Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Interview: VFX Editor Anedra Edwards Talks Bringing ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ to Life

MARVEL MOVIESBLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVERInterview: VFX Editor Anedra Edwards Talks Bringing ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ to...

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has finally hit theaters, and we had the chance to talk with the film’s VFX editor, Anedra Edwards. Edwards is an editor with more than 14 years of experience in VFX and picture editing for film and TV. She has worked for companies such as Marvel, Netflix, Warner Bros., HBO, NBC, and many more. Prior to Wakanda Forever, Edwards worked on Marvel and Disney+’s series WandaVision, which received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Visual Effects. Staying within the superhero realm, Edwards also served as the VFX editor for the first three seasons of Black Lightning.

In Wakanda Forever, Anedra helped usher in the practical and CG effects that bring the film’s lush world to life, from Wakanda itself to Namor’s underwater kingdom Talokan and more. We spoke with Edwards about her experience working on the film, how the team blended action and emotion, and more.

Note: This interview was edited for clarity.

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Nerds & Beyond: First things first, I want to congratulate you on Wakanda Forever. My dad and I saw it recently, and we absolutely loved it. It was so good. What about this movie made you say, “Yes, I need to work on this one”? How did you become involved with the project?

Anedra Edwards: I initially was interviewed for the film in December 2020, and when I got the opportunity to be a part of it, I was just excited. I was already on a Marvel Studios production, WandaVision, and I had some colleagues who previously worked on the first film, on Black Panther. And since I had now just come into Marvel Studios working on their productions, they thought I’d be a great fit, and they passed my name along to those who would end up interviewing me. So it was really exciting.

And I was already a fan of the first film. I had already entered the superhero universe of filmmaking in a way, so I’d already been working with some DC Comic characters, working on the Warner Brothers end with CW Network, so I was already doing visual effects in a superhero universe. So to come over to Marvel was even more exciting, and I had already watched the first Black Panther when it came out. I dressed up [laughs] when I went to go see it. So it was really exciting. That’s where I was prior, and then to come on the film and just having read some of the comics, and of course already having some history with it from a literary standpoint, it was just really, really exciting. And by history, I mean as a fan [laughs].

Nerds & Beyond: Still counts, still counts. And you know, visual effects is a massive collaboration, especially on such a large, blockbuster scale. Can you talk a bit about your general experience working with different VFX vendors, artists, and the like to create all those shots that really brought Ryan [Coogler]’s screenplay and vision to life?

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Anedra Edwards: Visual effects, as you said, is a big machine, it’s a big monster. And as a visual effects editor, we’re responsible in terms of a lot of the continuity of the visual effects shots that are in the movie. We cut the shots that are made by our visual effects artists and visual effects houses into the movie. We make sure they fit, they look right, but we’re also responsible for any of the original plate photography that needs to get to those visual effects houses. We continue that pipeline. We’re ushering shots back and forth and what not, and we know which visual effects houses are gonna be working on which scenes, a lot of them early on. And then also there’s some visual effects houses that come on a little later in the post-production process.

It was really fun to work with some of the visual effects houses I hadn’t necessarily worked with before, which Wētā was a big one. Wētā did a lot of our water visual effects that you saw, and they’re based in New Zealand. So to be on calls with vendors in New Zealand and to get to work a lot with their animation department, their visual effects producers, it was really fun. And to get scenes that are built out in a CG world, and then also to give notes and then to hear notes as well, coming from Ryan, coming from our production designers — all this feedback. It’s really so collaborative and it’s really massive.

We also work with a huge vendor, ILM. I’d actually done some work with them before having come from WandaVision. Working with some vendors who I had done stuff with before from other shows, you know you already have an expectation level, because you know that they set the bar really high. So when we have certain shots, we knew that like, “Okay, this is what they’re gonna come through. This visual effects house is gonna come through because they’ve come through before.” And I felt like that for all of our vendors just ‘cause it was a high bar they already had and what not. And some of the vendors, it was really cool to see some of their work for the first time for myself working with them. A big one was like Base Effects in Japan. They were an awesome visual effects house to work with and really came in the clutch for some of the last-minute shots, too. They were really awesome as well. Cutting their shots in, it was really fun and really kept the machine going, you know, kept it chugging.

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Nerds & Beyond: Both Black Panther movies are very steeped in culture. I think that’s always like a very high point for both of these movies, and we see that in pretty much every aspect. For Wakanda Forever specifically, what were some of the key components you and the visual effects team focused on to keep that cultural lens prominent from an effects standpoint?

