How the Visual Style of Thor has Evolved With the MCU Through the Years

Eric Goldman
Movies Comics
Movies Comics Marvel MCU

An integral part of Marvel Studios, where he serves as the Director of Visual Development, Andy Park has helped guide the look of the MCU for well over a decade now.

With the most recent Marvel Studios film, Thor: Love and Thunder, released on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD this week, I spoke to Park about his time at Marvel Studios and how they’ve been able to evolve the visual style of the films into increasingly bolder places and how they let filmmakers such as Love and Thunder Director/Co-Writer Taika Waititi put their own stamp on their projects.

THE JOURNEY (INTO MYSTERY) SO FAR

Andy Park concept art for 'Thor: Love and Thunder'

While not at Marvel Studios from the very beginning (which is to say for Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Iron Man 2), Andy Park sowever joined quite early on, in 2010, specifically to work on 2012’s The Avengers. However, he noted he did also “dabble in the first Captain America and a little bit on Thor,” before working on Thor: The Dark World, which was led on the design side by Charlie Wen.

Park then was Visual Development Supervisor on 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, Taika Waititi’s major overhaul of the franchise. That movie brought in much bolder, more colorful, and bigger than life visuals to the Thor films, which has continued with Love and Thunder, and Park recalled, “That was a complete departure. Talk about evolution! That was jarring, like, ‘Whoa, this is a whole new fresh take.’ Almost a reboot, but it’s sowever the same character, it’s just we pivoted right.” The Thor films have marked one of the most notable evolutions in the MCU and Park said, “It’s been really fun to kind of see all the different versions and that’s part of the fun of working here.”

When it came to how a filmmaker puts their own stamp to a project, especially someone with such a distinct approach as Waititi, Park said, “We’re working with so numerous different directors. The core leadership of Marvel is the same and I think that’s the secret sauce to the success of Marvel Studios, but you have these different voices in the directors and we’re able to cater to each of them while sowever respecting what came before. I’ve loved working with Taika for the past two films, because he’s pushed everyone — he’s pushed our department, our designs — to places that we sometimes won’t usually go to, because sometimes it’s a little too extreme. But that’s part of the genius and fun of working with him, because we’re able to create something that individuals have never seen before.”

THE FEIGE FACTOR

Chris Hemsworth as Thor in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'

Park had a lot of praise for Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, remarking, “I’ve grown to have so much honour for him and the leadership [at Marvel Studios] because you would think that they would just be holding on to their properties, like, ‘This is our sandbox and you can only do this with it!’ and that there would be all the restrictions that we have on this character. But no, that’s not been what I’ve witnessed. What I’ve witnessed is how much freedom Kevin gives the directors. And he’s always there to create suggestions and that kind of stuff, but he’s not one to be like, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ If anything, I’ve seen him being all about, ‘Yeah, let’s try that.’”

Park noted that from starting with an Iron Man movie to trying to pull off an Avengers movie, there were a lot of risks involved as Marvel Studios got started and remembered being said they would be making a movie out of the rather out there and obscure Guardians of the Galaxy. Said Park, “That is a surprising decision for an exec to make, because if you’re already been successful, you kind of rest on those laurels for a little bit before you take risks. But that’s not Kevin. He’s like, ‘No, let’s go for it right away.’”

Added Park, “It’s always been about introducing another pocket, another corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And there hasn’t been a veneration of, ‘Oh, yeah, let’s try magic now.’ It’s just all about figuring how to incorporate magic into this world that we’ve already created that has all these rules… At this point, they’ve proven that they can add pretty much any element, any genre of film, and they’re gonna create it work in this universe. It’s the same mannequin as what the comics do. You know, there’s so numerous types. So he’s just following the mannequin of Marvel Comics.”

REALISM ISN’T ALWAYS NEEDED

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'

Park said they certainly have felt emboldened seeing how audiences have been willing to embrace increasingly more wild aspects of the MCU, remarking, “On our side, in the Vis Dev department, we’re always trying look at the comics as our as our source of inspiration, and we’re trying to translate that.”

