Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings introduces the audience to the historical context before moving on to the present. In one of the flashback sequences, the villainous Wenwu (Shang-Chi’s father) is seen as he sets his sights on his next target, the mystical land of Ta Lo, when he encounters the beautiful Li, who guards the entrance to the village.
The two engage in an elegant, poetic, ballet-like martial arts battle amidst a peaceful CG bamboo forest built by Scanline VFX. The studio also created the sequence involving a chase through the forest when Shang-Chi escapes from his father’s compound later in the film during an attempt to reach the Hidden Moon Gate that lies behind. opens on Ta Lo. Scanline delivered 201 shots on these two sequences.
During the “love fight” between Wenwu and Li, the audience discovers how the two first met and learn about their respective ring and qi superpowers, involving the life force of any living entity. Scanline’s work required combining full CG shots with plate integration and digital set extensions for the bamboo forest, as well as complex paint and roto-rig removal. The studio has also created various superpower-driven sims, as well as secondary sims to swirl dust and leaves — extensions of Li’s moves — as the fight unfolds. There were also bamboo shards and ring power breaks.
Jessica Harris of Scanline, digital effects supervisor, notes that all of the CGs they added had to look natural, even if they moved unnaturally.
The set contained a basin of water, large kapok trees and a layer of bamboo. For building the environment, the artists had three main layers of forest – a foreground layer aligned with the edge of the set, a middle layer, and a background layer. This was augmented with hero trees and plants inside the set, in addition to the bamboos, to make the glade look like the center of a vast, dense forest.
“Our artists did a fantastic job of making this magical environment feel grounded in the real world. They managed to achieve a very organic look even though the movement of leaves, trees and dust was driven by a mystical force” , says Harris.
Scanline’s second sequence involved the drive through the bamboo forest to Moon Gate, as Shang-Chi and his friends flee the Wenwu compound and attempt to warn the people of Ta Lo of the planned attack. In the scenes, they walk through what becomes a maze of bamboo as the forest comes to life and closes in around them in an attempt to devour the vehicle. For this, the entire environment had to be replaced with a CG bamboo forest and ground cover, as only the vehicle and actors were used from the plate. The artists also built a CG car, which was sometimes used or mixed in with a practical vehicle on set.
From a technical point of view, the size of the environment and the number of elements required were quite difficult. “Binding them together and having them interact in a cohesive way that tells the story was very complicated,” says Micah Gallagher, Scanline’s compositing supervisor. “Creatively, we had to make the forest act almost like a character. There had to be a motive and reactions to the characters in order to create the tension that makes the sequence feel like life or death.