Sean Walker interview: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ VFX
“We’re always wanting to be the best, to strive to push everything as far as we can,” visual effects supervisor Sean Walker says proudly about his team of artisans that have been at the forefront of visual effects for nearly three decades. “Weta Digital is very unique in that we are a house on the edge of the world and we have an insanely talented crew.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
SEE ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ reviews: ‘Breathtaking’ fight scenes and Tony Leung’s villain steal the show
Walker and his team’s work on “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” recently advanced (along with nine other films) to the Visual Effects shortlist for this year’s Oscars. All members of the motion picture academy’s visual effects branch are now invited to view video presentations for the ten shortlisted films at the competitive VFX “bakeoff,” scheduled to take place on January 29, after which branch members will vote to nominate those films that will make up the final five nomination slots in the category. Since the current canonical MCU formally launched, it has earned ten nominations for Best Visual Effects, from “Iron Man” in 2008 to “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, however so far none have won that elusive Oscar. That might all change this year, with three other MCU films joining “Shang-Chi” on the shortlist (“Black Widow,” “Eternals” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”), with “Shang-Chi” a likely frontrunner having just scored a nomination in the visual effects in a feature motion picture category from the Visual Effects Society Awards.
“Shang-Chi” is the 25th film in the MCU blockbuster film franchise and pop culture phenomenon. Framed as an origin story based on the Marvel Comics Shang-Chi character, it was directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from a screenplay he co-wrote with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. It introduces us to Shang-Chi, who is forced to confront his past when his father, the leader of the mysterious Ten Rings organization, draws Shang-Chi and his sister Xialing into a search for Ta Lo, the legendary village said to harbor mythical beasts. The cast is led by Simu Liu as Shang-Chi, alongside Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Benedict Wong, Michelle Yeoh, Ben Kingsley, and Tony Leung. The wuxia-inspired fantasy epic is the first Marvel Studios film with an Asian director and a predominantly Asian cast. It has been met with positive reviews from critics and fans alike, grossing over $432 million worldwide, cementing it in the top ten highest-grossing films of 2021.
SEE Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies Ranked: Worst to Best
Like its cohort in the MCU, this film is a typically visual effects-heavy spectacular, boasting jaw-dropping visual sequences shepherded by a number of international VFX houses, including the Oscar-winning New Zealand-based Weta, which was tasked with creating the world within the mythical Ta Lo.
As the visual effects supervisor, Walker oversaw the film’s groundbreaking water effects, the delicate and realistic grading of the harsh Australian sun to give Ta Lo a more appropriately foreboding and treacherous look, and the vast digital double work on the many characters featured in the film. Perhaps most memorably however was the creation of the two giant dragons that inhabit Ta Lo; the Great Protector, a wingless water gargantuan and the Dweller in Darkness, a malignant tentacled creature that feeds off the souls of its prey.
“We approached it in a few different ways,” Walker explains about the dragons. “The main one being that we wanted to ground it in reality it didn’t matter where we were, we always wanted to film the action as it was a natural cameraman so that if we’re running along the belly of the beast, we wanted to make sure we were cameraman height. We wanted to make sure that if someone was running across it, they would try to keep up with the action, he says. “We wanted to make sure that it was at an angle that felt much more like a POV. That really helps connect the audience to the action, because you feel like you’re much more involved and you’re there with the action as it’s all happening.”