Production Designer Hannah Beachler Talks Bringing Wakanda to Life in Black Panther

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Production designer Hannah Beachler and director of photography Rachel Morrison, ASC teamed up with director Ryan Coogler for Marvel’s Black Panther. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Lupita Nyong'o, Black Panther tells the story of T'Challa, King of Wakanda, who returns home to find his sovereignty challenged by a long-time adversary. We talked with Hannah about how she brought the world of Wakanda to life. 

PH: How did you get involved with Black Panther?

Hannah Beachler: I worked with the Director, Ryan Coogler, on his previous two films (Fruitvale Station, Creed). When he signed on with Marvel he wanted me to come in and meet with the studio for Production Designer.  It was pretty awesome.

PH: Can you explain the eight months researching and prepping across South Africa, Korea, Argentina and the United States for this film? 

Hannah Beachler: Lots and lots and lots of research and development went into Black Panther. We were researching and developing Wakanda for the better part of 9 months. We talked to experts of all kinds, anthropological architects, future architects who are working on google cities, Nigerian Historians, geologists, pilots, physicists and nanotechnologists, just to name a few. We traveled to South Africa for about three weeks and traveled up and down the country from Cape Town to North Kwazulu-Natal by Winterton, and we spent time at the Sentinel Mountains on the border of Lesotho. 

I researched languages and many of the tribes in sub-Saharan Africa where Wakanda is located. I researched architecture all over the continent as well as globally – Zaha Hadid was a big influence. I also studied topography and mining/metallurgy. I could go on and on and on for quite some time, but we were influenced by the Mursi, Masaai, Dinka, Omo Valley River Tribes in Ethiopia, Dogon of Mali, Tuareg, Suri tribe, Igbo, Congolese fisherman, Gurunsi of Ghana, Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa and many, many more.

The same research went into the South Korean casino. I was heavily influenced by the Korean Dragon King and the story of the man who saves the life of a carp, who turns out to be Yongwang – his son. That story mirrored the story of T’Challa in a way. You’ll see fish scales on the back wall of the Casino when T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye enter the casino.

When Nakia and T’Challa walk down the ground staircase and stop on the landing you’ll notice two wooden hand-carved carp with golden accents on either side of them.  You’ll also see the carp on the casino chips (which are in traditional Korean colors). You’ll see on the money cart that T’Challa grabs, there is a dragon with an orb in its mouth (known as the Yeouiju). Whoever could wield the Yeouiji was blessed with abilities of omnipotence and creation at will. Thusly, T’Challa picking up the money cart. Lots of stuff like that. Lots and lots of research across the entire movie. 

PH: What did that entail? What were challenges (if any) that you ran into? 

Hannah Beachler: The biggest challenge was time. There never seemed to be enough!

PH: What was your favorite set of the film and why? How was this different than other films you've worked on previously?

Hannah Beachler: My favorite set was Shuri’s lab. But honestly, I love all of them equally and put just as much thought and love into each of them. The biggest difference was how much of a massive undertaking it was – I was on panther for a little over a year.

PH: What's one of the most fulfilling parts of your job?

Hannah Beachler: Going to work every day!

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