In February 2018, Black Panther opened in cinemas worldwide and immediately made an impact on cinematic history. Records were broken, reviews were raving, and a blockbuster exploded into a cultural movement. One of the most celebrated aspects of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther is it’s spectacular setting, the homeland of the Black Panther himself— Wakanda.
In June of 2016, our team consulted with Marvel Studios to explore the different ways technology could be envisioned and impact the mythological world of Wakanda. A week's worth of consultation expanded into 18 months of conceptualizing technological paradigms, interface design, animation, VFX, and an elaborate title sequence.
Black Panther Tech Montage
In the Marvel Universe, the secluded country of Wakanda is known for having technology that is both advanced, and without influence from the outside world. Within the Marvel Universe, this culture’s technology exceeds even that of Tony Stark. Many of these advances are derived from access to the unique metal of Vibranium, mined from a comet that landed millions of years ago. These and many other unique attributes of Wakanda provided a canvas that allowed us to push the boundaries of how technology is depicted on film.
Our first step in this 18-month process was to create a presentation of relevant technologies for Director Ryan Coogler and the Marvel Studios Executive team. This initial presentation covered a wide range of fascinating technologies, phenomenons, and visual themes that served as a conversation-starter with the filmmakers.
Our process typically begins with exploring these kinds of real-world technologies, as well as relying on specific experiences working with clients in emerging tech. Creating an entire world of technology that has never been seen before yet remains believable, not to mention cohesive, is a daunting task, and our team firmly upholds the connection between science fiction and science fact.
At the core of these phenomenons are Standing waves. These are vibrations in a confined space that reflect onto themselves. The result is a waveform that stays fixed in place while oscillating in amplitude.
Cymatic visualizations can be created using a Chladni plate, a vibrating mechanism, and a particulate matter such as sand. As the plate vibrates, areas with high vibration push the sand away, unveiling beautiful cymatic patterns and a visualization unique to each frequency.
Acoustic levitation is a method for suspending matter in the air by using the acoustic radiation pressure from intense sound waves.
THIS EXPERIMENT BY THE UNIVERSITY OF TOKYO SHOWS ULTRASONIC SOUNDWAVES BEING USED TO MANIPULATE STYROFOAM PARTICLES IN MID AIR.
From the onset there was a need to utilize an interface or hologram of some kind to visualize various pieces of information and narrative throughout the film.
As the filmmakers at Marvel Studios were approaching production, they asked us to explore some of the technological concepts discussed in the initial consultation. The first conceptual challenge: how advanced technology could develop in a vacuum, void of any influence from outside cultures, and what forms that takes; what makes it similar or drastically different, and what it means to the characters and their performances, as well as the audience.
Vibranium Sand as a technological medium was the result of considering how early civilizations might communicate ideas quickly to each other, even before spoken language, by drawing in the dirt. It has a very tactile, raw and temporary feel, but by extrapolating this idea and powering it through Vibranium, it takes on a very refined, unique aesthetic that remains holistic and earth-bound in its thinking and approach, using nature and our surroundings to the fullest potential.
Early Vibranium Sand visual development exploring particle movement and lighting
THE ROYAL TALON
Early in the film we find T'Challa is aboard the Royal Talon with Okoye tracking a convoy of warlords in Nigeria. This advanced aircraft provided opportunities to utilize the Vibranium Sand as a navigational tool, as well as a strategic interface. Our challenge here was to create an interface that could easily and quickly translate the story beats to the audience, but was also the first opportunity to show the audience just how different the technology in Wakanda was compared to tech that has already been seen in the Marvel universe.
We built a sand table in our studio to explore tactile interactions that were appropriate for this medium, and to highlight it’s advantages over digital mediums like holograms or touchscreens. This development gave the filmmakers the opportunity to take advantage of unique interactions, and inform the actors performances in this and several other sequences.
At the front of the Royal Talon, there’s a basin of Vibranium sand that acts as a navigation display for the pilot, giving them a view of where they are and what’s in their surroundings. The sand constantly cycles like a conveyor belt recycling the rolling terrain as the Royal Talon moves.
