Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom – Worldbuilding and Visual Storytelling at its Zenith

“In all the movies I make, no matter the genre, it always comes back to the human aspect of the characters,” says writer-director James Wan. Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is “an action-adventure with two brothers, Arthur and Orm, overcoming their differences to save the world.”

Directed by Wan, the screenplay for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, from a story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Jason Momoa & Thomas Pa’a Sibbett.

“Atlantis is even bigger, brighter, more colorful, more vibrant this time,” says Wan. “However, Arthur and Orm are on a quest that will take them to an entirely new place: The Lost Kingdom. Antarctica felt like an inspiring landscape that is familiar, but it’s also a place most of us have not visited, and that would allow me to explore a heightened version of it. I was excited to create this kingdom, which is a completely new visual element in this film, along with other new worlds. And I have to say, it wouldn’t be one of my films without some of my signature creations, so there are new, dark creatures for audiences to enjoy.”

“But at the center of it all is Arthur/Aquaman, along with all of the signature charm and humor Jason infuses into this hero. And even though Aquaman sits on the throne, responsible for all of Atlantis, he is still a man, working to align his two roles—father and king—into this bold and expansive new world.”

Patrick Wilson and Director/Producer/Writer James Wan on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC.  Photo Credit: Christian Black / ™ & © DC Comics

“One of the things I love about the DC movies is that each of them is suited to the property on which it is based. With Aquaman, it is epic and operatic in scope and scale. It is good-versus-evil with enormous stakes: the very survival of the world is at risk,” says Producer Peter Safran. “James Wan has an incredible ability to capture the colors and the fantasy that exists in these never-before-seen worlds. We wanted to take the audience on a travelogue of these astounding new environments above and below the surface. And I think they are going to be thrilled when they see how different this film looks and feels, while still anchored in all the things they loved from the first movie, dialed up in a way that feels fresh and new.”

“James embraced the retro sci-fi look of the Silver Age comics—what, in the ‘50s, they thought the future would look like, we’ve taken and given a modern spin and twist. You see this in the ancient Atlantean technology, in the uniforms and weaponry of Manta’s crew, his colossal sub, the one-man Octobots… James leans into the look and again, shows us something we’ve never seen. It’s evocative of a certain age, but wholly modern as well. By embracing the mythic nature of Aquaman’s quest and combining it with these stunning visuals, James gives us something uniquely compelling—it is worldbuilding and visual storytelling at its zenith. And at the heart of it, we have a superhero that is both human and superhuman, engaging in an epic battle with the highest stakes imaginable.”

“We were incredibly lucky on “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” being able to continue the story we began in a film that the world embraced. And on the page, we had a super-sized project, pulling out all the stops, making everything as big as we could, charting a journey as varying and different as possible through multiple worlds we were visiting for the first time” says Producer Rob Cowan. “This film is something you need to experience inside a big theater with a huge screen… because there’s just so much to look at. And I think audiences are going to be taken with the color of the movie, its scope, and the journey we’re going to take them on.”

Jason Momoa as Aquaman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC /  
 Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures/ ™ & © DC Comics

Read more about AQUAMAN

Having failed to defeat Aquaman the first time, Black Manta, still driven by the need to avenge his father’s death, will stop at nothing to take Aquaman down once and for all. This time Black Manta is more formidable than ever before, wielding the power of the mythic Black Trident, which unleashes an ancient and malevolent force. To defeat him, Aquaman will turn to his imprisoned brother Orm, the former King of Atlantis, to forge an unlikely alliance. Together, they must set aside their differences to protect their kingdom and save Aquaman’s family, and the world, from irreversible destruction. All returning to the roles they originated, Jason Momoa plays Arthur Curry/Aquaman, now balancing his duties as both the King of Atlantis and a new father; Patrick Wilson is Orm, Aquaman’s half-brother and his nemesis, who must now step into a new role as his brother’s reluctant ally; Yahya Abdul-Mateen II is Black Manta, committed more than ever to avenge his father’s death by destroying Aquaman, his family, and Atlantis.

From Page To Screen

For the super-sized sequel, filmmakers were committed to a more expansive and immersive experience, delivering wholly new and exciting visuals—the mantra was to provide new environments above and below the water, while anchoring them to the realms in the iconic first film.

