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Hannah Beachler’s Design For The Worlds of Wakanda in Black Panther

March 7, 2018 | By
Jay Hart and Hannah Beachler

Set Decorator Jay Hart and Production Designer Hannah Beachler on casino set for Black Panther. Photo: Alex McCarroll.

When she first got the call to design the production of Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, Hannah Beachler’s first order of business was to meet with director Ryan Coogler to assimilate his vision for the project into her purview. “That’s really where one of the parts of my job begins, listening,” she said of her eight months of preparatory time, followed by a four-month shoot. “Because I have my own interpretation when I read scripts, it’s important for me to understand the director. When I hear from them, things start springboarding, and that’s where the brainstorming and the collaboration starts.”

Ryan Coogler, Hannah Beachler and Rachel Morrison

L to R: Director Ryan Coogler, Production Designer Hannah Beachler, and Cinematographer Rachel Morrison. Photo: Lisa Satriano.









After a meeting-of-the-minds with Coogler, Beachler began to break down the fantastical country of Wakanda, including its topography, the history behind specific tribes located in various cities, and what each tribe offered. “The river tribe are the purveyors of the river and can control it,” she explained. “I told Ryan, ‘This is what I’m seeing for each of these tribes.’ Then, I do the timeline of Wakanda, so during the 4th Century AD, they had their first language, first writings. Their technology is also their history, not just their present and future. They had to be advanced all along.”
After that early phase, Beachler began to sketch critical areas of Wakanda and initiated concept art with illustrators. “The first thing we concepted was Golden City as a whole,” she noted of one of 110 separate design challenges in the film. “Where I first started was ‘What cities on this planet now feel futuristic?’ Certain parts of Singapore, Marina Del Rey, Dubai, Abu Dhabi. That’s where your mind goes, and obviously things evolve over time. One illustrator, Till Nowak from Germany, happened to be an animator, and he did this animation of a point-of-view shot entering Golden City that Ryan loved—it’s done fabulously in the movie.”

Till Nowak

Steptown Conceptual Set Design by Hannah Beachler’s Production Design Team. Illustration: Till Nowak.

Shot entirely in the currently-active production hub in Atlanta, Black Panther featured several setpieces, one of the most memorable being a gigantic waterfall set. “Six months for set design to draft, then four months to build,” Beachler conveyed. “It was 30 feet high, 100 feet wide, and 10 feet off the ground. To flood it, we had to raise it up to have the pumping station underneath it. The pool itself was 60’x80’. We had two tunnels, a 15-foot tunnel, and another tunnel that goes back 20 feet.”

Till Nowak

Palace Throne Room Conceptual Set Design by Hannah Beachler’s Production Design Team. Illustration: Till Nowak.

Though Beachler designed all of her sets in full, visual effects created set extensions for such locales as the Throne Room and the Royal Town Fire Room. Since she had never designed a project the size of Black Panther, moreover a film with a preponderance of visual effects, Geoff Baumann, the film’s visual effects supervisor, brought Beachler in to offer design notes to the entire effects team. “They’d send me things,” she said. “‘Ryan wants you to put your eyes on this.’ It’s really at his request to keep me in the fold. [Coogler would] come to me and say ‘Okay, can you look at this and tell me what you think, or how would you change this?’”

Hannah Beacher

Production Designer Hannah Beachler on Throne Room set during prep for Black Panther. Photo: Ilt Jones.

Upon wrapping the enormity of production and post, Beachler was unambiguous about returning to Wakanda for more Black Panther projects—or other feature films in the same mold. “Absolutely!” she confessed. “I would want to do another movie this big. Whether it’s a superhero movie or not, I don’t know, but I would certainly want to work with Ryan, for sure.”

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