Marvel’s Andy Park on Designing ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’
All through the summer, Marvel has been giving early looks at upcoming projects like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Thunderbolts in the form of concept art posters. Most of these pieces were created by Andy Park, Marvel’s Director of Visual Development. Park has been with Marvel for over a decade, designing characters and costumes for movies like The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Doctor Strange. His latest project for the company is Thor: Love and Thunder, which is newly out on Blu-ray, where his work included designing the latest costume for Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, and taking the design worn by the Jane Foster of Marvel Comics and turning it into something that would work on Natalie Portman in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
In this interview, we spoke about the challenges of creating costumes based on Marvel Comics designs, working on upcoming projects like Quantumania and Thunderbolts, and the characters he worked on that fell through the cracks and never made it to the screen. We also tried to get to the bottom of one of comics’ greatest mysteries: Why Thor’s costume always has those six discs on it.
A few years ago, I spoke to Ryan Meinerding about designing for Marvel movies, and he said that some designs go through 100 or even 200 versions before you find the final look. What design on Love & Thunder went through the most variations during development?
Let’s see ... Well, just to correct Ryan, one time we did up to 300 designs. [laughs]
Which was that?
That was the Dark Elves from Thor: The Dark World. I know Eternals had a lot on the Deviants as well. For Love and Thunder I did a bunch of Gorrs. Mighty Thor wasn’t a lot; that was relatively smooth. What else was hard? I’m trying to think.
On your Instagram account, you wrote that “weeks & months” went into designing Thor’s blue and gold armor. What were the challenges of getting that one right?
That one was challenging just because of the nature of it. It’s what we called “the Extreme Thor.” So it’s as far as we can go. So myself and the other artists, we were pushing it — especially because we’re working with Taika and he wants to push us as far as possible, even to the point that you’re laughing as you’re looking at it. You have to go there where it is.
Then once they started liking my direction, from that point on, I’m doing version after version of fine tuning all the elements. He had a version that was supposed to be more toned down; we coined it “The Toned-Down Version” and then from there he sees Jane and he transforms. He gets a little insecure.
So he transforms into the “extreme” version. I even did an animation kind of showing how everything gets bigger. At first he was only supposed to have one set of shoulder pads, and when he goes “Extreme Thor” he has another set. Everything gets longer and bigger and golder. Even the helmet comes on and even that grows. There was even one design that got a big laugh where at the very even his hair got a little longer. From there, I’m working with [costume designer] Mayes Rubeo as well as Weta; they’re the ones who make the practical suit. So I was working back and forth through Zoom, as they’re showing me fittings, and sending me samples, and I’m making choices and fine-tuning how to get the final look. So that took months and months.
Here is something I’ve always wondered ever since I was a kid reading Marvel comics: The hallmark of every Thor costume are those six discs on his torso, three on each side. What are they supposed to be? Is that some kind of Norse mythology thing? Are they weapons? Is he hiding stuff in there? Why are there six discs on every Thor costume?
You know, that’s a question for Jack Kirby.
I do wonder if you can hunt down an interview with Jack Kirby or Stan Lee about that...
At the end of the day, these are comic book designs. So with, like, circles, these are basic shapes. When it comes to comic book drawing, there has to be an element of repeatability, because they're drawing it over and over again. I think there may be something Norse to the design. But why six? I don’t know. But on the Extreme Thor I gave him eight. I added two more. Jane has six — actually she has seven, cause she has one more in the middle of her belt. So those are the little details that not everyone notices. Yeah, he has two more, so he has eight discs.
Ah, so that inadequacy coming back out again.
You mention the Jane Foster Thor; that’s a design that’s very close to the comic book version. Some Marvel characters wind up very close to their comic look, like that Thor, and others wind up looking completely different than they did on the page. What is trickier: Taking something off the page and making it look real? Or creating something new that still feels like it fits the character people know from having read them in comics?
I will say for us artists, the ones where we get to deviate from the comics are more fun. It’s more of a fun challenge. But the comic book fan in me — I grew up in the ’80s reading Marvel comic books — doing the comic book accurate ones are the ones that the fan in me wants to do. So it’s kind of a battle, which direction to go in, but that’s the fun of our job, because we do it all. I do many versions [of a costume]; I’ll do the comic accurate one and then I’ll go all the way to a more conceptualized version, and I'll give you all the reasons why we’re deviating.
