Kings of Wakanda
Discover how Luma Pictures and Scanline VFX created the world of Black Panther
The character of Black Panther has finally come out with his own film. in his inaugural appearance, the superhero was portrayed by Chadwick Boseman in Captain America: Civil War, where he became the king of Wakanda, a fictional east African nation with the most advanced technology in the Marvel cinematic universe. in fact, Black Panther was the first black superhero to appear in a mainstream comic when he was created by stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966.
Luma Pictures’ work in Black Panther involves two major sequences, including a massive car chase around Busan in south Korea that comprises over 200 shots. 3d artist spoke with Luma Pictures’ Melbourne VFX supervisor Brendan seals and Los Angeles VFX supervisor Kevin souls as they both oversaw the creative for the film. We also managed to catch up with Bryan grill at scanline VFX to discuss environments. Method studio, ILM, Digital Domain and some other VFX studios also contributed to this major production.
“The Busan sequence is based on a practical location,” seals says, “but in the performance of the Black Panther character, there were things that were too dangerous for the stunt crew.” There was a need to re-create city environments as well as camera moves, and this gave Luma the chance to emphasise and heighten the energy of the action. “These car chases are fast-cut, fast-paced,” seals adds.
constructing the Lexus
When Luma Pictures created the Cg Lexus car, it needed to be indistinguishable from a real car, and it had to be able to be more and more damaged as they went further into the sequence.
As each bullet hits the panels or the windshield, or even when Black Panther is tearing into it with his claws, the car needed to be completely convincing. “We had to build several versions of the vehicle in different damaged states to play out the continuity,” seals explains.
During production, Lexus provided two cars for Luma Pictures, both of which they created full Cg build-outs from. “Luma built these immaculate, pristine Lexus cars in Cg, yet with all things action-related, they had to be destroyed,” says seals. “They were the Lexus gsf and the Lexus LC-500, both smashed.” in another stunt scene, they cross the Busan Diamond Bridge when the car and Black Panther flip up into the air close to camera in slow motion. The Lexus is rolling, crashing and on fire.
The VFX on-set crew also had an array car built – a stripped-down Corvette. They mounted 360-degree camera rigs at different heights and captured these panoramas as they drove down the streets where the big sequences were filmed. “We were able to bring those plates in, stitch them together, either for environment reflection or set reconstructions,” explains souls. “When we have our Cg cars driving down the street, all the information that car would have seen would have reflected.”
in a Marvel movie, there’s always going to be a suit that’s physically built as well as created in Cg, and this also has to be a tangible design that someone is able to wear. “The actors on set need to get into and out of the suit comfortably. The crew also has to know what it will look like in different environments,” explains seals.
on set, actor Chadwick Boseman wore a Black Panther suit for reference. “But there’s also the design cycle to be aware of, after the shoot is completed. The Panther character is in every single shot and has to be modifiable after the shoot if required. The design features and sometimes the proportions of the shoulders and head may be changed to make this seem less like a guy in a suit, and more an actual separate character. This should look like a skin-tight ‘nanobot’ suit,” seals adds.
“This suit is also a shared asset,” says Kevin souls. “Like many Marvel projects, there are multiple vendors sharing assets with the same shared goal. obviously the challenge here is adopting these assets into our pipeline while developing it in the shared pipeline. We set it up with our look development team within the Arnold render engine with the goal of it being photoreal and indistinguishable from the real asset. The main challenge along the way was the temptation to deviate from the original intention of the practical suit.”
in the casino sequence, the one-armed Klaue character, played by Andy serkis, is introduced
and Black Panther tracks him down. Klaue has a weapon hidden inside his artificial arm based on Wakandan technology, which was stolen from Black Panther. scanline VFX worked to digitally remove Klaue’s left arm, clean up his shirt, add some cloth simulation of that shirt of a particular thick texture, then fix the false arm remnants. originally, Klaue lost his arm in an earlier Marvel franchise movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron. He had a false arm that is made of a fictional metal that features widely in Marvel comic stories – Vibranium.
