I am a huge fan of both Marvel Comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While 2008’s Iron Man is where it all started, the MCU has grown and evolved beyond Tony Stark into this intricate web of visual storytelling and interconnecting movies and TV shows that has defined pop culture forever.
As comics are a sophisticated art form, it was inevitable that Marvel Studios would have their own art department helping to design and visualize, not only the costumes and the props but also to capture key sequences in fully rendered artwork so that a production team of thousands could all be on the same page and build toward that visual milestone.
Enter: Andy Park, back in the 1990s he started in comic books in his late teens in Southern California and worked his way from an internship at Rob Liefeld’s Extreme Studios (one of the Founding Father’s of Image Comics) to drawing the number one comic of 1999 in the form of Lara Croft Tomb Raider for Top Cow (the studio of another Image Comics founder), and while he did try his best at two failed attempts at graduating from art school, Andy’s talents only needed a slight boost before he got picked up by Sony to work on concept design for the God of War 2 video game, and then where he has been for the past decade at Marvel Studios coming in on the last days of Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor and then riding the wave through The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor Ragnarok, Black Widow, and to the point when this interview was conducted: WandaVision — with full disclosure that he was working on Thor Love and Thunder (the fourth film in the series) and Captain Marvel 2.
There are two versions of this interview for your enjoyment:
Audio podcast form that you can listen to below or search “THE HYPER ROOM” on any podcatcher app like Spotify or Apple Podcasts and listen on your smartphone.
And a YouTube video with art slideshow embedded below:
Both versions are great, Andy is a delight to talk to and as humble as they come for being part of the historic art department at Marvel Studios.
I’ve transcribed some of the interview below as, some of you may just like to read this interview — great for any aspiring artist, or anyone that works in the creative industry.
Please subscribe to me here on Medium or at The Hyper Room for more interviews.
Andy on Starting to Draw:
Casey Lau: When did you start drawing? Did you start to draw your own Iron Man comics or did that come later?
Andy Park: I’ve always drawn, like as far as I can remember, you know, even when I was five years old, winning some kind of Korean gathering contests thing, but I’ve always enjoyed drawing. So I think it’s always something that I was encouraged to do, because people would say: “Oh, that’s a good drawing.”
So I think it’s something I wanted to continue doing. I remember on my VHS, like pausing them so that I can like, know how to draw each of the Transformers because there’s no way to know what they look like each of them.
And then comic books eventually, copying those. And then I think around junior high school is when I started not just copying, but trying to like do my own drawings or my own characters and first attempts at doing sequentials. At that time, especially in high school, I started having the dreams of like, Oh my gosh, I would love to become a comic book artist, but it was one of those things where I never knew if I was good enough.
I knew I had some amount of talent, but I never knew if I could become good enough, but, you know, I did it not because I want to do it as a creator. I did it just because I loved it.
CL: Who were like some of the artists that you looked up to? You’re like, Oh, I want to be like, like Mark Bright?
He was probably like the first one that I was just like, who is this guy?
And I looked for his name everywhere. Mark Bright. Oh my gosh. And then eventually John Byrne and then Alan Davis, Marc Silvestri, so many artists. And then the day that I had discovered a guy named Jim Lee. It changed my life. It changed my life!
CL: Because he’s Korean-American as well, right?
AP: I wonder if I knew that at the time, ‘cause you know, Stan Lee wasn’t, maybe Jim was the grandson or something. But you know, quickly, I did find out that he’s Korean, because at that time that’s when those magazines would come out like Wizard and there would be interviews to highlight the artists.
But once I discovered Jim Lee’s artwork and his X-Men stuff and that was it. I obsessed over his work throughout high school. I had a “Jim Lee Wall.” My whole, the biggest wall in my room was dedicated to him and his artwork. And yeah, I followed everything he did, every article, he was my idol.
Even down to my parents, knew it. And they would like cut out Korean newspaper clippings of his interviews. You know, and then I put that on my wall. I’m like, Oh my, even my parents. Cause you know, they don’t know comic books, but then even they know Jim Lee’s, that’s crazy.
