BLACK PANTHER: Bryan Grill – VFX Supervisor – Scanline VFX

In 2016, Bryan Grill explained the work of Scanline VFX on INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. He then worked on POWER RANGERS. He returns to the Marvel universe with BLACK PANTHER.

How did you get involved on this show?
I got involved with BLACK PANTHER way back in April of 2016, when my good friend Geoffrey Baumann contacted me and asked if Scanline VFX and I were available to work with him and his team at Marvel. At the time, I was working with another good friend, Sean Faden, on POWER RANGERS, and literally the day after we finished POWER RANGERS on February 13, 2017, I flew to Atlanta to join Geoffrey for principal photography on BLACK PANTHER.

How was the collaboration with director Ryan Coogler and VFX Supervisor Geoffrey Baumann?
Watching from the outside, it seemed like a really good collaboration. With BLACK PANTHER being Ryan’s first, really big visual effects film, there was a lot of trust between them. I could tell that Geoff walked Ryan through the process really well, including helping him understand how much time there is for exploration before the VFX clock starts to run out, so to speak.

What were their approaches and expectations about the visual effects?
The approaches and expectations about the visual effects were to have everything grounded in real world situations. The Vibranium technology had to resonate with the Marvel world as well as ours. Photo-realism is another expectation that is held in high regard in the Marvel world. Constantly gathering reference materials internally and using the production’s reference is an ongoing process until the photographic vision has been met.

How did you organize the work with your VFX Producer and at Scanline VFX?
Our initial focus was development on key shots and fleshing out the elements that would need to be shot or rendered digitally to pull these shots off successfully. This can be tricky because some shots we start on don’t necessarily make it into the final movie. But they are a great way to help hit milestones throughout the approval process. Once we get sequence turnovers, we start to organize based on Parent/Child shots. A Parent shot is a master shot which is looking in one direction and from that we have many “Children” shots. Once we identify the Parent shots required to cover all directions, they become our Tentpole shots which we work on first to get the desired look and to figure out what elements and procedures would be needed for those shots. As soon as we have a good idea that we have hit the visual marks, we start assigning those children shot artists and have those artists only work on those same children shots so there is a consistency in look and quality. We also focused on organizing the reference and assets from both the client and internal supervisors; that needed to get tagged and associated with shots or group of shots so the artists had everything accessible in an organized way. When a visual reference is bought off on as a guide from Geoffrey and his team, it makes the process so much easier.

What are the sequences made by Scanline VFX?

  • Oakland/Kilmongers Astral Plane
  • Environment and Extensions
    Holograms, CG Lip tattoos, Royal Talon Cloaking effect
    Costume augmentation
    Astral Plane effect

  • Airport Sequence
  • Arm removal and replacement for Klaue
    Cloth Sim, muzzle flashes, bullet hits and blood

  • British Museum Heist
  • Muzzle flashes,London Environment extensions, Breaking glass
    Klaue sonic arm effect, CG axe head and corrosion removal effect on axe hammer
    Klaue prosthetic arm clean up and effects

  • Warrior Falls (Our main scope of work)
  • KCA (Kings Challenge A) sequence T’challa vs M’Baku
    KCB (Kings Challenge B) sequence T’challa vs Kilmonger
    Full CG ENV and set Extensions
    Digital Crowd extension
    African ENV include waterfalls, Pond Augmentation, cliffs and river, trees,mountains and sky
    CG pond augmentation includes full replacement using rotomated characters for CG pond interaction. Also extending and replacement of shields and swords
    Added challenge masks and face replacements

I would like to add that there are 70 pond shots in the KCA and KCB sequences that have full water replacement. Much of that involved complex CG water interaction with actors/props, which was some of the most challenging and sophisticated CG water work we have ever done. The set pond water did not have enough flow, which made the set water seem stagnant. Especially at the edge of the cliff set, it didn’t feel dangerous enough. It was our job to bring water flow into the pond digitally, continuing over the edge and into the waterfalls, so that it felt more dangerous — as if someone could get washed over if not careful.

How did you work with the art department for the Warrior Falls?
Scanline was on set during the early stages of the building of the Warrior Falls set which was designed by Production Designer Hannah Beachler. Special Effects Supervisor Dan Sudick and his team had the task of making sure we had running waterfalls and pond for the actors to perform in. We were able to capture photography during the different stages of the set build. We did not have very much input into how the final set piece would look but were able to capture all the data we needed to reproduce and extend it.

