As the first of its kind, the Hollywood pros behind the film had to combine centuries of African tradition and their own universe-bending creativity to bring this story alive. For director Ryan Coogler, makeup designer Joel Harlow, who worked on the sets of Star Trek Beyond, the Pirates of the Caribbean series, Green Lantern and Alice Through the Looking Glass, was a clear choice.
For the Oakland, CA-born director, Joel and their expansive teams, research and innovation were consistent themes throughout the creation and production of the film.
"Wakanda is the most technologically advanced region on the planet," he continued. "We wanted to extrapolate from traditional, tribal looks."
To sum it up, he said, "It was a technological representation of traditional African looks."
The crew created five distinct looks—one for each fictional tribe—as well as intensive details that are key to the stories of the main characters.
Check out the mind-blowing beauty practices that went into the film below!
In order to achieve the marks seen on Erik "Killmonger" Stevens' (a.k.a. N'Jadaka) chest, the makeup crew made each hashmark individually, starting months prior to filming.
Joel revealed, "It started with a body cast. We plotted out all of those hashmark scars on with a pencil and then take sheets of saran wrap and trace them onto those sheets and then transfer that onto a flat board, where we sculpted hundreds and hundreds of hash marks."
Once the silicon molds of the scars were complete, the team filled each one with a thickened glue substance. It took two to four days for it to dry in the mold, making scar creation a carefully thought out practice.
"She is the General of the Dora Milaje, so her tattoo was designed to look like a fighter pilot helmet," he recalled of Danai Gurira's costume.
Initially, it appears as though the tattoo was drawn on—a simple on-set practice. But, the pro revealed that its creation was challenging and time-consuming.
Going back to the movie's mantra of staying grounded within African tradition, "We wanted to take traditional tattoos and amplify them so they looked more modern," the makeup designer shared. "We played around with a variety of materials so that we could get them iridescent looking, so when the sun hit them they'd shimmer and glow, unlike a traditional tattoo."
On the set of Star Trek Beyond, Joel discovered just the product that would help him achieve the iridescence, but he would governmental permission to make it happen.
Yet, in Joel's innovation-first mindset, it was necessary.
"We wanted to show that this is a civilization that's far in advance of anything we've seen before," he finished.
The facial jewelry had to be one of the most mind-blowing details of the film. The thought of having such a wide plate placed into your lip would make anyone unexposed to the tradition cringe, even just a little. But, as such a beautiful tradition, Ryan wanted to include it.
"We borrowed heavily from the Mursi tribe of Africa for that look," the designer, with enough background to be a historian in his own right, said. "In their culture, they typically remove their bottom teeth so that the lip plate can fit in their mouth. Then, their lower lip is pierced and stretched around the lip plate."
To achieve the look, but ensure that it was temporary for actors, Joel's crew created their own way of doing it.