How the emotional main-on-end title sequence for Wakanda Forever was made with real cloth, wind and fire.
Perception is well-known for its collaboration with Marvel Studios on title sequences and main-on-ends. Very often, these are CG, motion graphics-heavy sequences to celebrate the film’s themes and characters. So when the opportunity came to do something different–and largely live action–for Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Perception relished the idea.
For the main-on-ends, Perception pitched the practical use of cloth that would match Shuri’s burning of the mourning robes, as just seen in the film. For this, the crew would actually handle filming and burning matching cloth themselves, getting a surprise help in terms of lenses from the film’s actual DOP in the process.
Here, several members of the Perception team–Doug Appleton (chief creative director), Greg Herman (creative director), Christian Haberkern (art director and cinematographer) and Eric Daly (head of production)–break down that work, plus they explore other contributions Perception made to Wakanda Forever, including graphics and UIs, hydro-bomb concepts and the locators and subtitles.
Crafting the main-on-ends
The look and feel
Doug Appleton (chief creative director): It was all live action. From the beginning, the concept was, we wanted to shoot this. We want to make this as true to the film as possible. People can do cloth and fluid and flames, but we knew that we wanted to shoot it as practically as possible.
Christian shot the pitch in his backyards with the help of his wife and kids. We showed some great behind-the-scenes pictures to the filmmakers of his kids holding fire extinguishers at the ready.
We reviewed our proof of concept edit with Ryan and team and they loved it. So much so, that they decided to cut it into the next version of the film that was shown to the studio heads. After the screening, they said that the studio and test audience had commented on how elegant and appropriate the main-on-ends seemed for the film.
The big thing for us was that the DOP, Autumn Durald Arkapaw, got involved. She saw it and she was like, ‘I want this to look like the movie. I want this to sit in the film.’ So she actually pulled a few strings and got us the Panavision lens that she shot the film with and got us the type of camera that she shot with–the Sony VENICE.
Christian Haberkern (art director): I think getting that lens and that camera from Autumn was huge. It just changed the look. It brought it more in line with the film, and enhanced the look of the fire. She sent a specialty lens that she used for another project that she did with fire, so it actually has all these cool little details in the fire. Then the edges of the frame get all blurred out in some cool ways. It was a really great lens. When you watch it now, it’s very seamless from the footage of Shuri on the beach, going right into the main-on-ends, and it all looks the same now.
Then Greg, who directed the main-on-ends, and I got really good at perfecting how to film fire and control it. The beginning part of it, where it’s not on fire, well, I live on a mountain, and so we went up to the top to the summit so that we could get the sun at a good angle, and we just were waving this cloth in the wind.
It was really a beautiful moment as the sun was going down and Greg and I were up there waving this cloth in the wind and filming it. Every once in a while there’d be some hikers that’d come by, and they were like, ‘What the heck are you guys doing?’ We’d say, ‘We don’t know. We’re just up here messing around.’ We did not tell them what we were doing. They thought we were crazy.
Greg Herman (creative director): When it came to burning the cloth, we realized fire is so unruly and unpredictable. There’s different cloths that burn faster; some burn slower. We got so deep trying to control the fire that we were testing different extinguishers and accelerants to find what would work best for us and our material. You can buy these spray extinguishers that are very easy to use, like aerosol cans. Because if you use the big one, the regular extinguishers, it’s like one shot and you’re done. But these things, you can use them all day as many times as you want, and they last a while.
There’s just a little bit of that residue that stays on the edges, and then that would act as a retardant, so it would slow the fire down a little so we could almost shape the fire and smooth that around.
The other thing we used was butane. We realized that this was a great way to make a line with the butane. We would make a line with it, and we could art direct the way we wanted the fluid to go so that when we lit it, the flame would go in that direction, and we would get it to go right at the camera in certain moments, or we could get it to track along a specific point in space.
What was nice about butane is it burns very quickly, and then when it burns off, it’s done. Typically, the cloth wouldn’t catch fire right away. It would burn the butane off, and then it would just scar the fabric but not to the point where we couldn’t get in there and maybe do a little bit more, do another butane pass, get another shot of it.
Eric Daly (head of production): I will say it is still a natural element. Although we were using a flame retardant material to go this way or go that way or butane to get a certain path, we had a very limited small window at the start of that to say, ‘Okay, we can do it,’ and then the fire’s going to do what it’s going to do after that. So we had to make sure to plan out our shots. We’d do a quick run through of, ‘Okay, then the camera’s going to move this way,’ and then we’d do it. We get one or two chances, and then after that the fire takes over.
