2023 Academy Awards: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” VFX Production

Wētā FX’s Chris White tells IndieWire about creating the sea snow and a blue wall for Ryan Coogler’s favorite shot in the sequel.

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Wētā FX is competing three times at this year’s Oscars, thanks to its work on Best Visual Effects for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “The Batman,” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” This is a feat that the effects house has already performed once: in 2012, Wētā was nominated for the films “The Avengers”, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and “Prometheus”, but lost to “Life of Pi”. in.

This time, in an interesting twist, both “Avatar” and “Wakanda Forever” were recognized for their uniquely innovative photorealistic water breakthroughs. While James Cameron’s blockbuster sequel and Oscar favorite (helmed by four-time Oscar-winning chief visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri) featured groundbreaking underwater performance capture and a rebuilt global simulation toolkit for both water and fire, Ruan Coogler’s “Black Panther” sequel ( under the supervision of Wētā Chris White) created realistic water specifically for the Mayan-influenced underwater city of Talokan.

“What was unique about it was that we wanted this very realistic, murky water,” White told IndieWire. This was part of an overall strategy devoted to turbidity: particles suspended or dissolved in water scatter light, making the water appear cloudy or cloudy. Wētā developed the pipeline and software to accurately simulate this blurry look for both CG sequences and dry-water shots in water tanks.

VFX frame from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

One of the main contributors to turbidity was sea snow, the fish waste that contributes to turbidity. This often creates a blue wall that fish swim through and appear almost out of nowhere.” Ryan wanted to make sure we got the feel of the blue wall,” White said. “There’s one particular shot that came from some of our original prequels where a whale comes out of nowhere, and it ended up being in the movie because Ryan always liked that shot.”

One of the first sequences developed by Wētā was an early Talokan attack on an American mining mission searching for Vibranium on the seabed. “Initially, a lot of our development was to align with realistic waters, which is based on our measurements and other things that we have, and we went through the spectral mapping of Manuka,” White added.

The main problem with the turbidity was the color management, especially the color red, which was a significant part of the architectural design of the Talokan (derived from the Mayan culture). “We’ve done early tests on how to deal with that because red is the first color that’s absorbed in water,” White said, “and when we get there, it disappears pretty quickly.” In reality, we wouldn’t see color, but to prove it was the (Talokan) light creation technology, where slightly washed out or muted colors appear.”

VFX frame from Black Panther Wakanda Forever

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Courtesy of Marvel Studios

As Wētā built the setup and software, they were able to control how much red the light absorbed and make creative adjustments to the underwater field of view depending on the needs of the story. In parallel, lens profiles were created to replicate the characteristics of cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw’s vintage anamorphic lenses. This was achieved using a combination of on-site and digital methods, using astigmatism-like effects in the background.

“It was really important for us to match the look of Autumn’s lenses so you don’t feel the difference, and she gave us advice on how to master that,” added White. “It just has a nice organic quality to it, curving towards the edges. It changed from series to series to fit the storytelling. I bring this up because the sea snow floating there and giving texture to the water after it came through was a process we built into the composite. You have these beautiful bokehs and all these organic shapes that make the image imperfect in an interesting way.”

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