Anedra Edwards: I think we had a lot of, of course, source material that came from the first film that could carry over. Some of the aerial shots that are of Wakanda in a sense, in terms of a lot of them have original photography that was filmed from the first movie of when they went to certain African nations and actually filmed some of those aerial shots. So some of that we used as well to bring up that nostalgia, to bring that back to our audience. A line that we hear quite often is that fans want to be back in Wakanda. They want to feel the excitement of being back there ‘cause they hadn’t been back there in a long time. And to be there since I believe it was Endgame. Actually no, it was somewhere between Endgame and Infinity War, I think you had shots of Wakanda as well where we had like our final battles, which probably was Infinity War, where you last saw Wakanda. And there might be some like hints to it I think in Endgame, but that was the last time you saw Wakanda. And of course, I didn’t work on those two projects, but to be a part of this sequel, which was influenced by those events, and having watched it as a fan was just really cool to see that.

Culturally to bring [that] back in the film, you hear a lot of Xhosa that’s spoken, and that language and how it’s fused within shots that have the Wakandan — we call it Golden City in Wakanda — to have that background. And you’re in it a lot more often than you were before, and you’re also in parts of Golden City that you hadn’t been before. You’re more on the water a lot more in that time. So kind of to infuse like the different cultural backgrounds that exist, but also to hear the language and to be in that place making sure the visual effects are keeping with those emotions and what not. That was really fun in perspective. And also, the architecture that exists as well, making sure our visual effects fit some of the architectural wants by our creative team. Especially in the film, you enter into Wakanda in different ways than you did before. You entered through the river border at times. You’re coming through a different checkpoint, essentially, into the city. So creating that in a way that made it new for fans and parts of it that are practical photography and parts of it that are completely CG help to tell the story.

Nerds & Beyond: A little more specifically, you did mention it already, but we also got to go underwater to see Talokan, which I thought looked really, really cool. Can you talk a bit about the process of creating that world from concept to screen?

Anedra Edwards: Talokan was really, really fun in terms of how you saw it like evolve through the film or as visual effects. When I first started working with Wētā, I was in Atlanta where we were filming, and that was around June 2021 kind of into the fall. Working with Wētā, who also worked with our production designer who was awesome, Hannah Beachler, and she was amazing in terms of how she saw that vision along with Ryan. To make sure that we kept that vision while we were cutting individual FX shots and all the animation that’s given from Wētā, that was really fun.

There’s parts Talokan that are practical, that are people really swimming in the water, and I think that brings some authenticity to it. As a visual effects editor, I was responsible for making sure that plate photography made it to our visual effects artists, sometimes creating selects, what we call it — basically like looking at the takes of some of those people swimming and making decisions on what fit best. Also collaborating, of course, with my visual effects producer Nicole Rowley [and] our picture editor Mike Shawver as well so that this environment gets built up over time. It really is exciting to see it all as pieces come together because a lot of times, that’s what visual effects is; it’s pieces from here, pieces from there. At times we had [what] we called shared shots where it’s multiple visual effects houses working on one shot. So that’s also like pieces coming from one side, pieces coming from another. And for working with Wētā, who was our primary underwater visual effects house, it was just really cool to build that environment with them and it definitely morphed. [laughs] It was in the movie a lot longer at times and then it would go shorter. I used the example of an accordion, where the edit is like really fat and then it goes down and then it gets big, it goes down and what not. So it was really cool to see that happen.

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Nerds & Beyond: There are also a lot of scenes and sequences that are just very emotionally hefty and but also have major effects with them. And speaking of the underwater world, one that comes to mind is when Namor attacks Wakanda. What were some of the challenges of bringing high stakes sequences like that without comprising the emotion of it?

Anedra Edwards: That’s a great question. I think it was definitely the direction [and] keeping the themes that Ryan wanted within visual effects. And mind you, Ryan’s involved in most, if not all of our visual effects reviews when it comes to approving shots to go into the movie. So he has his hand in everything and making sure that it fits the themes that he wants. That’s a large part too, like the emotion coming through. It’s our director being involved, and he did amazing job at that. And for us, sometimes it’s making sure that it being flooded, the Golden City, and seeing all the water, seeing all those things, we have to keep the stakes amped up in visual effects. It should feel like you’re fighting for your life as well as a viewer, along with what you’re seeing — so that you can feel that like, “I don’t know who’s gonna make it. I don’t know what’s gonna happen.” As long as those stakes are kept up.

