Space Opera Architecture in THOR

Space Opera Architecture in THOR


hi I’m Noaa and welcome to Architecture
in sci-fi film. Today I’ll continue the talk about Marvel Cinematic Universe and
their take on alien architecture. In the previous video I covered both volumes of
Guardians of the Galaxy so now I’ll talk about Thor. This sub-genre of sci-fi is
usually called space opera because it’s more about fantastic adventures set in
space and less about the science of it thus architecture in this world is
usually more extravagant and less technical. The MCU took us to a fantastic
realm in 2011 when they released Thor. A place where magic and technology are
intertwined. Based on the comic books which in turn are inspired by Norse
mythology the movie presents a world where gods live: Asgard, one of the
nine realms. Since then, Asgard was revisited twice: in
Thor: the dark world and Thor: Ragnarok. Each iteration added new layers and
refined the look of this city / planet. Asides from Asgard we’ll get glimpses of
other realms: Jotunheim and Vanaheim and, in the most recent movie, we are taken to
Sakaar: this universe’s dumping ground. Each of these has their own style and
strong personality, from the golden city to a frozen landscape and from a
medieval battlefield to a country sized junkyard; the contrast couldn’t be bigger.
But how does this help the story or in other words how is architecture used in
storytelling? The small things first: Vanaheim is on screen for a few minutes
in the beginning of the second installment and it’s only a battlefield.
Since it’s one of the nine realms it must look the part: old and a bit on
the fantasy side. It is inspired by traditional Mongolian architecture,
especially the yurt which is a portable round tent. That’s because in the comics
the people of Vanaheim are mostly nomadic. On Jotunheim, home
of the frost giants, we see a world in ruins with once grand architecture
that’s now in decay. The imposing structures we see in the opening credits
are later crumbling and covered in ice. This frozen world draws inspiration from
the aesthetics of stalactites and stalagmites and it is pretty
straightforward. The environment is dark so much of the details are not really
visible. It’s hard to decipher where the rock
formation ends and the build structures begin. I really like this effect of
blending the artificial with the natural especially since the artificial is made
of straight lines and right angles, not some organic shapes; on the other hand
though the image of Jotunheim before the war seems pretty desolate too – it
didn’t feel like a world lived in. It’s obvious more attention was given to the
crumbling world than to its previous state. But la pièce de résistance is of
course Asgard. The first movie released in 2011 established a style that’s
pretty much canonical at this point. Nonetheless each movie that followed
changed things around adding new layers and depth to this realm. The approach was
to create something that is very old but also very advanced, a style called by VFX
supervisor Wesley Sewell as Future Antiquity. Because the people of Asgard
live such long lives it makes sense that their city doesn’t change much over
millennia; it stands to reason that they preserve a style, improve and refine it
rather than radically change things every hundred years,
like the variations of styles throughout our own history. To achieve this timeless
effect they went for large buildings with minimal decorations; the accent is
on shape variation rather than details. There are curvy-linear forms and some
organic and industrial influences but the overall feeling is grandiose and
majestic. The concept art for Asgard included a map of the realm
revealing the key elements: Odin’s tower, the Bifrost connecting the tower
to the observatory and the pattern of the Triquetra, a symbol found in Celtic
art and other North European cultures. Those structures are pretty much
unchanged in all three movies but the same cannot be said about the rest of
the city. In the first movie the city is golden, from the largest to the smallest
buildings including most of the interiors we see. Odin’s tower, inspired
by pipe organ dominates the city with its grandiose presence. While this is a
powerful image I cannot help but wonder what is going on inside this massive
structure. The vault is under the towers, the Coronation Hall is opened so what’s
in the rest of it? And just judging by the size of the Coronation Hall, that’s
pretty much like a stadium, the rest of the tower is about two
kilometers tall; that’s roughly two times the height of Burj Khalifa, with just a few
dozen balconies. The lack of natural light inside is a serious issue and
makes no sense here. The logic is sacrificed just to achieve this
impressive look. If an automated factory or a tomb can serve its purpose without
bringing natural light inside, a palace does not. It is true medieval castles had
few windows and small openings toward the outside due to military reasons but
the large ones all had inner courts. But moving away from this issue, the rest
of the city is quite beautiful with a lot of imaginative designs for their
buildings, most of them look like they serve a purpose and work well within
this environment creating some truly spectacular vistas. All of them are well
grounded except one: the floating panes that make for an awkward introduction to
this golden city. When I saw the movie for the first time I thought they were
supposed to be some form of wind turbines but I’m sure now that wasn’t
the intention. No other building or structure floats and again, its purpose
is unclear. So I think the choice of using this design here was a little
unfortunate. Anyway, by the second movie some of these aspects were changed for
the better: Odin’s tower while still incredibly large seems to have a better
scale with the rest of the city and a lot more openings and balconies. Its
height is considerably smaller but the general shape and finishes are kept the
same. The changes also include the Bifrost that now has some form of
suspension cables and towers to the sides making it a bit more realistic. Of
course there are no railings, why would there be any? It’s not like there’s a
huge body of water with sharp rocks underneath that leads to waterfalls
directly in space… What’s interesting is that Thor: The Dark World brought a
much needed feeling of realism to this world. Most of the buildings we see are
made of stone, there is a lot more vegetation and a larger variety of
structures, and there’s a Medina: an old city with open plazas and we also get to
see the street level. It is heavily inspired by Roman architecture combined
with Gothic and Romanesque elements from all over Europe. This fits perfectly with
the tone of the movie that’s a bit more dramatic and less comedic. Director Alan
Taylor, who previously worked on Game of Thrones and Rome brought more layers to
this superhero story, adding texture, patina and a bit of reality into this
golden realm. However this felt more fantasy, closer to Lord of the Rings and
less science fiction, pretty much what the first movie tried to avoid. The shift
in tone happened once more with the third movie, but in comparison to the
previous change it wasn’t so dramatic. It actually tried to find the middle ground
between the two versions of Asgard. The base layer is still stone, massive
buildings with volumetric details carefully composed with this mountain
landscape and added a lot of metalwork, flamboyant golden details inspired by
Gothic cathedrals. The modern futuristic touch is present with wing patterns and
some organic shapes but it doesn’t take anything away from feeling the age of
this ancient city. The Bifrost bridge however changed once again, ditching the
tall pillars with cables in favor of a more human sized parapet. Also noteworthy
here is the added vegetation in public spaces, a common feature of utopic cities,
because it makes the built environment more welcoming. The exact opposite can be
said about Sakaar.Tthere’s not a plant in sight, everything is junk; re-purposed
adapted, colored, chaotic junk. Although there is a lot of metal, most of it is
painted over in bright primary colors, heavily influenced by Jack Kirby’s style.
This place is a mess, in the best way possible. Layers upon layers of pipes,
cables, vents, engines and plates form these intricate towers in a city that’s
the very definition of Tech-Punk. On a closer look and on the street level
things don’t really make sense but it doesn’t matter because it’s amazing to
look at. Although it’s clear everything is trash
it is not depressing. The strong vivid colors, the strange angles and the vibe
of these people make for a really fun and enjoyable trip. All the elements are
there to make Sakaar a dystopia, insane leader included, but it’s not. Although
it’s a textbook definition of a dystopic society it didn’t make me want to leave
that place in horror. There’s something appealing to this world and I’m pretty
sure its design has a lot to do with it. It’s joyful and full of unexpected and I
wouldn’t be surprised if you’d find a part of the Enterprise in it somewhere.
This series of movies offers a unique view into how production design works to
make architecture support storytelling. The first Thor had the challenge of
making a world fitting for gods while also keeping it in our realm of … science…
sort of. The term golden city became literal with that version of Asgard but
what didn’t really work design wise was changed or abandoned altogether for the
second movie. The monstrous size of Odin’s Tower was reduced and got
additional openings, not to mention the landscape makeover that helped the city
feel more grounded; different details on the Bifrost and the Observatory that got
a little steampunked and that spinning floating something in the opening shot
was never seen again (thank God!) But the story in the second movie was
darker, thus in need of a different environment so the glittering golden
city became a stone one, the emblematic Tower of Odin and the observatory were
the only ones that kept the entire metallic finish but the rest got aged, a
lot. The entire city became denser, a little claustrophobic even, like the
medieval cities of Europe. At this point the third movie with its radical shift
in tone could have gone either way: back to the golden shiny city or keep the
last version and improve on it. They decided to keep what worked well for
both movies that still served the story of this one: the re-sized Odin’s Tower,
the steampunk observatory and most of the city are pretty much the same. The
gray austere stone buildings got a retouch, most have shiny gold or copper
roofs now and intricate metallic decorations to brighten up the place and
give it a more joyful look to accompany the comedy of Thor Ragnarok. This
concludes the second part of Marvel space opera and it has been a real
pleasure analyzing it. Hope you guys enjoyed it just as much. I also encourage
you to subscribe because there are more movies coming and if you want to further
support this channel while getting exclusive content you can become a
sponsor on Patreon, link is in the description below. Thank you for watching
and I’ll see you next time.

