The Hulk Thor Ragnarok Set

I visited the set of Thor: Ragnarok in Australia almost exactly a year ago, during which time I learned the following about the MCU’s seventeenth feature film. If you’re trying to avoid any and all spoilers, even the smallest details, then bookmark this page and come back to read it after you’ve seen the movie.

How Hulk Ended Up on Sakaar

As production designer Dan Hennah explained while I toured the set with other invited journalists, Hulk — who was last seen flying off in a Quinjet at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron — basically ends up on the alien world of Sakaar by chance not design.

“The sky in Sakaar has a number of wormholes that deposit space waste, basically, and if you’re flying though space, you can get caught in a wormhole and you can end up [on Sakaar],” said Hennah. He added later, “Well, he hit one of these wormholes and he ended up here and he became the Grandmaster’s, uh, special toy. He’s the lead punch-up guy.”

As it turns out, Sakaar is literally the crappiest place in the galaxy. Hennah described the planet as “a bit of a sewer. There’s no vegetation in Sakaar. It’s purely made up of space waste. All the food is made from space waste.”

Producer Brad Winderbaum described Sakaar as “like the Island of Lost Souls or It’s the Isle of Misfit Toys.. … We think about a planet as like orbiting a star and having day and night. This is a planet that’s like frozen in space between an incredible quantity of wormholes. They have been spitting things out into this place for eons and eons. And 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. And over however long a society run by the Grandmaster has evolved there, it’s based on these giant gladiatorial battles. And it’s like a violent hedonistic culture, but it’s also like a very — you’re living in a place where anything can fall out of the sky at any moment and crush you, so there’s a very kind of ‘seize the day’ kind of aspect to the world there, which is a really great contrast to Asgard.”

Shortly after he lands on Sakaar, Hulk becomes the biggest champion of the gladiatorial games overseen by Sakaar’s ruler, the Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum, who would not start filming his scenes until the week after my set visit). While taking the press on a tour of the Sakaar sets, including a large main plaza, production designer Dan Hennah revealed that the Hulk is basically treated as a celebrity on Sakaar. They even have a festival and parade in his honor through the plaza at one point. (Hennah also revealed there’s a major action set-piece where Hulk chases Thor through the streets of Sakaar.)

Hulk lives like a sports superstar while on Sakaar. Hennah revealed that Hulk has his own suite, which proved challenging to design as a place of comfort and luxury since the Hulk generally doesn’t like anything. “Hulk’s suite is where those rewards are really handed out,” Hennah said. He explained that since the Grandmaster is keeping Hulk here, he’s also “trying to make an environment in which Hulk would be happy, could be happy, and there’s some sort of weird things that we gave him that would sort of make you happy.

Hennah said the Grandmaster only knows Hulk as Hulk and not as Banner — although the audience will see him as Banner — and that he’s been in Hulk mode for two years since his disappearance at the end of Age of Ultron.

Thor and Hulk’s “Love-Hate Relationship”

“(Thor: Ragnarok) gave us an opportunity just to do anything we wanted with our relationship.  Because me and Mark [Ruffalo] on set were like, have we even spoken on the phone?,” Chris Hemsworth said in an interview during a break in filming. “The Avengers stuff is hard because it’s not very personal when you’re — there’s seven of you in a room and it’s, you know, it can be — you have to get across all this information and it feels expositional and so on. And so it’s hard to kinda really have a dynamic. And obviously Tony and Cap have a lot of one-on-one sort of screen time. And I’d always say, like I don’t have that as much, you know? And that’s when you get to really have fun, and as I said, we just kind of went for it in this and, there’s a nice kind of love-hate relationship there.  Rough kind of pairing. But very early on I was saying, let’s do some like Butch and Sundance and tear ‘em up and go on a road trip.”

For Hemsworth, changing the tone of a Thor movie and having fun with the dynamic between Thor and Hulk “has been really enjoyable because it’s kept us on our toes. I think it’s gonna keep audiences on their toes, too. … It’s a whole different energy, look, feel to any of the Thor films we’ve seen before. I think even different to any Marvel films, which is great.”

The Benefits of Performance-Capture

“There is nobody on the planet who’s better at being the Hulk than Mark Ruffalo,” declared Thor: Ragnarok visual effects supervisor Jake Morrison as he explained how the performance-capture process has improved and helps both the actor and the VFX artists. “When (Ruffalo) first arrived here we set him up with all the active markers and … we got these cool, cool tricks that we picked up over the years where he puts on like, you know, the heavy hands thing that you use when you work out. So it makes his body like a bit heavier for him. It slows down his motion a little bit.”

“And then we took a big monitor just like this and you sort of virtually set the world up. So for (Ruffalo) it’s actually a mirror,” Morrison explained. “So it’s amazing watching the transformation as each circuit he does of the room gradually you see him loosen up and then he goes into slightly light, light pose and then he gets– hunkers down and you can see him just watching the mirror as he’s going past and the character gets more and more Hulk and then after that, you know, a half an hour he’s found the Hulk again. It’s just pretty cool.”

Morrison had nothing but praise for the current state of performance-capture technology: “I think it’s great and of course the whole point of this stuff is it’s all actor-driven. Like it’s all about performance, and the quicker you can get the performance on the screen the quicker that we can all see it and Taika [Waititi, the director] can decide that that’s the perfect take given the new frame and the new shape of the scene. So it’s come along a long way and it’s really helpful.”