The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand, and with that expansion comes new faces and places with every project.
Phase 4 of the MCU has brought a variety of unique locations to life between movies and Disney+ projects. Small town Westview, underground Madripoor, the ominous Time Variance Authority, and the above-the-radar fortress that is the Red Room have all been a part of what has made Phase 4 one of the hottest phases yet.
While all of those locations have provided their own unique presence in their respected projects, none of them match the magic and wonder that is Ta Lo from Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Ta Lo is the newest corner of the MCU and was a major plot point in the Master of Kung Fu movie released in early September. Beyond the lore and fairytale qualities of the alternate dimension city, Ta Lo provided some of the most jaw-dropping visuals and set pieces MCU fans have ever seen.
It does not surprise anyone to say that CGI was used to supplement this magical place with extraordinary creatures ranging from faceless winged pigs to full-scale dragons. It may shock audiences to know just how many visual effects were used to portray such a mystical place.
The Art of Ta Lo in Shang-Chi
Rising Sun Pictures recently released an article highlighting its work on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This article featured before and after looks at Ta Lo and the visual effects that went behind creating this new pocket of the MCU.
CG Supervisor Julien Hutchens spoke about how the process worked and what they did to make the environment feel organic with the physical pieces in the shots:
“We built a library of plants that were interesting and appropriate to the environment, including many varieties of bamboo... Once we had the proxy geometry in place, we began fleshing things out. We ran erosion simulations to wear away parts of the landscape where water would naturally run and carve out deep crevasses. Then we added species of trees and other plants, distributing them based on wet versus dry areas and the amount of sunlight.”
The surprising CGI reveal in the article was the carved hallway explaining the history of Ta Lo. This was completely rendered and did not feature any physical reliefs made for the movie, despite the incredible detail and depth within the structure:
Hutchens went on to discuss the process of creatively enabling such a unique space while allowing for "happy accidents" along the way. This is particularly interesting when considering the amount of detail that shows up on the screen:
“We developed a logic that allowed us to build an environment that looked organic but did not appear overly art-directed or require too many individual decisions... We used procedural methods that were flexible and enabled happy accidents like those that occur in the natural world.”
Ta Lo, More Than Meets the Eye
It is not uncommon for Marvel Studios to embrace the power of visual effects to bring its worlds to life. Ta Lo joins the list of mystical locations for heroes to explore with geographical and magical factors that simply cannot be replicated in live-action, or at least not within a budget, which seems like a crazy thing to say.
Ta Lo's landscape is one of moving trees, roaring mountain ranges, and a valley of life and wonderment that succeeds all expectations. Being able to utilize the amazing visual effects created by Rising Sun Pictures is what allowed Shang-Chi to bring this world, the magic that lives in it, and the creatures surrounding it to realization.
The interesting note is the CGI used in the hallway telling the story of Ta Lo and its history. In the movie, this scene was such a huge piece of exposition that brought audiences in with the characters to learn who and what this place is. The details around the warriors, dragons, and other moving pieces of this story were top-tier. This is the type of set piece that looks like it took a design department months to carve out and showcase as a centerpiece of the third act.
The fact that this is CGI may seem like an easy way out, but it could in fact be even more impressive doing this with viz effects. The depth of storytelling on this set piece is magnificent, and the camera work to bring that detail to life is no easy task. The visual effects team had plenty of large-scale work to do with Ta Lo and the environment. But it is the small details in set pieces like this that set this type of work above the rest.
Marvel Studios continues not to miss.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will start streaming on Disney+ on November 12, 2021.