Last year, I journeyed to the set of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther to talk to the cast and crew, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best days of my life. As a Marvel fan since I was a kid, stepping onto the set of such an iconic film, helmed by Ryan Coogler and starring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, aka Black Panther, was a dream come true. What struck me most was the clear and steady passion the entire creative team and cast had for the story they were creating. I learned details about the creative process in making a film like Black Panther, and am so excited to see T’Challa’s story unfold further.
For those of you who need some background, the last time we saw T’Challa was in Captain America: Civil War (which was also when we first met Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe). Black Panther takes place following the death of T’Challa’s father, the King of Wakanda, in Civil War. T’Challa returns to Wakanda, a hidden and technologically advanced African nation that thrives on vibranium, “one of the strongest and most expensive metals,” according to Production Designer Hannah Beachler. Soon a formidable conflict emerges and T’Challa must rally his allies to save Wakanda and the world.
Here are some facts I learned while on the set of Black Panther:
1. The creative team went on a research trip to Africa to gain inspiration for the production design.
Production Designer Hannah Beachler, director Ryan Coogler, and their teams travelled to different locations in Africa while researching for the film. Beachler said of their travels, “One thing that we always talked about in Africa was, you have no point of perspective because everything is huge. You’re like, I’m not sure if that’s 10 feet or 50,000 feet ... and the one thing that I really didn’t want to do was lose being in this big cavernous space with an intimate moment happening.” To solve this, Beachler said her team approached large spaces by “always bringing in a natural material. So you’ll notice in every single set there is mud ... you bring in these natural things into each of the spaces and all of a sudden you start to soften the space.” Every space in Black Panther, no matter how grandiose, has a connection to the earth which keeps it grounded in reality. Beachler also joked that not everybody has to agree with this and may ask why the spaces have to be so big. Her response? “Because, you know, you let me do it and I’m going to make it huge.” Beachler is officially the best.
2. We’ll get to see vibranium in its raw form in the film.
Beachler gave us a look inside her designs for some of the most iconic locations in the film. One was the Wakanda Design Group, which is run by 16-year-old genius Princess Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), and is where all the tech in Wakanda is being created. It includes a vibranium mine, which is a “blue, glowing rock” according to Beachler. She also told us that we’d see a lot of vibranium in its raw form, not like we usually see it in Black Panther’s suit and Captain America’s shield.
3. We’ll see T’Challa’s ship, the Royal Talon Flyer.
Pictured above is director Ryan Coogler on set with Chadwick Boseman. When speaking with Beachler, we also got a look at Mount Bashenga, which is where Shuri’s building is. According to Beachler, at this location is the Royal Talon Fighter (the King’s ship) and a Dragon Flyer (a ship with wings.) They came up with the name for the Dragon Flyer because the design started to look like a dragonfly. As for the Royal Talon Flyer, Beachler told us, “Ryan [Coogler] was in Africa … and he called me and said, ‘Oh, I saw this really great peafowl’—which is a lot like a peacock—and he [said], ‘That’s it! That’s the Royal Talon Fighter.’” Later the Royal Taylor Fighter started to look like a mask from the top view and the bottom. So cool!
4. Vibration, sound, and circular patterns will be a recurring theme in the film.
Pictured above is a concept design of T’Challa’s palace throne room. In Black Panther we’ll see a lot of circular elements, and a deep connection to vibration and sound. Beachler said, “Really a lot of the society is based on that: Vibration and sound as communication and sound as life, as well as water and air. So, bringing that in really was a part of creating—bringing that tradition—and creating its own tradition.” She then went on to say, “Often times you don’t want people to notice your production design and you know you’ve done well when they don’t, but in this instance, please notice.” I’ll be looking out for the circular patterns for sure!
5. The Warrior Falls location will give us insight into the history of Wakanda.
In the film, Warrior Falls is the place where the tribal council meets, and in the comics it's a location where the Wakandans go to fight. It contains natural falls with a cliff’s ledge and one can only get there by boat. Beachler also confirmed that Warrior Falls will “go back to the ancient” in contrast to the more technologically advanced locations in Wakanda. She also said that “we’ll have lots of awesome panthers all over the place.” I can’t wait to see this location in the film!
6. The Casino location design developed quickly, whereas the Tribal Council was the most difficult part of the design process to conceptualize.
Yes, there will be a Casino scene, and Beachler detailed, “'It has to be as beautiful as possible, so we can completely destroy it.” Intriguing! As for the Tribal Council, the concept took a little longer. “We didn’t want it to be this huge place, we wanted it to be different,” Beachler said. She added, “It was one that we took a little more time on than anything else … that one was hard—to make it royal, but not make it insane and over the top.” What helped finally complete the Tribal Counsel design? The addition of glass floors, according to Beachler.
7. There are very strict color palettes based on the regions in Wakanda.
Pictured above are sketches of Danai Gurira as Okoye and Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia in their costumes. Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter said that in the design process, “They were very strict about the color palates. There are the River Tribe, which is green. There’s the Border Tribe, which is blue. There’s the Panther and the Royal Palace, which is black and royal purple. The Jabaris, which are wood. We had a very clear direction and that came from Ryan [Coogler]. With Hannah [Beachler], her taste levels are through the roof, so I was constantly becoming aware—and still visiting—as they’re developing the sets, seeing what lanterns are going in, the furniture—and still getting a surprise when I [got] to set. This business is always morphing and you’re always tweaking when you see things finally coming together.” Based on the drawing above, the costumes are going to be absolutely breathtaking!
8. Black Panther’s suit will show us technology that we’ve never seen before.
Carter said that we’ll see some brand-new technology coming from Black Panther’s suit, but couldn’t detail more, so obviously: I. Am. Intrigued. Here’s a clip from Black Panther that gives us a little insight:
Well, T’Challa and Shuri are officially awesome. Needless to say, I absolutely cannot wait to see Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, in theaters on February 16.