Doug Appleton: They actually sent us Shuri’s costume with a very big note saying, basically, ‘Do not burn this.’ From there, we saw the fabric and how it felt, and so we wanted to match that as closely as possible. Christian went out and sourced some fabric, and then we screen printed our own fabric so we could burn it, since we couldn’t burn Shuri’s costume. Then we did some shoots with that and looked at it. It didn’t really burn very quickly. It would catch on fire, and you had these beautiful moments of it catching on fire, but you couldn’t get really that charred fabric look that we wanted. So we got some other material that was a lot lighter. It visually looked the same but was a lot lighter. Then we did another round and screen printed that. We did another round of shooting.
Part of what we wanted to do was to find those happy accidents that we could never plan for. One of the things that happened was that the fabric would burn at a different rate than the screen printing ink. We’d found these really beautiful moments where the fabric would burn but the pattern would be left behind, and then it would start to curl over. So you get this inversion where the fabric is now black, but the pattern is still white on top of it right before that starts to burn. We found a lot of these really beautiful moments that we tried to incorporate into this that weren’t a part of our original plan, but it’s just part of playing with…I was going to say playing with fire, which is probably a terrible thing to say we’re doing, but really let the medium kind of tell us what this edit was going to be.
Doug Appleton: In terms of additional effects or compositing, there might be a shot or two where we added some fire to it where it’s just like, ‘Ah, a spark would be nice right here,’ something like that. But for the most part there are only four shots that are composites. The ones that have Shuri’s suit underneath, so the ones that burn away and reveal her suit, those are obviously composites, but the plates were largely left untouched. Then some of them we shot on greenscreens. Some of it we shot on black, and we could just do a luma matte between the white fabric and the black background to get the suit back there. But any of the shots that don’t have that suit in them, that is pretty much what we shot, a little bit of color correct, but pretty much what we shot is what you see.
Greg Herman: We had done a lot of type exploration early on for the boards, and we had explored a lot of different typefaces. We tried some serif typefaces and things like that, because Ryan kept saying, ‘This is a serious movie. This is a serious movie.’ In the end, we came back to the original boards. So we went back to the original pitch boards, and we really studied what Christian had created for his original pitch boards that he had taken from the tests that he had shot, the ones that we were mentioning that he had shot with his kids.
We had tried several iterations. Does the type get left justified on the left side, right justified on the right side? Do we do asymmetrical compositions? Then in the end, through collaboration with Ryan and Nate Moore, the producer, we ended up landing on centrally locating all the type dead center just because it had a more classic feel, and it was easier to read. Because we’re all designers, we’re like, ‘Ah, make the type small. It looks better. It’s designy,’ and that’s classically a designy thing. But from an audience point of view, Ryan’s like, ‘Man, I want to see these people’s names. These people have worked on this movie for a really long time. I want to make sure we see the names.’ So we went with a nice, happy medium, something that was legible but not too big. We ended up landing on the center because it felt like it was easier to read, and it was classic.
Doug Appleton: Centering it, what that did also was it slowed everything down significantly because you’re not jumping around, like, ‘Oh, names over there, names over there,’ and just having that type dead center not moving. Without even changing the edit, it just kind of slowed the whole thing down.
The role of these main-on-ends
Doug Appleton: One thing in our initial pitch that was important to us and important to Ryan and the team over there was that we wanted this to be a moment for the audience to let it sink in about what they just saw. The movie ends with Shuri going through this ritual of mourning and thinking about her brother. We wanted this sequence to be the same for the audience, too, to sit there in this moment and think about what they just saw, to think about Chadwick Boseman.
It’s for the creators to think about their friend. It’s for the characters to think about their family and their loved ones. We really wanted to have it be this really calm, meditative sequence. We do a lot of big, bold cameras flying through, very action packed sequences, usually. Like, ‘We just finished the movie! Yeah, we did it!’ and this was not supposed to be that at all. This was really just to let people sit in that moment and just be there.
Greg Herman: When you watch the film, the title sequence has an effect that you don’t get if you just watch the title sequence in a bubble isolated by itself, and you think, ‘Let’s watch the main-on-end titles for the new Black Panther movie,’ because you like title sequences and you want to watch it. You’re like, ‘Huh, this is the title sequence? Okay, burning, that’s cool. Fire, I guess…’. If you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t understand the context, then I feel like it’s got a completely different meaning when you are watching the film and you understand that context and you understand the ritual of mourning and the burning. Then I think it takes on a whole other connotation. I think that’s what makes these titles unique and special is that they actually have meaning connected to the narrative.
Graphics and UIs
The helix structure
Doug Appleton: For Shuri’s lab, we did some early concept and development of the helix structure with the ‘balls’ and then that was passed onto RISE FX. That was a lot of fun because we had to come up with, what do holograms look like in Wakanda? The first movie had this Vibranium Sand, but now it is around 10 years later, so how does that technology develop? There was this idea that she can still physically interact with it, like they could with the vibranium sand, but now it’s a much higher fidelity than it was before. You don’t have those sand particles now. It just looks like this solid, shiny object.
