Building a nation is no small task, but that’s the responsibility that fell to Emmy-nominated Production Designer Hannah Beachler and her team for Black Panther. They weren’t just recreating a comic book country for Ryan Coogler‘s Marvel movie, nor were they using one particular location as a stand-in for the MCU’s version of Wakanda, they were bringing a hidden civilization, ancient culture, and never-before-seen technology to life in a truly original way.
During our set visit last year, we had a chance to learn how Wakanda came into being from Beachler herself. The nation pulls inspiration from all sorts of nations and cultures across Africa and from locations all over the world. Beachler went into great detail about her path of discovery for the look of Wakanda, Black Panther, and the movie’s various locations and people, many of which you can find in our “Things to Know” article. For even more, read our interview with Beachler below:
Where did you find inspiration in the African elements as far as the architecture and stuff like that and mixing it with the tech?
Beachler: I started poking around and looking at really modern architects who have designed in Africa, all over Africa, east and west Africa. And someone who I really fell in love with was Zaha Hadid, who has passed away, but she is one of the foremost architects. So I started looking at her. Her architecture is very voluptuous and very flowing, very organic. So I thought this would be good. And the more I started digging into Senegal and Nigeria and finding things, while not necessarily futuristic-looking, very modern in their sensibilities as far as the way they’re putting together their elements and the colors that they use. I was struck by that. So I took a lot of that in. And a lot of it does come from Nigeria. I think in Kenya, Uganda, Johannesburg was another one, where no matter where you go, you really do see that they’re always keeping in mind the tradition.
So a lot of traveling around. We would be up in Golden Gate, which is the border of Lesotho, and we’re looking at these mountains, and Ryan says to me, ‘That looks like a rondavel.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, it does.’ And we actually went to Blyde River Canyon, a place called Three Rondavels, where you see the rock that looks like these huts. We were really taken by the idea that, however many tens of thousands of years ago, people were looking at these, and thinking, ‘This is how we build. This is how we create our homes’ and finding that inspiration within nature.
So a lot of it came from that. But a lot of it did come from the architecture that’s currently there and beyond what anyone would really – think it’s a place sort of like Singapore, where you’re not really thinking it’s going to have more Chinook-type places, more sort of rondavel, and then you just get blown away by seeing these super modern places that you would never expect to be there, in the middle of what was almost nowhere. I can promise you there were several times when I was like, ‘I think I’m at least 100 miles away from any Starbucks. So I’m pretty sure we’re in the middle of nowhere.’
But you find these really great things. But then you would find this really sort of traditional, but you would see where it could be taken for the future. And that’s a lot of what we did. It was important for us to keep that tradition. Because we wanted to honor and have reverence for the continent. And bring it to the screen in a way that you haven’t seen before, as being a prosperous place.
I’m very intrigued by the circular design elements. We see it in the Throne Room, we see it in the City of the Dead, we see it in the Great Mound, even almost spiral there, and in the Wakanda Design Group. What does that circular element tell us about Wakanda?
Beachler: Nice eye. Well, you know, and—I did a lot of research into what the circular designs mean, as far as, you look at Stonehenge, you look at a lot of these old designs and they were actually based on the idea of bringing in plumbing, you know, not electric, but using water as a way to, um, create, sort of … an electricity if you will. Rome did it, they, you know—but it was all based on these circles. A lot of the cave drawings that you see in South Africa, the idea behind it was that, whatever was there before, if you ever watch Ancient Aliens, there was always a guy that was like, ‘It was aliens!” and it’s like, calm down, bring it down 1,000. We don’t know what it was. But, sort of the idea behind it was, there were always these circles and it has to do with vibration and sound, and a lot of the stuff that we’re doing is sonic and based on sound, and vibrations. Vibranium is about vibrations and soaking that vibration in. And we started with Hall of Kings with the circle because of that, and it was interesting at one point when I was doing Hall of Kings, I found one of the ancient structures in South Africa and you’ll have to excuse me, I do not remember the name right now. They’d done a plan view layout of it and I took it after we had done the lay out for Hall of Kings and set it literally right on top of our plan and it was identical. And that was one of those moments where I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! So this is kismet! I don’t know what’s happening.’
So then we starting bringing it in as a design language. And really a lot of the society is based on that: Vibration and sound as communication and sound as life, as well as water and air. So, bringing that in really was a part of creating—bringing that tradition—and creating its own tradition. And so, I kind of wrote around, I created this sort of text that I sort of wrote about, like, okay this is why we have so many round things. So you will see that, thank you for noticing. It worked! Thanks for noticing. Cause often times you don’t want people to notice your production design and you know you’ve done well when they don’t, but in this instance, please notice.