Bringing Comics to the Big Screen
After debuting in the 90’s with his artwork in the best-selling comic book series: Tomb Raider, Excalibur,Weapon X, and The Uncanny X-Men, Andy Park made a name for himself in the entertainment industry. Currently working as a professional concept artist for Marvel Studios, he has provided illustrations and designs for top-tier projects such as The Avengers, Thor, True Blood, God of War and Iron Man. Park talked to Seoul Journal about his career in the unique developing field of concept art, his love for comics and his Korean heritage.
SJ: How would you describe your art style?
PARK : I think my art style has evolved because in the beginning of my career I started out as a comic book artist. For the first ten years, I worked over at Image Comics and Marvel Comics as a penciller. I had a comic book style in the vein of guys that I admire, like Jim Lee. Eventually, I attended art school over at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and that's where I learned how to paint. I studied illustration and I studied a lot of life drawing and then my art sensibilities became a little more realistic –less cartoony. Eventually I transitioned out of comic books into concept art, and instead of drawing with a pencil, I started painting more and painting digitally using software like Painter and Photoshop. I worked on video games and now films for the past 10 years. For the first 10 years, my career was in comic books with very much a comic book style which I would say was a little bit more cartoony, but cartoony realism, I'd call it. When I went into concept art, my work started to become a little bit more realistic with more realistic lighting and forms. During the past five years while I've been at Marvel doing work on films, everything that I do had to look like its real. It has to look like the actor. It has to have realistic proportions because that's what I'm designing for, so now there's a lot more realism than there had been. My art style kind of fluctuates when I draw on my own. A lot of the time, I will still draw in a comic book cartoony way. I kind of enjoy the gamut from drawing cartoony to drawing more realistically. For me it’s all fun.
SJ: When you studied at the Art Center College of Design, do you think you were able to learn things that could be only be learned at college and not in the field?
PARK: That is a common question these days. I think that when I went to the Art Center, it was 1997. I went from 1997 to 1999, and back then there was the Internet, but the Internet wasn't as prolific as it is now, so there weren’t as many resources. So yes, in my artistic history and path, it did kind of require me to go to art school in order for me to learn traditional things –that's the reason I went. For me, there was no avenue to learn the basics of art. When it comes to learning about composition, form, lining, the human anatomy, using color and design –all the language of illustration –I had to learn that at school. These days, I meet a lot of students and young artists who ask me that kind of question. These days, my answer would be no, you don't have to go to art school to learn the basics or get formal training that’s traditionally associated with art school because of the amount of information that's out there. The amount of books that are out there now is pretty crazy. So many great art books that you can learn from and then of course, online; there are plenty of schools that have popped up. There are schools to which you can subscribe and take classes online. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube. There are tutorials that you can purchase very cheaply on a site called Gumroad; there are so many avenues for you to learn. The distinction, I would say, is that you have all the resources to learn and become a prolific and well-versed artist online, but it requires self-motivation. A school provides that. In school, you're paying an exorbitant amount of money and you have certain classes, you have the deadlines… you're forced to learn. On top of that, something that you don't have online but have at your school is the immediate competition of other students, the camaraderie of the students. Very often when you go to a physical school, that's where you're networking, and eventually you will be working with the same people in your career and helping each other out in your career for years to come. Online, you can still meet people obviously. You can have that competition and that camaraderie, but then again everything online requires that whole self-motivation. And not every artist has that, you know? There are not a lot of artists who go, "I can paint and draw every single day." Most of us are like, "I want to paint. I want to work really hard for a week.” Then a week later, we'll all get really lazy and won't paint for a month or something."
SJ: What do you think it takes to have a career in the world of art and illustration?
