While the MCU is diving deep into the realm of animated storytelling with What If...?, there is still plenty to discuss from the franchise's last live-action outing on Disney+ in Tom Hiddleston's Loki. After all, this series introduced the MCU to the first signs of the multiverse's existence thanks to a wild story featuring the God of Mischief, his Variants, and more.
This show also set up the MCU's next major bureaucratic agency in the Time Variance Authority, although this one certainly has more power than any introduced thus far due to its watch over the Sacred Timeline. This power was put on display through Loki's six episodes as Mobius, Renslayer and the Minutemen reset timelines and pruned anyone who fell out of line.
In terms of the specifics behind pruning, this act was used against nearly every core character in Loki, although it only transported them to the Void at the End of Time instead of wiping them out of existence altogether. However, the way this looked on-screen nearly led to some confusion with another major MCU event from Phase 3.
PRUNING NOT THE SAME AS DUSTING
FuseFX visual effects supervisor Wayne England spoke to ComicBook.com about how he and his team made sure the pruning VFX from Loki didn't look too similar to the dusting effects from Avengers: Infinity War.
England confirmed that the team did have discussions about the two effects potentially looking similar, although "it was defined" that the Loki VFX "didn't have to do with an ashing." He spoke in-depth about the process behind the look of the pruning, offering comparisons to other shows that gave the team inspiration:
"There was conversation regarding that, in the context of the pruning. However, it was defined that we were not going to be going in that particular direction, that it didn't have to do with an ashing. The concept conceptually evolved, and it was something that we were getting closer to and closer to as it evolved. That image for the show Cosmos kind of looks like an eye, and you have a leading edge, a propagating, leading edge that leaves a wake of energy, and the energy is in a different state of more and more depletion as it recedes deeper into the wake."
England described the look of the pruning effect as having "this hot energy leaning edge" and how there was a "vaporous energetic residue" coming from the people pruned by the TVA. He again made it clear that it was something "distinct from the ashing" to make sure it appeared different than the dusting in Infinity War:
"It's a changing state of energy, and what we wanted to try and do is get a sense of the spectrum, the color spectrum, and to fashion it more within the context of a kind of look of nebula, again, within the context of this hot energy leading edge, so that the idea that the body was being taken by this hot leading edge, but that there was a vaporous energetic residue that was the wake of the leading edge. So that was the concept, as distinct from the ashing, to your question, right? Because that was a beautiful effect, but quite different."
TWO UNIQUE VISUAL EFFECTS CHALLENGES
When Loki introduced the concept of pruning by the Time Variance Authority, there was certainly a worry that it could look a little too similar to how the Mad Titan Thanos decimated half the universe with the Infinity Gauntlet. Both acts result in people being wiped out of existence with no remains to be found anywhere around them.
For Tom Hiddleston's Disney+ show, such an act put forth a post-pruning energy that came out of the victims' bodies rather than having them disintegrate into dust like in Infinity War. This differentiation helped make Loki's pruning process its own unique thing on-screen even though both acts finished with individuals losing their physical being in existence.
Marvel Studios' VFX teams have always been at the top of the game when called upon to bring revolutionary visual storytelling to either theaters or streaming. This challenge was a particularly tough one considering how much different pruning had to look from dusting, but it was clear the team was up to the challenge of making sure Loki stood on its own separately from one of the MCU's biggest movies.
Avengers: Infinity War and all six episodes of Loki are available to stream on Disney+.