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BLACK PANTHER

Creating the Mythic World of "Black Panther"
Within Marvel mythology, the seemingly impoverished African nation of Wakanda is, in fact, the cradle of the impervious metal vibranium. Probably best known as the material that provides the unimaginable strength to Captain America's shield and compels Klaue's maniacal drive to prove its existence and harness its power, vibranium is an incredible resource that has been a vital part of the Wakandan culture for generations. The impenetrable metal can take multiple forms, whether threaded through the Black Panther suit, molded into Cap's shield or as an energy source that powers the entire country, which sits on the endless supply that is mined as needed.

With it comes a bevy of technology, knowledge, wealth and power. It far surpasses anything the modern world could ever imagine and establishes Wakanda as a technological, albeit reclusive, giant.

A glimpse behind the shroud of the fictitious Wakanda reveals a futuristic otherworldly culture that is deeply rooted in the African tradition. This world held untapped potential for the filmmakers and their production team as they prepared to bring it to the big screen.

Says executive-producer Nate Moore, "For Black Panther and the world of Wakanda, it's about finding those real life touchstones that we think give the film an integrity that it otherwise might not have, yet still making it something exciting and something that you've never seen before."

"Black Panther" may be production designer Hannah Beachler's first foray into the comic realm, but the talented designer embraced the unique opportunity to conceptualize and articulate the multifaceted vibranium–infused landscape that married the traditional African aesthetic with a highly evolved modernity.

What made the task a streamlined effort was the long-standing collaboration that Beachler has with the director. From the Sundance Film Festival prize-winning "Fruitvale Station," to the gritty box office hit "Creed," the pair have crafted a shorthand that often has the designer anticipating what Coogler will gravitate to.

The relationship is one that keeps the talented and meticulously prepared designer continuously thinking outside the realm of what's she done. "Ryan is always taking me into places that perpetually challenge me and force me to push myself further, says Beachler. "Ryan is really collaborative, and we've gotten to the point where we both trust each other enough to challenge each other and go back and forth with our ideas. This is our third project together and our most ambitious so it's been an exciting journey on so many levels."

Comics were a new medium for Beachler but after a tutorial from her teenage son, a comic book fan, she quickly realized she would need to delve deeper into the Black Panther lexicon. From early Jack Kirby to Ta-Nehisi Coates' most recent interpretation, she discovered a rich history punctuated by a Super Hero amidst socially relevant stories.

"The heart of the 'Black Panther' series has always been about taking some serious material and wrapping it up in something fun," comments Beachler. "To have a character in a comic that's been around this long is amazing, so it was important for me to reference all the artists that worked on these comics over the years. So it was absolutely necessary for me to see that starting point and stay true to the story and then bring it into 2017 for what Ryan wanted to do."

Armed with copious research, production designer Beachler had marathon sessions with Coogler, in which they shared photos and inspirations from their visits to Africa. Through this collaboration and utilizing a very fluid design language, Beachler was able to articulate a sense of thoughtfulness to the canon of the Kirby comics while contemporizing what the technologically advanced African nation would encompass.

Story-wise, Beachler's prime directive was to incorporate the Wakandan resource of vibranium everywhere. A stickler for detail, she spoke with mining and metallurgy experts to extrapolate what the potential phases of the powerful alien material could be before she even began to incorporate it throughout the Wakandan milieu.

The majority of Wakanda sets that Beachler and her team designed were constructed on sound stages in Atlanta, including the Tribal Council; the Wakandan Design Group, Shuri's hive of research and development of the vibranium-rich country; the ancient subterranean Hall of Kings; and most notably Warrior Falls, the ceremonial heart of Wakanda's revered traditions.

One of the most awe-inspiring sets is the exterior set for Warrior Falls built on a back lot north of Atlanta. It is the audience's first glimpse behind the curtain of Wakanda, which showcases their centuries-old heritage and the pageantry that surrounds their rituals.

Inspired by the majestic Oribi Gorge in South Africa, the Warrior Falls set would prove to be a mind-boggling effort between the art department, the special effects department, led by veteran special effects producer Dan Sudick, and Geoff Baumann's visual effects team.

The Warrior Falls set was 120' x 75' in size. The set was 36' tall, with the pool being six feet above ground level. That made the practical cliff faces 30' tall, which gave Coogler and director of photography Rachel Morrison the ability to craft sweeping camera shots from every conceivable angle, allowing for up close perspectives of fighting action within the Challenge Pool below or a birds-eye viewpoint from up above.

On screen, the cliff wall of the Warrior Falls will look like it is 100 feet high-a combination of CG enhancement and the practically built set. For the safety of the extras, the stunt team had to rig all of the cliff faces with mountain climbing gear to safely secure them on the 30-foot cliff faces.

