- The Loki season 2 finale offers a visually spectacular and unique set piece that is emotionally and spiritually driven, rather than driven by conflict or confrontation.
- The lighting in the finale scene is designed to create a heavenly and sorrowful atmosphere, using soft white light without veering into blue tones.
- The iconic green motif associated with Loki is not created on set, but the cinematographer expresses his love for the color and its emotional significance.
Tom Hiddleston’s Marvel Cinematic Universe journey has reached an emotional climax in the Loki season 2 finale. Having mastered his time-slipping abilities, the eponymous God of Mischief races to fix the Temporal Loom before the TVA is destroyed, only to learn from He Who Remains that all of his efforts will fail as the Loom was never meant to hold branching timelines. Seeking to forge his own path, Loki destroys the Loom and weaves the branching timelines himself, leaving his friends behind as he remains on the throne in the Citadel at the End of Time, now resembling Yggdrasil.
Tom Hiddleston once again led the ensemble Loki season 2 cast alongside Sophia DiMartino, Ke Huy Quan, Owen Wilson, Wunmi Mosaku, Eugene Cordero, Tara Strong and Jonathan Majors. Blending the comedy of looping time with emotional send-offs for its characters, the season 2 finale is an exciting closing of the MCU show while also setting up a promising future for Loki and his friends.
Following the episode’s premiere, Screen Rant interviewed cinematographer Isaac Bauman to discuss the Loki season 2 finale, the importance of lighting in selling certain emotional beats, and the idea behind changing He Who Remains’ Citadel.
Isaac Bauman Talks Loki Season 2 Finale
Screen Rant: I gotta say, the Loki season 2 finale was incredible. Season 1 was already my favorite, and season 2 somehow topped it for my favorite MCU show. What was your first reaction when you got the script and saw what was coming from this finale?
Isaac Bauman: It was excitement. From the perspective of cinematographer, you’re always thinking, “Well, how good can I make this look?” Or, “What opportunity does this provide for me to flex?” And the end of episode 6 is such a big, visually spectacular set piece that is the perfect template for a DP to build on top of. And not only that, but it is this type of set piece that’s really unusual in the sense that it’s not driven by conflict or confrontation, which a lot of these climactic set pieces tend to be. But, it’s a full-on mystical science fiction type of set piece, which I was also particularly excited by.
I love that. So, with that drive in mind, and that genre in your head, did you look to any specific prior projects, be it TV, film, art, for inspiration?
Isaac Bauman: You know, I like using references, and I use plenty of them throughout the season. In this particular case, we didn’t discuss any references, and I didn’t have anything in mind, I think because it’s such a unique sequence. It’s hard to find parallels between this and other things we’ve seen before in cinema, which is one of the coolest things about it. The biggest question was, “What does the light look like after the Loom explodes?” You know, you have the Loom, so until the Loom explodes, you’re in the look that had existed prior to this, and throughout the season, that was established when Mobius goes out on the gangway all the way back in episode 1. After the Loom explodes, that white-hot, orange-y light dissipates and reveals the ambient lighting that’s in the space. The biggest question was, “What was that lighting going to be? What was motivating it? And how much would it be moving and changing and flickering?”
Because we did not know what the strings were going to look like. We knew that there were strings, of course, because Tom has to reach out and grab stuff. There was nothing there, we went through a long process of discussing, “Are we going to put blue strings? Is SFX going to have stuff there for him to physically grasp and pull in all that?” That wasn’t the case, we ended up with nothing. That’s full pantomime acting on Tom’s behalf. Also, the stairs were a whole thing, we went through a period of testing Stairmaster-type exercise machines, because, you know, if he’s not moving, if the stairs are moving below him, we’d be able to just have a lot more freedom and mobility with the camera. But ultimately, yes, we went with stairs, and the stairs were a totally separate set, separate stage than the gangway, so there’s two pieces to that sequence.