This weapon arm gun sets off more of a force than an electrical charge or bullet. it’s the sound waves that reverberate through the environment, where they can hit an object and break it to pieces – the force is made up of ripples in space. There also is a frantic gun battle that is shot in a giant two-storey casino. inside and outside of this, the two sides have a full-on altercation and gun battle.
“The intent was that they were going to shoot the casino rumble as one continuous shot,” explains seals. “This was all shot in order, so we could gather as much data as we could, then figure out when one take could end, and start again where the last camera position was on the previous shot.
“We used Cg transitions, extras and some motion blurring. We also built digital ceilings and digital lights as well as generating Cg destruction of various panels. There are several takeovers by digital characters peppered throughout Black Panther where they have to do impossible things, like jumping down to the first floor during a fight.”
At the end of this casino sequence, Black Panther runs out of the casino and his suit generates from the nanobots underneath the tuxedo. As they form, the tuxedo burns off and drops to the ground. As his suit continues to form, he jumps into the full Cg car and drives out of the scene. Luma Pictures built three Cg suits, including the virtual human version of Black Panther in his tuxedo.
“firstly,” explains souls, “we captured Boseman as Black Panther running out of the casino. We motion captured him and then replaced all of his body with a Cg runner, except for his face. As he is running, that suit is a full cloth simulation that was generated to completely match a tuxedo being worn by Boseman as he ran in the wind. The suit tears along the seams, falls off and reveals the still-forming Panther suit. in addition to that, the jump, the car and the casino, there is a very expansive set extension in this street scene. We worked on that scene for at least six months.”
There are several takeovers by digital characters peppered throughout Black Panther
usd in katana
Luma Pictures has been active with the use of Universal scene Description in Katana during production. “for the first time, we are using Katana exclusively for a show, and adopting it into our lighting pipeline,” says souls.
“The new Pixar standard allows us to publish everything into a single location and control our assets much more carefully. it required us to write a series of tools for exporting to Maya or exporting from Houdini. We did have to go to our team to make sure all the data was transferred correctly. We are probably pushing more data in our scenes than we ever have before and in a much more controlled way.”
the king’s challenges
There are two key sequences that take place in the secret city of Wakanda. one features T’challa fighting for his right to be king. The location for these fights began with what was created on set in Atlanta. The production designer based it on a canyon in Africa that looked like it had active waterfalls a long time ago but had dried out over the centuries. There are slabs of sedimentary rocks for cast members to stand at various levels, like in an arena.
The Victoria falls and iguazu falls rock references were a little different and a working waterfall with all the right rock platforms, colours and sizes needed to be found. “The search brought up a perfect site in the northern Territory in Australia. A place called Jim Jim falls, part of Kakadu national Park, had all the right elements, so a guy was sent down there to shoot a whole round of reference photography of the rocks and the surrounding areas. We brought all this information back to Marvel,” says grill.
“We said we reckon this would be really great reference to build out the rest of the canyon and the areas. They agreed and this solid reference became the origin for the entire mile-long approach and surrounds to this very important location in that sequence. Even though we essentially built it out from this and made it up, it ticked all the boxes.”
scanline VFX had up to 50 different sizes of waterfalls to simulate in flowline, their proprietary software, but everything was based on an environment that was still being nailed down. “Also, the way the water landed on the rocks was different, as well as lighting the two major setups. one was in the middle of the day and the other was lit for towards sunset. on top of the water in the falls area, there were four different tribes attending these ceremonies,” adds grill. “Each had different colours, designed costumes and specific looks. Hundreds of assets all over the place, generated in the pipeline. There certainly was a lot happening.”
The new Pixar standard allows us to publish everything into a single location and control our assets much more carefully
Black Panther holds on tight to the Lexus as it races through Busan during a car chase
Black Panther’s suit was both practical and tweaked in Cg