When we saw those plates, they’d actually strung up these LED balls in space and Letitia Wright could grab a ball, take it off, do whatever she wanted, and then stick it back on this thing and proceed with what she was doing. That’s how they got this great interactive lighting. From there, they had colors that could change.
In terms of what holograms look like, where we landed was more augmented reality. They’re not see-through. They’re very solid looking. But at the same time, we see Shuri is able to throw one of her beads into the air, and it grows this whole thing out of it.
Lab screens and AI
Doug Appleton: We did a lot of work on the AI even before designing a single thing on the interface. What we wanted to do was come up with, what’s the personality of the AI? Because we’ve met AI in the Marvel universe before. We have J.A.R.V.I.S. We have Ultron. AI exists in the world. How is Griot different from the rest of them? It was one of those things. We put a list together and said, ‘All right, Griot, what can Griot do, and what’s his personality like?’ So it was personality versus how can he affect the environment.
Then you look at someone like Ultron. Ultron, tons of personality, and he can affect the environment because he’s a physical thing, and he’s launching continents down onto the Earth. He can affect the environment, super evil AI. Then you look at something like Siri, which has almost no personality, can’t even really get you a Google search properly and is pretty innocuous.
So we tried to plot Griot somewhere on this chart of, where does Griot sit? We came up with, like, ‘All right, Griot, he’s got a little bit of a personality, doesn’t really affect the environment.’ It was important, and whether it comes through in the movie or not, in the back of our minds talking to Ryan, that they wanted Griot to not do anything that he wasn’t asked to do. For instance, in the movie, Ramonda asked Griot, ‘Can you track Shuri’s beads?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’ But someone like J.A.R.V.I.S. or Ultron would go out of his way to be like, ‘Oh, by the way, I tracked the beads. Do you want the information?’ So there’s a difference there that Griot is there just to help you do whatever you ask it to do, and no more, no less.
Greg Herman: There’s even a part in the movie where she highlights that and Ramonda says, ‘AI’s going to kill us all one day.’ She’s like, ‘You’re just watching too many movies. This AI only does what I tell it to do.’
Doug Appleton: That then translated to Shuri’s UI and what she’s interacting with. The idea was that there was kind of a shorthand between Shuri and Griot. So she has this wildly complicated-looking UI with all these different formulas and bits of information to it. You see when she’s writing, she might do a little circle, and that circle expands off into something else because Griot knows, ‘Oh, this is what’s going on. Shuri wants this little thing or wants to bring up this chart.’
Then the big thing with the look of it was that we got a plate of Letitia Wright drawing on a screen and doing this gesture. Whether or not she had an idea in her mind of what she thought the interface looked like, that for us is like, ‘Great. We need something that rotates.’ So that kind of started this, it’s a circular UI, so we have these rings of circles with all these bits of information around it so that she can rotate it and say, ‘Oh, I want this section now, and it rotates into a new section.’
Christian Haberkern: To design this, I spent a lot of time paying attention to her movements. I was interpreting her movements to bring in specific graphics for those, so I had created some custom graphics that I thought played along with her creating in the lab and coming up with these equations and designing suits and stuff like that. There’s just a lot of data on the screen. It’s got this scientific vibe to it.
Doug Appleton: Ryan didn’t want what we, I think, affectionately called ‘glowing blue shit’. It’s blue. It’s the color of the future. It glows. Ryan was like, ‘I don’t want that. Everything should be clean and pristine.’ Of course, we’d first go in and we make everything, like, ‘Oh, it’s got lots of glows, and it looks very hot and vibrant.’ Ryan’s like, ‘No, tone it down, tone it down, tone it down.’ What you end up with was something I think feels a lot more natural that fits in the space and the world of this movie a little bit more than a bunch of bright, glowy holograms.
Christian Haberkern: It all starts in Photoshop and Illustrator to have some still graphics, and then it’s jumping back and forth between that and After Effects to refine the look of it and the way that it moves. If I need Cinema 4D to add 3D planes in there somehow, then we can do that. Sometimes we’ll get a 3D track of the shot. RISE was actually doing the comp on all this, so we didn’t actually have to do all that compositing ourselves. So I would just do a slap comp and get it to look like it was in the shot a little bit to send over to client and get them to approve it, and then RISE would actually comp it in.
Eric Daly: For Griot, the actual representation of Griot that they are speaking to in the film, that went through several rounds of iteration. Griot looked different at different stages in the last year and a half with very different ‘faces’. Then we settled on the final one that’s in the film. I think in the last two weeks of the job, we were able to put it in all the spots that it needed to go into. So that was a big thing. We got Trevor Noah’s voiceover for that in the last month of the job, so we had to animate the pulsing and everything to that.
