Unplug Avengers A.I. Pt. 2

Artist Andre Lima Araujo discusses redesigning the Vision, style vs. substance and more!

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Avengers A.I. #1 inks by André Lima Araújo

By Paul Montgomery

The children of Ultron represent the pinnacle of design, so their showcase title deserves an equally thoughtful approach to form and function. A former student of architecture, André Lima Araújo brings both style and substance to AVENGERS A.I., establishing a solid foundation in practical engineering before lending these heroes that celebrated Pym panache.

We continue our tour of the artist’s sketchbook with commentary on the Vision, an iconic character who very nearly lost his trademark cape, something of a rarity in the Marvel Universe. Araújo’s approach to drawing Marvel’s most sophisticated artificial intelligence epitomizes his sensibility.

Marvel.com: Not only can Vision phase through walls, he can divide himself into a nanite array, a veritable swarm of tiny micro-Visions. There's an element of David Cronenberg body horror to that ability. Can you talk about tackling that design challenge? 

André Lima Araújo: I loved it, I think it helps to set Vision apart; otherwise he'd be a generic hero who happens to be an android. I think that with abilities like these he becomes a much more interesting character with a set of powers that make him unique. Design-wise it was a lot of fun to do and pretty much driven by instinct. Sam [Humphries] wrote it in the character description when we were starting this collaboration and the images everyone saw on issue #1, of Vision dividing himself, popped immediately into my head. So, when the script arrived in my hands and I read the scene I knew exactly what to do. 

Avengers A.I. #1 art by André Lima Araújo

Marvel.com: Is it just me, or is Vision a little huskier these days? A little wider in the hips?

André Lima Araújo: I don't know, is he? Sam described his physique as a "Vision" so I went that route and made him look strong and muscular.

Marvel.com: Given his nanite composition, could he change his default body type, give himself an extra arm at the expense of some height? Does it work like that?

André Lima Araújo: That's a pretty good description of how it works. He could definitely change his body type to suit different needs. Your example of an extra arm is a good one. He could even retain the same body height and just reduce his density. Of course, that would mean a more fragile surface. So, in theory, he could become huge, but would have the consistency of water or dust at a certain point.

Marvel.com: That's pretty versatile. Who would you say is next in line after Vision as the most powerful being in the AVENGERS A.I. ensemble? 

André Lima Araújo: To each their own strengths I guess. Vision is pretty powerful when it comes to the usual super hero stuff, but it's difficult to compare him to Monica Chang when you think of all the power she has as a top S.H.I.E.L.D. officer or with Hank's brains or the mysterious Alexis and so on. The team is diverse when it comes to abilities so comparing can be deceiving. But, as field operatives go, Victor would come in second and Doombot in third.

Avengers A.I. #1 inks by André Lima Araújo

Marvel.com: In addition to the more biological androids, you're also drawing some purely mechanical robots and armors, the Iron Man armor Dimitrios has possessed for instance. It's impressive that all those moving parts have a function, that it isn't just style and flash. To what extent do you have to understand how a mechanism works in order to draw it in action, or even at rest?

André Lima Araújo: That observation is spot on, as I'm obsessed with that. For me, style is a consequence of substance, so if I'm drawing something I need to understand how it works. When I'm creating a character, a robot, armor, a weapon, a vehicle, a building, whatever it is, I don't want to add stuff just because it looks cool. I must have reason to do it. Once I have it, of course, I try to make it visually appealing—it's fiction after all. But a certain degree of the idea that form follows function is always present in my design work. In the specific case of Marvel characters, most of them are already designed, like the sentient Iron Man armor. But even when that is the case, I search for as many references as I can to see how the different parts work. Joints are a particular object of concern here, and how malleable [or] movable certain parts are, like the shoulder pads. They are movable in the armor that I draw, because otherwise he would [not] be able to cross his arms or do certain movements, for example, which would limit his expressive ability even more. This process, but backwards, is pretty much my design philosophy: find out what something/someone is meant to be doing in the story and design it accordingly.

Avengers A.I. #1 art by André Lima Araújo

There are exceptions of course. On example is Vision's cape. When I was asked to re-design Vision I wrote the editors and Sam telling how I thought that there was no real objective reason for him to have a cape, particularly being him a machine. Something like a piece of cloth hanging on your back doesn't seem to be the best thing to have if you will be fighting bad guys and involved in dangerous situations on a daily basis. Everyone agreed. After a couple of designs I came up with the costume that is on the book, but without the cape. My instinct was telling me that something was missing, so I threw in the cape. All of a sudden, it felt complete. I sent both, everyone, including me, choose the one with the cape. Certain things you need to just go with it.

Marvel.com: It sounds like the cape is a concession to form even if it doesn't have a real function. Can you speak to that question of style vs. substance? Is it more complicated than those absolutes?

Avengers A.I. #2 inks by André Lima Araújo

André Lima Araújo: Yes, it is more complex than that. I spoke of form and function in design as absolutes just to simplify my point of view, but there's a lot of grey in there as well. It's far from being all black and white. I use the function as a rule because it helps to integrate the various elements together more easily, validates things better on the reader's eye. But the rules are also there to be bended and broken and I certainly do that a lot as well. Context, for example, is a major player. The fact alone that this is Marvel Universe played a big role in that specific question of Vision design. The cape felt right because this is a super hero world. So sometimes it’s important to go with your gut feeling as well. If something strongly feels right, it's better to make a concession than to be stuck with something that's odd to the story even though it obeys to a set of logical rules. It will end up paying a disservice to the narrative.

But the question of substance vs. style is something that I apply not only to the design but to the overall process. Storytelling, my main concern while writing and drawing, for example, is all about substance for me: the first concern is showing the things that need to be shown with clarity, making sure the reading flows nicely, establishing the locations, the characters, maintaining consistency on the placement of elements, etc. And then we have a lot of space for style and flair as well. So it's not really a question of either/or, but of which comes first. And substance should come first.

Avengers A.I. #2 art by André Lima Araújo

If you see my layouts you'll notice zero concerns on my behalf to the overall look of it. I don't worry about perfect anatomy or perfect perspective there. I worry about flow, composition, character blocking—first to speak on the left, etc.—balloon space and placement, camera angles. I draw just the bare minimum to get the message across. Then, when the substance is locked I worry about all those surface things while drawing the actual page, in the sense that sometimes I adjust camera angles to give more impact to a scene, give a character a more stylish pose or a bit more flair, add more details to the surroundings or place an easter egg here or there.

We can even pull an architectural analogy here. The substance is the structure, so it comes first; pillars, layers, walls. Then comes the embellishment, painting, decoration, furniture. I think there's a place for everything and there's an order as well. 

Get more art and thoughts from André tomorrow, and read AVENGERS A.I.

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