How the VFX Team Behind Marvels Loki Brought Miss Minutes to Life
As Marvel continues dipping its toes in TV — snagging 28 Emmy nominations in the process — its latest venture, the Disney Plus miniseries “Loki,” is being hailed as one of the studio’s most unique anti-hero stories to date.
While Tom Hiddleston steals the show as the titular character, perhaps most captivating is the Time Variance Authority (TVA)’s cute, conniving animated mascot, Miss Minutes.
The character voiced by Tara Strong, starts off as warm and bubbly, but as the series progresses, she’s not all she seems to be.
With only a couple of rough sketches of the character, Marvel recruited Luma Pictures to bring Miss Minutes to life, in all her wonderful (and terrifying) forms. Luma VFX supervisor Jared Simeth spoke to Variety about the inspirations behind Miss Minutes and how the team’s animation styles evolved along with the character.
Marvel gave you sketches of Miss Minutes and basically said, “Bring her to life.” Tell me about that process.
Marvel gave us two concept images of Miss Minutes and some animatics for different sequences as a starting point for motion. The brief was basically, “Here’s the character, we’re trying to figure out exactly what the movement should be. Find some inspiration, do some tests and we’ll start figuring out what the character of Miss Minutes is.”
They mentioned Felix the Cat as a starting point, which has a very steppy motion — not very fluid. We also found a lot of different references, earlier animations from the ’20s and ’30s like Betty Boop, which has a much more fluid animation and stretchy arms. We did a bunch of tests and then focused more on a Felix the Cat-type motion, which is what we ended up with.
Miss Minutes’ animation style changes throughout the show, from a more hand-drawn vibe to this glowing 3D model. What was it like creating completely different visuals for the same character?
It was fun in general just working on Miss Minutes, who looks very different from any other Marvel cartoon. And it was fun to play around with the different ways we could adapt her. The first time you see her is in the propaganda video, where we keep it very basic and very steppy. Once she comes into the real world as the holographic portion, she is a little bit more fluid, not quite as steppy, but still in that Felix the Cat vibe for the first few episodes. But as you learn more about the TVA, we see her not just as this mascot, especially toward the end of the series when we understand that she knows more about this than we do and she has an agenda of her own. When she becomes more sinister than we initially think, she starts getting a bit more naturalistic, a little bit more dramatic. Instead of having everything be keyframed, we actually did some motion capture to get a little bit more nuance into the role, which is not normal for cartoon characters. So we’re kind of playing those two things against each other, because she is a cartoon character with a more nuanced performance.
The propaganda video has become a fan-favorite scene of “Loki.” What was the inspiration behind animating it?
Marvel basically gave us a rough animatic, with cut together film footage and little clips from old propaganda animations with a voiceover. We had to come up with how to make it into a 2D animated version that has a nice clean look throughout.
At the same time, they’re also working on the script and figuring out what points they want to hit in the video — what is the TVA, how the world works within the Marvel Universe, etc. — so we had a back-and-forth about which points can be clear and which can be a little bit more ambiguous and whatnot, so there’s also a back-and-forth with the style. Early on, Felix the Cat was the style for both the animation of Miss Minutes and the visual style of the propaganda piece. But that was deemed a little bit too kind of kid-sy, so we started looking into something more grown-up, like “Jonny Quest” and Hanna-Barbera cartoons.
We’d do a design for the Timekeepers in that style, and it seemed too realistic, so we ventured into the style of “The Flintstones,” and that seemed too familiar, so we went for more obscure references. There are these propaganda pieces from the 1950s called “A Is For Atom,” which are about atomic energy, and “Destination Earth,” which is about oil and made by the same company. It has a 1950s style but still feels unique, and so that was our Bible in getting the historical feel. It was really fun to make it almost like a period piece film but in the Marvel Universe.
How did you go about creating facial expressions for the character?
We had to come up with all those nuances just from a few concept images. Her performance goes to so many different levels of character, and whether it’s angry or sad or conniving, it was fun to come up with those looks.
We did a first pass, which was just 2D, of all the main expressions she might have, and then we took that and fleshed it out into our 3D version of Miss Minutes. It was rendered as a 2D-looking character, but we created it all in 3D. It was fun to take one concept, figure out all the different expressions and how our character evolves, and then build that into our assets.
What was the most challenging part of Miss Minutes?
Getting the 3D version to feel hand-drawn was a challenge. We have a lot of tools, but making sure that it looks like a 2D creation and not a 3D creation was definitely a challenge. And it was a fun challenge to figure out all the different versions of her.
At first glance, Miss Minutes serves a similar purpose as Mr. D.N.A. from “Jurassic Park.” Was that a reference?
It was definitely on our minds from the beginning when they sent us the rough animatic. Miss Minutes has a similar role, but it’s more expanded upon than Mr. D.N.A. But they both don’t quite jive with everything going on and feel a little out of place. Especially for the propaganda film, we referenced Mr. D.N.A., as they’re both little helpers who are showing you the way.
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