When DIY visual effects creator Joey Shanks first saw the trailers for Marvel’s very psychedelic superhero film Doctor Strange, he was immediately drawn to the the circular portals of fire that the sorcerers open up to travel between dimensions. He thought the visual effect looked similar to his very first episode, Warp Speed with Steel Wool—the same sort of circular motion as the flaming, rotating steel wool, with sparks flying outward. So Shanks decided to do something similar to recreate the film’s portals, but on a smaller scale so he could work with his Doctor Strange action figure.
“I tried doing smaller balls of steel wool and spinning them on the fan, and didn’t have much luck with it,” Shanks tells The Creators Project. “So I eventually came to the conclusion of trying out sparklers and attaching them to one of those [handheld] LED fans that create cool imagery because the lights are spinning so fast that they create straight lines.”
Shanks drilled two holes into the handheld LED fan, then inserted the sparklers. Dressed entirely in black, along with a black glove, Shanks triggered the fan and shot footage of the spinning sparklers and the Doctor Strange action figure at extremely low frames rates.
“I did a few techniques with my Canon 5D, shooting longer exposures at 1/8th of a second, which would give me a complete ring as opposed to if I was shooting at a 60 shutter where it would be just an 1/8th of the ring,” Shanks explains. “I also shot it with my Sony FS7, which shoots different frame rates, and I found out that around four frames per second it would give you the entire ring, and if you shot any higher it would just give you part of the ring. So, that was something that was very important to pull off the effect.”
To create some ambience in other shots with the action figure, Shanks stuck a fog machine in the back and shot a plate of just the fog atmosphere. He then composited this footage on top of the the fiery ring and action figure footage. In the future, Shanks would like to recreate the ring at full scale with an actual person, but only once he can ensure the safety of those involved. See how it was done below:
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