Imagine a mythical nation that is both technologically advanced, yet reclusive, deep rooted in its African tradition while laced with the most powerful resources in the world. Populated by regal beings and some of the fiercest minds and warriors, never before seen. Then imagine being tasked with bringing this imagery to life on a big screen.
This was the tremendous task given to Black Panther Production Designer, Hannah Beachler and Costume Designer, Ruth E. Carter.
We had a chance to sit with both of them during our recent Black Panther event and press junket in LA and I think we can all agree that these women are just as brilliant as the people and places they created for this fictitious land.
Production Designer Hannah Beachler is rather well known for creating incredible visuals and emotional landscapes. Some of her previous work includes production design for Director Ryan Coogler films “Creed,” and “Fruitvale Station,” the Oscar winning, “Moonlight,” and just a little project you may have heard of – Beyoncé’s “Lemonade album (which earned her numerous awards!)
As Hannah shared with us, in creating the mythical land of Wakanda, she started in the design process with some extensive research on the Eastern and Sub-Saharan regions of Africa, as well as Western Nigeria and South Africa. She was intentional in learning about each tribe’s history, reasons for living where they did, and other important elements that helped her choose things like colors and patterns and such for her design.
Veteran Costume Designer, Ruth E. Carter, would then be tasked with capturing the heart and soul of the people of Wakanda. She shared that she took many cues from Hannah’s work. In fact, Hannah had a complete manual of her process that Ruth could distribute to her team for some guidance. (And the award for co-worker of the year goes to…) She then went on to create a vision board and hire shoppers in various nations across Africa to find the clothes the Wakandan people would wear in the film. Her ultimate goal was to infuse the beauty of the land into the beauty of the costumes, while refusing to fall into any stereotypes.
Ruth also shared one of the most inspiring stories with us that is truly a testament to the intensity and passion that went into this project. Apparently, there were these blankets from a particular village in Africa they were set on using for the film. Traditionally, these were blankets actually worn by kings and queens in the village. After an extensive process to get several hundred of these, they learned that the material was too heavy and they’d have to find a plan b. From individual shaving of the blankets to burning them, the entire crew worked over the holidays until a solution was reached!
Here are some more interesting facts and tidbits I learned about the process of creating designing Wakanda and its people.
- Production Designer Hannah Beachler also used the fictitious Wakanda script, based on an old existing Nigerian language, throughout her design story.
- The majority of Wakanda sets that Hannah and her team designed were constructed on sound stages in Atlanta. In fact, one of the most awe-inspiring sets is the exterior set for Warrior Falls built on a back lot north of Atlanta.
- The Warrior Falls set was 120’ x 75’ in size. The set was 36’ tall, with the pool being six feet above ground level.
- The bottom of the Warrior Falls’ Challenge Pool was padded for the stunt team, but still looked like rock. The production crew also had to formulate a surface that was rough enough to not be too slippery in bare feet, but not so rough that it hurt to land on it.
- Ruth Carter used the clothing of the Dogon tribe as inspiration for the costumes of the Jabari tribe, who also wear grass skirts that were a hit with director Ryan Coogler.
- The neck rings worn by Danai Gurira as Okoye were patterned after the neck rings worn by the women of the Ndebele tribe. For shooting purposes, however, they were remade in rubber.
- Ruth Carter searched the world from Ghana to Los Angeles for the textiles and accessories she needed to create the 700 costumes for the film.
These women did an incredible job bringing the vision of Wakanda to life and meeting them was truly an honor. You can see all for yourself in the film Black Panther which is now in theaters! Check out my Black Panther review HERE.