SHANG-CHI Interview With Marvel Studios Director of Visual Development & Concept Artist Andy Park (Exclusive)
Ahead of Tuesday's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Blu-ray launch, we met with Director of Visual Development & concept artist Andy Park to talk about his work on the Marvel Studios blockbuster!
Destin Daniel Cretton's critically-acclaimed Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray next week. Ahead of its eagerly awaited launch, we were able to catch up with one of the most interesting people working at Marvel Studios, the Director of Visual Development & concept artist Andy Park.
While he couldn't reveal everything he knew about the future of the MCU, he did offer plenty of insight into how he approached designing the world of Shang-Chi and his stunning costume as well as how the collaborative process between him, Ryan Meinerding, and Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige generally works.
Check out the interview below, and keep scrolling for the full transcript!
ROHAN: You’ve been working at Marvel for as long as I can remember... what did it mean to you to be able to design an Asian American superhero and be able to craft the whole visual style of this new corner of the MCU?
ANDY: Oh man, yeah, as you mention, I’ve been here a long time, it’s been eleven-and-a-half years, ever since the first Captain America, so to be able to work and lead the viz-dev team on the first Asian superhero - here were other ones, like Wong and stuff like that, but this is the first title film - it meant a lot to me, it continues to mean a lot to me, because I grew up here, I was born in the U.S., my parents immigrated from Korea in the ‘70s and then I grew up in California. So, yeah, not being able to see- I grew up in a world reading comic books as a teenager and everything like that, then I was an artist, always drawing, but I rarely ever drew Asians or anyone that looks like me cause it was just normal that everyone wasn’t. I didn’t see much on TV, movies, or even cartoons and when you did, it kind of stuck out, “Oh wow, there’s that Quick Kick from G.I. Joe,” or in a movie, Indiana Jones, Short Round, things like that, then eventually through the years, you saw more and more.
Then, of course, the MCU being pop culture, very front-and-center, for the past decade and I meet so many - I do Comic-Cons, I meet so many people that love these films and these characters and I see how much it means to them, so I’m also proud that I got to lead the team on Captain Marvel, the very first solo female title character as well and Ant-Man and the Wasp where it was the first female sharing the title with Ant-Man and then being able to work on, I didn’t lead, but being able to work on Black Panther and then, now with Shang-Chi and I see what it means to people as well as myself, so it means a lot and I’m very proud of what we’ve done. It was a very challenging film, every time I do these firsts, they’re always very challenging because there’s a lot of pressure and you want to get it right, but Marvel Studios has always been a leader in the industry, and of course, starting with Kevin Feige, not to say we’re not nervous, because everyone has good intentions, but you don’t always get everything right, but Marvel Studios has a pretty good record on getting it right for the most part, so I’m very proud of the film, very proud of being able to lead the team on this film.
ROHAN: Since the film redefines Shang-Chi's origin, you were also able to reimagine his costume - could you tell me more about where you drew inspiration to design his costume, which does seem to incorporate his more modern look rather than his classic appearance.
ANDY: Yeah, because we’re an in-house team of artists that are full-time at Marvel Studios, we started doing some preliminary work even before there was Destin or Simu Liu cast or hired. Back then, we didn’t really know what the story was, so the story evolves even as we’re going into pre-production, so the first thing we always do is dive into the comics, trying to extrapolate stuff we can from there. Shang-Chi’s a little bit more challenging with the origins and everything, but as the story started getting developed, I started honing in on what Destin and also what the leadership Jonathan Schwartz and Kevin Feige wanted, but I did the full exploration from very traditional ancient Chinese costumes to eventually seeing that the story isn’t going to spending a lot of time up in the west, so doing very westernized, more urban, modernized clothing that even you and I can wear.
Then, as the story got more and more solidified, that’s when the ideas of, “Okay, there’s going to be a dragon in this film!” And, that’s awesome, that’s great, so that’s when I started having the idea of, if this is something that is given to him from his mom and there’s a dragon there, The Great Protector, then he can have some sort of dragon skin or dragon scale on his suit that acts as an armor even though we didn’t want to put him in like armor armor, right? But, because it has kind of a magical, otherworldly properties, that’s when I started coming up with those ideas and then taking the motif, that upside down black triangle motif in the chest area from the comics and then coming up with the idea of the symbol, the Eternal Knot. I came up with that idea in my research, I thought that’d be perfect because it’s a symbol that’s used in many cultures, but definitely used in Chinese culture throughout the hundreds of years, in art and architecture and fashion; and it has a lot of symbolic meanings from everything from birth to death to rebirth. The never-ending cycle of life and the other thing that it means is that it’s given as a gift, there’s a connection between the giver and the receiver, so I thought that would be perfect with the story of the mother essentially giving this suit of armor or this kind of jacket, whole outfit, to her son, Shang-Chi, as a warrior as well as to protect him. So, yeah, it was a whole exploration of what is this thing.
ROHAN: You previously worked on the God of War games and now we're seeing the MCU also get into the more fantastical, mythical parts of the comics - do you find a film like this to be more creatively fulfilling?
ANDY: Yeah, I think, as an artist, I think we love to be pushed. For me, I always enjoyed, the more I’m pushed, the more fun it is. So, I’ve worked there for over a decade and I’ve worked on projects that were very grounded, obviously with the first Captain America and then working on Ant-Man, I mean there’s crazy things about those movies as well, but it’s in the real world more based on science, MCU science, but then there’s movies like Guardians of the Galaxy that I’ve worked on and Thor - and even though I enjoyed the grounded characters, in all honesty, I do enjoy the more fantastical more, just as an artist, a designer, it’s more fun to kind of push and not be bound to so many rules, right?
