The visual effects department has become a key player in Marvel movies, especially now that these films have dominated the big screen over the last decade. The MCU has some of the most impressive forms of VFX across the industry, with many still surprised when they can't tell what's real or not when watching these movies.
After every release, it has been a common trend for the VFX crew to showcase a detailed breakdown of what went down behind the scenes, unveiling interesting secrets.
One of the much-talked-about MCU films in terms of its visual effects is Black Panther. Despite becoming the first Marvel Studios-produced film to bag an Oscar, many have maligned its use of CGI in significant portions of the movie, such as the third act battle between the titular hero and Killmonger.
Now, one of the visual effects artists of Black Panther opened up about what really happened behind the scenes.
Black Panther's VFX Dilemma
Black Panther VFX artist Todd Sheridan Perry sat down with Inverse to talk about what went wrong during the final battle of the 2018 MCU movie in regards to its visual effects.
Perry first admitted that there is a different kind of pressure when it comes to reaching the deadline to finish the movie's visual effects, saying that "it falls squarely on the shoulders of studios that set a release date:"
"It falls squarely on the shoulders of studios that set a release date and then work backward from there. The time isn’t enough to live up to the ambition of the project."
Black Panther was confirmed to have over 2,000 VFX shots, including some that are fully CG, such as the aerial shots of Wakanda and its opening sequence. Despite being critically acclaimed, many criticized the film's final battle, specifically about the fight between T'Challa and Killmonger in the vibranium mines beneath Wakanda. Perry agreed with the viewers' sentiments about the skirmish, acknowledging the fact that "it does fail at some point."
The outlet mentioned that a late decision made by the studio led to an increased workload that would have been too much to meet the deadline. The veteran VFX artist then continued by noting the fact that the film's third act has a lot to juggle on top of T'Challa and Killmonger's duel:
“There were multiple things going on in act three. There’s Black Panther and Killmonger mano a mano. There's a vehicle chase through the canyons. There's a big battle on the fields above.”
When asked if that specific sequence was completed in just six weeks, Perry debunked the claims, unveiling that the "fight was always planned and had been through previz." However, Marvel Studios wanted significant changes for the tribal battle above ground:
"The Black Panther/Killmonger fight was always planned and had been through previz, but the tribal battle up above didn't feel big enough. Marvel said they wanted it to be epic like there were hundreds of people fighting.”
Method Studio, the VFX company Perry was working for, was developing the visuals for the vibranium mine fight and the Wakandan battle above ground, with more resources being put towards the fight on the Wakandan plains rather than being equally distributed.
Perry revealed that Marvel told Method that they had too much work on hand, leading to the remainder of Killmonger and T'Challa's fight to be assigned to another studio, DNEG.
However, there was one problem. Given that the two studios utilize different software, this meant that sharing CGI environments or character rigs "isn't a trivial task." As a result, Perry revealed that the studio had to catch up from scratch in "weeks or days," mainly because of the complex software systems that are involved:
“We'd already done tons of development work on the vibranium mines and it all had to be packaged up and sent over to DNEG. Even if you're in the same company and sending it to a different department, packaging all that up and having it work requires a lot of elbow grease.”
Perry admitted that DNEG was caught at a "disadvantage" due to the circumstances, but thankfully, the studio still managed to get it done in time for the film's premiere:
"DNEG didn't have the time to polish their shots as much as other companies who'd been working on the film for seven or eight months, and they were caught at a disadvantage. I'm not saying DNEG is a bad company – they have a closet full of Oscars. They thankfully took it on and it actually got done. We wouldn't have been able to accomplish it otherwise."
How Superhero Movies Utilize Visual Effects
While it's a given that fans and critics will openly criticize MCU movies, seeing and hearing what went wrong behind the scenes gives a whole new perspective on the matter.
Marvel Studios is known for being ambitious with its storytelling with visual effects usually serving as its anchor. However, Todd Sheridan Perry's latest barrage of reveals provides new insight into how the studio's strict deadline affected the quality of their work.
Understanding more of the crew's work and their capabilities in relation to the deadline should serve as a priority, so that the film's quality will not suffer upon release.
The fight between T'Challa and Killmonger might be hard to watch due to its CG, but it's safe to say that it wasn't the VFX crew's intention to showcase the duel that way. It seems to all boil down to equal priority when it comes to giving every scene the proper VFX treatment.
As the MCU embraces a post-Infinity Saga chapter, the number of projects is confirmed to be doubled due to the addition of Disney+ shows. This means that there is more work for the studio's visual effects artists.
Hopefully, Perry's latest comments serve as a wake-up call for studios to give ample time to VFX artists so that they will not lose their artistry, leading to a win-win situation for everyone.
Black Panther is currently available to stream on Disney+.