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A Marvel concept artist reveals the inspirations behind the Avengers' costumes
When artist Andy Park joined Marvel Studios 10 years ago, Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man had yet to meet on the blockbuster Marvel's The Avengers. First hired by Marvel Visual Development co-founders Charlie Wen and Ryan Meinerding in 2010, one of Park's first jobs was to design concepts for the first iteration of Marvel's mightiest superhero team. Now, the Director of Visual Development for Marvel Studios, Park has led the department of artists in producing concept art for several films since 2015, the latest being Captain Marvel.
With almost 25 years drawing comic book characters, Park has had lots of practice. After getting his initial start at the Image Comics offshoot Extreme Studios — Park actually landed an internship after showing his portfolio to Rob Liefeld at San Diego Comic-Con in 1995 — he dropped out of UCLA to follow his dream. Park spent the next 10 years honing his craft drawing IP like the X-Men and Tomb Raider.
When Park was hired on at Marvel as a concept artist, he was quickly put to work designing characters and keyframe illustrations for The Avengers, Iron Man Three, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and many more. After leading the team as Visual Development Supervisor through the MCU Phase 3 movies, he is currently working on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
This week, Park spoke about his decade-long tenure at Marvel Studios, how some of the Marvel superheroes like Black Widow, Captain Marvel, and Ant-Man have developed on-screen through the years and what each of the MCU directors has brought to the table.
Can you reflect on your time working in design for Marvel? What has it been like to see how these movies were made at the start of the franchise to now?
We were just about to start designing the characters for The Avengers [when I joined]. It was the grand experiment set forth by Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios. I got to experience that huge risk of a film and witness history being made. I've never taken it for granted that I get to be a part of this crazy journey. It's truly amazing! I'm honored that I get to design these heroes and villains and that I get to lead the Vis Dev team on so many of our films.
The movies have grown and evolved in so many ways. I still really enjoy the early films but through the years the films are allowed to go to places they couldn't go before. The early years were all about establishing the rules of the universe. Now the films can be more daring, even experimental, and still work within the wide confines of the cinematic universe. It's at the point where there doesn't seem to be any limitation.
But at the end of the day, the core of Marvel Studios remains the same. Our Visual Development team is pretty much the same. So there is that foundation visually that can ground the films. And then of course there's the leadership in Kevin Feige, Louis D'Esposito, and Victoria Alonso, as well as all the producers we have here at Marvel Studios. They're the pillars of these stories of these amazing characters. They understand story and how to make characters beloved.
Can you talk a little about the process of your job? How does it start? When does it start?
We start at the very beginning, even before actual pre-production starts very often. We can start exploring high-level ideas that aren't even on paper yet. It's the advantage they have in having our department full-time. So when it's that early we have the freedom to come up with designs and even possible story ideas just to get the ball rolling. It can often lead to other ideas that inspire the filmmakers. There tends to be a fear early on when there's an idea for a new movie that hasn't been done yet. So our job is start creating artwork that brings excitement to everyone on the potential of the film/project they're all about to tackle.
We did that on the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. We started designing characters, coming up with possible story moments all with the intention of helping the filmmakers wrap their heads around what this crazy new idea of a movie could be. We did the same thing with Captain Marvel. We started doing designs on her look as well as high-level blue sky type keyframes just to get an idea of who this really powerful superhero can look and act like.
Can you walk me through some of the characters have evolved through the years. For example, Black Widow from her appearance in The Avengers to Infinity War and Endgame.
I can talk about these three characters that I've been responsible for designing through the years:
Black Widow: I've designed all of Black Widow's costumes since The Avengers. So that's six different looks. But they've also been quite similar. There's a simplicity to her look. Joss always preferred a bit more of a comic book sensibility, so the idea of having energy coursing through the suit was always a thing.
The Russo brothers preferred a bit more of a grounded look. So her look was even more streamlined. But in both cases, Black Widow maintained that tactical black outfit with just enough weapons as to not hamper her style. All she needs is her Widow bits, her two guns, and very often her batons. With those weapons of choice and her ability to fight, she is capable of taking care of even the most fierce opponent.
Ant-Man: Ant-Man 1.0 (as I call it) was designed by Hank Pam in the '60s or '70s. So it had to look of that era with its exposed piping, and construction less sophisticated than modern day methods. I looked at a lot of astronaut suits from those eras as it's essentially a containment suit keeping the Pym particles within the whole body. I was very cognizant to not make it look like something Tony Stark would make.
Hank Pam is a genius much like Stark, but style-wise is very much more about classic cars rather than modern sexy sports cars Tony prefers. With Ant-Man 2.0 (in Captain America: Civil War) I imagined that Scott Lang was art-directing the look a bit over Hank's shoulder, annoying him all the while. So it's a more modern take of the suit, but still never as sleek as a Stark design. And with Ant-Man 3.0 it was again designed solely by Hank Pym.
So I imagined that he saw the 2.0 design and wanted to bring back more of the classic look. So I essentially combined the two looks all while making it modern. This is the look he had in both Ant-Man and the Wasp and in Avengers: Endgame.