14 Comments

  • petstinky

    January 8, 2019

    I was so excited when I saw this in my sub box 🙏❤️

    Reply
  • Eduardo Campos

    January 8, 2019

    Thank You!

    Reply
  • Alexandrite

    January 10, 2019

    Yesss finally a new vid

    Reply
  • Deon Dean

    January 10, 2019

    And yet another masterpiece to watch

    Reply
  • FN-1701AgentGodzillaRangerPrime-El

    February 1, 2019

    Nice to see that you acknowledged the retcons to Asgard's design between films.

    They also decreased the size of the golden palace thing between Thor and Thor The Dark World.
    The overall scale of the city was decreased between films.

    Look at the throne room in Thor compared to the size of the one in The Dark World.

    Reply
  • paco castañeda

    March 1, 2019

    You should do more videos

    Reply
  • Redem10

    March 27, 2019

    I can't wait for the Wakanda episode, but most of all I want to see Cyberpunk most of all

    Reply
  • Alfishan Ali

    March 29, 2019

    Whats your next video topic

    Reply
  • headlessnecklace

    April 30, 2019

    will you do blade runner and ghost in the shell?

    Reply
  • Top Model

    August 5, 2019

    Wow it's been a year. Waited for this and you are so good. Thank you so much for this

    Reply
  • Online Mall

    August 27, 2019

    Accent sucks

    Reply
  • Bulka Bulkin

    September 23, 2019

    Hey, where are you?

    Reply
  • Volkrov The Viking

    September 25, 2019

    Hell yeah! Asgard is fucking beautiful, dude.

    Reply
  • Saúl Hernández

    November 18, 2019

    Hi. i'm mexican. I like it.
    Me eancanto tu video por el análisis rápido que hiciste con la arquitectura vista en asgard, en mi punto de vista, me encanta analizar el diseño urbano de la ciudad de asgard y sus espacios públicos, what is your opinión?

    Reply

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