After a shaky start, the DC Extended Universe has found its footing over the past few years. Warner Bros. has shifted from crossover-heavy blockbusters to director-driven movies. The most recent release was Cathy Yan's Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which was a deep dive into the title character's psyche. A slew of new characters were introduced, including Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Black Canary. And it turns out that a ton of work went into bringing her Canary Cry to life on screen.
Comic book fans know that the DC hero Black Canary is a metahuman known for her devastating Canary Cry. But Birds of Prey doesn't see her truly use the power until the film's third act, as Black Mask's forces stole Cassanda Cain away. VFX producer Thrain Shadbolt helped to make the movie's effects into a reality, and recently spoke to the methodical approach to showing off Canary's power. As he put it,
We had to do some creative exploration here. The essential challenge was how to visualise a superpower that is defined as shockwaves of sound, in an original way. There was prior art in the comics as to how the Canary Cry looks, as well as in the Birds of Prey and Arrow TV series. So we took a look at these, along with other interesting references from the real world, like various shockwaves and explosions. We wanted to find an effect that looked like it could be a plausible physical event, and not something too magical. In our initial tests we tried a number of different styles for the ‘Cry’, from smoky and dusty, through glassy and refractive, to more electric. Eventually Greg [Steele, VFX Supervisor] and Cathy [Yan] settled on a subtle combination of these various aspects.
Nobody said that adapting comic books for the big screen was an easy task. There's a particular challenge in making the costumes and superpowers realistic through a mixture of visual and practical effects. Black Canary's powers were no exception, with the crew of Birds of Prey trying out a slew of variations before landing on the one that made it into the theatrical cut.
Thrain Shadbol's comments to Art of VFX help to show just how much work went into the creation of Birds of Prey. The movie had its own unique visual language thanks to Cathy Yan's vision. Shadbol and company had to make sure that Canary's power appeared realistic, while also fitting in with the visuals of the R-rated blockbuster.
In order to make this happen a few different designs for the visuals were used. Additionally, practical effects on the set of Birds of Prey helped make the sequence more realistic. Black Canary's powers weren't magical, but seemed to have actual physics behind it. As a reminder, you can check out the scene in question below.
The sequence was a huge payoff for comic book fans, who patiently waited for Black Canary to unleash her abilities. Said powers were only briefly teased in Birds of Prey's first act, where she was able to break glass during a performance at Black Mask's club. And that was one of the lighter scenes to take place in said bar.
I'm eager to see if Birds of Prey ends up with a sequel now that the team of crimefighters was actually formed. Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and Huntress became said Birds in the movie's epilogue, while Harley and Cassandra Cain went into business for themselves. Only time will tell if Warner Bros. decides to make either Birds of Prey 2 or Gotham City Sirens in the future.