Ego may have designed a planet, but Andy Park, a visual development supervisor for Marvel Studios, has designed some of the world’s most beloved on-screen superheroes. He’s worked on blockbusters such as The Avengers, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, Thor, Iron Man 3, Captain America: Civil War, and many more. One of his projects that recently hit the big screen was Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and I had the chance to interview him about his role in that vibrant universe of witty heroes.
For any readers who don’t know, what exactly is a visual development supervisor, and what was your role when working on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2?
I lead the visual development team department here at Marvel Studios, and it’s a group of in-house artists that was established about seven years ago by Ryan Meinerding [and] Charlie Wen, and Kevin Feige, Victoria Alonso, [and] Louis D’Esposito commissioned them to create an in-house group of artists because they knew they had this whole world of connective movies. A couple years ago, I got promoted to visual development supervisor, so now me and Ryan, we lead our team, and we split the responsibilities of leading our movies because we have so many going at the same time. So usually Ryan is leading two or three movies at the same time, I’m leading two or three movies at the same time.
On Guardians, I led the team of artists, and we have about six artists that are in-house, and then we hire freelance artists according to our need. Our main responsibility is to design the characters of each of our movies, and then the second job that we have is to illustrate key frame illustrations, which are key story moments throughout the movie. We are in the very beginning of the process. We start designing as the script is being written. Many times we start designing even before the script, and then they either tell us verbally or it’s on the script certain scenes that they want to help them to visualize, and we’ll paint that scene up. It’s not always a one-to-one, “that’s what the movie’s going to look like,” but it’s a good way to inspire the rest of the production, the rest of the team, to kind of see, “Oh, look, this is the direction we’re going in.” It really kind of helps them to see it as a painting versus just words on paper. That’s, in a nutshell, what we do.
What is your process like? How do you start translating these characters from comic book to screen when you’re doing those designs?
It depends on the movie, and it’s always different on a sequel versus a first movie. For example, on Guardians 1, me and the team, we started before there was any director. Kevin Feige asked us to spend two weeks and just have fun. Just design whatever we wanted, whatever we thought the movie could be. For me, when I tackled those designs, I envisioned that Guardians of the Galaxy could be a mix between Star Wars and Mad Max. Then, of course, once James [Gunn] comes on board, then it becomes a conversation of, “Okay, I like those, but let’s try a little more this way.” From there, we have weekly meetings between myself and the director and Kevin Feige and other heads of each of the other departments.
In a movie like Guardians Vol. 2, where it’s a sequel and we already had the success of the first one and now James knows exactly what this world is, I sat down with James at the beginning, and he told me what he kind of was looking to do with this film – what characters he wanted to introduce, like Mantis. He told me kind of like, “I want to get more of a Flash Gordon feel, then a retro vibe. I want Mantis to have kind of an insectoid kind of look, but probably not green because of Gamora, Hulk.”
Who would you say was the hardest character and your favorite character to translate to the big screen for Vol. 2?
My favorite character was definitely Mantis. It’s always fun to design new characters. I did the design for Gamora and Star-Lord for this movie, as well, but that’s already been established in the first movie, so now it’s just more about nuance. For Mantis, bringing on the new character, that was really fun just kind of exploring, “How insectoid can she be?” I was trying to keep that balance between making her feel like an insect, but not making her unattractive. She still has to be attractive, especially if that joke was going to land about her being hideous because if she actually looked hideous, it would not be funny. That was really fun to kind of explore that character.
The most difficult one was Ego. I’ve been working for Marvel Studios for over seven years, and every single film there’s always that one character, or at least that one character, that just takes forever to find that look, for whatever reason. For this movie, Ego was definitely that character. I didn’t do the final designs, but between me and I would say five other artists, we spent months [on him]. He was a tough character because he is also the planet, so because he is the planet he needed to fit in with that world, and as Scott Chambliss and his art department were trying to discover what his planet’s going to look like, it’s kind of a collaboration – like, the planet deal has to work with the costume deal, and back and forth. So we did a lot of exploration on the planet, as well, to help that department, and James, as far as he wanted a rock star feel, he wanted a cowboy feel, he wanted more of a superhero feel – at the end of the day, he wanted to go back to that more Flash Gordon [feel]. He didn’t want this character to feel too Earthy, too organic. He didn’t want him to feel too regal because that wouldn’t be relatable for [Peter] Quill. He wanted someone that felt very paternal, and yet still felt essentially like a superhero – not like an Avengers superhero, but someone that Quill can look at and just revere [and] be like, “Oh my god, that’s my dad. I’m proud of that guy,” but still relatable. He took a long time to get that design. At the end of the day, Jackson Sze, he was able to find that final look that’s in the movie.
If you could give a word of advice to someone who wants to do what you do, what would it be?
The bottom line is always your portfolio. You need to work on your portfolio. Concept artists in the film or video game industry, our art is challenging because you can open up a portfolio, and in two seconds you kind of know if this person is good or not. Most other jobs you have to kind of discover if they’re good or not. Art is immediate. You need to have strong drawing skills, strong painting ability, because, at the end of the day, you’re designing characters that you need to show the directors and the executives. The goal is to show paintings and designs that, “Oh, yeah, that’s what it’s going to look like in the film.” You don’t want them to see a pencil drawing and kind of guess, “I think that’ll look good on screen.” You need to have good foundational skills, and, secondly, you need to have good design sensibility. In your portfolio, you need to show that you have a range when it comes to designing and that you have a good eye in how you translate a design, if it’s for comic book movies, a design that’s from the source material – the comic – and make it relevant and really evocative for modern audiences.
A big thank you to Andy for taking the time to do this interview and to Walt Disney Studios and Marvel Studios for organizing it! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will be available on iTunes and other digital outlets on August 8 and on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD on August 22.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes