Wait, That Shang-Chi Dragon Used Practical Effects As Well? 

Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings features two CGI dragons, known as the Great Protector and the Dweller-In-Darkness, duking it out in an epic final battle. Simu-Liu’s Shang-Chi and Awkwafina’s Katy ride around on the Great Protector in a sequence that looks so damn fun it puts the dragon-riding in Game Of Thrones to shame. Well, as it turns out, the two actors were actually able to ride on a life-size, moving dragon prop to shoot those scenes. And I am beyond jealous. 

I recently spoke with the Shang-Chi visual effects team and SFX Supervisor Dan Oliver said this about creating the physical beast:

So my department helped with the dragon ride by creating a moving piece of dragon. So we took the work done by Shawn's team and we made a scaled piece of dragon, like the Dragon Head and a piece of the dragon's back. That piece of dragon was on a six-axis gimbal so we could make that dragon head move and sway and go up and down and basically fly through the air. So we put some wind on them and some water spray and it’s like we’re basically there.

Why isn’t this a ride at Disney Parks?! Web Slingers at California Adventure is fun and all, but honestly, I’d take the full-size moving water dragon. Simu Liu himself told us about the one prop he wanted to take from the set, and shockingly, it wasn't the dragon ride. Maybe it’ll end up at a Planet Hollywood and guests can take it for a spin while having a beer, you know, in Liu (pun intended) of a mechanical bull. But I’m getting way off-topic. 

Constructing a CGI dragon along with a physical ride is extra challenging due to the fact that it was unlike anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe had done before. Over the course of 13 years, we’ve seen a lot of fantastical nonsense in the franchise, but never a dragon. As WETA Digital VFX Supervisor Sean Walker explained:

Having a dragon, certainly without wings for the first time was a new challenge for us as well. So there were a couple of challenges there. We started out by developing the dragon itself before we even got to shooting, so we were able to present the on-set team with a buck or a model that they could use as a buck. So the actors have something to interact with that matched our digital model. And yeah, from there we just tried to as much as possible ground the action and the camera work in reality.

It all paid off. The VFX work in the film was amazing, so much so that they were just nominated for an Academy Award. You can check out the rest of the nominees here. If you dug Shang-Chi as much as I did, you’re in luck, as there’s a sequel on the way. It’s little surprise given the box office performance, but that wasn’t the only reason Marvel wants more. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige explained that they’re excited to see what else director Destin Daniel Cretton is capable of, given that he’s chalked full of ideas. We recently did an interview with Destin if you want to take a glimpse into his mind. 

As for when you can expect Marvel’s upcoming slate of flicks, we’ve got this handy list. There’s no release date for Shang-Chi 2 as of yet, and it’ll likely be a while, as even Simu Liu is being kept in the dark. As more information comes to light, we will certainly keep you updated!

Jeff McCobb
Senior Video Producer

Jeff is a film buff who is full of gratitude that he gets to spout opinions about them for a living. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he spends his time complaining about Los Angeles.