Can you explain in details about the design and creation of this big environment?
The Warrior Falls environment began with the Art Dept concept images. Than the Marvel Previs team began to build a low resolution model based loosely on some aspects of Victoria Falls in South Africa and Iguazu Falls in Brazil. The rock structures and look was based on Oribi Gorge in South Africa. At Scanline we took all of the references of the above locations and started to flesh out what would become the final Environment we see in the movie. We started with internal concepts to get approvals. From those approvals we would start on the first stage of modeling and textures. Step by step they broke up our ENV by North, South, East, West, top of falls, and bottom of falls w/ river below. The overall Env was so big that it was too daunting to manage all as one so breaking it up and really seeing what areas we would need to focus on made the task more manageable. As each section would get built out, we would do a Concept using the reference material we had. These concepts would include trees, vegetation, waterfall placement and size, mist, river, etc. We kept revising and showing these to Geoff and Ryan until they liked the details and overall look of each section. Once we got an approval, we would take it to the next step of high resolution modeling and start to populate the env with plant life and CG waterfall sims matching the concepts as closely as possible.

We see this environment in various lighting conditions. How did you manage this aspect?
The Warrior Falls Environment is seen two times in the film. First is the coronation of T’Challa, which takes place in the late morning. When this sequence was shot on the exterior stage in Atlanta, there were a few lighting challenges. The DP Rachel Morrison had set up the lighting so we would block the sun so she could have more control over how she wanted to light the scene. This worked out for the most part unless the wind would kick up and for safety reasons we couldn’t use the sun blockers and needed to adapt to using the available light. So this meant that our lighting scenarios would be changing throughout the sequence. We ended up coming up with four different lighting setups that we could use to light and match our actors and environments in the plates that were shot. For the second fight between T’Challa and Killmonger the lighting was more end of day. For this Rachel was using a warmer key but cooler fill light. Our team only used one lighting setup for this sequence but adjusted it on a shot by shot bases so our CG extensions matched into the warrior falls set perfectly.

How did you populate the cliffs with the various tribes people?
One of our big challenges was populating our Warrior falls cliff extensions with almost 500 tribal men, women, and children. There were four main tribes represented in these sequences: the Merchant tribe, Border tribe, River tribe, and Mining tribe. All of these tribes had their own, unique costume designs and color schemes. On set we shot a bunch of different extras to use in any shots that were locked off and needed added, close up people. The rest was a full CG crowd build matching movement and clothing of the main tribes people. These included 24 hero people that we were able to redress based on which tribe we needed to show. Most of the shots we would have to show the whole arena so 400 people would be seen at any given time. We were able not only to change clothing and create great cloth sims to help match the real actors and extras in the plate, but also to color correct by using special id’s given by the lighting team in Nuke. This technique allowed us to create large groups of the different tribes without having to build all 400 separate individual models. We used our Motion Capture stage in Vancouver and actors trained in dance who could move in keeping with on-set actors.

The water is playing an important part in this environment. How did you handle the water simulations?
The waterfall environment was a huge undertaking. Our first step was as mentioned before was to create concept frames that would show how many waterfalls there were, how big or small, and how they were spaced apart. While that was happening, our Flowline team started simulating 3 or 4 different waterfalls. These waterfalls were then placed in the areas in our environment based on the concept. These 4 waterfalls were initially instanced through the environment for temp purposes. Once the full geography and model had been defined all waterfalls were fully simulated specifically to the amount, size, and underlying topology to integrate perfectly.

Did you enhance the amount of the water?
The one area which we needed to enhance was the pond that T’Challa does battle in. Because of the desired volume of water, the practical set waterfalls did not create enough flow in the pond to the director’s liking. Instead of the largely still water that was shot in the plates, he wanted to see a flow and movement so it would feel that you could get swept off the cliff with one misstep. So water movement and interaction with actors had to be introduced, along with color adjustments. The practical set water ended up appearing very brown mostly because of the color of the set rocks. We were asked if we could change the water color giving it a more green tone much like Ryan had seen in the reference material Geoff had collected. So the range of what was needed to augment the pond during the fight sequences was as easy as a color correction of the plate water, up to complete CG water replacement and interaction with the actors, and in some shots we even needed to completely replace actors with digital doubles. There was about 70 shots where there was either full water replacement or major augmentation of the plate water. These shots were then simulated at an incredibly fine resolution of 5mm per voxel to seamlessly match the live action water characteristics.

How did you work with the stunt teams for the fight sequences?
We did not really work with the stunt teams that much except when we needed head and body scans and photography. We would do roto animation and face replacements when we were back in the office at Scanline but much later in the production process.

