In Marvel Studios’ latest action-adventure, Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings, the movie antagonist Wenwu (Tony Leung) is unlike most villains we’ve seen in the MCU to date. This ancient figure operates from a secluded, centuries-old fortress that over the years has grown and changed, reflecting his loves and losses. It’s a fluid, ever-evolving structure created and edited by a longtime collaborator of Marvel Studios, the Oscar-winning Digital Domain VFX studio.
“When we first heard about Marvel Studios’ plans to make a movie like Shang-Chi with a new kind of hero, we knew it was going to be something special and we were excited to be a part of it, ”said Hanzhi Tang, Digital Domain VFX Supervisor. “It has been incredibly rewarding to hear the reaction from critics and fans alike, and we are proud to have played a part.”
A fortress like no other
Digital Domain was approached early in production to help introduce audiences to one of the film’s most important locations – the Wenwu Compound. The sequence follows a helicopter over a remote and uninhabited wilderness, inaccessible to all but the most determined. But rather than mount a difficult and expensive expedition to film on location, the filmmakers asked Digital Domain to create the entire scene digitally, from ground to sky, as well as the fortress itself.
Working with the art department at Marvel Studios, Digital Domain began by using survey data from an uninhabited area of New Zealand, creating multiple iterations of the CG landscape using Maya and Houdini. The artists experimented with the precise look of the rock and vegetation, ultimately creating a complete forest. They then added environmental effects like haze and cloudy skies, using Redshift and GPU rendering to handle the massive amount of detail and allow for faster iterations. Digital Domain then added a helicopter that became the focal point of the scene, as well as the feeling of movement across the landscape.
The compound itself was created using a combination of CG and live footage on physical sets. After an aerial introduction created entirely using CG, we see the location through a series of plate maps and live. The artists initially received LiDAR scans of the yard, which included blue screens above the set. With the live action centered on the courtyard, the artists then added the rest of the compound, creating an appearance that reflected the expansion of the location over the centuries. With the scene taking place in 1996, the artists also added appropriate technology and equipment for this era.
After a leap into modern times, the film returns to Wenwu’s compound, finding it significantly altered, reflecting the character’s grief and anger. Using the original model, the artists at Digital Domain updated the look, giving it a militaristic and menacing feel. The complex has become more of a fortress than a home, with new defenses and weapons added digitally and dated components reflecting the removed ’90s. The film then returns to the precinct for the final shot, with the artists updating the location to reflect the changing circumstances, modernizing it for a new era, with modern artwork, telecom towers, and striking. many of the more aggressive features. previously added.
Escape the compound
Digital Domain also helped Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and his allies escape the complex. After being forced to return to his old home, Shang-Chi leads a group to a huge staging area filled with dozens of vehicles. After choosing to get away from it all in a BMW X3, the fun begins.
The escape from the compound sequence mixes practical and digital effects, starting with the BMW itself. To capture the performance of the characters inside the BMW, the roof of the SUV was removed and later replaced by the artists of Digital Domain. The BMW itself was also digitally recreated – featuring a pair of motorcycles and an armored personnel carrier (APC) – using LiDAR scans sent to artists from the set and CAD files from manufacturers. Digital Domain also added additional touches to the structure, including windows with server rooms and a power source in the distance.
During the violent chase, the stuntmen riding a pair of motorcycles were replaced with digital doubles, as well as CG models of the vehicles. The filmmakers were then able to show horsemen encountering a grizzly fate that would otherwise be too dangerous to achieve using practical effects. The chase then ends with the BMW narrowly escaping, while the APC crashes into a concrete door. For this, the filmmakers used a real vehicle and recorded it in a high-speed crash, with Digital Domain adding digital flourishes.
In total, Digital Domain made nearly 250 shots for the film. In addition to the exterior and the fortress escape, studio VFX also helped replace the 10 rings in several scenes to make them look smoother, added several costume replacements throughout the film, and made also replaced Razor Fist actor Florian Munteanu’s hand with a metal brace for his non-combat scenes.
“Working with Marvel Studios has allowed us to develop our creative muscles in ways we never imagined possible, and each new project allows us to try something new for big and small screens,” said John Fragomeni, Global President of Visual Effects at Digital Domain. “As they continue to push the boundaries of visual storytelling, it has helped us try new techniques and develop new technologies that have benefited everything from our episodes to our commercials to our digital humans and more. Again. “
Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings is the latest collaboration in a partnership between Marvel Studios and Digital Domain dating back over a decade. The studio’s next MCU work will be seen in Spider-Man: No Path Home and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings is now playing in theaters.