Captain Marvel: Captain Marvel's evolution in the films has only been within these past couple months. Her first look was of course her Starforce Kree look. I wanted to create a militaristic look that felt armored but not bulky in any way. I wanted it to remain form-fitting to evoke her look from the comics but I wanted it to convey strength and even inspiration. So I wanted there to be elements of an armored feel and a uniform that has a structure to it to help convey that strength. They're the superheroes of the Kree people.
Then when she changes her colors to the classic red, blue, and gold, I wanted to create a more simplistic look compared to the Starforce look. But I wanted it to be a symbol even more than the teal and silver look was to the Kree people. Captain Marvel in her classic look would now become a symbol of strength, power, hope, and inspiration. It's meant to be a bold statement. Having primary colors and focusing those colors in broader areas helped to create a bigger impact when you first see those colors appear on the suit. Unfortunately, I can't say much about her look in Avengers: Endgame yet but I had a lot of fun exploring looks that reflect the amount of time it's been since her first appearance in the '90s.
Who has been your favorite character? Who was the hardest to pull off?
I would have to say that Ant-Man is my favorite. Designing his costume from his 1.0 look in Ant-Man, to his 2.0 look in Civil War, to his 3.0 look in Ant-Man and the Wasp has been so much fun to explore. I would also say that his initial design was the hardest to pull off. Ant-Man was tough because his original design was so "comic booky" with his huge helmet with mandibles and antennas. It looks cool in the comic but we knew it couldn't look exactly like that for the film version.
The other part that made it challenging was that it wasn't going to be a modern design. It was built by Hank Pym in the '60s to be worn by Scott Lang in the present day. So I had to intentionally make it look retro and old in design but it still had to look cool in modern times. That's the challenge but honestly, that's the fun part of being a concept artist. The other part that made it challenging and fun was that it had to be distinct from a Tony Stark design.
They are both high tech suits in totally different ways but I had to make it clear that a different designer in Hank Pym was making it. The temptation is to make is totally sleek and cool. But I had to tread that line of still making it cool but not too cool.
You've said that each director brings a new vision and vibe they want to capture from the comic books. For instance, Taika wanted the Kirby look, Winter Soldier felt like a Brubaker book, can you help with a few more of the directors and films you've worked on?
One of the greatest joys of working in the Visual Development department for close to a decade now is the fact that I get to work with so many different directors. They each bring individuality to the film that is unique and refreshing also. These are all characters in the same universe but each movie (and character) can have a vastly different tone and feel depending on what the filmmaker wants to bring to the table. But because Marvel Studios has a central leadership in Kevin Feige, Louis D'Esposito, and Victoria Alonso they can maintain a continuity despite that range in filmmaking. It's a great thing to witness and be a part of.
A great example is Taika Waititi. When I was leading our team on Thor: Ragnarok, upon meeting Taika, I knew instantly that this was going to be a unique experience. He has such a strong voice that is both heartfelt and insanely hilarious. This wasn't going to be the same Thor movie as the last 2, as well as his Avengers' appearances. He's the still the same character but he was going to stretch him in ways unexplored before.
James Gunn is another great example of a director that brings such a strong individual voice to the project. It's hard to even think of the Guardians of the Galaxy without thinking of James Gunn. He made them so special in a similar way that Taika made Thor a great character beyond what he already was.
The Russo Brothers also brings a gravitas to their films that is totally different than the more comedic directors in Taika and James. And yet they can all create stories of these same characters and still be true to who they are. It's pretty astounding if you really think about it.
I loved working with Joss Whedon and Peyton Reed because out of any of the directors, they're probably the truest comic book geeks of the bunch. It was a true pleasure working with these directors that you knew just had a love for these characters. You could trust that they were going to make right decisions in regards to the story and the visuals. Two of my favorite films to work on were The Avengers and Ant-Man and the Wasp. Joss and Peyton are both awesome directors!
And then there's Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. At first glance, you might not even realize that they're directors. They both have such a calm demeanor to them but that's what I loved about working with them. They had a great vision of how to bring the most powerful superhero to the already packed house that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And the responsibility of bringing the first solo female hero was not an easy task. They both did a brilliant job in walking that tightrope of how to represent this character in the right way. It was a huge responsibility that they undertook and I think that succeeded in spades. I was honored to be a part of that journey.
Why do you love your job? What's the most fun part of it?
"I love my job because first and foremost I'm a comic book fan. I've always been since my adolescent years. So even if I wasn't helping to create these movies I'd be avidly watching them on opening night. And then being able to create the visuals of these movies is truly special. These are beloved characters that fans have loved their whole lives in the comic books. So it's a big responsibility. They're not shy in letting us know if they like or dislike something.
I think my favorite part of my job is the fact that I'm helping to create characters that people all over the world truly love. These characters provide entertainment but they also really mean something to people. I hear all the time how these films have helped people get through tough times or how they've helped them connect with their families more. That's when you realize that these movies can be more than just entertainment. And that is truly special.
I'm really excited about the Fox merger and can't wait to see what that means for the future of the MCU. We finally have a majority of our characters under one roof. The possibilities are endless!"
You can follow Andy Park online at @andyparkart (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, ArtStation, YouTube)