Monday, as news hit the trades that Marvel and Disney’s “Black Panther” surpassed “Titanic” in the box office record books, the Creative Master Series presented a fascinating look at the making of the film from the perspectives of its editor, VFX supervisor and sound designer. The panel discussion “‘Black Panther’: Telling a Superhero Story Like No Other” was produced in partnership with American Cinema Editors (ACE) and moderated by editor and USC professor Norman Hollyn, who presented scenes from the blockbuster, followed by discussion about the film through the prism of each panelist’s role on the production.
Film editor Michael P. Shawver, sound designer/ supervisor and re-recording mixer Steve Boeddeker — both collaborators with director Ryan Coogler on the highly-lauded indie “Fruitvale Station” and the surprise hit “Creed” — and visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Baumann shared fascinating stories and insightful observations about their “Black Panther” experiences.
“Ryan doesn’t talk so much about cutting this shot here or adding something there,” Shawver noted. “He’s concerned with feeling, emotion and telling the story through the main character. He’ll say, ‘I want [the viewer] to feel this way coming into this scene and that way when we come out of it. And when you have that kind of ownership over the work, you appreciate it.”
The first scene presented was an intense fight over the kingdom between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). The scene takes place before a raging waterfall in the mythical nation of Wakanda. Hollyn described for attendees just a few of the important story points that had to be included in the editorial process: “It has to establish the geography,” he pointed out, “because we return to this place and that is very important.”
As well, viewers have to understand the rules of the ritual, the fact that T’Challa must temporarily lose his superpowers, and they must appreciate what this battle means to the large crowds observing the action. “It’s the end of the first act and it’s very important to have the audience there with him,” said Shawver, who cut the sequence from roughly 20 hours worth of material. “We wanted the audience to be going through the peaks and valleys, living or dying with T’Challa.”
Referencing his work on boxing-themed “Creed,” he added, “A fight is cool, but it doesn’t feel like a real moment unless we show the reactions of people who love him.” He took what was originally an outtake of actor Boseman losing his footing and “we cut it to look like Killmonger hit T’Challa and knocked him down.”
Baumann had created a pre-visualization for the scene, but explained, “Ryan doesn’t shoot exactly what’s in the pre-vis, but uses it to show the broad strokes.”
A lot of the space was actually constructed with real water, with CG used to enhance details and expand the crowd of observers. “The costume design was very elaborate, with each tribe present wearing unique colors, so you couldn’t just copy/paste more people in there.”
Boeddeker focused on the sounds of the scene. “What does the metal against metal sound like? How do we give it a sense of the scale required and use sound to make people feel the danger of the waterfall? We didn’t just want some constant annoying sound of water. We built it with some low end [bass] that slowly builds up. It was a lot like in ‘Creed,’ using the sound to increase the intensity until it feels like ‘we’re ready to rumble!’”
Boeddeker said sometimes the best thing to do with the sound effects is to lead up to the emotion and then get out of the way