Last fall, Nerdist traveled halfway around the world to set foot on Sakaar, a peculiar planet featured prominently in Thor: Ragnarok. Constructed out of what seemed to be massive, brightly colored LEGOs, this funky land is unlike anything in the MCU. As Academy Award-winning production designer Dan Hennah took us on a tour of this sensational set, he gave us the scoop on Sakaar, and how it’s one, big, bold homage to legendary comic book artist Jack Kirby.
In Thor: Ragnarok, Sakaar is the stomping grounds of Jeff Goldblum‘s mysterious–but sure-to-be eccentric–Grandmaster, a ruler that executive producer Brad Winderbaum described as both “the ringleader of the circus of Sakaar” and “a brutal dictator.” This makes sense for a planet that is part wonderland and part wasteland, alternately described as “Space Vegas” and the “toilet of the universe.”
Swirling in the skies above Sakaar are a field of worm holes that suck in unsuspecting space travelers, and spit them into the planet’s crowded junkyard. With a wealth of different spacecrafts and alien creatures stranded on its gruff yet glam terrains, Sakaar built itself up from spaceship scrap and broken dreams to become an “Island of Misfit Toys.” Winderbaum explained. “Essentially if anything goes wrong in your intergalactic travels in the MCU. You’re going to get spat out into the toilet of the universe which is this planet.” Which is exactly what happens to both Thor and Hulk, before each is pitched into this “violent, hedonistic culture”s most prized pastime: gladiator battles.
This is how newcomers live or die on Sakaar, all for the amusement of the Grandmaster and his subjects. “You’re living in a place where anything can fall out of the sky at any moment and crush you,” Winderbaum said. “So there’s a very kind of ‘seize the day’ aspect to the world there.”
Sakaar has a harsh hierarchy, with the Grandmaster at its very top, with his fawning court beneath him. “Then it very quickly goes down to the people working for him,” Hennah said. “There’s his guards, and then there’s the scrappers, who collect all this debris, and find the good bits, and bring them there and sell them to them. Then, there’s the general population who support the economy by buying stuff off him, and going and watching his arena events.”
When brainstorming over the look of Sakaar, director Taika Waititi looked to 1960’s Jack Kirby for inspiration, then gave Hennah a specific image that made the concept click into place. “He came up with some Jack Kirby art, which is a head in a helmet, and it’s really wacky and quite surreal, and he said, ‘This is Sakaar.'” Hennah said. “So that just opened up the floodgates.”
Showing us around Sakaar’s sets, Hennah told us the vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens were all plucked from Kirby’s comic panels, as were the geometric shapes that made up its walls and streets. Everywhere we looked, there was a new texture, color and detail. This too was key to the Kirby homage.
“The amazing thing about Jack Kirby is his artwork is dense,” visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison said. “One of the anecdotes about Kirby is he never erased anything. Like he only continued to draw forward.” This created a look with “an incredible amount of light and dark” and “what we call ‘Kirby Krackle,'” meaning texture, even where it might not be expected.
“If you look at (his) original Asgard stuff,” Morrison continued, “in the sky there are these massive riffs in the sky like dimensional breaks with a whole lot of pop all the way around them. What he’s doing is really just filling the frame. So for us what that means is we can be very dense with the visuals.” This aesthetic impacts everything from his team’s CG augmentations that will build up from Hennah’s two-story sets, to the skies over Hela-dominated Asgard, to the Goddess of Death herself.
Morrison called Kirby’s Hela–with her impossibly imposing headdress–“very iconic, very silhouette-y.” To get that element right, it was the VFX team–not costuming–that made Cate Blachett‘s awe-inspiring headgear. “What we wanted to do is not tie her down with a physical costume that was overly complicated or weighty,” Morrison explained. “We’re trying to let the performance drive the picture, and then we just add the fun stuff on afterwards.”
Every frame of Thor: Ragnarok will get a bit of “Kirby Krackle,” and with each texture, splash of color, or fabulous pair of horns, the comic book legend’s legacy is freshly established for a new generation of fans.
Thor: Ragnarok opens November 3rd. Advance tickets are now on sale wherever tickets are sold. Look for more from Nerdist’s set visit soon.
Images: Marvel Studios, Marvel