There’s the part where he walks down the gangway and then steps on to the steps, which was still shot on the gangway set, and then there was the ascending the steps and sitting on the throne, which took place on another stage, and all that was blue steps, blue platform, blue seat. Everything was blue, there was absolutely nothing in that environment on set that day other than blue. And the lighting was I wanted it to feel as emotional and spiritual as possible, because he is, in some ways, that character is ascending to another level of spirituality. He’s giving up Loki as an individual, Loki who has his own agenda, and he’s sacrificing himself to be Loki, the God who ties all of the timelines together forever from now on. In a sense, he’s dying, he’s giving up the old Loki entirely, and so when we were thinking about what that scene should look like in terms of the lighting, it came down to that question of, “What’s the emotional tone of the scene?” We don’t know if Loki is going to come back or not in the future, you know, I can’t tell you that, but he may. But I think whether he does or not, this is the end of his journey, as that character that we saw in the original Thor film.
He’s now arced fully from being a selfish, conniving, manipulative evil person who is only trying to seize power and make his own situation better to now someone who is a full-on good guy. He has genuine friends, and he’s in love, and he has finally found who he really is deep down inside, this wonderful person. And now, he has to give it all up to save everyone that he loves and save the universe. I think this is the end of that journey for him, which is, no matter what he goes on to do, this is going to be Loki’s story. So, in a lot of ways, I thought of it as saying goodbye to his character and that scene is about his character saying goodbye to those people, you know, with that look back over his shoulder, and him meeting his fate. So, it was important to me that the light felt heavenly, but in a sorrowful way. When you say how you achieved something specifically technically, it never quite does justice to the intent behind it. But, to me, that meant white light that was really soft and on the cooler side, but without veering it all into blue.
I wanted to try to achieve a really heavenly white type of feel without any of the warmth of the Loom or coolness. It was relatively simple to do, it was Softboxes, there were a lot of Softboxes. There’s actually behind-the-scenes photos that I’ll be sharing soon of what the lighting rig was on that whole gangway set outside of the core. I also have photos I can share of the stairs that he ascends, and the lighting setup there. But in both cases, it was overhead Softboxes, we had one 40×40. On the throne set, it was a 40×40 Softbox ringed with 12×40 Letterboxes that we used to dig light in more from the sides, and some boxes in the corners as well. Then, on the gangway, it’s much bigger, it was four Softboxes overhead that were all fairly enormous, they were probably more like four 20×40 Softboxes. We used that light that we had been using to create the light of the Loom also for this ambient heavenly glow effect.
That was not a Softbox, actually, it didn’t have any diffusion on it. It was just a bunch of Vortex aids in an array raw. There was one centered at the end of the gangway that was the primary one that we used for that sequence, I believe it was about 6×6 Vortexes, although it could have been like 4×6 or something like that. We worked to develop a queue where it felt like that heavenly light, there was like a shadow. The way it is, it’s like they’re all on, and then if you want to get it to feel like it’s moving, you program them turning off in a pattern. It’s not about this section that’s on rotating around, it’s like they’re on, and then you have a block that’s turned off that floats around, and that’s what creates, you’ll see, it’s kind of moving and shaping, and that was one or more off sections being programmed to swirl around and make it appear as if the lights were moving. Then, the idea there was that the strings would be passing in front of whatever fake light source was up there.
I love all of that, it culminates so well to create this truly emotional sequence. I’m actually curious to know how much color played into that, as well, because Loki’s green motif plays throughout that whole sequence. I’m sure a lot of that came from VFX, but I’m curious if that factored into your work at all, as well as making sure you had the right hue of green to really give him a happy send-off more than just a sad send-off?