PARK: That's a pretty broad question. It depends on what field you're talking about because concept art is something that's really hot right now. You see so many artists want to become concept artists. Ten years ago, concept art was still relatively new even though it was around much longer than that. But I would say ten years ago not every company knew how to utilize concept artists. They're still kind of learning. "Okay, we need artists because the technology is getting better in video games,” but there was not a standard of, "This is how you build a visual development concept team in order to make a successful game.” Companies were still feeling it out. I was at Sony at that time, and it was still a kind of a work in progress regarding how to utilize us; we kind of grew with the company. It’s really, really competitive. The number of artists that are coming up is growing, and then on top of that, it’s becoming global. In the past, it was in films or video games. It was pretty local. All the companies that are in the L.A. area were just looking for L.A. based artists. Now it’s totally changing. Companies are hiring people in Europe and across the world. They are not required to fly them out and get them work visas and all that kind of stuff. It’s become much easier to just have them stay where they are and work with them, so it’s becoming even more competitive. I mean, just locally in the L.A area or the South California area there are so many artists, so that's already competition enough. But because it’s become a global field, you're competing against people in Russia, in Japan, in Europe. There are so many artists around the world, and everything has changed because of the Internet. So when you ask, “What does it take?” it does really require that kind of self-motivation for working. It’s hard to survive in the art world if you're just going to do enough to get by. You can't just get the job done, because the guy right next to you and the artist that's in school right now; they're working their asses off –they're drawing, they're growing, they're learning. They're able to try other things in class. They're learning 3D. They're learning different programs and they're growing exponentially at a very fast rate. Because technology is constantly changing, the role of a concept artist is constantly evolving as well. It requires more and more sophistication from the artist. There are plenty of artists that are a little bit more old-school, I would say, but they're not learning. There are artists out there who don't even know how to use Photoshop which is kind of a standard. It’s become very difficult for them to compete when they are still using traditional media like pencil and pen. Not to say that they don't exist –they do, but it’s just become harder and harder, and even now the traditional concept artists are using Photoshop and looking up 2D in painting and learning how to render –and in recent years –3D programs like Maya and MODO. It’s becoming harder and harder if you don't know 3D. It’s becoming harder and harder to compete. So, to be an artist in entertainment out there is really challenging because one, the technology; two, because of the competition; three, because of the amount of information out there; and four, because of the pace at which artists are becoming better than ever. It’s a faster pace than at any time in history. I'd say it’s all because of the Internet.
Images (c) Marvel
SJ: : Were your parents supportive of what you were doing?
PARK: I'm Korean-American, so my parents were born and raised in Korea. They immigrated to America in the 70s and I was born in the States. I'm second-generation. Traditionally, Koreans are known to be very…well, the joke is you have to become a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman. I was very fortunate. I have two older siblings. My oldest sibling became a lawyer. My older sibling is going to become a businessman. So, I think that because I was the youngest and my parents had been living here for a number of years, they became a little bit more Americanized. They were surprisingly more open than a lot of other traditional Korean parents. I think it helped that I had older siblings that kind of encouraged them. I think it helped too that they knew that I've always drawn ever since I can remember and they've always supported and encouraged my talent when it comes to drawing. They never pushed me one way or the other. I never told them, "I wanna do art." It was basically a hobby. I always knew I loved art but I never knew if I could actually do it for a job because my parents are not artists, I didn't have any relatives or friends that are artists growing up, so I was very ignorant of what was out there and that I could actually make money. So I didn't necessarily plan to be an artist. I just knew that I loved it. As time went by in junior high and high school, I loved comic books and comic books were really big at that time during the 80s and 90s, specifically with the formation of Image Comics. There was a huge market. I just dreamt of becoming a comic book artist because that's all I knew. There was no concept art. I didn't know about any other type of art apart from comic books. So I just practiced all the time because I dreamt of becoming a comic book artist. I didn't know if I would ever become good enough, but I did it because I was passionate about it. I moved to L.A. thinking, "I'm just gonna study. I'm gonna continue to try to become a comic book artist, but I can't count on that." But I got hired when I was actually 19, when I was a sophomore at UCLA.
SJ: How did you get your first big break?
