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Art of Thor: Charlie Wen

Charlie Wen, Visual Development Supervisor for 'Thor,' talks about designing the Asgardians' bigscreen look!

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By Odin’s beard! We’re celebrating the May 6 release of “Thor” with a bevy of daily new content, from interviews with the cast and crew of the film to looks back at key stories from the comics and even more surprises! Visit Marvel.com every day for new Thor Month coverage, and mark your calendars for May 6 as the Odinson flies onto the bigscreen!

By Marc Strom

Last week, we spoke with Ryan Meinerding about his designs for "Thor," and now his fellow Visual Development Supervisor, Charlie Wen, takes you behind the curtain!

Responsible for the final designs of Thor and Loki from the film, Wenn played an integral part in bringing the Odinson from the comic page to the bigscreen, and will have much of his work featured in the upcoming "The Art of Thor" book in stores tomorrow, May 4.

Before you pick up the book and see "Thor" when it hits theaters on May 6, though, get a taste of all you have in store as Wen goes in depth on the design of Thor, Loki, Mjolnir, and so much more!

Marvel.com: All right, so to begin, please tell the fans a little bit about your own personal history working in film, as well as what role you had in the Thor movie.

Loki concept art by Charlie Wen from "The Art of Thor"

Charlie Wen: I had my start in games and eventually went to films, [but] “Thor” is probably the first film I’ve worked on that’s actually coming out. Most of the other films that I’ve worked on have kind of scuttered away, projects that were trying to get done, but you know, never came out. So I’m excited for “Thor” to come out because it’s the first one.

Marvel.com: And then on “Thor,” what were some of your main contributions to it?

Charlie Wen: I did the final designs on Thor and Loki, and some of the side characters like Sif, Hogun, Fandral and [Volstagg]. Those are where most of my time was spent.

Marvel.com: In talking to Ryan Meinerding, he mentioned how you were the one who sort of landed on grafting that Norse mythological aspect onto the characters. What was the process behind that, landing on the main aesthetic you wound up using for the costumes?

Charlie Wen: Well I think I was the one that landed on it, but it built up that way from so much of the stuff we both did, start[ing] with a lot of [the original comics’] designs mixed in with Norse mythology. In the beginning of it, because we were still trying to find it, I think I was more interested in trying to maintain the Norse side of things as much as I could, as much as I thought I could get away with, and it was trying to get that balance of how much do you really need to keep of the comic book design and not lose [it]. Because you’re trying to reestablish an icon, just in a different medium, you know? And so it was kind of important to make sure we didn’t go too far Norse. [We looked at what] were all the recognizable things about Thor. His discs, obviously. Do you keep the helmet or not? Even [the] cape, that was also an issue. How much of it can you get away with trying to change while trying to recreate him to both the Norse side of things of things and the [comics’] world.

Marvel.com: So then in addition to looking back to the comics versions of Thor, it sounds like you did a lot of research then in traditional Norse depictions of them.

"The Art of Thor" cover art

Charlie Wen: Yeah. That’s actually where the very first design of Thor [I did came from]. I actually did it before I started with Marvel. I did it as I was going to come talk to Kevin [Feige] and Craig [Kyle], and [his] whole big chest piece was really a big knotted [Norse] symbol. [That’s] a big part of a lot of the Norse symbols, the interweaving of a lot of the shapes. So that was one element that I really wanted to keep, and it seemed like it was also a good way to integrate the discs together, so that they’re not just these separate elements. [The question was] how do you tie them together so that it does feel like it leads from one to the other? So Norse symbols were actually one of the first places I went to. And [they] kind of stayed in the final [design].

Marvel.com: When I was looking through “The Art of Thor,” there’s this one page that has I don’t even know how many—maybe 20 different hammer designs that you had done for Mjolnir. And they sort of ranged from the more traditional ones like what wound up in the film to versions more reminiscent of Thor’s hammer from the Ultimates. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your process for designing the hammer and how you wound up with such a wide variety of them, and then how you landed on the more traditional one in the end.

