to our composting team who were able to map textures on to the wall.
Were any parts of the Hex practical, or was it all CGI?
Julien Hery: It was all CGI. We used a lot of practical references, but most of them – when you shoot practical references, it’s dependent on a certain angle or action or timing, and we needed the most control of it. So to be able to do that, we needed to generate elements. So we reverse-engineered all those glitches, how they happened in real life, to be able to control them and make them happen when we really needed.
You mentioned a little bit about how the Hex evolved, and that was one of the things I loved in the series – it felt like a character as much as anything, like it went through its journey in the story as well. How did you plan out the different stages of development of the Hex?
Julien Hery: We knew from the get-go that it was going to evolve, so we needed to have a system that allowed us to generate and change the look rather quickly, on a rather big volume of shots. That’s why we went with a 2D system. We built a system that is very procedural, and let’s say made of bricks; so each brick is a component of the Hex, say a moiré pattern, but you can have what we call the ‘angry glitches,’ the bigger compression glitches on a different element that made the Hex; and then once we have all of them, you have the final stage of the Hex, you can then enable them throughout the show and have it evolve through time.
What do you think makes the Hex stand out from all the other work that your team’s done?
Julien Hery: I think what makes it stand out is the research that went behind it, the creative process behind it, I think was very interesting. A great component of it was Tara DiMarco, the Marvel supervisor, and the Marvel team, I think this is to their credit – we had the opportunity to explore a lot of options. Usually, you try to start the effects with having a very precise idea of what you’re going to be doing, that was not at all the case for us; we had early concept art, a rough idea, but based on those rough ideas when you start to put it into the show, you start to think, “Maybe we need to revise the first episode, change the way it’s going to evolve, and add more components.”
It was always an evolving concept, that was very interesting – the creating freedom around the iterations. We were able to explore a lot of different ideas, and the whole team is very open-minded. You can show them – I’m very fond of going on the internet, trying to find art, could be a painting or digital art, and then you can always explore and say, “Okay, this part of this is interesting, we could combine it with this piece,” and you kind of match up different ideas and concepts – and they’re always open on exploring ideas. There’s no shame in saying, “Okay, we did explore, I think we’re going to go back to the first version that we had a month ago.” Which is very tricky for a VFX team to do, but from a creative standpoint it’s very interesting because you explored all the ideas and maybe the first one was the best that we did. So it was a very interesting process.
It sounds like it was a tremendously enjoyable relationship with Marvel as well, with a lot of ideas in the mix and a lot of fun trying things out.
Julien Hery: Exactly. I think it’s great on a project when you can collaborate with everybody. Nobody was putting their ego between ideas, which is something that is great. Anybody could share an idea, and if it was a good one, everybody gets to be challenged. But everybody can voice something, which I think is a great way to explore because you need that exploration.
I was wondering if you could give us any hints now as things have moved on from WandaVision, of the kind of projects you’re working on at the minute?
Julien Hery: I don’t know if I’m at liberty to say, I can say that it’s a high-profile Netflix show, TV show for Netflix, very different creative process – it’s way less into creating something abstract, so it’s a very different subject. What’s interesting is that I think in VFX, is from show to show you get interested in something you never thought you would be, like for WandaVision I got to study TV sets and things like that, on the next thing it will be a different part of the VFX realm. So it’s very interesting to change subject, to get refreshed by something else from time time.
More: Why Loki’s WandaVision Ending Theory Can Still Be Correct
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