PARK: I went to my first Comic-Con when I was 17. That was the first time I had ever seen professional artists and I was just blown away. I kept on working on my portfolio, and then I went to Comic-Con in my sophomore year in UCLA when I was 18 and I showed my portfolio around. They had portfolio review lines at the time. I would wait three hours just to get to the front of the line. I was trying to get a job at Image Comics. Jim Lee was my idol. I have a wall dedicated to his artwork. It helped that he was Korean-American as well; just the fact that he was going to become a doctor, but then he took a break from medical school to become a comic book artist and then he became really successful. In that Comic-Con, I showed my stuff with the purpose of just wanting to get critiqued. I had never met a professional artist; I just wanted to see where I stood as far as what I needed to do and the direction of my art. When I went to the front of the line, normally it’s some editor that you've never heard of, but the person that was there was one of the founders of Image Comics, Rob Liefeld. He saw my work, and I just wanted to get critiqued from him and then the next thing I know he says, "Would you be interested in doing an internship at Extreme Studios?" It’s a branch of Image Comics, and I was blown away. I was like "What? Yes." I was kind of flabbergasted because I just wanted a critique. Long story short, I went into the studio the next week and interviewed with him. He told me that I'm not quite ready to get an internship yet but he gave me a script to work off of, to practice more. I did that. I went back and forth for about six months. And then eventually, during my sophomore year at UCLA, I got the call to come in on the following Monday to start my internship. I dropped out. When I told my parents, I was a little scared but they were actually supportive because they were like "Okay, yeah, do it. If it doesn't work, you can always go back to school. School will always be there." This was the opportunity of a lifetime. I went there, started off as an intern, became a full-fledged penciller after three months. And that's how at 19, I got my first job as a penciller, as a professional comic book artist and I did not expect that it would come that soon. But, I guess that's that.
SJ: Do you feel you have close ties to your Korean heritage?
PARK: Yeah, I do. I definitely identify with my Korean heritage and I'm proud of it. But on the flipside, I feel detached because I was born in America. My parents struggled when they came to America. They were not able to speak English, so they really tried to get us assimilated into American culture because they didn't want us to struggle, and they didn't really make an active effort to teach us how to speak Korean. They even spoke to us in English so that we didn't struggle. They regret it now, and I wish they taught us more back then, but because of that I don't speak Korean very well –very elementary. I understand it better than I can speak it even though my understanding is also very elementary. I've always regretted that because I love my Korean heritage. It’s always been tough that I can't speak or understand it that well, so there's a communication gap between me and my parents because English is their second language and it’s always been a little bit of a barrier.
Images (c) Marvel
SJ: Have you been to Korea?
PARK: : I went there only once after I graduated high school. I loved it. It was difficult because I couldn't speak Korean but luckily my cousin’s English was good enough that we could really connect and she could be my translator essentially. But as a Korean, I felt shamed because they know I'm Korean but I can't speak it and it’s embarrassing. So even now I get invited to Korea to do some talks or something like that but I need to say "Yeah, I'll come but I need a translator," which is really kind of embarrassing.
SJ: When the U.S. is playing Korea in a sports tournament, who are you rooting for?
PARK: [Laughs] I am torn, but I would have to say in that scenario, more times than not, I'm rooting for Korea because generally speaking, they're going to be the underdog. These days, Korea is becoming a powerhouse in a lot of sports like golf and figure-skating, like Yuna Kim, but usually they're the underdog so I think when it’s the U.S. v. Korea, I support Korea. And it’s been great to watch Korean pop culture evolve over the years –like in TV and movies now, the number of Asian, and specifically Korean, faces in television and in movies is pretty awesome to see. Like, in the show The Walking Dead, Steve Yeun is one of the main characters. Usually Asians are the sidekicks or the side-characters. You can argue that he's one of the side-characters, but he is really one of the main characters, and on top of that he has the most attractive girlfriend. Usually the most attractive female lead is paired with the male lead, right? But she chose the Korean guy who's not even what you expect the male lead to look like. He looks like any other Korean-American you'd see in Koreatown. So it’s pretty cool to see Korean dramas, television, movies and video games are seen around the world. And the quality is not just second-tier anymore. American companies are seeking out Korean directors. The artists are top-notch.
SJ: Did you grow up eating American or Korean food?
