May 27, 2024

SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses some general plot developments in Season 2, Episode 2 of “Loki,” currently streaming on Disney+.

For 30 years, Dan Deleeuw has worked in visual effects, from “The Mask” to “Armageddon” to “Night at the Museum” — but he always had a dream that one day, he might get to direct. That opportunity finally arrived in 2019, when “Avengers: Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo — who’d worked with Deleeuw on VFX for their three previous Marvel Studios productions — hired him to shoot some additional photography for the behemoth production. That gig led to second unit directing jobs on 2021’s “Eternals” and 2023’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” and then, finally, to the main directors chair for the second episode of Season 2 of “Loki.”

Deleeuw, who oversaw visual effects on Season 1 of the show, presumed that he was hired because of his proficiency handling the action beats of the episode, in which Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his TVA compatriot Mobius (Owen Wilson) pursue a rogue TVA trooper (Rafael Casal) to 1970s London, and then later reunite with Loki’s variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) at a McDonald’s in 1980s Oklahoma. But Deleeuw says that executive producer Kevin Wright told him he was hired as a director because, even when working on visual effects, he “always talks about story.”

Deleeuw also discussed how both he and Ke Huy Quan — who joined the show for Season 2 — were surprised by how Hiddleston approached rehearsing the show, why the production decided to have Sylvie working at McDonald’s — and his reaction to the recent decision by Marvel’s VFX artists to unionize.

Since Sylvie is living in a branched timeline, did you ever discuss having an alternative version of McDonald’s, rather than the actual McDonald’s?

We started saying, OK, she’s gonna settle down on a timeline, what restaurant do we use? At that point, there was a pitch for RoxBurger — you know, the evil corporation in the Marvel Universe, Roxxon. But it didn’t tell a story other than it was like this faux-restaurant. And so McDonald’s came up as a suggestion. And McDonald’s is timeless, in a way — it crosses countries and borders. Everyone started talking about this nostalgic moment they had with McDonald’s. So quickly getting the audience cued into what Sylvie’s feeling — being on the run so long and seeing normal people, and just wanting to have that and leave everything else behind — we’re using McDonald’s to set the audience in a place where they can pick up on that pretty quickly. That’s what kind of sealed the deal on using McDonald’s.

Rafael Casal in Episode 2 of “Loki.”
Courtesy of Marvel Studios

What was one of the biggest surprises about the experience of directing this episode?

Something I’ll always try to do on any other show that I direct: It was the openness to collaboration that Kevin Wright had, particularly encouraged by Tom Hiddleston and his experience in the theater. As the scripts were getting closer to being done, we would invite all the directors to come in for their different episodes. All the actors would come in. The writers are there. And we had a week-and-a-half, two weeks where we went through every single script, and just rehearsed them and played with them and made them better. It was just this wonderfully creative moment on the show. Once we got shooting, we had a really good idea of what we wanted to do. Ke [Huy Quan] sat next to me. He saw it all happening, Owen and Tom playing with lines. He leaned over and he’s like, “Is this normal?” I’m like, “It’s normal for them!”

You’ve been working with Marvel for over 10 years now, largely in visual effects. Did you always have an ambition to direct as well?

Yeah. In high school, in college, we did small films — public access, back when there was public access. It was something I always wanted to do. Even from the visual effects standpoint — designing the sequences and doing animatics — telling the story was something I gravitated to. When I got to work with the Russos, they definitely were encouraging of that and gave me the opportunity to shoot additional photography on “Endgame” that led to me doing second unit directing. I just always approach something from a story standpoint. So Kevin Wright saw that I had that kind of brain, and invited me back for Season 2 to direct.

How did he pitch that to you?

Being at Marvel for 10 years, there’s a little bit of a rumor mill going around. So I knew that they had hired Justin and Aaron, and then heard that Kasra [Farahani], the production designer, had gotten an episode. I was like, “Ah, there’s one left!” And then Kevin called me one day and he’s like, “Yeah, so, how’d you like to direct a ‘Loki.’” “Yes!” It was as simple as that.

Last year, several VFX artists who’ve worked on Marvel projects expressed pretty deep frustration with their working conditions, which contributed to the recent decision to vote to unionize. What has your experience been with those issues?

I support everything they’re doing. I’ve been in it for a long time. The number of hours in visual effects have been ingrained in the system for years. From the very beginning, we always had that crunch time. We take a couple months off, and we come back to it again. What you’re seeing now is, the shows are so much bigger, and you’ve got so many shows. A lot of the artists on set, and especially in the visual effects houses, are going from one big show to the next big show to the next big show. 

There has to be something that makes a better work-life balance, for the artists’ sanity and for their families and just their creativity. Otherwise, you’re getting diminishing returns. It’s your crew. You have to take care of them. That is something I think we have to think about and work out.

How did your experience in visual effects have influenced your approach to directing this episode, especially with regard to the VFX?

I can tell a story with something that isn’t there. In the original draft, there was a car chase. It didn’t make a lot of sense why Loki would be in a car chase. We decided we wanted to go a little bit more towards the dark Loki side and move away from a traditional chase. I was imagining one day, “What could Loki do?” and came up with the shadow gags with the horns and things like that. 

Was anything you did that a director who hadn’t worked in visual effects might not know to do?

You already know what it costs in terms of time and difficulty, and when you’re trying to get through your day, what you’re going do to [VFX artists] if you try to shoot without getting the blue screen just right Because I know the consequences, I’ll fight harder for getting it right, so the artists don’t have to deal with it. Getting into post-production, you know how much you can use an effect to help with storytelling, in terms of if you need to change the set a little bit, just to make it make sense for where Loki is. There’s an editor we have at Marvel, Jeff Ford, who’s cut a lot of the films. Jeff is a master. He doesn’t change his cut to fit the footage, he changes the footage to match his cut. I think that’s an insightful way of knowing how to use  some visual effects in post, without getting get too carried away with it. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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