Beachler's department of artisans provided the framework of the set by hand-sculpting industrial Styrofoam, which was then meticulously plastered and painted to resemble a plateau of the ancient rock cliff wall. Over 25,000 cubic feet of foam was used for the set, which was sculpted to match the rocks in Oribi Gorge in South Africa.

The elevated set had multiple falls feeding water into a built-in pool below that would eventually be the setting for several crucial scenes. Sudick's team engineered a fully functional flowing waterfall and pool at the ledge of the cliff with six large submersible pumps feeding over 125,000 gallons of temperature-controlled water piping up through the set at a rate of 30,000 gallons per minute before recirculating through the system.

The production designer even designed an ingenious system of tunnels concealed throughout the rear of set to allow over 100 background extras, festooned in elaborate tribal garb of Wakanda's four tribes-Merchant, Border, Mining and River-access to different elevations throughout the stunning backdrop.

When it was all said and done, the tremendous feat of engineering the fantastical set, which took four months to build, was worth every frame of the set's two-week shoot.

The effort to create such a practical environment was not lost on the actors. "We had Warrior Falls," says Bassett. "The rush of water. We had the mountains. We had the throne room. So we could see the world. You could really get a sense of it; you could get a sense of the scope and grandeur."

Letitia Wright agrees, "It was amazing. I've never been on a set like that before. I already miss the people and the drums playing. As a people, we were moving; we were dancing; we were singing. It was brilliant for me to see, because it educated me to see that there's a root of where we come from. And that place and that motherland is brilliant." The Tribal Council set, the site of official state business, is a prime example of melding the old world with the new. The set was a combination of sleek, practically built set with visual effects enhancements, courtesy of visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Baumann, alumni of several Marvel Studios blockbusters, including, most recently, "Doctor Strange."

The Tribal Council set that involved much thought and design process. Beginning with a look at the design language of the film, which featured rounded shapes, Beachler decided to go with the circle of life idea that exists in many cultures to realize the room. In addition, the production designer wanted to make it a mix of old and new. "We wanted some sort of tech to enhance what is old," says Beachler. "A lot of what we tried to do is mix these two ideas together of our past and our present but never getting rid of the past. It's always there."

In order to achieve that feel, Beachler's team decided to put a ruin in the middle of the room, under a high-tech-looking glass floor, so that the tribal council would actually be sitting on the ruin, a symbol of their ancient history. On metal columns in the room, Beachler had script from an old Nigerian language written, which was not overlooked by one of the Nigerian extras. As Beachler explains, "She looked at the writing and said that she knew what it said. And she said that it was really beautiful. So this is a text from the 5th century in this high-tech setting. And it worked."

Lupita Nyong'o found the Tribal Council room inspiring. "The production value of this movie is spellbinding," she says. "I remember once coming on set on a day that I wasn't called and there was a tribal council scene being shot. It just gave me goose bumps because for me this was the image of what an African nation could have been if its development had been left to itself!"

One of Beachler's favorite sets was also one of the production's most ambitious sets both in design and the scope of the action and filmmaking-the illegal casino set. Concealed beneath the kinetic, densely packed activity of the Jagalchi Fish Market in Busan, South Korea, is a luxe, high-stakes casino. The contrast of texture and design is heightened as one descends from the lights, noise and smells of the market to the opulent casino.

The casino is the setting for the epic first meeting between T'Challa, Ross and Klaue, which goes array and jumpstarts a heart-pounding action sequence replete with a tightly choreographed fight scene and a white-knuckle car chase sequence throughout the streets of Busan.

The interior scenes were filmed in Atlanta with the high–speed car action filmed on location in the bustling coastal city of Busan. Coogler was drawn to the Busan area and knew it was the perfect backdrop to how he envisioned the sequence. "We were beyond thrilled to be able to shoot 'Black Panther' in Busan," enthuses Coogler. "The city has an amazing energy, and provides a great mix of modern architecture and historical buildings all against this beautiful coastal backdrop. It instantly reminded me of my home in the Bay Area."

For close to two weeks, "Black Panther's" action unit, led by second unit director Darrin Prescott and stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell, were based in Busan, which is nestled against the foothills of Geumjeong Mountain, to film the thrilling, mind-blowing chase sequence through such iconic sites as Gwangalli Beach and Haeundae District.

For Andy Serkis, who plays Ulysses Klaue, sharing the screen with fellow "Hobbit" star Martin Freeman in an epic showdown in a South Korean casino was rollicking fun. "It was a great scene to shoot," remarks Serkis of the rousing action sequence. "I've really enjoyed working with Martin again. We had an enormous amount of fun filming the casino scene, which is a pretty spectacular affair with huge action and actually some of the most brilliant physical stunts I've witnessed on camera. It was fantastic."

Perhaps Winston Duke sums up the production value of "Black Panther" best when he says, "It's astounding, rendering you speechless and just leaving you with your mouth gaping open. Looking at the sets, looking at the costumes, the colors, the sounds. It's going to be beautiful."

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