PARK: That's how far my mother and father went. My dad was a doctor. My mom was a housewife and she took care of the kids mainly. She would feed us American food. It was very odd. She would cook two meals everyday. She would cook one for my dad, which was Korean food –spicy stuff, and my siblings and I would get mac and cheese and roast beef. So I grew up on American food. I grew up in Anaheim Hills and it was a new developing city at the time. There weren't many Asians, so the majority of my friends were Caucasian. It wasn't until my later years in high school that I started searching and discovering my Korean roots, and mainly because I went to a Korean church and started finding more and more of my Korean side, I started hanging out more with Koreans. I started learning about the culture a little bit. For some reason, right when I went to college, I started yearning for Korean food which totally shocked my mom. I’d come home for kimchi jjigae. She'd be like, "You never ever wanted this growing up." I couldn't explain it either. I was like, "I don't know why, but I want Korean food.” Something deep inside of me needed to become more Korean in those years.
SJ: What is your favorite Korean food now?
PARK: I would say it’skimchi jjigae, which is a kimchi stew with spam.
SJ: Do you have a favorite Korean artist or Korean comic book?
PARK: Right now I would say one of my favorite artist is a guy named Kim Jung Gi. He's become pretty famous in the past couple of years. On YouTube, he would do demonstrations of painting directly with a paintbrush and no underdrawing. He did massive drawings of these scenes, like city scenes, of people in cars. It’s like he has a photographic memory. There's no underdrawing. There's nothing he's looking at. He'd draw this very perfect perspective, perfect anatomy; there's no mistake. He's become really famous in the past couple of years and he's been coming to do tours in the States, like at Comic-Con. We invited him to Marvel, where I'm working right now, and we showed him around. Because we work over at Disney a lot, we showed him around there and we had lunch with him. He drew for us. Very gracious artist. He's definitely a big source of inspiration right now. I would say him and there's a company called Hot Toys. They do the 1/6th scale figurines. And they do all the Marvel characters you see in the movies. They make them into 1/6th scale and then the faces are almost identical to the actors. They're really expensive, like over 20 dollars each. So they are called toys but they are not really toys. The main company is based out of Hong Kong, but I think some of the main sculptors are Korean. I don't really know their names, but I really admire what they do. I collect Hot Toys as a hobby.
SJ: Do you feel that social media has benefitted you as an artist?
PARK: I wish during my ten years of drawing comic books there was social media. Because back when I was drawing comic books, there was barely even any Internet. The only way you had contact with your audience or your fans was to go to conventions and actually meet them in person. There was the occasional handwritten letter. But with social media, it’s direct. You can build an audience. You’re not in a bubble. When I was drawing comic books, I was drawing everything but no one was seeing what I was doing until the comic book actually came out finished in the comic book store. But with social media, I can post something everyday and have interaction with my fans. That's something I started to do a year or two ago. I'm a little late to the game when it comes to social media. I'm on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter mainly. I've been enjoying it. It’s fun to have direct interaction with people and share artwork with them. Has it benefitted me? That's always a question. One of my co-workers will ask, "What's the purpose? Why do you do it? Is it just to get praise?" Of course there's always going to be an element of that. We don't do artwork just for ourselves. We do it so we can show people and share with them what we do, so that they can enjoy what we do and see all the hard work that we put in. I think there's also a need to build your audience, whether I want to do an art book or some kind of personal project. It can only help –the more people know about me, follow me, and are fans of me. It’s just like an actor, right? He builds his audience, and that can only help him. The more people that know about you as an artist, especially with the number of artists there are in the world, it can only help you. To this day, I still get people talking about the work that I did in comics, especially my Tomb Raider work. I hear all the time "Your drawing in Tomb Raider got me to start drawing as an artist or got me into comic books, or inspired me." Those kind of things are what I would say when I was an impressionable young artist and I would see Jim Lee's art and how much it changed me, how much it affected me and inspired me. I told Jim Lee that, and to have another artist say something like that to me, it’s humbling and inspiring and it gives me motivation.
Images (c) Marvel
SJ: Do you ever get artist's block?
