It came as no surprise that Thursday's Making of Guardians of the Galaxy brought a packed house to the Gnomon stage as we welcomed the Marvel Studios' visual development team to our campus for a visually striking and equally inspiring event. Audience members were fed copious amounts of eye candy as the artists showcased the progression of initial character concepts to the finalized, now iconic Guardians. Charlie Wen, Josh Herman, Andy Park, Jackson Sze, Anthony Francisco, and Rodney Fuentebella shared personal anecdotes that accompanied each piece, providing attendees with an entertaining walk-through of the film's character design process.
The team began work on the film's creatures and characters prior to having a script or a director (a role later filled by James Gunn). Because of this, it was important to highlight the stories and personalities of the individual characters regardless of what unfolded with the dialogue. In order to bring out the otherworldly aesthetics and personality traits of the film's creatures and characters in the beginning stages, the team crafted inspiration walls out of corkboard, as displayed by Andy Park, which helped them to hone in on the desired outcomes. Rodney Fuentebella stressed that, while the comics will always drive the initial designs, it is still important to seek out inspiration from the wide variety of artistic mediums that already exist. It became clear early on in the presentation that the Guardians' design was inspired by eclectic references beyond the pages of the comics, such as Liberace for The Collector as stated by Jackson Sze, and Star Wars' Chewbacca for Groot, as stated by Josh Herman. Charlie Wen was quick to mention that the film's unique color palette was heavily influenced by the artwork of Chris Foss.
One of the most fascinating parts of the presentation was seeing the numerous design variations many of the characters went through before becoming the versions we all came to know, revealing a truly collaborative process. Groot, for instance, was digitally painted in Photoshop by a few of the artists, such as Jackson Sze and Andy Park, before being created in 3D. Sze explored a variety of options for Groot, pulling reference from the robots from Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. He even played with the concept of Groot being allergic to himself and frequently sneezing – a charming idea, however one that was not used in the film. Josh Herman, Gnomon alumnus and the only CG artist of the group, then took elements of the most successful 2D paintings and merged them into 3D designs using ZBrush. Herman referenced images of wood to texture Groot's body and approached his eyes with the hopes of replicating the look of peeled grapes (fun fact, to achieve Groot's eyes, Herman actually incorporated photos of his dog's eyes into the digital sculpture).
It was obvious from the friendly banter between the team that not only was Guardians of the Galaxy a wild success, but it was also extremely fun to work on. This was the first time that they had to recreate Marvel characters who were not from Earth, and they met the challenge head-on. Charlie Wen pointed out that the artwork shown during the presentation didn't scrape the surface of how many design iterations the characters went through, which says a lot about how hard these artists worked to create a truly unforgettable movie.
We want to extend a big thank you to them and to Marvel for sharing their experiences on our campus. We are Groot!
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