Isaac Bauman: That green I am obsessed with, I love the way that green looks. I don’t know what it does, I think it ties back to something I saw in childhood or something. Because, whenever I see that Loki green color, I just can’t get enough of it. Unfortunately, for me, none of it in the entire season was ever created on set. I never got to light anything green. At one point, when Loki throws the robber baron down the alley in episode 203, “1893”, I turned a light green for a VFX reference plate, and someone walked through frame holding it, just showing what it would look like if Loki’s light green energy was moving through space, and illuminating this dark alley that we were shooting down. That was the only time I got to do any green, and it was for VFX plate. But no, it’s amazing knowing that there wasn’t any green on set seeing all of that green, and the final image is achieved with VFX and color in the grade.
We didn’t even know, for example, that the strings were gonna get his green energy. For a while, he had the strings, the idea was that the strings would be super physical and he was pulling the strings. But we didn’t really discuss that pulse of green energy that happens when he grabs the strings. It makes a lot of sense, but it just wasn’t in the previs, and it wasn’t discussed. There was also no indication at that time that there would be a green chasm that he would ascend into. When we shot the sequence, the idea was that those steps at the end of the gangway just went up, and then he just went up them to the throne. They were kind of forming, and you could do some VFX of stuff coming together, but the way it is now, where he like goes up the steps into this chasm, and then it seals up behind him, that was not in our previses, and it was not in any of our discussions. It was not what we were planning for when we shot it, so all that’s actually relatively new to me. Although it’s super cool, I’m glad they did that, it’s really, really awesome. But all that green light you see coming out of the chasm, or whatever you want to call it, when he looks back and stuff, I had no idea that that was gonna be there.
That’s incredible, because they figured out a way to utilize your lighting so well to make that scene pop and those colors pop. Another sequence in that episode I wanted to highlight was He Who Remains’ return. I talked about it with Aaron and Justin, it feels like such a totally different atmosphere than the season 1 finale, in which he appears. The room feels much warmer in lighting and the camerawork feels very intimate and deliberate with the actors. What was the creative process there in putting that together when looking at the season 1 finale in comparison?
Isaac Bauman: I’m glad you brought that up. That was one of the first things I thought of when I was realizing how different the look of the second season would be from the first season, because what was happening in that room, He Who Remains’ office in The Citadel at the End of Time in season 1 was just so counter to all the stylistic changes that we were making in season 2. It was like, “Whoa, if we stick by the rules that we’re outlining here, what do we do about that scene?” Because we knew we were gonna revisit it, and it’s the opposite of everything that we did this year. When I say that, I mean it was saturated and colorful with shifting colorful lighting, you know, there’s purple, green and blue, basically in that sequence.
I deliberately removed all colorful lighting from the show, and I’m very serious about sticking to the rules. So, I brought it up right away with Justin and Aaron and Kevin Wright, the executive producer. I showed them, I did a breakdown of, like, I actually took stills from that scene in the first season, and I laid them in one column. And then I duplicated those stills, and I colored them in Adobe Lightroom, and took out all of that color, and then I laid them in the next column. I presented this to everyone, and I said, “Heads up, this is, according to what we’ve been saying, we’re going to do. That’s the way, when we revisit The Citadel at the End of Time, this is how it’s going to look now. Is everyone okay with that?” I just got “yes” across the board. It was like, “Yeah, great, I don’t think it has to match the first season.” For whatever reason, nothing we did, nothing matched the first season, so I was like, “Alright, well, let’s take that and run with it.” So, when we realized that there wasn’t going to be that colorful lighting, we had to find another key light, because that colorful lighting really was the key light.
If you look at most of those shots, the light that those characters are receiving is that light. The fireplace is there in the first season, but it’s played more as just environmental depth lighting, and an edge light, and then sometimes as a very muted key light. We loved the idea of the firelight, because we felt that can motivate really dramatic side lighting, and it’s a dramatic scene where choices are being made. So, this is this binary thing, it’s like, “Kill He Who Remains or do not?” So, we opted to really play up the firelight, which actually resulted in us doing something that we never ever did, because other than this, that fire, that does not give you the light that you need at all, not by a long shot. So, we actually had to put lights on set to emulate the fire. Those lights, they were tungsten lights, it was soft, two 2Ks, I believe, with Softboxes on from roughly 4×4. So two 4×4 Softboxes on stands, and each of those had a ring of bare bulbs around it. I was looking at the BTS stills from Skyfall, that famous Roger Deakins sequence where Bond is running away from the burning house, he was using a ring light with bare bulbs on it to kind of extend that fire, and run with Daniel Craig, and wrap the fire around the front a little bit.
I was like, “Let’s do that.” So, we put two of those rings around the Softboxes on separate stands, so the rings in the boxes were separate. We have two of each, and we would just juggle those around wherever we could. You see in that sequence, it’s not entirely consistent, and we had to do a lot of work in the gray, because the way that we shoot with the wide lens, handheld, the camera’s moving everywhere, it’s really hard to hide lights, which is why we never did it. This was the only significant sequence in the entire season where we put lights on the floor of the set, and normally Justin and Aaron, they’re the ones that are really driving the no-lights-on-the-set, 360-camera-goes-everywhere approach. But they themselves really loved the firelight idea so much that in this case, they were willing to have an exception, it wasn’t something I had to sell at all, they were just like, “We want the firelight, do whatever it takes,” and I’m like, “Alright, well this is what it’s gonna take.”
That looks so good, by the way, they were both done with CTO, at least the box is, I think the ring lights we just played low enough, you know, when you dim tungsten, it gets really warm. So, the rings just helped give it — all those bulbs are individually programmed, so they’re flickering all around the ring at different places. It really gives it that organic feel, I feel like that firelight looks outstanding. We had a lot of ambient overhead light, because we still needed to motivate light, because the whole ceiling is a skylight, it’s a glass ceiling. You can see all the timelines out there, the timelines themselves are what motivated the lighting in that first season, right?
It’s purple, blue and green colors there, but the thing is, they were enough of a distance [away] that actually the lighting [Autumn Durald Arkapaw] did in the first season was really cool, but it was totally unrealistic for what would really be happening. At that distance, and those big soft sources that are out there, all of that light, it just combines together to create one color, and it would just be like a generically cool tone. Because the purple and the green and the blue, they all offset each other, they all combine to obliterate each other’s personalities, basically, and they just amalgamate into this cool tone. So, that’s what we’re going for, the light coming from above is is cool, but it doesn’t change color. It’s much dimmer than the first season in order to let that firelight play really strong and cast a deep shadow side.
I love that you took that approach because, like I said, it really just puts you in that sequence all the the further. Another sequence I wanted to highlight was the montage of them looping, or at least Tom Hiddleston looping, and everybody recreating everything. What was that like for you trying to find different ways to recreate each event to feel different as the montage went on?
Isaac Bauman: That’s a lot of fun. To a certain degree, it’s on Tom. So, we actually shot that sequence, we used Steadicam, which was rare for us, and adjust for that piece where he keeps resetting. The rest of that whole sequence is handheld. But in that piece, we had a camera operator, Andrew Fletcher, he put on a Steadicam, and the guys, Justin and Aaron, just told Andrew and Tom, “Have fun with it, basically, we’re in this loop resetting,” and they just asked Tom, “Just give us different bits. Follow Andrew around, follow the camera,” because you’ll notice he’s always the same shot size.
It’s kind of like jump cutting, they told Andrew, “Just wander all around the space, make s’s, just do whatever.” And they told Tom, “Follow Andrew and just jump around to different parts of the scene. Do them multiple times and have fun with it, and act as if it keeps happening, and you’re getting exasperated and all that.” It worked beautifully, and we shot that all in one or two takes, that was basically all one set up with one or two takes. I mean, in my recollection was a single take, it could have been two, but it was basically just them doing that for 5–10 minutes straight. Then, at a certain point, the guys were like, “You know what, we got enough pieces, let’s call it.”