While central, not all the displays in the Royal Talon are made of Vibranium Sand. In the rear of the Royal Talon there are traditional light-based displays on unique screen surfaces. These displays in the back of the Talon presented a unique challenge due to their distinct curvature.
We experimented with parallax, depth, and volume in the information being displayed, as well as developing a unique color palette to brand the Wakandan tech from the rest of the Marvel universe. During the convoy sequence, multiple maps with varying levels of detail are displayed, detailing the information of the convoy that is about to be intercepted.
PANTHER SUIT 2.0
It was in Captain America: Civil War where we were first introduced to Black Panther and his bulletproof Vibranium suit. But, like Princess Shuri says, "Just because something works doesn't mean it can't be improved."
We conceptualized how to improve Black Panther's suit, with an emphasis on how the suit builds on. Explorations started with the already-established Vibranium particles, but these nano-particles needed a bit more guidance to form along the surface of the body.
We developed an initial trail of particles that follow light-emitting hidden tattoos that acted as guide rails for the particles to flow along. This allowed the suit to build on with gestures that echo the various details and contours of the full suit. At the same time, the speed and nature of the super-tough particles would shred any clothes that were currently being worn. This is first seen in battle in Korea as T’Challa is chasing Klaue through the streets of Busan.
After the first few rounds of exploring the different ways the suit builds on Marvel Studios chose the nano particles. From here, we started working on ways to add an extra level of detail to the build. This included layering the suit with different patterns as well as adding “sub-dermal” luminescent tattoos, an idea inspired directly from the comics. These tattoos were designed to not only mimic the pattern work on the suit, but also draw inspiration from the designs of Wakanda itself.
One of the most beloved characters in all of Black Panther is technological genius (and T’Challa’s kid-sister) Shuri. Throughout the film it is noted that Shuri has paved the way for many of the technological advances seen in the film, and she is regarded as an innovator, inventor and disruptor.
Naturally, her laboratory (nestled inside the Vibranium-rich Mount Bashenga) is overflowing with incredible tech. We designed a wide range of digital displays and other tech seen throughout Shuri’s laboratory, including a panoramic wall that shifted hues to match her attire.
In Shuri’s lab, Ross is examined and we see biometric feedback of various forms displayed on screen and in holographic form. We conceptualized, designed, and animated the various panels and displays in Shuri’s lab healing room, the holographic projection of the damaged area of the spine as well as the screens in the environment to help tell the story. Based on shapes and forms seen in the set design, we proposed that the hexagonal pattern seen on the wall actually reveals itself to be articulating panels. These panels pulse and ripple, suggesting a physical surface that is uniquely Wakandan.
BUSAN CAR CHASE
During the chase in Busan, T’Challa triggers a remote drive feature via a Kimoyo Bead by throwing the bead onto the hood of a Lexus parked outside of the casino. We explored how this scene might function including how these remote interfaces for the car form in Shuri’s lab.
As the data link is formed, the physical car seat and wheel are formed from a basin of Vibranium sand. This would provide a place for Shuri to sit and interact with the car in a realistic way. Then a light-based holographic car is built around her and the environment outside of the car is projected so she can see and drive accurately.
Our development included exploration of various display technologies, ways to visualize the vehicle itself, and various characteristics of how the virtual vehicle would reflect the actions of the real car on the ground in Busan.
One of several uses of Vibranium Sand was through the Kimoyo Beads. The Kimoyo Beads given to citizens on the surface look like a hand-formed bracelet. But in reality they are made from Vibranium and contain a wide array of Wakandan technology. Everything from data transfer and storage, miniature flying drones, personal communication and even healing properties were functions of these remarkable beads that we explored.
For communication, the Kimoyo Beads can turn into tiny Vibranium Sand particles driven and controlled by sound waves to create shapes and then light can be projected onto these formations for color. This allows the beads to display a wide range of information and be useful in nearly any situation.
“Defining interaction models through prototyping helped inform the actors’ performances.”
– John LePore
We are always honored to work with Marvel Studios and we are exceptionally proud to have been able to contribute to a history-making film. Be sure to also check out our case study about our work on the Black Panther titles and main on end sequence.