For shooting underwater sequences in the original film, filmmakers relied upon bluescreen stages and harnessed actors held aloft by “tuning fork” framing. Though the final results proved impressive, the method was uncomfortable for the cast and limited Wan’s camera position and moves.

Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC

For the sequel, the VFX team used a whole new approach to liberate both the cast and the camera. Utilizing Eyeline Studio—brand-new, groundbreaking technology—Wan and his team were able to create a 360-degree aquatic world. The Eyeline Studio utilizes a specially-created circular booth with 136 cameras in fixed positions—from foot level to above the head—encircling the actor. The actor performs in the center of the booth in full costume, wearing a headband of sensors that will enable the creation of their hair flowing underwater by VFX. The booth is just large enough to bring in a mechanical horse, to capture the cast riding various VFX sea creatures.

Inside the booth, the actor can see a 360-degree plasma wall displaying the visuals for the scene. Outside the booth, fellow cast members perform to cameras that capture their facial performance and superimpose them on their corresponding avatars on the plasma screens inside the booth.

The new method allowed the actors to be free in their movements and to react to each other’s performances—it also allowed Wan complete freedom of camera position during the VFX post-production process.

The footage captured from the Eyeline sessions was then combined with scenes filmed on bluescreen and painstakingly knitted together with VFX-created avatars, sets, and sea creatures. The final result? Atlanna and Mera sit astride sharks and Arthur is saddled on his giant seahorse, Storm, all while battling Black Manta in the heart of Atlantis, through areas never seen onscreen before: the bustling residential quarter, the “Times Square” of Atlantis and down into the depths of the city’s ancient storage.

Patrick Wilson as Orm in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC.
Photo Credit: Courtesy Warner Bros Pictures/ ™ & © DC Comics

Another discovery from the ancient kingdom, Octobots—personal amphibious vehicles with octopus-like metal arms—occupy pride of place in Manta’s arsenal. From a design aspect, these vehicles are one of the strongest embodiments of Wan and team’s neo-steampunk aesthetic of the artifacts from the Lost Kingdom.

It took 12 SFX crew members four months to construct all three Octobots. Each Octobot consists of 45 molded parts with an internal metal frame. (One Octobot had a fully working interior; the second Octobot was for water sequences and had a partly soft interior for stunts; and the third Octobot had only a dressed exterior for background shots.)

The Octobots were moved on six-axis motion bases (which allows for motion along fore-and-aft, lateral and vertical axes, as well as the three rotational axes—roll, pitch and yaw). First AD Lee Grummet instructed Abdul-Mateen, Park, Jani Zhao and Dolph Lundgren, who returns as King Nereus, for their Octobot adventures, with cast describing the jolting movement of the rigs akin to a fairground ride, and which made for challenging (and enjoyable) filming.

For Manta’s massive underwater ship, Wan was inspired by DC’s Silver Age of Comics, as well as the sci-fi films of the same 1956–1970 period. Wan particularly referenced the Italian sci-fi horror film “Planet of the Vampires” for Black Manta’s enormous ship and the uniforms of his mercenary crew. The giant submarine’s exterior resembles a stingray or hammerhead shark—a sleek vessel, akin to an underwater spaceship, it can easily disappear in the ocean despite its size.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.  Copyright: © 2023 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.  TM & © DC.  Photo Credit: Christian Black / ™ & © DC Comics

JAMES WAN (Director / Producer / Story by) is regarded as one of the most creative filmmakers working today. Breaking into the international film world as co-creator of “Saw” and having recently directed his sequel to the smash hit “Aquaman,” Wan is a visionary with a dynamic career directing both studio and independent films in genres including horror, superhero, action, thriller, adventure, mystery and fantasy. He is a world-builder pioneering no fewer than five franchises – “Aquaman,” “The Conjuring,” “Insidious,” “Saw” and “Mortal Kombat” – and “M3GAN,” the sci-fi horror/thriller that became an instant global hit and began the “M3GAN” universe, all of which captured the zeitgeist of the moment around the world. Wan is also in an elite group of directors with two films that have earned over $1 billion dollars at the worldwide box office – “Furious 7” (the first Universal Studios film to hit $1 billion) and “Aquaman.”

