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Meet designer of Black Panther's stunning visuals

Black Panther’s visuals are extraordinary in every way. They are a masterpiece.

Russell Story, a concept artist in California, USA was among the designers who created art for the characters, sceneries and creatures in the movie. He is also behind Marvel’s latest blockbuster ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ set to hit cinemas today and ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.’

The graduate of animation and illustration from San José State University had a chat with Eunice Murathe at Serena Beach Resort in Mombasa.

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What in Kenya reminds you of ‘Black Panther’?

One of the first things I did when I came to Kenya was visit the Great Rift Valley. It reminded me a lot of the surrounding of Wakanda. Its beautiful landscape.

Do you think Hollywood will make more movies based on African culture?

I assume so... but I believe there must be a ‘Black Panther Two’.

How did you get involved in the movie?

I have a background in drawing. A friend recommended me. I was hired to do ‘Civil War’ and they decided to keep me going through a bunch of marvel movies that was being done. I worked on ‘Black Panther’ for about 10 months straight coming up with the ideas. My art style is a little bit more realistic so it blends itself with visual effects where we are trying to fool you and make you think all the fake stuff is real. The secret is creativity.

What sequences did you make?

We were able to design Wakanda which had to look like a city inspired by the Kenyan and African culture. We also did more of the fighter jets flying through the mountains and the border tribe as well. I also designed the heart-shaped herb and some of the skies for the panther dream where T’Challa meets his father.

How did you bring the vibranium-powered capital of Wakanda to life?

We had more than 50 people on our team. Some developed the look of each building. The city took almost a year to develop. We started out by making a model of the entire city. The environments of Wakanda are based on real places in Africa. We also did plate photography, stills, and motion picture. The actual movie was shot in the US but some of the photography was based on Hell’s National Park {Naivasha} and Golden Gate Highlands National Park {South Africa}.

Although the valley is a computer model, it is a scan of real valley here. We made that valley look like it was from Kenya. We put trees. It wasn’t just about the location but it was about the most beautiful setting.

I was very impressed with the throne room.

All that was actually built. It was a real place.

What about the ‘Black Panther’ suit?

We did his original suit back in ‘Civil War’ so we had a chance to redesign it. The original ‘Black Panther’ was a guy in a real suit running around. The boots were my design.

The healing herb is magical. How was it done?

We went over 60 versions of the heart-shaped herb. We wanted something that looks natural like a flower but still very special. We added the glow and the purple colour to go along with the liquid that T’Challa drinks.

What did you learn from Wakanda? 

We learnt a lot about the culture because we had to study it and make it feel real. I got super excited being here and seeing the landscape and culture.

How long did it take?

A big movie like this takes about three to four years, sometimes longer if people need to do a lot of research and build a lot on the set.

Are visual effects important to the final look of the movie?

Have you seen an actress walking in front of a blue or green screen? For visual effects, we replace the green wall with a big valley behind them, for instance. There’s a moment where T’Challa and Lupita Nyong’o are sitting on the side of a cliff having an intimate moment, the only thing that is real there is the front and the two. We created that valley using real images from here and some 3D to make the big hills next to them.

What have you learnt about Kenyan film and how can we reach close to what Hollywood makes?

Most do not have the big budget tools. They should collaborate. You have to work together to make a big budget movie.

What’s your next big project?

I just finished working on ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and of course ‘Black Panther’ is in that as well.

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