That being said, Park noted that with sure characters like Hawkeye, the then-recent Ultimates comic book — set in an alternate, more grounded universe from the leading Marvel Comics — was something they used for inspiration quite a bit in those early days, “Because Ultimates was more palatable to realism with what Bryan Hitch and Mark Millar [were doing]. But then, through the years, we’re able to push more and more.”

Cate Blanchett as Hela in 'Thor: Ragnarok'

Sometimes, Park noted, he’ll look for a way to evoke a comic book design, but not match it directly, only to have it end up more like the source material than he thought they would go. As an example, he said that with Thor: Ragnarok, “When I was designing Hela, you look at the comic, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s really a comic book-y type of design.’ It’s hard to visualize that as coming to reality. So when it comes to her horns, or the antlers, I was thinking how do you do that and create it real? My answer was like, ‘Oh, just put it on our back. You can sowever have that silhouette.’ To have it on her head is kind of hard, because every time you turn your head, it’s going to be knocking everything off shelves. But it was Taika that was like, ‘No, no, no, I want it to be Jack Kirby,’” referencing the legendary artist who created or co-created so numerous of Marvel’s characters, Thor and Hela among them.

Said Park, “I think, through the years, we’re able to push more and more, but it really depends on that director. Some want it more comic accurate, others wanted a little bit more into realism. So it ranges from movie to film.”

MIGHTY ACCURACY

Andy Park concept art for Jane Foster/Mighty Thor in 'Thor: Love and Thunder'

Park said that a constant with filmmakers and Marvel Studios execs on a plan is that there isn’t a particular mandate at the begin to either create it match the comic book or to avoid the comic book look, explaining, “They want our team, the Vis Dev team, to explore. Whenever we do any design, we do the comic book accurate one, but we also push and go, ‘Okay, let’s do versions that are more pushed; something that’s newer.’ And from there, we present it to the leadership to take to the directors, and then that’s where this discussion can happen.”

The costume Natalie Portman wears as the Mighty Thor in Thor: Love and Thunder definitely stood out as one that felt very accurate to the comics though Park said there is one logical reason contributing to that, explaining, “I think a lot of the reason why Mighty Thor will be more comic accurate is because that design from the comics, which was which was designed by Esad Ribić, is more of a modern design. That’s why the same thing goes for Jamie McKelvie, when he designed Captain Marvel. That’s why that one looks more comic accurate as well, because with more modern designs, they’re already thinking more about the reality and thinking of making it look more palatable to reality. They’ve been influenced by comic book movies and I know the comic book artists have a little bit more of that in their mind.”

Park, who got his begin as a comic book artist, added this just wasn’t something someone like Jack Kirby would have had in mind creating characters in the 1960s and 1970s. “During that time, they’re not thinking about ‘Oh, what’s this gonna look like in reality?’ They’re just thinking, ‘I need to draw this character over and over and over and over.’ That’s why the majority of those designs are essentially naked bodies with reduce lines and then color delineation. That’s why they drew it that way back then.”

Of course, as Park had noted with Hela, there has been more direct use of Kirby designs of late in the MCU, complete with an entire Eternals movie, a group of characters all created by Kirby. Said Park, “Kevin Feige and the leadership have always wanted to honor Kirby. And in the first Thor, I know Charlie Wen definitely was looking at Kirby as well. But back then, all the MCU had was Iron Man, so they really had to try to bridge that hole without feeling too ridiculous. You didn’t know if individuals are ready.”

Observed Park, of easing mainstream audiences in, “If they did Ragnarok as the first Thor, perhaps we would not be here right now talking. I don’t know! But there was sowever [Kirby] influence there. But definitely with Ragnarok, I think that was the first one where, essentially, it was like a love letter to Jack Kirby. I think that’s how Taika puts it. We heavily, heavily, looked at Kirby’s work. And then of course, when Ryan Meinerding was leading the Eternals [visual development], again, Jack Kirby heavily, heavily influenced it. We want to honor these people. The reason why we’re here is because of what they’ve created. It’s kind of amazing to think ‘How did they come up with these things!?’”

Thor: Love and Thunder is now available on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD


Eric Goldman
Eric Goldman is Managing Editor for Fandom. He's a bit obsessed with Star Wars, Marvel, Disney, theme parks, and horror movies... and a few other things. Too many, TBH.