It’s fair to say that Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther has represented a cinematic and cultural shift in some ways. A blockbuster movie that, as Kyle Hodge wrote on these same pages, “is not just a celebration of black excellence, but a glimpse at an African nation that escaped colonization and is instead a rich, powerful, and advanced community.”
That country is Wakanda and its capital, Birnin Zana. While the responsibility for leading the design lay at the feet of production designer Hannah Beachler—who looked to the work of renowned Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the dimensions of Buckingham Palace, and the aesthetics of afro-futurism—the first visual steps towards realization was made by concept artist Till Nowak.
Nowak was the German artist first hired by Beachler for the film. In an exclusive interview with WeTransfer’s Rob Alderson, Nowak outlined how the film came together:
“Coogler and Beachler began their research with a trip to Africa, taking visual cues for the Panther world, Wakanda, which has been described as an Afrofuturist Eden. “They went to experience and absorb the culture and styles, from which we built the utopia of a hidden African country that had never been colonized,” Till explains. “It was very important to them to incorporate elements from all over Africa while also pushing it into a futuristic, yet undiscovered direction.”
The aim was to create something that felt African in its influences, without seeming strained through the white gaze which relies so often on stereotypes and cliches. Concept artists like Till are some of the first specialists brought on board, often up to two years before the cameras start rolling. Their work is intense and immersive.
“We were taking the first steps into Wakanda,” he says. “The production designer has already developed an overall vision for the look of the film, based on the script, that we start turning into visuals bit by bit,” Till explains. “We generate illustration after illustration, every day, hundreds of them over several months, to design every set, every world, every city, every planet, every building and every room the film plays in.
“At the start there is a lot of freedom, but the closer we get to shooting, the more the focus gets directed to the physical stage builds.””
Read the full interview between Nowak and Alderson over on WeTransfer’s magazine, WePresent.
- Concept art: Till Nowak, courtesy of WeTransfer