Wan launched his own production company, Atomic Monster, in 2015, to produce both film and television/streaming projects. To date it has released more than 10 films and five series working with companies including Warner Bros. Pictures, Universal, Netflix, Amazon, CBS, Sony TV, WBTV, 21 Laps, Gaumont and Blumhouse.

As a director, Wan’s next film is the DC Super Hero film “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” It is the sequel to the box office smash “Aquaman” (2018), DC’s highest worldwide grossing film of all time. 

Wan’s “Malignant,” an original horror/thriller that allowed him to go back to his indie filmmaking roots, was released by Warner Bros. Pictures in 2021. Wan directed, produced and had a story by credit on the film.

In “The Conjuring” Universe, Wan directed the first two films in the franchise about the famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. Warner Bros. Pictures released the first in 2013 and the sequel in 2016. He also served as co-writer and producer on “The Conjuring 2.” To date, the global box office for the entire “Conjuring” Universe is over $2 billion dollars and is the most financially successful horror franchise ever.

Wan directed Universal Pictures’ critically acclaimed “Furious 7,” which was released in 2015 and was #1 at the US box office for 4 weeks – currently #11 of all-time at the worldwide box office.

Co-creator of the popular “Insidious” franchise, Wan directed FilmDistrict’s “Insidious” (2010) and “Insidious: Chapter 2” (2013). He also had a story by credit on “Insidious: Chapter 2.” Wan served as producer on “Insidious: Chapter 3” (2015), “Insidious: The Last Key” (2018) and most recently “Insidious: The Red Door,” directed by Patrick Wilson, which was released on July 7, 2023.

For his first feature, Wan was the co-creator and director of “Saw,” (2004) which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. He also has served as executive producer for the entire “Saw” franchise.

As producer, Wan’s film credits include “Annabelle” (2015), “Lights Out” (2016), “Annabelle: Creation” (2017), “The Nun” (2018), “The Curse of La Llorona” (2019), “Annabelle Comes Home” (2019), “Mortal Kombat” (2021), “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” (2021), “Malignant” (2021), “There’s Someone Inside Your House” (2021), “M3GAN” (2023), on which he also has a story by credit, and most recently, “The Nun II” (2023).

In television, Atomic Monster executive produced several series across genres, including “MacGyver” (2016), “Swamp Thing” (2019), “Aquaman: King of Atlantis” (2021), “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (2021), “Archive 81” (2022) and “Samurai Rabbit: The Usagi Chronicles.” Up next, Wan will executive produce the ”Untitled Ian McCulloch Project” for Peacock, which the streamer recently picked up for a full series order.

Upcoming films for Wan as producer are Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” for New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Picture’s “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” and New Line’s “Mortal Kombat,” also for Warner Bros.

Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, Wan is the recipient of the Australians in Film 2016 Fox Studios Australia International Award and a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

DAVID LESLIE JOHNSON-MCGOLDRICK (Screenplay by / Story by) began his career in film as a production assistant on Frank Darabont’s “The Shawshank Redemption.” He spent the next five years as Darabont’s personal assistant, using the opportunity to hone his craft as a screenwriter. His first produced credit was the 2009 thriller “Orphan” for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way. He later wrote “Red Riding Hood” (2011) and “Wrath of the Titans” (2012), the latter with collaborators Greg Berlanti and Dan Mazeau. In 2013, he reunited with mentor Frank Darabont to write two episodes of TNT’s noir crime drama miniseries, “Mob City” (2013). He has also written 14 episodes of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and teamed with director James Wan on “The Conjuring 2” (2016), “Aquaman” (2018) and “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Most recently, he wrote “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” produced the Megan Fox thriller “Till Death,” and co-wrote the story for and served as executive producer on the prequel, “Orphan: First Kill.”

THOMAS PA’A SIBBETT (Story by) is a writer and producer who debuted as the screen and story writer on 2018’s “Braven,” starring Jason Momoa as a logger who defends his family from a group of dangerous drug runners. Sibbett partnered with Momoa on the story for 2022’s “The Last Manhunt,” based on trued events in the early 1900s American Wild West, which Sibbett scripted.

Upcoming for Sibbett is the Apple TV+ limited series “Chief of War,” a thrilling, unprecedented telling of the unification of the Hawaiian Islands from an Indigenous perspective, in which a Hawaiian war chief joins a bloody campaign to unite the warring islands to save them from the threat of colonization. Momoa and Sibbett created and wrote the series.