Describing lighting as “a character in the movie,” DP Autumn Durald Arkapaw said her approach to Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was about creating a “texture of grief throughout the film.”
She spoke about her work on the Marvel sequel – which takes place following the death of King T’Challa and additionally provides a moving remembrance of actor Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa in 2018’s Black Panther – at a screening of the film at the EnergaCamerimage cinematography film festival in Torun, Poland.
“As far as aesthetic choices for this, because of the importance for [Coogler] of grief, rebirth, migration, and all of this stuff that is so textural and delicate, we decided to de-tune and modify some T-series lenses,” she explained. “And then we used a wider lens for close-ups,” she says of her Panavision lens choices.
“And then with lighting, I tend to light moodier, and it was embraced here, and Ryan’s very specific in what he wants out of a scene and how he captures the scene and where the cameras should be. For me, light shouldn’t fall everywhere. A character should be coming in and out of light, like it happens in real life,” Durald Arkapaw continued. “And there’s so much texture and drama to a face and if you just don’t shape it, then you don’t feel that emotion. So I think it was just very important for this story.”
She added that they drew inspiration from films including Alien and Terminator 2: Judgment Day – Movies that she described as having VFX with a naturalistic look. “They told you a lot in the darkness just as much as the light.”
The underwater scenes involved a lot of testing to get the desired look. “It was very important to Ryan to have a deep space movie underwater. Things are dark,” the cinematographer said. “It creates more tension, they’re textural, there’s a lot of turbidity, the clarity’s off. When you make a decision like that, that’s brave, everyone has to be on the same page. So we shot everything underwater that we could so we had a reference, and we also shot it dry-for-wet and they took both of those and were able to make something that was very beautiful and felt real – as real as it could with people walking and talking underwater. That was very important to Ryan from the beginning.”
Durald Arkapaw also spoke of her director and the seriousness with which she took it Wakanda Forever. This was her first collaboration with Coogler, though her second with Marvel (she was Emmy-nominated earlier this year for the Disney+ series Loki). Citing the lengthy production schedule, she said, “We were shooting around 130 days, not originally scheduled like that. … You have to want to shoot this type of movie for your director and the people around you. And [Coogler’s] someone that I would do that for in a heartbeat. And he’s a great leader.
“This film is so important culturally and to so many people and it’s not just another action film,” she added. “So you always have that in mind too. You’re paying homage to an individual but also a character that was beloved. And every person and head of department that came before me worked very hard on the first one. And so, game on, on the second one to do it justice. Also everyone loved [Boseman] on set as well, so you’re always reminded of that. So [this job] was very important for me.”
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