It’s no hyperbole to say that Andy Park, visual development supervisor and concept artist for Marvel Studios, has been instrumental in shaping the look and feel that has become synonymous with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Among the many MCU films that Park has put indelible touch on are everything from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 to Thor: Ragnarok to the upcoming Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel. It’s difficult to imagine how the MCU might look without Park’s skill and visual sensibilities being applied to those superhero epics.
With Avengers: Infinity War now in theaters, I spoke with Mr. Park about the mechanics of his job with Marvel Studios, working with Thor Ragnarok director Taika Waititi, and the fun challenge in redesigning the heroic Ant-Man’s suit for the silver screen.
FreakSugar: You’ve been working on the MCU films for quite some time. One thing I was surprised to read is that you sometimes don’t even have a script when you start designing characters. Beyond knowing the comic book source material, how do you proceed in those situations? Does the director, in lieu of a script, give you ideas, such as letting you know basic plot or overall tone of she or he’s looking for?
Andy Park: Marvel Studios created the Visual Development department eight years ago. Ryan Meinerding and Charlie Wen were given the task to create a team of artists that would design the characters for all their connected films. I was honored to be the first artist they hired. Our department is in the front line of the movie making process along with the writing of the script. So we design at the same time. Many times there is some kind of treatment that has a basic outline of what the movie could be. But many times there is not enough of a script to go off of. So we start designing characters based on what could possibly be in the film. It’s happened in many of our films.
But that’s the advantage of having a group like ours. We can design characters, environments and scenes that can help inspire possible direction for the movie. Once a director is brought on board they will look at the work we’ve done and from that point we’ll start adjusting to the vision of that director. But it’s very helpful to have an array of designs that a director can look at as a source of inspiration.
FS: Thor: Ragnarok is a different film than the other two in the Thor trilogy, mixing the Shakespearean we saw in the first two with greater emphasis on the bright, Jack Kirby science fiction aesthetic we see, especially during the scenes on the alien planet Sakaar. What was it like working with director Taika Waititi, who brought this very different vision for the third installment?
AP: Taika is such a unique personality. He exudes enthusiasm and fun. He brought a new vibe to a Marvel Studios film much in the way a director like James Gunn did with Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s always a pleasure to work with a director with a strong voice. Taika always made everyone laugh. He’s the kind of guy that seemingly doesn’t take like too seriously. He was all about having fun. And that was the atmosphere he created. Here’s hoping that he’ll come back to direct another one of our films… fingers crossed!
FS: The various Ant-Man and Wasp characters in the comics have worn a plethora of different costumes and outfits. We saw that touched on in the first Ant-Man film, but it looks like you got to stretch your legs quite a bit in Ant-Man and the Wasp? Did you have elements from any specific costumes you wanted to make sure made it in the final film going into the design process?
AP: I can tell you that I put my heart and soul into Ant-Man and the Wasp. I had the pleasure of designing all the Ant-Man costumes in all his appearances (Ant-Man and Captain America: Civil War) and being able to tackle his third suit was so much fun. And of course designing the Wasp and being able to contrast their two suits all while trying to keep a harmony between the two was a great and fun challenge I had on this film. Beyond that I can’t talk about specifics on the designs until the film comes out. I can’t wait for you all to see what we’ve been cooking up!
FS: While I know you’re not listed as visual development supervisor specifically on Avengers: Infinity War, designs you helped create from other MCU films have evolved throughout the decade. And I am sure that you and Ryan are always bouncing ideas off one another. Did you have any input on or put work into Infinity War?
AP: Ryan and I lead all of our films. Since we have so many going on at the same time we split the responsibility of leading our films. He led Infinity War. But we do help each other out with designs from time to time. For example, I lead the team on Thor: Ragnarok, but Ryan helped out designing Hulk. On Infinity War, I helped out doing designs on characters such as Black Widow. But yes, we do bounce ideas off of each other all the time. I love leading my films and watching Ryan lead his films. It’s very exciting seeing so many things happening at the same time here at Marvel Studios.
FS: The MCU has grown so vastly since that first Iron Man film in 2008. Has there ever been a character that, even with the comic source material to draw from, was a hard nut to crack? If so, what was the “Ah ha!” moment that helped get you over that creative hump?
AP: Designing Ant-Man was a particularly fun challenge especially due to him having a retro suit due to the origins of Hank Pym creating the suit. So the challenge was creating a suit that wasn’t too slick and high tech (like Iron Man) but still making it cool aesthetically to be worn in a modern day environment. It’s easy to do retro but it can easily come off as goofy if not done right. So walking that tight rope was the challenge.
The other challenge of that suit was giving enough homage to its comic book look. His look in the comic book is very iconic but can easily become goofy when translated to real life. So I had to take all these things in account and try to create a look that was believable, reminiscent of the comic books, and be as iconic as possible. I had nothing but fun with this challenge.
FS: For Captain Marvel, from the art we’ve seen so far, you seem to be pulling from various from a couple different eras. Given that and the time era when this movie takes place, what has the design process been like for the film so far?
AP: Let me just say that I absolutely had the best time ever designing her costume and then working with costume designer Sanja Hayes to help make the suit come alive on the amazing Brie Larson. This movie is going to be special!
Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther are now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download. Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters now. Ant-Man and the Wasp hits theaters on July 6th. Captain Marvel debuts on March 6th, 2019.