Some directors want to move away from that, versus with Taika. With Hela [Cate Blanchett’s Thor: Ragnarok character] we were like “Let’s make it more realistic,” cause it’s really out there, with horns coming out of the head. But he was the one pushing us, going “No, no no! I want Jack Kirby!” Some directors are like “We don’t want the bathing suit, tights kind of look that comics usually have. No underwear on the outside, that kind of thing. Let’s push away from that.”
Marvel just showed your Thunderbolts concept art at D23. And all of the characters basically look the way they have in previous films or shows, except for Red Guardian. So I’m curious what and who determines whether a character keeps the same costume from movie to movie versus getting a new costume.
It’s multifaceted. It could be the script, it could be the director. Usually that’s what determines do we give someone a new look. Do we maintain what we have? Do we go extreme? Do we not? Yeah, that was the first image I did of that film, so who knows where we’re going to end up.
Another piece that was revealed recently was your poster for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which has our first look at Kang. That’s another character whose costume fascinated me as a kid. Is he wearing a helmet? Is that thing a ski mask? And now you’re the guy who actually has to answer those questions. Was that a tough one to figure out?
Well, therein lies the fun. Just like you, I grew up reading the comics and sometimes you see certain comic characters and you’re like “Oh, why did they wear that?” Or “how does that work? I don’t understand.” Well, it’s a comic book. You don’t have to think about it that much.
But then in the ’80s, ’90s, 2000s, when comic book movies started coming out, that’s when you saw the reality of filmmakers trying to justify these looks. Like, if you look at Batman or the early X-Men movies, they kind of veered away from the more comic-accurate stuff, because it’s a little goofy, that kind of thing. So they went for the black leather.
So my job as a concept artist creating these costumes — mainly we’re character designers. We’re trying to tell stories with these costumes and we’re bringing a believability. “Why would Ant-Man wear this costume? It’s seemingly ridiculous that there would be adults, usually adults, that are wearing these tights and masks.“Traditionally, they’re wearing a mask to hide their identity. In the MCU, we’ve created something where it’s not so much about secret identities, so when someone wears a helmet or a mask there’s a reason, whether it’s protection or something else. In the case of Thor in Love and Thunder, it’s because he’s insecure. That’s the brilliance of what the MCU has brought, as far as helmets, secret identities, all of that kind of stuff.
I know you must be working on things now that the viewers won’t see for, I don’t know, two years, three years, four years. But has there been a project at Marvel that you worked on a while ago that just never saw the light of day? Something that vanished somewhere along the line that Marvel started up but then decided not to make?
Yeah. I’m trying to think of ... I’m not going to say the specifics, but I’m trying to think of specifics. [pause] Yeah, there’s definitely like ... whether it’s characters or early thoughts, inklings of something. They’ll come to us and we’ll do some early, early stuff, but then it’s up to them whether it goes somewhere. But for the most part, everything we’ve done you see it.
Does it break your heart when you do something that goes in a drawer that never gets seen? Or is that just part of the job?
That happens, where a character was going to be introduced in a movie and you’re like “Wow, this is so exciting” and you do a design, you go through the process of getting an approval, it finally gets approved, they might even start making a costume. And then, it doesn’t make it. But what happens is years later, that character does show up.
Like, the Wasp was going to be in Civil War in early pitches and scripts. So when she’s taken out you’re like “Aw man.” But then Ant-Man and the Wasp comes out and you’re like “That makes better sense if she’s introduced as the Wasp in her own film rather than in this one little fight scene in Civil War, no matter how cool that would have been. So it all works out in the end.
Another one I’ll bring up is Scarlet Witch. When we first did her for Age of Ultron, I wanted her to be in her comic accurate outfit. So I did designs like that, but of course it doesn’t make sense for that story. So then when they’re like “We’re not gonna give her her crown,” I was like “Oh man, but I really like that crown!” But then years later she gets introduced as the Scarlet Witch, not just Wanda Maximoff, in WandaVision and you’re like “Yeah, they know what they’re doing. That’s the proper way to do it, rather than just right off the bat giving her some weird crown for no particular reason.
Thor: Love and Thunder is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K.