Marvel’s Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become sort of like a template for the entire movie entertainment industry, with other studios trying to duplicate Marvel’s ability to weave film after film into one serialized, interconnected, long-form narrative (yes, paging DC Comics and Godzilla/King Kong creators). But for most other companies even with larger resources, imitating Marvel has been nearly impossible, in large part due to the development and creative process that Marvel Studios people and architects churn out of the company’s offices in Burbank, California.
Walt Disney is so lucky not to follow in this concept since it has the Star Wars franchise and other original Disney concepts to weave films from. Having originally come from a small office in West Los Angeles, Marvel Studios now takes up the entire second floor of the large Frank G. Wells building on Burbank, as well as the screening rooms and post-production facilities sprouting up all around the studio to accommodate Marvel’s massive productions. Inside Marvel’s offices and studios, the first thing that stands out is just how Marvel the entire environment is.
Movie posters and props are common for production companies, but a recent renovation took Marvel’s offices to a different level. In the lobby, three Iron Man suits stand proudly for visitors to look over while waiting, and nearly every wall in the facility features a giant mural portraying the studio’s cinematic characters in action. A general meeting area just off the lobby contains a ping-pong table, plus models of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. A coffee table nestled between the room’s couches is adorned with a tiny Baby Groot, standing silently under a bell jar.
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Elsewhere in the facility, there’s a huge wall of shelves containing seemingly every Marvel comic currently in print, and props and costumes at every turn. It all underscores one major point, that this is a studio driven by visuals, both the ones it has created, and the ones it still has to create. According to producer Jeremy Latchem, the company’s creative process largely starts in its visual-development department. That’s where the artists and writers start determining what the cinematic versions of the studio’s characters will actually look like. They go back to the comics inspiring a given story line, and start sketching, though often a movie character will look far different than the ones portrayed on print.
Those images are refined and iterated upon, and along the way, they become “key frames” or iconic visual shots that often make it into the movies themselves, sometimes hardly changed at all. Notably, the wall of some office was covered with particularly striking imagery from Spider-Man: Homecoming. One had a detailed look at Spider-Man’s web-shooters, while others showed off early versions of scenes from the two trailers. And while this is considered developmental artwork, the imagery itself was impeccably detailed and nearly photo-real.