‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ visual effects team: ‘I can’t think of a type of effect we didn’t do’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

Almost everything about “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” feels like a leap forward from its predecessor, not just the film’s emotional impact due to the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman before production began but also its scope and scale. “Wakanda Forever” flings its many characters around the globe from Wakanda to America to Talokan, the undersea world led by new antagonist Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia). The herculean effort to bring the new locations to life took a massive team of artisans, including visual effects masters Daniel Sudick, Geoffrey Baumann and Michael Ralla.

“‘Wakanda’ had everything. I can’t think of a type of effect we didn’t do,” Sudick, the production special effects supervisor, tells Gold Derby in an exclusive video interview. 

“It had giant water gags, rain gags, car gags, everything,” he adds, using the parlance of visual effects creators. “It had everything supersized. It was like going through the drive-thru and saying, you know, give me the supersize water gag. Let’s do a million-gallon dump tank.”

The Marvel Cinematic Universe fans know Sudick’s work, even if they don’t recognize his name. He’s a fixture on the production teams of the studio’s output and has 12 Oscar nominations thus far in his career – including the Marvel movies “Iron Man,” “Iron Man 2,” “The Avengers,” “Iron Man 3,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Avengers: Endgame,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of collaboration on this film,” Baumann, the production visual effects supervisor who also worked on “Black Panther” with Sudick, says. 

As a team, Sudick, Baumann, and Ralla would discuss where effects shots could be done practically – as with the massive flooding that occurs in the Wakandan capital during an enormous battle with Namor – and where digital enhancement would be able to fill in the blanks. “That allowed a lot of the things we did to be successful because as Dan was saying, we would talk about ideas,” Baumann adds. “The ability to be able to have upfront and frank conversations with Dan and figure out what he could do, and where could we help, was great. So that when Dan pitched something, he and I already kind of knew what it was. And that dynamic, I think, rippled across multiple departments: through props, stunts, all of those things. Dan assisted in many of those other departments. Far more than I’m sure he wanted to because everybody else just threw their hands up. And Dan, just he’s a problem solver.”

Sudick and Baumann worked together on the first film with director Ryan Coogler, but even their familiarity with the filmmaker didn’t necessarily make for smooth sailing when it came to executing the numerous effects-driven set pieces.

“Someone just asked us, ‘How difficult was this movie?’” Ralla, the production additional visual effects supervisor, says. “Honestly, on a scale from one to 10? This was 11. I think we went to 12.”

Water is a huge part of “Wakanda Forever” with numerous sequences set in the undersea world of Talokan. That type of effect is often difficult to execute and even harder to make look realistic. 

“How do you make underwater look good? Well, you get wet,” Ralla says. He credited Coogler for getting into the water and learning how to swim as part of his prep. “He knew that he had to learn how to swim and he directed from within the pool…. It was really 30 days underwater. I think that was a major key ingredient in trying to make this successful.”

Another key component, the team says, is a push to do effects in-camera and with practical means whenever possible. “The easiest thing to do is to say, ‘Oh, we don’t have time, go with visual effects,’” Sudick says. The goal, he says, is “to really fight and to challenge yourself to get it done, get it built, and get it to the set completed so that you do have something to shoot and not so much take the easy way out.”

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is out now.

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