Doug Appleton: Riri’s HUD was a lot of fun because we have all this Wakandan technology, but she’s very much not Wakandan, so she’s designing her own version of a HUD, which is inspired by Iron Man, but also inspired by herself and her own experiences. She’s a young girl. How is that different than what Iron Man would make for himself as a grown man? What kind of differences could we have there?
So in Riri’s HUD, there’s a little bit more personality in there. There’s a little skull and crossbones in her UI and some hearts in there because it’s just to add a little more of that young personality to it. Also, it’s red and white and black because of the Chicago Bulls, so it has a little of her history in there.
Doug Appleton: When they first told us about hydro-bombs, I think it was just described as, ‘They can compress a lake into the size of a soccer ball. Oh, and when it explodes, you flood the room with a lake that you were just carrying in your hand.’ I’m like, ‘That’s a cool idea.’
So our first day was like, ‘Can you compress water that much?’ The answer is no, that water doesn’t really compress at all. But they have special vibranium compression powers, I guess. You take that logic out of it. But then we’d go in and say, what could it be if this was compressed? What would the device be? How would that work? What would the explosion look like? We pulled a lot of high-speed reference of water splashes and things like that and started playing around just using reference of that stuff and doing time ramps.
I think a cool way to show the power of this thing is the explosion happens almost instantaneously, and then you go into a slo-mo to just see the effects of that. But we also did a ton of work on, how do you hold this thing that has the power of a whole lake in your hand? How would you carry that? Is it surrounded by vibranium? Would it have to be? Does it look more mechanical, or does it look more natural?
We started playing with these things and finding what’s the world of the Talokan, and what are the things that they would do? You see the movie and nothing is mechanical. It all looks like it’s stone. It all looks very natural.
Eric Daly: We finished that dev work more than two years ago and handed it off. I think when Ryan was writing, they thought there was going to be a lot more to tell the audience about how these bombs work. I think what they ended up realizing was, people just get it. This civilization has found ways to use water that no one on land has discovered yet. So they didn’t have to beat the audience over the head with, ‘The way this bomb works is it’s drawing…’ whatever.
Some of the ideas that we were playing with were, how can you get all this water into such a small space? Is it pulling moisture from the air? You could see seeds of that in some of the late stages of the film when they trap Namor in the thermostatic part of the ship and they start to realize his skin is actually drawing moisture from the air, so he’s breathing through his skin.
Locators and subtitles
Greg Herman: We went through a really fun process here where we got to meet a brilliant professor who taught us the origin of a very specific culture’s way of writing. I think our biggest fear was, we didn’t want to put forward stuff that was fake. So Marvel Studios was like, ‘Well, here, talk to this guy.’ His name was Gerardo Aldana. He was their Mayan specialist.
Doug Appleton: For our locators in the first Black Panther, it’s in Wakandan and translates to English. Then for this one, we wanted to do the same thing, but we had other locations that weren’t Wakandan. We had these two locations that were for the Talokan, and it didn’t make sense to have them go from Wakandan to English. So we’re like, ‘Oh, it would be great if it could be these Mayan glyphs that translate into English.’
We asked Professor Aldana, how would ‘Talokan Capital City’ be written? He said, ‘This is what those symbols would be to make this,’ and he drew all that stuff for us. Just talking to him about, ‘How does the language work, and what are these things? What do they mean?’–that was really cool. I think a lot more thought went into that than people would think for what ultimately ends up being 10 seconds of this movie.
Greg Herman: There’s a lot of cross-over from the first movie where you would see the Wakandan alphabet transform into the English version of the locator. We carried that through but then we were able to also introduce a new typeface as well as these glyphs that Dr. Aldana helped us to create.
The other interesting little, very subtle detail that you may or may not have picked up on is that we were able to use what I felt like was a really nice typeface for subtitles. The color of every language is also different depending on the language that was being spoken. That was a really cool, subtle nuanced thing that maybe helped draw a little bit more clarity for some certain audience members on a subconscious level.
Greg Herman: We looked at Man On Fire. We looked at John Wick. We looked at a lot of examples where they’re integrated into the shots, where they’re having a little bit of fun with it. What we quickly realized was that it needed to be more about the story and the subtitles shouldn’t be ruling the day for its real estate on screen and its time in the film.
Doug Appleton: With the glyphs, there’s one scene early on where Okoye is speaking Wakandan and then switches over to French. If you’re not paying attention and the subtitles are all the same color, you’re like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But when the subtitle changes color and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a different language,’ you realize, ‘Oh, she’s speaking French to the French ambassador to be like, Hey, I know how to speak your language. I know what’s going on here.’
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