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January 31
2023

ISSUE

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FROM SEA TO LAND WITH DIGITAL DOMAIN FOR BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios and Digital Domain.

Production Special Effects Supervisor Daniel Sudick and his special effects teams built a 30- to 40-foot-section of the boat deck that was 15 to 20 feet up in the air.

Production Special Effects Supervisor Daniel Sudick and his special effects teams built a 30- to 40-foot-section of the boat deck that was 15 to 20 feet up in the air.

Third acts are never easy as this is what the audience has been waiting for, and when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe there have been a plethora of epic battles making things even more difficult to come up with something that has not been seen before. In Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the Wakandans take a ship out into the ocean and successfully lure the underwater-dwelling Talokanil into a massive confrontation while the newly crowned Black Panther does single combat with Namor in a desert environment. States Hanzhi Tang, VFX Supervisor at Digital Domain, “I knew this movie was important, and having met [director] Ryan Coogler on set, you want him to succeed as he’s the nicest person. I’ve known [Marvel Studios VFX Supervisor] Geoffrey Baumann for a long time, so we had already a good working relationship; he trusted us with trying to help him navigate whatever surprises that would come up.”

The rappelling of the Dora Milaje was influenced by a dance troupe.

The rappelling of the Dora Milaje was influenced by a dance troupe.

A back-and-forth between Digital Domain and Wētā FX ensured that their shots were seamlessly integrated with each other.

A back-and-forth between Digital Domain and Wētā FX ensured that their shots were seamlessly integrated with each other.

“We started off in the Atlantic Ocean and shared some parts with Wētā FX, which had already figured out the underwater and deep ocean looks. Digital Domain kept to above the surface and a couple of shots where characters had to go in and out water. There was a back and forth between us so to synchronize with each other as to the camera and the location of the water plane. Then we would do everything from the water surface and upwards. Then one of us had to do the final composite and blend the two together. Luckily, when the camera hit that water plane it acts like a wipe.”

—Hanzhi Tang, VFX Supervisor, Digital Domain

“We started off in the Atlantic Ocean and shared some parts with Wētā FX, which had already figured out the underwater and deep ocean looks,” Tang explains. “Digital Domain kept to above the surface and a couple of shots where characters had to go in and out water.” For the some of the underwater shots, Wētā FX provided the virtual camera as a first pass. “There was a back and forth between us so to synchronize with each other as to the camera and the location of the water plane,” Hang details. “Then we would do everything from the water surface and upwards. Then one of us had to do the final composite and blend the two together. Luckily, when the camera hit that water plane it acts like a wipe.” A giant set piece was constructed for the boat. “A 30- to 40-foot section of the boat deck was built that was 15 to 20 feet up in the air,” reveals Tang. “It was built as a rig that could tilt up to 45 degrees, because there is a point in the movie where the boat gets attacked and almost rolls over. People could slide down the deck. [Production Special Effects Supervisor] Dan Sudick and his special effects team had built one big in-ground tank to film people in the water, and separately this deck. As far as the water interaction on the deck, it was all CG.”

The Talokanil were supposed to have bare feet, which were inserted digitally for safety reasons.

The Talokanil were supposed to have bare feet, which were inserted digitally for safety reasons.

A major task was adding digitally the rebreather masks worn by the Talokanil.

A major task was adding digitally the rebreather masks worn by the Talokanil.

Plates were shot for the foreground elements with various bluescreens placed in the background. “All the way back was a set extension that was blended into the foreground,” Tang remarks. “Everyone in the background is a digital double.” The rappelling of the Dora Milaje was influenced by a dance troupe. Describes Tang, “There is a vertical wall where everyone does dance moves on cables that was the inspiration for the Dora Milaje being suspended. The whole thing was shot horizontally with them dangling off of cables. It was incredible.” The skies were art directed. “There was a lot of picking and choosing of the type of day and clouds,” Tang comments. “It ended up being a combination of CG and matte-painted clouds. The style of the on-set lighting by Autumn Durald Arkapaw, the cinematographer, was soft, and she would wrap the lighting around characters and give them a lovely sheen on their skin.”

“A 30- to 40-foot section of the boat deck was built that was 15 to 20 feet up in the air. It was built as a rig that could tilt up to 45 degrees, because there is a point in the movie where the boat gets attacked and almost rolls over. People could slide down the deck. [Production Special Effects Supervisor] Dan Sudick and his team built one big in-ground tank to film people in the water, and separately this deck. As far as the water interaction on the deck, it was all CG.”

—Hanzhi Tang, VFX Supervisor, Digital Domain

Shuri transports a captured Namor to a desert environment where they have engage in single combat.

Shuri transports a captured Namor to a desert environment where they have engage in single combat.

Blue-skin characters, such as the Talokanil, against bluescreen is always a fun challenge, Tang reports. “Greenscreen would have been worse with the amount of spill, given that it was meant to be a blue-sky reflection,” he states. “We ended up doing roto on everything. The set is 20 feet in the air, people are being sprayed down with water, and there are all of these cables that need to be painted out. When the Talokanil board, you have 20 stunt people climbing the boat, and there’s no perimeter fence around this thing. For safety reasons, everyone had to wear decent footwear, and these characters were meant to be barefoot. They did not do the rubber feet that Steve Rogers wears in Captain America: The First Avenger, so we ended up tracking and blending CG for feet replacements. We also had to track and replace rebreather masks because the Talokanil wear them when they’re out of the water. It fits over the mouth and the gills on the neck. Those were impractical to wear, be running around and trying to perform the stunts in.”

“All the way back [for the rappelling of the Dora Milaje sequence] was a set extension that was blended into the foreground. Everyone in the background is a digital double. There is a vertical wall where everyone does dance moves on cables that was the inspiration for the Dora Milaje being suspended. The whole thing was shot horizontally with them dangling off of cables. It was incredible.”

—Hanzhi Tang, VFX Supervisor, Digital Domain

Bluescreen made more sense than greenscreen as it provided the correct blue spill that would have been caused by the sky.

Bluescreen made more sense than greenscreen as it provided the correct blue spill that would have been caused by the sky.

Namor (Tenoch Huerta) is captured and Shuri flies him off into the desert because he gains his power from the ocean. “They have a one-on-one fight, and there was a lot of set extensions and cleanup of the background,” Tang remarks. “We put the sky and the sun in the right place.” A flamethrower was utilized on set for the desert explosion. “But it wasn’t anywhere near the size of the actual explosion in the movie. It was used for exposure, color and scale reference of how that size flame appears through the camera,” Tang says. The flying shots of Namor were sometimes the most difficult to achieve, he adds. “In some of the shots we would have captured Tenoch Huerta on bluescreen, and he’ll do some closeup acting,” Tang observes. “We tried some wirework that looked too much like wirework and ended up doing a half-body replacement from the chest down. They captured a lot of shots with him in a tuning fork and being pulled around the set, so it was a lot of paint-out for the tuning fork and all of the gear on it. It’s suitable for waist-up shots. Tenoch just had the pair of shorts, which means there’s not much to hide, and when doing extensive paint-out on skin, you can end up with large patches that can be easily seen.”


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