Charlie: Yeah, it’s interesting to talk about the hammer because it’s usually the part that gets left out in these interviews. The hammer was an interesting process, and the reason I had to hit all these different notes was because we had no idea what Thor looked like at the time. It was actually the very first thing I ended up designing. [Laughter] So I needed to throw a bunch of stuff out and the parts that I have to throw out, or put in there, are the traditional Thor hammer with the short handle as well as the Ultimates versions--versions that I know people still recognize. And then [I] kind of fill[ed] in everywhere in between, and maybe somewhere even further out there [than] that. There wasn’t a lotta eliminating at that point. [But] I’m really glad that Ken [Branagh], the one that he [chose] was the most traditional one. For me, I was very glad.

"The Art of Thor" dustjacket art

Marvel.com: Did you have a design that was your favorite?

Charlie Wen: I did, I did. [Laughing] My favorite was Hogun, and I don’t think it’s just that he was an Asian character. There was a certain aesthetic about it that I enjoyed bringing in. And actually, doing Hogun helped with some of the other characters, too. Because Hogun obviously had Asian influences in it as far as different Chinese [elements] as well as Japanese samurai influences. But I think some of the layering of cloth and leather and different materials that you would see in a lot of these traditional Asian costumes really stuck out to me, and that was some of the stuff I felt did influence me in other warrior costumes I had to do. I felt like that was one of the more exciting parts. And I liked how it ended up, but I felt like I also really enjoyed just the process of that, coming to it, and [that realization of] “Oh wow, I think this is really starting to work.” Even some of the tiling of the metal that’s on the leather, and then the weaving of some of that cloth. That was probably the most exciting part for me. It was more about just finding something, you know? And I think I learned more on him than some of the other characters.

Marvel.com: And on the flip side of that, were there any designs that were particularly tricky for you in any way?

Charlie Wen: Besides Thor taking so long? [Laughter] I guess you could call that tricky, because it did take a long time. But it was a blessing that so many different artists were able to be on that and influencing that. Ryan did tons of [designs for] Thor that influenced me as well, so it was a good back and forth thing. But in terms of the most tricky one? Maybe it was Loki, because Loki had two costumes that I did the final ones for. One was his more, I guess the ‘street’ Asgardian version, and then his battle uniform. His seemed like it was probably the trickiest, just because there [are] so many different elements of him to try to show, and because he’s this villain that you want to try to empathize with in a way. There just feels like there’s a little bit more layers to that. And [then the question of] how far to go with his helmet…we eventually did stay with the big horn elements, and I did play with other ones, too, that didn’t actually use the horns at all, but eventually we still ended up going back to the horns just because it’s the most recognizable. And that’s kind of what you end up doing with these characters anyways, at least for the main characters, hav[ing] to hit what’s most identifiable for them because you’re changing a lot of stuff to try to make it work with a film. Film is so much about texture and materials, and that’s what the costume designers really bring a lot into. But I think once you start doing that, it does change a lot of what people know them as. And [since you’re] already changing that much, there are certain parts of it that you just can’t change, and you find those areas that you have to just keep [in order] to make sure that they still maintain [what makes them recognizable] as an icon.


For more Thor, visit the film's official site and our "Thor" movie page!

Buy your "Thor" tickets now on Fandango, Moviefone or MovieTickets.com!

Check out the list of Required Reading: Thor Collections, and find the best jumping-on points with Thor: Where to Start!

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the epic adventure "Thor" spans the Marvel Universe from present day Earth to the realm of Asgard. At the center of the story is The Mighty Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior whose reckless actions reignite an ancient war. Thor is cast down to Earth and forced to live among humans as punishment. Once here, Thor learns what it takes to be a true hero when the most dangerous villain of his world sends the darkest forces of Asgard to invade Earth.

"Thor" is from a screenplay by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz and Don Payne and a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich. Marvel Studios’ President Kevin Feige will produce the film. Alan Fine, Stan Lee, David Maisel and Marvel Studio’s Co-President, Louis D'Esposito, will executive produce.

In addition to "Thor," Marvel Studios will release a slate of films based on the Marvel characters including "Captain America: The First Avenger" on July 22, 2011; "Marvel's The Avengers" on May 4, 2012; and "Iron Man 3" on May 3, 2013.

 

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