So, it’s more open-ended, so Shang-Chi definitely went into that area and after this many movies, almost thirty movies, it’s almost like, “Where do you go? How can you keep this fresh?,” then, as they’re telling me what Shang-Chi is, I was like, okay, they keep on doing it. They keep on creating more and more places for us to go that are fresh and in a whole other corner of the MCU, which keeps the whole MCU fresh, just idea-wise and as well as all these characters. It keeps it exciting, so yeah, being able to design dragons and the power sets, all that stuff, that’s the most fun as an artist.
ROHAN: How do you and Ryan Meinerding split up the different MCU assignments? Does Kevin approach you both and you guys pick and choose or is it something more streamlined?
ANDY: Yeah, yeah, Ryan is the head of visual development, he was the one who initially hired me along with a guy named Charlie Wen, who’s no longer with us, who was co-head at that time, but then for the past six years, me and Ryan have become the two leaders, so we’ll split - he’ll work on this movie and I’ll work on this movie, like while he was working on Black Panther, I was working on Captain Marvel, Ant-Man, that kind of thing, so we kind of figure out who works on what and as you mentioned, he did What If…?, a lot of the animated stuff and I’m working on Shang-Chi, Thor: Love and Thunder, that kind of thing, so yeah, Kevin and the producers, and, of course, Shang-Chi is produced by Jonathan Schwartz, he came up to me pretty early on and even before they started pre-production on the film, so that’s kind of normal. They’ll come up to us and that’s the benefit of our department because normally, for any studio out there, they don’t have in-house artists, they only hire the artists once pre-production starts and they have the heads of each department are actually doing the work with the director.
At Marvel Studios, we exist, so we can start doing work early on, so yeah, there was no script yet, so we were still doing high-level concept key frames or key frame illustrations of Shang-Chi in certain scenarios, knowing that the main antagonist is going to be his dad in some form. There might be a dragon, things like that were thrown to us and we were like, “Oh cool, there’s going to be a dragon in this film!,” and so yeah, we started doing some preliminary work very ideation, just to get people excited. It’s one thing to have it written down or verbally said, but once you have a painting, people see it and gets on the same page, it helps to spur conversation and ideas.
ROHAN: How many different variations of a character do you tend to do before it gets approved for a film? What's that whole process typically like?
ANDY: Yeah, that’s the bulk of our job, we’re trying to come up with their costumed look, the heroes, so for me, I was working on Shang-Chi, and it took several months, so I’m working every single day. I did probably, I don’t know, definitely over 100 different versions, some of them are more extreme than others, but again, I did the whole exploration of ancient Chinese looks, I did some like the comic where he’s shirtless, some where he has some kind of tattoos, some mystical elements, and as we started honing down, with the Ta Lo and the whole dragon, The Great Protector, that’s when I started getting more and more solidified, but I go through the whole gamut.
We have meetings every week or every other week in a big room with the director and all the heads of other departments, the leadership of Marvel, and they can start showing those pieces, version after version, and it spurs on conversation. They can say whatever they want, what they like, what they don’t like, let’s explore this idea and it helps as well because they’re writing it at the same time, they’re coming up with these ideas as we’re also illustrating, and coming up with designs. The whole idea for the rings, that’s from Destin saying, “Maybe, you can have them like the Hung Gar Rings,” the training martial arts rings that are real things rather than the finger rings, because it’s too similar to Thanos. So, it’s all part of the collaborative process of ideation, we’re doing ideation through our designs and artwork and discussions are continuing that way until we hone in on that final look that makes sense for the story.
ROHAN: Do you have a favorite character out of all the amazing characters you've designed?
ANDY: That question I get a lot and it’s always hard to say one, so I have to cheat and say a couple because I really love each one for different reasons. I can go on for an hour to specify, but we don’t have time for that, but Ant-Man definitely cause I’ve done all the Ant-Mans through the years, so that one is really, really special to me. Captain Marvel, Hela, Shang-Chi now, so those are just a few, I can go on and on with other characters, but I think those are very special for different reasons.
Each of them were so challenging in different ways and that’s why I always say Ant-Man because that one - the ones that we take from the early comics, that were created in the ‘60s and early on, the more goofy the comic origins are, those are more fun, but they’re more challenging because you have more leeway, but you always have to try to be respectful of the origins. So, Ant-Man was a big transition trying to get that original Jack Kirby look, how to get it look cool for the MCU, but still look retro. That’s what I’d say.
ROHAN: I've already seen Hawkeye [this interview was conducted prior to the series premiere], and I know we can’t talk about it much yet, but that show introduces a big character in Kate Bishop. Could you maybe speak on designing her look and drawing inspiration from Clint's costumes?
ANDY: Actually, I only did very early, the very initial - we talked about the early process before there’s a story or director or that kind of thing, so I was doing the very early high-level design work on Kate Bishop, but Rodney Fuentebella, this was the first thing that he supervised, so he got promoted and he supervised that show, so I only did the initial pieces that you’ve seen. After that, I didn’t work on it, so I didn’t do the final Kate Bishop costume, I’ll leave it to them to say who did it, but yeah, mine was just the initial, early ideas.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now available on Digital HD;
and out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD on November 30!