In the third act of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, we find the people of Ta Lo preparing for villain Wenwu’s attack to “free” Li, his dead wife (Shang-Chi's mother). Wenwu arrives, and a large-scale epic battle ensues, fought on three fronts: the Ten Rings against the Ta Lo villagers; Wenwu against Shang-Chi; and the Great Protector dragon against the Dweller-in-Darkness beast.
For the most part, RSP constructed the village and jungle of Ta Lo, and on the opposite side of the lake, Weta took over, creating the so-called Mountain of Souls, with the two facilities sharing assets to construct one big, combined environment, according to Weta’s Sean Walker, VFX supervisor. However, the third act, for all intents and purposes, belongs to Weta, which generated 305 VFX shots, including the dragon and beast (along with its demon army), digital environments, ring effects, and more.
The battle between father and son occurs on the Mountain of Souls against a giant red gate, the Dragonscale Gate, behind which the Dweller-in-Darkness and smaller demons are contained. Most of that fight was shot on bluescreen stages with Weta’s virtual world surrounding them, along with atmospherics and plenty of ring effects.
For the father-son battle, Weta built the CG environment, while filmmakers constructed a partial fragmented set for that environment as well. Preferring the digital environment, the filmmakers eventually bluescreened the set, but not before a large amount of shooting had been done, leaving Weta to roto out the actors throughout the entire sequence and completely replace the plate environment with the CG one. “We had to make sure we replaced the entire environment seamlessly. There’s nothing on that side [of the lake] that is real other than the actors,” says Walker.
Since this was such an important fight, there was a lot of stunt choreography — and digi-head replacements — and a lot of editing. “We had to make sure we were keeping up with the edit. We did a continuity pass to make sure we were always shooting in the right direction and that the action was happening in a continuous manner, even when they cut chunks out of it,” says Walker.
Of the more impressive work, according to Christopher Townsend, production visual effects supervisor, were the exterior CG water environments that Weta created, starting when Shang-Chi is gut-punched and is propelled into the lake, where he is rescued by the Great Protector dragon. More underwater scenes follow during the Protector versus Dweller fight.
“We’re constantly developing and refining our water technology, and we have a new tool called Loki that we use to simulate extremely realistic-looking motion and bubbles, which we use a lot for our underwater environments,” notes Walker. However, the tool produces simulations that are too realistic, so instead the artists used Houdini to simulate giant spirals, which are more of an unnatural motion for water. “In the end, we had to treat it more like a character because of the way it moved and reacted, and had to make sure it could do all the things that essentially a character could do — for instance, hold down the beast — and then we used all our current rendering technology to make it look like water,” he adds.
Additionally, Weta generated VFX associated with the ring, which Walker called “deceivingly difficult.” “They’re simple, they don’t deform or anything like that, but we had to do some development to get the motion of the rings, the character of the rings, especially since the rings react so differently for each character,” he explains. The rings are blue on Wenwu, who uses them in a more angry, violent way, more as a weapon, creating whips out of them, discs of destruction, and projectiles, for instance. Whereas with Shang-Chi, the rings are gold and are more an extension of his body — graceful — and he uses them to accentuate his own motion, to block, for instance.
Eventually Wenwu manages to release the Dweller and its demon horde, and a full-fledged attack ensues. The destruction was extensive as the beast breaks free from the gate. The Third Floor previs’d most of the fight, but as the edit continued to change, at a certain point Weta began handling the postvis itself. “While they were cutting things, we had a constant continuity pass going. Our layout team would constantly make sure that the dragon and the beast were in the sky in the right position all the time. So, if a big chunk of the fight was cut out in the middle o[f the take], we had to align all the story beats,” explains Walker.