As a visual effects editor I do a lot with temp compositing, which is basically adding the effects in while the edit is in different stages so that we can keep continually seeing what’s gonna be in [the movie] in terms of visual effects. So that’s one of the things where we also had to do that as well. And then audiences, we have test audiences that do get to see some of my temp compositing while we’re in that. Of course for final visual effect shots, you’re usually seeing what the visual effects artists did. But for visual effects editors, while the edit is in a lot of the process, audiences that have been selected from a testing standpoint to see the film, they’re seeing all the things that I created and what not. So that scene, keeping that emotion definitely was involved and making sure as visual effects editors we kept the compositing up as the edit kept changing. But I think it’s definitely Ryan as well as our visual effects producer and supervisors, like keeping those themes constant. Then that trickles down for my position, for the visual effects artists, everyone who needs to keep that scene building.

Nerds & Beyond: Prior to this, you already mentioned you did work on WandaVision, and you also worked on Black Lightning. So I was wondering, how did those experiences help you take on a project like Wakanda Forever? Additionally, did working on Wakanda Forever teach you anything about your craft that you maybe weren’t expecting?

Anedra Edwards: Working with WandaVision and with Black Lightning, those were visual effects in an episodic manner, and working in episodic series, the schedule is very quick. It’s very fast, even if they’re different networks essentially that those two shows originated and the platforms they were going on to, with WandaVision going on to Disney+, and of course Black Lightning [was] CW Network, as well it went to Netflix. So it’s two different environments but the speed in which you create the effects, it’s still very similar in that way, even with WandaVision being a show that was done in 2020 — which, we all know what happened during 2020 in terms of the pandemic. That made it a unique post-production schedule and what not. So to come into Wakanda Forever, I’ve been used to these very fast paced schedules and having to work fast at times. It kind of helps you when you come into the feature film for visual effects. There’s definitely moments where we have to be very quick with what we have.

But what was exciting with Wakanda Forever, and a little different for me, was the length of a post-production schedule. We did get a lot of a lot of time to get such a huge story out the door, and one that needed to touch in different ways in terms of dealing with grief, in terms of dealing with two civilizations who have been impacted in so many ways, and themes that are really grounded in a lot of ways. It was a different set of story for me versus the two other stories, which, WandaVision did deal with grief as well, but it was definitely in a different way. It was a bit more isolated within the MCU versus Black Panther, we all had a connection and felt the presence of Black Panther, Chadwick Boseman, as an actor and just what he meant for the story and as a person — what he was and what he symbolized. So it was different, Wakanda Forever. I felt attached to it in a very much different way and a lot of emotion poured through it.

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Nerds & Beyond: Yeah, I definitely saw the emotion come through. We were both sobbing by the end of that movie. And digressing just a little bit, you are currently helping to break a lot of barriers in a mostly white and male dominated field. What advice would you offer other Black women coming up in the field, and how do you hope to continue creating change and space for them?

Anedra Edwards: Definitely I don’t put down the fact I’m an African American woman working in a space where I’m often the only African American woman or sometimes the only person of color. And I want to hopefully not just inspire other Black women, but to anyone who’s seeing the different roles that exist in visual effects that they’ll consider visual effects editorial, and that Black women can feel that their voice is being heard.

There’s more projects and productions that are looking at inclusivity and diversity as an amazing asset to bring into their post-production and as a way to make sure diverse types of storytelling are being told. So I definitely feel like as a Black woman that I’m climbing the ladder, and I’m hopefully breaking doors or sitting at tables that other people may have not thought that we’d be at. And I find visual effects fun. I hope that more Black women will come into visual effects editorial. It’s an amazing field, something that I love, and hopefully they will love to.

Nerds & Beyond: My final question for you today, what are you most proud about with Wakanda Forever?

Anedra Edwards: I’m most proud of the story that’s being told, the legacy that’s left, and hopefully we gave the flowers in a way that honors Chadwick but also passes on the story of Black Panther, because it’s important that it continues to shine a light on amazing storytelling that can take place and involves the African diaspora, that involves African culture, mythology, origin. These stories can exist in a number of different universes and ways, and we chose a superhero realm, and I hope that that is something that sticks with fans, and maybe taught you a little something about grief. Maybe it helps some people heal in a way they didn’t think before. And that visual effects, we hopefully contributed to those themes as well.

Thank you to Anedra for taking time to speak with us! Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.

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