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TV and Movies

Meet the concept artist bringing Marvel from page to screen

Andy Park leads the team turning classic Marvel comics into jaw-dropping movies like "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Captain Marvel."

Andy Park/Marvel

After years of superhero movies playing down their comic book origins to look more realistic, "Thor: Ragnarok" looks like a crazy, colorful comic brought unashamedly to life.

We caught up with Andy Park, the guy responsible for translating the spectacular visuals of Marvel comics to the big screen. Having begun his illustration career drawing comics including Marvel's "X-Men," Park's role working on Marvel movies brings him back to his childhood dream.

"To come full circle in my career and design the look of these comic book characters come to life, the kid in me is just freaking out," he says.

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Park, who is 42, is visual development supervisor and concept artist at Marvel Studios, where he's worked on every Marvel movie since 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger." The LA resident leads a team of artists who come up with a unified aesthetic for Marvel movies while still finding a distinctive style for each branch of the MCU -- from the grounded, tactical garb of the "Captain America" movies to the space opera flourishes of "Guardians of the Galaxy" and the retro styling of "Ragnarok," which harks back to Marvel's '60s heyday.

"We're not just coming up with things out of thin air," Park says. "We're basing these movies on the source material, which are decades and decades of Marvel Comics, the world that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and so many amazing artists have created."

For "Ragnarok," directed by Taika Waititi, that included the villainous and visually striking goddess-of-death Hela, created by Kirby and Lee in 1964. 

"The big challenge with Hela was her headdress," Park says. "There's no way a character with horns that stick out like a 5-feet wingspan can move around and fight, but that's exactly what Taika wanted. Typically you make it less comic-book-y and more realistic, but he really wanted this one to embrace the source material and go full-on Jack Kirby."

The visual development team is involved so early in the process that sometimes they're beginning to visualize characters and scenes even before the script is finished or an actor is cast. Luckily, Google Images comes to the rescue. "You can see, OK, this particular actor has a longer neck than this one, so you take all those things into consideration and try to cater the lines of the designs to flatter their proportions, their face," Park says.

Park digitally paints concept designs, keyframes, and illustrations in Adobe Photoshop, using an iMac and Wacom Intuos Pro graphics tablet. He also occasionally uses a 3D program called ZBrush. But he mostly considers himself as a 2D artist since he loves to paint and draw.

He also uses a Contour ShuttlePRO v.2 mouse for his hotkey shortcuts.

"I'm always at my desk and it's the most comfortable way for me to do my digital art," he says, "but if I was more on the go I would absolutely get the iPad Pro." 

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Andy Park has worked on every Marvel movie since 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger." 

Screenshot by Logan Moy/CNET

The job involves collaborating with teams such as the visual effects department, art department, production designer and costume designer, who turns the character designs into real outfits. As they work on the costume, Park's team provides more detailed artwork and gives feedback on possible fabrics. The next step is to put the costume on a mannequin made from the actor's specific measurements. The outfit is refined until finally the actor tries it on. Finally, after nurturing the costume from the embryonic concept stage, Park gets to see the character in action during filming.

"I feel like a father," he laughs.

The visual development team is involved throughout the production, taking photos of the completed costume and painting over it to suggest improvements. Even after the actors and stunt performers have filmed their scenes, the visual effects team responsible for adding digital embellishments will come back to Park and his team for further refinements.

Park is currently in the latter stages of working on 2018's "Ant-Man and the Wasp," and is "in the thick of it" working with directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck on "Captain Marvel," set for release in early 2019. There's no full script yet, Park says, but the story takes place in the '90s, so Park's team can at least start running with character designs. The film might not draw on the over-the-top look of '90s comics, but Park hints that audiences can look out for some '90s hairstyles.

The colorful, quirky characters of "Thor: Ragnarok."

Marvel

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