Marvel Studios appears to have another big winner with its most recent theatrical release, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Giving the franchise its first-ever entry with an Asian lead and an almost completely Asian cast and crew, it seems to have hit the spot with millions of viewers around the globe. It's come in as the highest-grossing movie for the last two weeks, even becoming the second-highest-grossing movie of the pandemic era in its first weekend and only behind Marvel's other Phase 4 movie, Black Widow.
Along with the intense martial arts action sequences, Marvel Studios' VFX team had the challenge of introducing a whole new alternate dimension with creatures and scenery never seen before. This included everything from dragons to ancient mythological creatures, even including the adorable Morris alongside Sir Ben Kingsley's Trevor Slattery.
Even on top of all this new material to develop, the team had yet another challenge to face while trying to make this movie look the best it could.
Shang-Chi's Work With New Colors
Senior visual effects supervisor Chris Townsend spoke with Entertainment Tonight about the challenges of developing the visuals for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Specifically, he touched on the coloring he and his team used for some of the characters and the Ten Rings themselves.
Townsend revisited his chats with Marvel and looking to have Shang-Chi feature "a different color than (they've) seen before" and "colors that were unique enough."
He explained how his team wanted the Ten Rings to have a gold hue in Shang-Chi's hands, although the color had to be unique from those associated with other MCU heroes like Doctor Strange or Wanda Maximoff:
"We went through every color. One of the strange things working with Marvel is you say, 'Well, this one needs to be a different color than we've seen before.' This is my sixth movie and it's Marvel's 25th. We've used all the colors up! There are no other special, unique colors. So, trying to find colors that were unique enough, particularly, we wanted to go into the golds with Shang. We wanted the warmth. He comes from a very good place in the way he uses the rings so we wanted it to be gold, but we didn't want it to look like Doctor Strange. We wanted to be slightly different than that. We didn't want it to be the red of the wiggly woo of Wanda. It was trying to find that right hue, and I think we landed on something pretty good."
Moving on to the Rings' appearance when in control by Wenwu, Townsend spoke about how the team looked to the comics to match the blue from his early look, although there was the challenge of making it look different from the blue of the Tesseract or the purple from Black Panther. That was in addition to conveying the "cool, angry, lightning power" of the Mandarin against "the warmth" of his son:
"Then with Wenwu, he had used blue a lot in his costume in his earlier years, and so it felt like that was a good way to go. Again, we went looking for blues and you know, Tesseract blue, OK, we keep away from that. And you go a bit more purple and you get into Black Panther world, so you try to find something in between. It's trying to find those unique color tones, but having it based on the cool, angry, lightning power of Wenwu versus the warmth of Shang-Chi. And one of the things that I was very keen on was you don't want this stuff to become effects-y. You want to try and give it some logic and sense of grounding as much as possible."
For inspiration, the team "ended up trying to use elemental forces" such as lightning and solar flares and mixed them with the actors' performances. This was in an attempt to find a "middle ground" to give it that MCU flare and not have it detract from what came to life from the performers:
"We ended up trying to use elemental forces -- lightning, aurora borealis, solar flares, all these kinds of things -- as a touchpoint that we referenced for all of these effects. And a lot of this stuff has to play with the actors. You've got a performance that Tony Leung brings which is often so powerful but quiet and controlled. Having big, effects-y stuff around him just didn't work, so you had to try and find that middle ground of it being powerful enough to work within the MCU and also grounded and not have it take away from the actors."
Putting Shang-Chi in Its Own Class
The MCU has certainly made a name for itself with top-notch visual effects over the past 13 years, which is particularly impressive with the movies and shows featuring so many different heroes and powers.
This same scenario came up in the development for 2021's WandaVision, where the developers had to find a way to portray Wanda's powers without mirroring characters like Doctor Strange or Loki too closely. Even though Shang-Chi's core skills lay in the world of martial arts, the Ten Rings seemed to bring that same difficult task into play for the MCU's latest movie.
In the end, the Ten Rings brought cheers in theaters worldwide as they changed colors and showed their incredible powers in battle. Now that Shang-Chi and the Avengers are analyzing their origins and how they work, the franchise will likely explore even more exciting visuals with the weapon down the road.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is currently playing in theaters.