If you loved Marvel Studios’ title sequences and main-on-ends, Perception is the one to thank. They’ve worked on titles such as The Avengers, WandaVision, Black Panther, Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: Civil War, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Their most recent collaboration with Marvel was Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which is currently the 7th-highest-grossing movie of 2022 with $737M at the worldwide box office.
In an interview with Befores & Afters Magazine, 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)–did a breakdown of their work for the film/
Wakanda Forever’s Main-On-Ends
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’s ending. For this incredible shot, the crew actually handled filming and burning matching cloth themselves.
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 (Coogler) 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.
Christian Haberkern (art director): 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.
The team had to face some hardships while filming. They realized that there were a number of factors that influence fire. While CG procedural fire can be controlled in virtually any way, real fire proves difficult to be brought under control.
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.
Marvel Studios’ Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.