PARK: I can't afford to get artist's block because my job is to draw and paint everyday, but my job is based on just how I feel or just how I'm struggling with that piece that I'm working on. If it wasn't something that I had to do because of my job I would probably give up and be like, "Okay I'm not drawing today because it’s not clicking, I'm struggling, it’s like pulling teeth.” But I'm trying to get in my painting for work. I think it helps that I have a 9-to-5 job that I have to go to, and that I have to meet deadlines and I have no choice. I'm just going to have to get through it. But as an artist, the best way to work, to produce my best stuff is when I'm inspired, excited and motivated. When you have those emotions and those feelings, it’s not work anymore. I'm having fun. I'm doing what I felt like I was meant to do.
SJ: Do you have any techniques for gaining inspiration?
PARK: One of the biggest ways for many artists, especially for myself, to get inspired is to look at art and artists that are better than me. You just go online and you can find plenty of that. A lot of times, I will turn to the old masters, the old American illustrators and artists throughout history. There are so many artists that you can Google, but I’ve also got a library of art I've collected over the years. I just open that up, flip through the pages, and I'm like, "Oh geez." I think a lot of times what motivates me is that I'm nowhere near that. It’s that desire of, "Okay, that's an artist you're amazed by. I wanna get there too.” Not to say that I want to copy them, but it pushes you to be better. A lot of times, that's the motivating factor that will get you practicing and working hard. The same thing goes for sports –like Kobe Bryant. Even though he's considered one of the best, he still strives to be better. He's still honing his craft. It’s that drive –still growing, still learning and I think for me learning is what motivates me. I love to learn and try to get better. I never get to a place and be like, “I’ve arrived!” because if I do that probably means I’m dead. The learning aspect and wanting to grow as an artist and a human being is the stuff that gets you up in the morning. So, looking at other artists, and it doesn't always have to be paintings, it can be photographers –looking at amazing photographs. Watching movies is also another source of inspiration. Essentially, those are artistic moving photographs, you know? Directors and photographers didn't just put on screen what they recorded on the camera. They edited it, they tweaked it, they made it to have a certain look and a vision they’re seeking. Those are my main sources of inspiration.
Images (c) Marvel
SJ: How did you go from Image Comics to Marvel?
PARK: I went from Image [to] Extreme Studios, and then after that I went to Art Center and after Art Center I went back to Image. After I did issues 1 through 20 on Tomb Raider, I went to Marvel Comics. I worked on X-Men. I worked on Excalibur. It was around that time that I decided that I wanted to get into concept art. As I was drawing comic books, I was working on my portfolio because I knew I couldn’t get a job in concept art just showing my Tomb Raider work. I needed to show that I could paint, that I could design. Eventually I landed a job over at Sony to work on the God of War video game. That was essentially my intro into concept art. I worked on the God of War series for about five years. It was there that I made contact with one of my lead artist bosses named Charlie Nguyen. In fact, he was the guy who hired me at Sony. He was the Visual Development Director at the time. He eventually left but I remained at Sony. He got into film and eventually got hired at Marvel. Another guy that was freelancing for us at Sony named Ryanonly worked with us for two months, but he also started working at Sony, before Charlie, on films. He worked on Iron Man and then Iron Man 2. So basically Charlie and Ryan started working at Marvel, and Ryan was instrumental in coming up with the designs for Iron Man and Captain America, and Charlie was instrumental in coming up with the designs for Thor, the first one. Around that time, Marvel commissioned Charlie and Ryan to form a visual development team because of the plan that Marvel Studios had to create a cohesive universe of films in which they are all connected, which is essentially unprecedented in history, right? You have sequels and all that kind of stuff, but never what Marvel has created where all these characters are actually in the same universe and then they come together. It was unheard of. It was risky. It was unprecedented. Essentially, the model is comic books. That's what you have in comic books. Each character has their own title but there’s also an Avengers title where they fight together. No one thought that could ever be done in film. But because of guys like Kevin Feige, who is the mastermind behind this whole thing, they did it. So going back to the story, they commissioned Charlie and Ryan to form a team of artists, so that there can be a consistency of artists that can keep a consistency in look. In film there's no group of artists that face each other film after film. Usually for every film they hire freelancers and, after they are done, they lay them all off. Then for another film, they hire new artists. But Marvel wanted to create a team of fulltime artists that would work on all their films. So Charlie and Ryan called me up and I was the first one that they hired to join that team. When I first got hired in 2010, I helped out a little bit on Thor and Captain America. Essentially, I got hired to work on Avengers; it was all leading up to The Avengers. If that one failed, there would probably be no Marvel Studios, so there was a lot of pressure. But they hired me and eventually hired a handful of other guys and we got a team of seven full-time artists at Marvel Studios. We work on all the films, and then depending on the project, we're all for-hire freelancers. Consistently, there are seven of us who have worked on every single film since Captain America.
