Erin Wilhelm writes for Bleeding Cool,
In complete honesty, when I signed up to cover the Marvel Studios: The First 10 Years, Visual Development panel, I really had no idea what the panel was about. The description didn’t clear it up either. But as the lights went down, the screen started showing concept art for Marvel characters, and the six panelists came out, I began to get way more interested.
It turns out that the panelists are all part of the Marvel Studios Visual Development team, and they are artists whose job it is to create the look of our favorite Marvel characters. The panelists were Ryan Meinerding (head of the Visual Development team, and designer of Thanos), Andy Park (lead developer for Ant Man and the Wasp), Jackson Sze (visual developer for Wakanda), Rodney Fuentebella (developed Yondu), Anthony Francisco (developed Baby Groot) and Charlie Wen (no longer on the team, developed Thor). The moderator was Tara Bennett, an author who recently spent time embedded with the Marvel Visual Development team in order to co-author the upcoming coffee table book Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years (to be released simultaneously with Avengers 4).
Each developer showed images of their development processes for popular Marvel characters including Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Widow, and Baby Groot (Baby Groot got the most intense fan reaction).
Meinerding explained that in order to keep the continuity, they tend to work on the same character suits for the follow-on movies, for example, he has worked of every single Captain America suit dating back to The First Avenger.
Charlie Wen discussed the challenges of trying to design looks for characters that have decades of history in the comics and a large, dedicated fan base. Park, who started out as a comic book artist, geeked out about how excited he was when he came on board and got to work with Joss Whedon. Fuentebella, who did the visual development for the iconic Captain America elevator fight in Winter Soldier, talked about how he was given an idea and had to figure out how to make it possible. Jackson Sze, who got his start doing environmental visual development before moving to character development, talked about how he had started working on the development of Wakanda all the way back in 2011 and discussed developing the idea of how Wakana was able to hide from the world. Finally, Francisco explained that he had based Baby Groot on his own kids, using memories and pictures to translate the looks his kids give him at home to the face of Baby and Teenage Groot on the screen.
In addition to the awesome concept art and inside looks at character development the panel provided, fans asked some really insightful and interesting questions. One audience member asked about continuity, how the developers were able to work on different movies with different styles and directors that were all supposed to exist in the same universe. Meinerding explained that the master plan for the Marvel Universe was always in Kevin Feige’s head, and each developer or development team only worked on their small piece, or their one movie.
Another fan, noticing that the panelists were all men, asked if any women worked on the Marvel Visual Development team. The overall answer appeared to be no, they had no full-time women working on the development team, but they were always looking for good talent and there was just very little turnover on the team. The panel did point out, however, that Doctor Strange was developed by a woman freelance visual developer named Karla Ortiz. No mention of why she didn’t make it on the panel.
To finish the panel, the last question asked the developers to discuss small details that they added to the look of their characters and what meaning they had. The panelists talked about how they all have their own head canon about why certain suits and costumes look a certain way. However, the most interesting tidbit was that Meinerding, who developed the look for Vision, actually designed a simplified version of Ultron’s face in the back of Vision’s head. He didn’t share a picture but the idea is intriguing.
I hope you, like me, have now learned what visual development is and how it is cool (enjoy the pics below of concept art from the panel). I also hope that you, like me, are going to start watching video and looking at pictures to try and see the back of Vision’s head.