That’s incredible. So was there a lot of rehearsal and to get in one or two takes, or was it just pretty much all ready to go?
Isaac Bauman: Well, we always do a decent amount of rehearsal, there’s actually a lot of time spent on rehearsal for every shot. So, like that shot in particular? No, it wouldn’t have been more rehearsal than usual. But yeah, we definitely rehearsed it quite a bit.
Well, it was well executed. For my final question, the other scene I wanted to highlight was Mobius’ ending. It is such a heartwarming and heartbreaking thing at the same time where he’s trying to figure out what his next steps are. I love that, as far as lighting goes, you don’t really know what time of day it is. It could be the sun is setting, it could be the sun is rising, it feels so in between there with the sun on him and Sylvie next to him. Can you walk me through that process of creating that lighting in that shot?
Isaac Bauman: Yeah, you know, shooting day exteriors is always the most high-pressure scenario for a lot of cinematographers. It’s easy in the sense that the light’s already there, but it’s hard in the sense that your project is supposed to have a very particular look, and you’re not in control at all of the sun’s doing when you shoot the scene. It could be overcast, could be sunny, you might be running behind, you might be ahead, you might start shooting the sequence hours earlier than you thought or hours later than you planned. You’re really out of control in that type of situation. I’m going to be really honest here, knowing that — I think that was scripted in the draft we shot as the last scene. There’s some stuff you see after that that was added and taken from other parts, but that’s actually the last real scene in the show, that scene between Mobius and Sylvie with dialogue. Knowing that it was a day exterior was very concerning to me, I was like, “Guys, the last scene of the season is a day exterior, you understand that I have no control over what happens, right? We’re just really rolling the dice here with this scene.”
But it just felt right to everyone, I tried to push back, but it really felt right. And they turned out to be right, by the way, I’m glad we shot it as a day exterior. But, we did what you usually do when you have an important day exterior, which was ask to schedule it at the end of the day, so the light is pretty as possible. Generally, the lower the sun gets, the more it cuts through trees and stuff and creates shadows, and it gets warmer and more golden, and it comes in in a way that hits people’s faces and eyes in a more flattering way than when it’s higher. So, we asked to schedule it near the end of the day, and then the rest of it was just kind of up to fate. It turned out really well, and we were very smart about which shots we shot in which order, because you can kind of see the sun’s gonna be behind them, it’s gonna be here at this point then, and this point a little bit later on.
We really worked with it on the day. Although that shot of him looking straight-on at the house with the sky behind him, that was totally lit, the sun wasn’t hitting his face, that’s an HMI through diffusion, which I almost never do. I take pride on never lighting anything outside, but in this case, we really had to, you needed that sunlight on his face there, right? Aside from that shot, every other shot is natural sunlight, totally natural, raw, no diffusion, nothing bouncing around, aside from that front on close-up of Mobius with the blue sky, every single shot totally au natural. The thing that was the scariest was just that last shot, the last shot we shot that day, and the last shot in the sequence, I believe, is that shot from behind him looking at the house where the house is out of focus in the background.
It’s just super poetic and beautiful, and has the perfect light. So that shot, the crew hustled faster than they did the entire shoot. There’s 300 people on the crew, we’re shooting a Marvel production, we’re not that type of loose, snappy, run-and-gun style outfit at all. We are a f—-ng army battalion, and moving is a serious endeavor. The amount of people and equipment that need to move to open up something that was previously occupied. But this crew, they understood what we were trying to do, and people were actually hustling for the first and only time for 90 days to get that shot. [Laughs] And we got it.
About Loki Season 2
Along with Mobius, Hunter B-15 and a team of new and returning characters, Loki navigates an ever-expanding and increasingly dangerous multiverse in search of Sylvie, Judge Renslayer, Miss Minutes and the truth of what it means to possess free will and glorious purpose.
Check out our previous Loki season 2 interviews with:
Loki season 2 is now streaming in its entirety on Disney+.
Source: Screen Rant Plus