SJ: How would you describe the culture at Marvel Studios? How does it compare to the culture of Image Comics, for example?
PARK: My experience is going to differ from anything else because essentially, when I was hired by Rob Liefeld at Extreme Studios, there was a bullpen of young artists and we were all 19, 20, 21 years old. There were about 10 to 15 of us there. So it felt like a high school/college fraternity – young, hungry artists who had no real responsibility in life; they didn’t have to look after families. We would work from 11 o’clock on the morning to 3–6 pm every single day. On a daily basis, we would go for midnight runs to Jack in the Box. It was weird and crazy and fun. There would be like, card fights. We'd be throwing cards at each other in the bullpen, people running around when the building was closed. It was a little crazy. Sony's a lot more corporate. It’s a video game company. People are older, they have families. But it’s fun. It’s very collaborative because you're working with all the experts in other departments –the concept team, the modeling team, the animation team. It all has a team vibe to it. There would be team meetings just to see what other people were doing. In film, it’s a little bit more compartmentalized, I would say. My experience in Marvel has mainly been with our team. We're called the Visual Development Department. Again, there are about seven of us full-time and then freelancers that come and go. So we're really tight-knit because Ryan and Charlie were able to create a team and really kind of mold and make it. It’s kind of like a body where everyone has their own strengths, and they hired people based on who would benefit this team. It’s not just who will benefit this particular movie right now. They're thinking long term. They're thinking that we're going to be doing all these films, and since I've been there, I've worked on about 12 movies in the past five years. We need people that complement each other. We need people of diversity as far as skill sets are concerned. It’s been a blast. It’s been a roller coaster ride because in the past five years, Marvel Studios has become a powerhouse in the film industry. When The Avengers came, all of a sudden every single studio was emulating Marvel, and it’s been amazing to see because the thing that they did that was unprecedented, that whole connecting universes –everyone's now following that model for better or for worse, and it’s because of Marvel Studios. It’s been great because our main leader was Kevin Feige – someone that you truly trust, someone that gets it. It’s been awesome, because all the decisions that you make, the direction that you're taking, you have this confidence. He's not just an executive who wants to make money; he's also a fan. He knows Marvel Comics, knows these characters. That's exactly why when TheAvengers was coming up the pipeline, at that time in my mind, and in everyone's mind, that movie couldn’t be done because we saw movies like X-Men III or Spider-Man III come out, and because there were so many characters, there was no focus –that kind of thing. When they hired Joss Whedon, I was like a lightbulb. I was like "There it is," because I grew up as a huge fan of Buffy. I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly. It was one of my goals; “I gotta work with Joss Whedon one day.” When they announced that they hired Joss Whedon to do The Avengers, I was like, “Yes, he's the one who can do it.” I knew at the time that this was risky because even though he has a fan base, he didn't have a good track record as far as film was concerned. But it was only because Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios were essentially kind of like a startup making some kind of risky decisions. Even hiring Robert Downey Jr. was risky but it was the most perfect thing, like all the stars aligning. I think any other traditional big studio probably wouldn't have hired Joss Whedon. They probably wouldn't have hired Robert Downey Jr. That's the kind of the culture at Marvel where it’s been a blast to witness and be a part of something that's different from the traditional Hollywood mold.
