Over the past three years, Marvel has become a powerhouse in the movie world with a string of blockbuster successes from the Iron Man movies, "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger." Spawned out of the entrancing art of Marvel Comics over the years, a new slipcase collection titled the "Art of Marvel Studios" highlights the production artwork and behind-the-scenes work done to make these movies work. The slipcase, on shelves now, contains the four previously released "Art of" books for each of the four Marvel-produced movies mentioned above, as well as a poster promoting the next entrant into the Marvel Cinematic Universe: "Marvel's The Avengers."
|The "Art of Marvel Studios" slipcase cover art by Ryan Meinerding and Charlie Wen|
“The pre-production is unique here at Marvel Studios,” says Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios. “At many places, movies start with a blank sheet of paper and script pages. Here at Marvel we also have hundreds and hundreds of comics and illustrations that have come before. In one way it’s incredible and inspiring, but it’s also challenging to have to choose which of all these different incarnations to hone in on to make a movie work.”
Although the movies are liveaction, the Marvel-produced films rely heavily on pre-production artwork to delineate the right costume, the right scenes and the right tone for each project as it goes forward. The studio relies heavily on its in-house illustration department, headed up by Ryan Meinerding, to define the characters for the filmmakers.
“We follow our instincts, and our in-house illustrators Ryan Meinerding and Charlie Wen help guide us with their instincts,” Feige explains. “They’re two of the best artists I’ve met in my entire life, and the best artists in film in over 20 years. It’s amazing to have them here.”
Some films require an elaborate process to narrow down what the movie version of the comic character should look like, but with "Iron Man" a lot of the work had been done for them with Adi Granov’s work on the “Extremis” arc of the comic series a few years prior.
“Adi Granov really cracked the code for a new, realistic suit of armor that looks like Iron Man,” Feige points out. “On that film, Adi worked with Ryan Meinerding and Phil Sanders to bring it into the real world with ILM and Stan Winston’s company, Legacy.”
|The "Art of Thor" cover art by Charlie Wen|
While some characters are easily ported over for movies, others require a little bit of work, making the production sketches such as the ones seen in the "Art of" books prove invaluable.
“For the Whiplash character in 'Iron Man 2,' frankly we didn’t want to go with the skintight black costume and green/purple ponytail as seen in the comics,” Feige says, laughingly. “We gave Ryan the liberty to work on this, and it wasn’t until we saw Ryan’s sketch for Mickey Rourke as Whiplash that we decided to make him part of the movie.
“That’s what is so amazing about our visual development team,” Feige continues. “In the 'Art of Marvel Studios' books you see all the things we tried before we struck gold. They’re our R&D department for the films. Many of the key scenes in the movies were first dreamt up by the illustrators, before even a script was written.”
Owing to its artistic roots in comics, Marvel Studios begins the process of creating concept art well before a movie begins production, or in some cases, even before the film is green lit.
“Our production art starts earlier than any other film studio,” explains Feige. “They are in on the ground floor, oftentimes before we even talk to screenwriters. Ryan Meinerding did much of the art for 'Captain America: The First Avenger' years before we had a script or even a director. Joe Johnston [director of 'Captain America: The First Avenger'] fell in love with Ryan’s key frames, which represented the visuals we wanted for the movie. Ryan became a close confidante of Joe for pre-production, shooting and even post-production with effects. Joe is an illustrator himself, so he found a kindred spirit with Ryan here.”
The key frames that the Marvel Studios illustrators create work as reference points for the filmmakers throughout their entire process.
|The "Art of Captain America: The First Avengers" cover art by Ryan Meinerding|
“We carry the key frames with us all over, from the production offices to the set and through editorial,” the studio president remarks. “They inspire us as we finish the movie, and it’s my favorite thing in the world to assemble all of that artwork [in the 'Art of Marvel Studios' books] to show the journey that the movie took to completion. We’re able to publish them in-house, and they’re some of the best ‘art of’ books I’ve seen on shelves.”
The decision to collect these four "Art of Marvel Studios" books all in one slipcase came about for two reasons, says David Gabriel, Senior VP of Sales & Circulation.
“With 'Marvel's The Avengers' moving coming up it was the perfect time to do a collection of what’s come so far,” recalls Gabriel. “On the flipside, all of the hardcovers of the original 'Art of' books had sold out almost instantaneously. We knew we had books people would want, and since the holiday season is coming up we knew it was a good time to do this.”
When Marvel published the first book, "Iron Man: Art of Iron Man the Movie" back in 2008, it was still unexplored territory for the publisher. But once it was on shelves, they realized quickly how much fans enjoyed them.
“Since we started these with the first Iron Man three years ago, the sales on each newer volume have increased almost exponentially. With 'Thor' and 'Captain America: The First Avenger,' the sales were more than double what the two Iron Man books did. It’s shown that there’s definitely a market for higher priced, beautiful volumes spotlighting the biggest movies of the year.”
This expansive "Art of Marvel Studios" slipcase puts the four movie books in one package for the first time, and Marvel is keyed into promoting it as buzz around "Marvel's The Avengers" begins to swell.
“Marvel will be marketing the slipcase collection to the mass audience with print ads, which we normally don’t do for books unless it’s something special,” Gabriel explains. “It will begin in early October, and there will definitely be a big push as the holiday season approaches. In the past it’s been hard to promote these because we didn’t want to spoil the movies that were coming out simultaneously, but now to be able to show and talk about what’s in the book has been beneficial to us. We’re also including an exclusive movie poster for 'Marvel's The Avengers' in the slipcase collection, to see how these four movies are intersecting in 2012.”