Andy On Kevin Feige:
CL: Who do you think is responsible for getting (the Marvel Studios art department) more name recognition?
AP: So everything starts and ends with the president of Marvel Studios: Kevin Feige. So the whole history of the formation of Marvel Studios is unique in the Hollywood industry. And what they’ve achieved is unique and unprecedented in Hollywood. From the early days of the first film, which is Iron Man. And then Jon Favreau the other guy that I definitely want to give credit to. If you remember he had a MySpace page back then and who’s artwork did he have on there?
When it was known that he was going to be doing Ironman, it was Adi Granov, right? So they were looking at his artwork even before they hired him and then eventually they decided to like, maybe we should just hire this guy. Then, and then another guy named Ryan Meinerding, who is the head of our department.
They hired him and then another guy named Phil Saunders, those three were instrumental in that very first film in figuring out what does this look like? What happens is concept artists, they just do the artwork and then they they get laid off. And then the costume designer or the practical effects house, and at that time Stan Winston was doing the actual build of the Iron Man suit.
Usually, concept artists are gone at that point. They’re not needed, this was a different situation where they started getting embedded with Stan Winston. And they were there, day after day, fine tuning, figuring out what are all the Iron Man suits going to look like from the Mark I, II, III, and Marvel saw that that was really beneficial to have the initial guys that did the design, you know, on paper to actually be there hand in hand as they’re making the actual builds. So and then eventually, Ryan became instrumental in coming up with the look and feel of Captain America.
Eventually they hired Charlie Wen to work on Thor and it was through those movies that they decided, “Hey, you guys should start or should form a team.” And basically, “we want to hire you guys full time, not just as contractors,” because one thing to know is in film concept, artists are almost all freelancers.
There’s almost no such thing as full-time jobs in film for artists. So they were making a new mold, a new paradigm where there’s going to be a Visual Development department at Marvel Studios, knowing that they’re going to be creating like a whole universe of connected films.
And that started with Kevin and that’s when Ryan and Charlie, they call me up because we all worked on God of War for years over there at Sony.
Charlie was the head of the department at Sony, you know, creating Kratos and everything.
And then Ryan came in as a freelancer during God of War too. So that’s when we first met him and we’re wowed by this amazing talent. And then he left and started working on Iron Man and then eventually brought over Charlie to work on Thor. They started, got the okay to form a team. They called me up.
I was the first one that got hired for that team. And that was 2010. This is my 11th year at Marvel Studios working on all the films. And the first film I worked on over there was the first Captain America. And it’s Kevin Feige, he’s the one who saw the value in artists and the initial concept design and being able to see that through, even working with costume designers, that’s another part of our job that we do that, people don’t really see that part because it’s the actual build where we’ll like have conversations with them.
We’ll go to fittings, we’ll give them assets, all the kind of stuff. There’s a lot of conversations going on between us and whether it’s like Legacy Effects or Film Illusions, or Iron Head Studios or working with custom designers to realize our initial concept design that we do.
And then, having that come to life either on an actor or if it’s like a CG character. Yeah. That’s how it all works. It’s amazing. This is Kevin Feige he’s the one who sees the value in art and the artist.
Andy on the Marvel Art Books
CL: Are you proud when the Art Books come out?
AP: Yeah! The Art Books are special because it’s where we get to showcase, not only my own artwork, but a big part of my job as the director of visual development, I lead a team of artists for every project that I do. So I have a whole bunch of full-time and freelance artists that I hire.
We get to show off all their amazing work that they’ve done, that they did for that whole whatever, anywhere from six months to a year working on that project. And then we get, interviewed. So, you know, if you’ve been bothered to read all the words that are in those art books, like we talk about our design process or our thinking or little stories.
And then for me, for the projects that I lead, I’ll get to do the covers and I’ll do an Afterword. I’ll talk about my experience and all that stuff. So the art books are definitely, and it me back a little bit to the feeling I got when I would have a comic book published, you know, cause there’s always something about when you get your artwork published there’s a special feeling there.
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