SJ: Who are your inspirational heroes?
PARK: Jim Lee is probably my main hero artistically. In life, I think it’s always been my father because I think I got my work ethic from him. He was always a hard worker, and the mantra he always had for me and my siblings was, "Do your best." I'll always remember the first time I took my SATs. I had a certain number that I wanted to get and I missed it. I didn't get it, and I remember coming home and I was a very melodramatic teen. I started playing the piano. I was all depressed and also, partly, a little scared that my dad would be mad or disappointed in me because he was always harping. Like, one time when I got an A minus, he was like, "What is an A minus?" He wanted all straight A’s and not even an A minus. But, I was very upset and sad that I didn't get that SAT score. He came to me, he sat me down and instead of him being angry, he asked me, "Did you do your best?" I said, "I did." He said, "Then I'm happy. That's all I ever ask of you, that you do your best." And that made a great impression on me, not only him saying those words but also the impact it had on me because I see that's exactly what he does. It’s exactly what he did when he became a doctor, it’s what he does in his church, as a traveling speaker. He does his best, you know? He might not always be the best, but the best is not what he is asking of me or himself. He never said, "You have to be the best, be number one." It’s "You do your best according to your own abilities."
SJ: What would you say has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
PARK: I would have to say working at Marvel Studios. When I first got hired at Marvel Studios, I didn't feel totally ready. I knew at the time that my goal was that I wanted to work in films eventually, but I didn't necessarily think I was ready at the time. That is kind of a theme because I said the same thing earlier in this interview about getting into comic books –that I didn't feel like I was ready yet. So when I got hired at Marvel, I felt like the bar was set so high especially because of these two artists that I was working for, Ryan and Charlie. They are my idols as well, people who I admire, look up to and have a lot of respect for. And I felt like I had so much to live up to, even to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys. So during those initial years, I was working every single night after hours at home just to keep up. I would work 9 to 7 and then come home where every free moment I had, I would continue working just so that I could keep up, you know? And I think it definitely paid off and showed, but it required that kind of dedication and tenacity, I guess. So if you want something you just have to put in the extra time and sacrifice. But the challenge is to make those sacrifices without sacrificing your values and the people around you and everything. I did the same thing when I was trying to get into comics –just worked my butt off. That's what it takes.
SJ: What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
PARK: I enjoy designing these characters for these massive blockbuster films. You have to design characters that a mass audience sees and enjoys. We're shaping pop culture for generations to come. For example, I designed the Ant-Man costume for Paul Rudd, amongst others. But even though Ant-Man wasn't as big of a hit, obviously, as Avengers was, that look in the movie of Ant-Man is going to be what people know of Ant-Man for years to come even though there was a look of Ant-Man in the comics. I have to agree that the majority of people haven't read Ant-Man comics and don't know Ant-Man from that. They know Ant-Man from the movies now. Just like Iron Man. Before the Iron Man movies, he wasn't really a well-known character. People would be like, "Oh yeah I've seen that character before," but they don't really know who that is. When you ask a person on the street “Who's Iron Man?” they're going to say "Robert Downey Jr." and they're going to point to the picture of the movie costumed Iron Man, right? And now kids are dressing up as them for Halloween. Comic books were my first love and my first passion. To be able to do the "real life" version of these characters –the fact that I'm actually a big part of making it happen, is pretty amazing.
SJ: Can you tell us what projects you are working on now?
PARK: I am currently the Visual Development Supervisor several of the Marvel Studios’ films including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Raganarok, and Ant-Man and the Wasp.
SJ: Do you have a proudest achievement?
