Working directly with visual effects vendors during pre-production and communicating constantly with those houses as well as the film’s three editors during the entire production through postvis, were key to helping director Ryan Coogler get his ‘Black Panther’ sequel to the screen.
As digital augmentation has become a prominent part of the filmmaking language, especially in the era of superheroes, it has become even more important to have a communication link between editorial and visual effects departments. Originally an assistant editor on reality television series like Real Estate Wars and Iron Resurrection, Anedra Edwards made the transition to visual effects editor on Black Lightning, which subsequently led to work on WandaVision and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Along the way she has become a trailer blazer, as women of color only make up 5.1% of all VFX editors, as reported in joint study titled “Invisible in Visual Effects” conducted by Women in Animation and USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
“You want to be good at your job, but I also want people to acknowledge that I bring a unique perspective when it comes to storytelling,” notes Edwards. “I’m bringing all of myself and part of that is me being an African American woman. I don’t want that to be denied. However, at the same time, when you’re hiring me, I do want you to hire me because I’m qualified for the position.” Her career path has been combination of aspiration and discovery. “It was my experience in news [at NBC in Washington, D.C.] that gave me a taste of editing and told me that editing was going to be my role. Visual effects editing became an opportunity when I moved to Los Angeles from Washington, D.C. That’s where I got to interact more with visual effects companies and with studios hiring visual effects editors. I saw that my skillset was tailored to being in that field and it has become a specific niche that is really growing.”
Critical in making the editorial turnover process seamless for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever was having visual effects vendors involved during pre-production. “Wētā FX sent their animation early, especially because they were going to be creating large parts of the underwater that were going to be CG,” explains Edwards. “They had already anticipated some of the turnover for shots. We had other vendors like ILM and Digital Domain who did a lot of our previs. A lot of that was done with Maya.” The story continued to evolve over the course of production. Notes Edwards, “The script and edit are changing. After we’re getting out of editor’s assembly we start to get into the director’s cut. You have some hefty things pushing and changing around. The turnover process is continuous in feature film in a way that wasn’t necessarily the same with episodic.”
Temp compositing was done for some of the shots. “We had postvis that was provided by Digital Domain,” Edwards shares. “They’ll work on something that would be a fully CG shots versus I may work on something that has plate photography and comping things into the background. I mainly work in Avid Media Composer so there is a seamless transition with our picture editorial team because they’re cutting in Avid. I may use some additional plug-ins like Mocha for my roto work and sometimes dive into Photoshop to adjust things. A lot of the times we had models provided to us by one of the vendors if I needed animation of something such as Nakia in her suit.” Turntables of characters are useful in determining which type of background plate would be appropriate. “I’ll have those options while I’m compositing but also, I will see the scenes a bit earlier before we’re going to send them off to Digital Domain or whatever vendor. Temp compositing helps to fill in gaps while the edit is changing”
A trio of editors worked on Black Panther: Wakanda Forever including Jennifer Lame, Kelley Dixon and long time Ryan Coogler collaborator Michael Shawver. “It was awesome how they broke up how the workload would go,” Edwards says. “Michael Shawver has worked with Ryan Coogler for so long. I was in Atlanta for filming and Michael went down there with us. It as great to have him to lean on especially with it being my first time working with Ryan. Michael was great with some of the aerial stuff we were filming at the time. I could go ahead and put that in and start playing around with what goes where. He was comfortable with the suggestions that I would bring. I would cut it into scene and send it to him. Michael was very collaborative especially working with some of the previs animation. He was cool if I cut a couple of things together and consider those options. My voice might be used for some temp ADR to help sell it a little bit. Jennifer was in Los Angeles for a large part, so we communicated between Atlanta and Los Angeles. She worked off the temp compositing that I would provide her and was awesome about us having been in Atlanta and knowing where some of that footage was. Kelley Dixon came on to help with the closing stretch and tackled some awesome things for us that needed a different perspective.”
Looming over the production was Chadwick Boseman succumbing to cancer. “It was a challenge to have a leading actor who passes away before you start filming,” notes Edwards. “I believe the story honors the legacy of what Chadwick Boseman did for the franchise.”
In describing how two frames can make or break the intended emotional impact of a shot, Edwards says, “Sometimes it gets down to the wire and we’re telling visual effects houses that you can takeoff some of the handle so that we can get a better shot because you have less frames to work with. Towards the end of the schedule that became the case for some shots so they can have that better ‘bake time.’”
Regarding the large visual effects team assembled by Marvel Studios, the VFX editor notes, “We have a lot of visual effects coordinators so I’m on all the communications that go to the visual effects houses; that means as visual effects editors we always know what is happening and coming down the pipe. It is helpful to have visual effects coordinators so that they can send things off as I’m finishing. Our visual effects supervisors were driving the notes. [Marvel Studios VFX Supervisor] Geoffrey Baumann was great. If I saw anything I could add them to those notes. I also had a lead visual effects editor Kevin Jolly who was great to work with as well.”
Working on the third act battle between the Wakandans and Talokans in the Atlantic Ocean was a major challenge. “It took awhile from a story standpoint for what those shots could be and that comes from the powers above me as to what’s going to look like and which vendor is going to do what,” remarks Edwards. “It wasn’t always easy getting the hang of constantly working in that third act while also paying attention to some of the other acts going on that also still need those eyes. Keeping a balance was a challenge.” Adding to the complexity of the climactic showdown was having a mixture of CG and plate photography. “There are a lot of characters fighting in the background that are CG,” Edwards says. “The film was also shot in IMAX, so we got a lot of IMAX original plate photography involved in that. We did extensive retiming within that scene. There are a lot of things slowed down and sped up. Even with my temp compositing, making sure I’m communicating where we need the retime for the visual effects houses required heavy communication to make sure that matched. Those were some of the hardest shots.”
The production ended up producing more postvis than there were final shots. “Our postvis vendor, Digital Domain, was down in Atlanta with us and in our offices at Walt Disney Studios,” she Edwards. “Having that connection was imperative to get some of the shots out of the door because it has to be quick.” Emphasizing communication is a key part of the job, she adds, “Visual effects editors are a little bit grey in the sense that we represent two departments. So sometimes we are taking fire to make sure that the original plate photography is going across all parts of the pipeline that need it. Maintaining that line of communication can be tough. If something falls through the cracks, it’s about how you adjust to the situation and try to make sure that you keep everybody on track. There are a lot of cooks in the kitchen for big, hefty films and TV shows for visual effects. The advice that I’ve always been given from editorial is to follow your intuition.”