Alumnus shares design career trajectory
Matthew McKenna | Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Ryan Meinerding, the Head of Visual Development at Marvel Studios and 1999 Notre Dame graduate, spoke Monday night in West Lake Hall about his career in design and his work on various movies including Iron Man 2, Captain America and The Avengers.
“I head up a team of artists that actually do all the character design for all of the marvel studios movies,” Meinerding said. “We also do key frame illustrations, which is going through the script and figuring out what the key moments are and how to visualize them. We illustrate and design things as early as possible in production so the director and producers can understand what the movie is going to look like before it’s made.”
Meinerding said he dabbled in website and video game character design before working for Marvel Studios.
“I began trying to do animation style work, but I learned very quickly that across all of the companies that do animation: Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony, there are basically three guys that do all of the animation,” he said. “The jobs that are design jobs for the other people are designing all the doors or all the tables in the films and I decided pretty quickly I wasn’t going to do animation, which is sad because I really enjoy it.
“That’s when I started to do more realistic work, like live action film design.”
Meinerding said he and his team focus on whatever story the filmmakers are trying to tell and align the spirit of the characters with the Marvel Universe.
“The visuals of the movie define the tone, however dramatic or comedic, and that’s the driving force for the storytelling,” he said. “Behind that, we aim to be true to the comics. Other comic book movies that are being done not by Marvel Studios aren’t always using that as the basis for their films, but at Marvel we try to be true to the story of the film and true to the source material.”
“We have a faith in the character and in the brand that’s been around forever,” he said. “Captain America has been around for over 70 years. We try to find what’s fantastic about that character and bring it to life, as opposed to reinterpreting or changing it.”
One of the biggest challenges as a designer in the film industry is maintaining a sense of integrity and pride in your work, Meinerding said, while still putting out pieces at the demanding pace required by the industry.
“It’s very easy to get beaten down by deadlines and say I can’t do something good,” he said. “That’s a constant challenge with concept art because things have gotten to the point where people are just using photocopying and using pictures as their bases and not taking pride in their work, they just want to get something done that looks realistic.”
Meinerding said it can be challenging when his work is not selected as the final design, but that he has learned to step back as a manager and realize that the design that is chosen will be quality.
“Our job is to present the best options that we are capable of preventing,” he said. “If I get to draw Captain America and it doesn’t get picked I’m still okay with that because I got to draw Captain America. It can get disheartening in some context like when politics are involved and they actively aren’t picking the best design, but because we’re in a place where I have hired a lot of people that I know are doing great stuff. If my stuff doesn’t get picked, I still know it’s going to be a good design.”