PARK: I have hallmarks, I would say. In comics, my proudest achievement is Tomb Raider. It’s the longest one I did, from issues 1 through 20. That's kind of like where I made my mark in comics, and it was really challenging to work on it for that long, so I'm really proud of that when it comes to comic books. In concept art, I am very proud of my time on God of War, but my time here at Marvel is definitely the highlight of my career. I think working on the first Avengers film is always going to be one of the biggest highlights of my career because one, that was the movie I thought I'd never see in my lifetime, but I wanted to; and two, because it was for Joss Whedon. I remember the first couple of weeks I was working there, I was in a room by myself, and so many times throughout the day I would stop, take a breath and be like, "I can't believe I'm working on Avengers." And I'd say it again, and I'd stop and I'd be like, "I can't believe I'm working for Joss Whedon." To have those two things happen at the same time was surreal. So the first Avengers film is always going to be more special than anything. And that other thing that's most special, which most concept artists don't get to do in the film industry that we get to do because we work in Marvel, is that we get to go to all the premieres. So that's pretty special, being able to celebrate it with all the actors, with the company, with the fans out there. And through these films, I've gotten to know some of the actors. It’s been quite a ride and I'm enjoying it. And I'm really enjoying my time for the past 2 years since I've been promoted to Visual Development Supervisor. I’ve led the team on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Thor: Ragnarok thus far. I'm directly dealing with James Gunn and Taika Waititi, the directors respectively, the heads of all the other departments (Costume, Production Design, Visual Effects, etc), along with all the producers on the films. So it’s been really exciting to be a part of the process.
SJ: Do you have a favorite Avenger?
PARK: My favorite has to be Iron Man, because when I was in junior high and high school he was one of my favorite characters, so I collected Iron Man in particular... I was never an Iron Man fan in his traditional look in the comic books, with the gold and red. I became a fan of Iron Man in Issue 200, I think it was, where he wore the Silver Centurion suit, which was a red and silver armor. I remember when I saw the cover in the newsstands and the comic book store, I began to become a fan of Iron Man. I collected every single book that had that suit. And then when he stopped wearing that suit and went back to the red and gold I actually stopped. So I was a big fan of Iron Man during that small period. But that's why it’s amazing, and I never thought this would happen, that in Iron Man 3, I actually got to design the Iron Man Silver Centurion suit. That was, like, a dream come true, you know?
SJ: What are your goals for the future?
PARK: I don't have a clear goal right now. My goals are always to become better in every way as an artist. I definitely want to do something that is of my own at some point. Meaning, I want to create my own story, my own characters. I definitely want to do a graphic novel at some point because I still love comic books, and to be able to create something I can call my own, in a lot of ways, that's kind of the ultimate dream. That is also one of the hardest things to do, especially when you want to make a living. There's no guarantee that you can make a living out of creating your own character. But that is one of my main goals. How to get that to happen is another thing, you know?
SJ: What advice would you give to an aspiring artist for getting into your field?
PARK: First, it’s knowing that it’s not an easy career. It really is hard work, and hard work in terms of hours. Art is something that requires a lot of hours, and if you're not willing to put in extra hours on top of that because it not only takes the hours doing your job, but you need to be constantly evolving and that requires time above and beyond your work hours. Two, having your own personality and knowing that you need to have drive, and that you need to have commitment and passion. If you're not passionate about art or designing or creating, then I don't think you should do this job, because I think the temptation for a lot of artists right now is them seeing the concept artists and seeing the fame and attention certain artists will get from social media or wherever, and then being lured by the fame. That is the wrong motivation or reason to get into this field. But it is a temptation that a lot of people fall into because they see that and say, “Oh I want to become a superstar too,” and they expect it. That's kind of an entitlement. That should not be your source of inspiration or source of motivation for you to pursue a career in art. It should come from a passion; that you enjoy to create, you enjoy to collaborate. Collaboration is one of the biggest parts of being a concept artist because you're taking direction from other people –not just from the director, but from multiple people. And you have to have a thick skin – an understanding that it’s not personal. You have to have a demeanor of willingness to be a team player because too often, artists get attached to their artwork and it becomes very subjective. The whole job is subjective, but personally you think your own artwork is the best solution, but because its subjective another person will see it and be like, "That's not what I want." To be able to take that and just let it slide off your shoulder, to be able to continue working and not let it affect you emotionally can become challenging. That's something that's hard to teach. It comes with experience, but I think it starts with knowing the fact of what being an artist in entertainment is.