Can you tell us more about the face replacement work?
It has become very common, especially in super hero movies, to do face replacements. The stunt teams do amazing work, especially when it comes to fight sequences. Since our main sequences included hand-to-hand combat, they required a lot of stunt work. We would start with a CG version of our main actors and a track of the the stunt person’s head. Once we had the track we would render the CG head and add some facial animation and light it to match into the scene and fit onto the stunt person’s body. Because these are action sequences and the camera and actors are moving so much, it was hard to find practical footage of the real actors’ heads that we could use one to one. We would use plate photography on top of our CG head to help give us extra details, depending on how long we would see the actors’ faces and how much they were moving.

The warriors are using different masks, weapons and shields. Can you tell us more about them?
During the first fight sequence at Warrior falls, because it was more of a traditional ceremony, masks were worn representing each person’s respective tribe. Along with the masks, there were ceremonial weapons that had be used for hundreds of years. We had to reproduce the masks and weapons and use our CG versions to replace, extend, or break them as needed throughout the fight sequence. The practical weapons that were used in the fight sequences were made of rubber for safety purposes. With those, we needed to replace them if they got bent or reacted more like rubber than a Vibranium metal blade.

There is a long shot in which we follow T’Challa in his fall into the void. How did you create this beautiful shot?
The shot where T’Challa gets thrown off the waterfall cliff into the gorge was a very interesting shot to pull off. Our real world measurements of how high the drop would be from the pond down to the river was about 200 feet. But Ryan and Geoff didn’t feel that T’Challa was falling far enough and the river felt too close and not dangerous enough. For those shots looking down we cheated the distance by double so that it would feel more dangerous. With the added CG river, mist, and waterfall elements we were able to create the desired look for T’Challa’s fall into the river below.

The bad guy, Ulysses Klaue is using a mechanical arm that turns into a weapon. How did you design and created this arm?
Our Klaue arm shots mostly consisted of cleaning up his prosthetic arm or by adding an energy light beam that was used to shatter glass and vibrate off years of caked on corrosion on the museum piece axe they were stealing.

How did you extend the set for London?
For the London extension shots we again did multiple concepts putting in famous London Landmarks and buildings around the museum, which was shot in Atlanta. Once we had the look Ryan was happy with, we mapped out the buildings and landmarks and shot the photography to match into the Atlanta plate. Once we got the high resolution material, we put it into our shot.

Kilmonger enters in the Astral Plane. How did you design and created this effects?
We did not design the astral plane effects I believe it was ILM who designed them.

Can you tell us more about your work on the environment during this sequence?
What we did do for the Kilmonger Astral Plane sequence was take ILM elements and combine them with our Oakland environment. That became the look for Kilmonger’s Astral Plane BG when talking with his dead father.

Which sequence or shot was the most complicated to create and why?
The most complicated sequences Scanline worked on have to be the Warrior falls sequences . I think the KCA sequence which is T’Challa vs M’Baku was very hard . It was a daylight fight with hundreds and hundreds of Tribal crowds all watching from the cliffs above. There were multiple lighting scenarios that we needed to figure out. There was a lot of water replacement and interaction, which meant every shot needed to have the actors rotomated so we could do face replacements, additions of masks, weapon replacement or extensions. We needed to make sure our environment was consistent from shot to shot. This was a massive undertaking that was spearheaded by Scanline Compositing Supervisors making it all feel as photo realistic and beautiful as possible where these fights took place were just a set piece that did not take you out of the fight or the movie.

What is your favorite shot or sequence?
My favorite shot in the KCA sequence is when T’Challa and M’Baku are fighting and the camera is up high over the pond and slowly starts to drop and tilt up showing the long expanse of the gorge going away from us in the distance. A really great shot that shows off our environment and really sets up the majestic waterfalls of Warrior Falls.

What is your best memory on this show?
I think just working with VFX supervisor Geoffrey Baumann and VFX Producer Lisa Beroud and all the people on our team at Scanline and at Marvel made it a very pleasing show to work on. Every cineSync and every time we visited Ryan and the whole Marvel team on the Disney lot made for a very memorable experience, as we felt very integrated into the creative process and decision making.

How long have you worked on this show?
Scanline VFX was on the show for 51 weeks we started in Atlanta on February 15th, 2017, until our final week on the show Feb 2, 2018.

What’s the VFX shots count?
In terms of shots that ended up in the final edit, Scanline worked on approximately 400 shots.

What was the size of your team?
At our largest we had up to 120 artists and production staff.

What is your next project?
My next project is a long-needed vacation! After that, there’s a really cool show that is taking shape but I can’t yet talk about it. Fingers crossed it comes together in the next few weeks.

A big thanks for your time.


Scanline VFX: Official website of Scanline VFX.

© Vincent Frei – The Art of VFX – 2018

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Vincent Frei

Founder & Editor-in-Chief // VES Member // Former comp artist

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