The Marvel Studios Visual Development team works closely with the studio's various directors and departments to ensure the "look” for each movie and character is right. Ryan Meinerding, Marvel’s Head of Visual Development, has been involved in this process from the beginning with Iron Man, so if anyone could give detailed answers about a specific character’s evolution, it’s him.
As part of the studios' celebration of 10 years of art in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Meinerding walked CBR through the changing looks of fan-favorite characters Captain America and Bucky Barnes, from their first appearance, to Avengers: Infinity War.
CBR: Characters like Captain America and Bucky have seen their looks changed as the Marvel cInematic Universe has evolved, not only to track with different time period, but due to the various types of fights and missions they've undertaken. Could you tell us a little bit about how we got to their look in Infinity War?
Ryan Meinerding: That’s one of the greatest parts of working for Marvel Studios, is the idea of traveling with characters as they go through the different movies. When we started with Captain America, you know, his first costume was his USO suit, and he definitely thought of that as something he hated, where he was meant to be a symbol, but he should also be out fighting. So when he went out to rescue the Howling Commandos, he put on things that he thought would make him look more like a soldier. He kind of covered up... he was ashamed of the symbol. Walking back and sort of looking at the value being a symbol and a soldier kind of led us into the hero’s suit at the end of The First Avenger.
And then, of course, going into Avengers, Phil Coulson designs that kind of suit again, throwing him back into the world of being only a symbol in a lot of ways, which he then automatically throws away after Avengers. He says, I’m now a part of contemporary America, I’m going to be wearing a stealth suit, because I’m going on stealth missions, which is where the Super Solider stealth costume came from. Getting to see the sort of retro-Smithsonian suit at the end of that movie was also sort of a throwback to be able to have Bucky recognize him.
From there, since we already had that stealth suit aesthetic that felt it was a modern take, the same sort of design lines, we just started allowing him to kind of have the symbols seep back into his costume with the red, white and blue for Avengers 2 and into Civil War as well. Essentially at the end of Civil War, when he feels that he’s not Captain America again, [he’s] trying to basically still keep the protective qualities of that suit but rip off every emblem that allowed him to be a symbol.
It’s one of the great things about Captain America. The visual storytelling that comes out of these comic book characters is really one of the best parts of doing design work for a comic book movie, specifically in the MCU, because the storytelling is so tied to the costumes. Everything that Cap wears is a symbol of something, whether he’s wearing it or not wearing it. Playing with that at every step of the way is a lot of fun.
Bucky, you know, as well the first costume that I designed for him in First Avenger, was really trying to be just an homage to his look from the comics, grounded in enough reality so it felt like something that would’ve been plausible to have been created in a high tech World War II era. And then transitioning from that to the bad guy in Winter Soldier, you know, the Russos were really interested in having him be sort of the most iconic bad guy he could be. They wanted him to be like Darth Vader of that movie.
Seeing him gradually step away from that through the different progressions of the films has been another joy. To have him end up at a place where people call him, even though they love him as Winter Soldier, they’re back to calling him Bucky, which is a really great thing.