VFX Artist Alp Altiner Returns to Comics with "Team 14"

Alp Altiner has lived every fanboy’s dream. He’s drawn comics professionally, designed video games and worked on some of the most high profile comic book films of all time. “Superman Returns,” “Spider-Man 3,” “X-Men: The Last Stand,” “Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer” and “300” just to name a few.

Starting his career back in 2000 at Image Comics and then moving to Top Cow, Altiner left comics to work on video games as a freelance concept artist and shortly after that become a successful VFX concept artist and matte painter on feature films. But now, after years away Altiner has retuned to the medium that he loves with “Team-14,” a new one-shot written, drawn and financed by himself, hitting stands in June from Digital Webbing.

Set in San Francisco and described by Altiner as a cross between “Ghostbusters” and “The X-Files,” “Team 14” tells the story of a secret division of the FBI tasked with investigating crimes committed by supernatural beings like ghosts, which in the story have been scientifically proven to exist.

CBR News spoke with Altiner about “Team 14," his passion for comics and what it’s like to help bring his childhood heroes to life on the big screen.

Alp, what more can you tell us about the back-story of “Team 14?”

In the late '80s in San Francisco, local authorities were running into a large number of mysterious and strange crime scenes with no witnesses or clues left behind. With a rapidly growing number of these crimes and dead bodies around the world, the FBI decides to form this Top Secret division called Team 14. The department is named after the fourteen chemicals unknown to mankind, which they discovered at these crime scenes.

After a few years, a secret underground facility has been constructed outside of San Francisco with hundreds of employees. They have scientists, biologists and mediums working together creating weapons, advanced tracking technologies and studying four of the creatures they managed to capture. Team 14 discovers scientific proof of the existence of ghosts and the hidden truth about them.

Is that where the story starts off?

The story basically starts with the first issue, which is a one-off. This is kind of like a pilot issue. John McHenry, the FBI Agent who formed this secret division within the agency and has been leading the project for over twenty years, narrates the story. He tells you how it all started so by the time you get to the last page you’ll know what he means when he says his final line, “Our fight has just started and it will never end. Our fight against the supernatural.”

So if there is a demand for it, will you do more?

Yes, I would love to. However, I may not have the time to illustrate the pages myself because of my busy schedule in the film business. I will probably hire a team of freelance artists to continue it as a miniseries. I will still be heavily involved in creating layouts as well as art direction for future issues. But a few film studios that have shown interest in purchasing the rights to the story have all ready approached me.

Did you create the comic in order to sell the idea as a film/TV project or because you wanted to get back into the comic book industry?

I certainly did not make this comic book just so I could use it as a marketing tool. Comic books shouldn’t be seen as a marketing tool but rather as a great opportunity for the right projects to become established properties in Hollywood. Regardless of your goals, Hollywood will always show interest in good ideas and exciting visual properties.

I made “Team 14” because I wanted the opportunity to tell this story and illustrate it. I penciled all the pages and inked most of the book myself. I hired a few inkers and colorists, and I directed every step to make sure that the level of quality was high.

Creating my own comic book gives me an opportunity as an artist to illustrate a project in a traditional fashion, as well as develop my story ideas into detailed scripts that may have an opportunity to translate into film, TV or even a video game. It certainly is my passion for the comic book medium and the art form that made me want to publish “Team 14” myself.

You created all the artwork in the book yourself. Who are some of your influences?

Over the years my style has changed but my influences have always been Mark Silvestri, Mike Mignola and David Finch. I also studied many inkers such as Joe Weems, Matt Banning, Scott Williams and Tim Townsend. They bring so much more to a project then just inked lines. They’re able to add an artistic style and enhance the artist’s indications.

But since I left the comic book industry to pursue a career in video games and eventually film, my reference library for general art has changed. Now I study traditional Hudson River oil painters and other related illustrators that created fine art in the mid and late 1800’s. While illustrating “Team 14,” I was thrilled to be drawing in this traditional style again. If you look at the first issue, its main influence is definitely Silvestri.

What was it like working at Top Cow?

It was always my dream to work at Top Cow someday. Back in ’99, while I was living in Seattle, I would send samples of my work to Top Cow’s Joe Weems. After he had seen some of my work at Comic-Con International in San Diego, he gave me an opportunity to work on Michael Turner’s “Fathom.” I think it was issue number two which was my first credit in a Top Cow book.

Eventually, I started getting a lot of work from other companies like Marvel and DC. A few years later I ended up back at Top Cow when Matt Hawkins offered me work on various titles with them as an in-house artist. I learned the most while I was at Top Cow studios working and interacting with the other artists there. I was exposed to some of the best comic book artists in the industry. It was more like a Comic Book College. Marc Silvestri was kind enough to share his knowledge with many of us and guide anyone who had the drive and enthusiasm to become a great artist.

So the knowledge and experience that I gained working at Top Cow, I still use in my Film related conceptual work today. I believe that it is very important to be able to draw well, before jumping on the computer and digitally producing painted concepts.

As fan of comics yourself, of all the comic book films you’ve worked on, which was the most fun or exciting for you?

When I was growing up I was a huge fan of Superman as well as Spider-Man. I remember the first comic my Dad bought me was a Spider-Man book. I was eight-years-old and it changed my life. So to eventually have worked on “Spider-Man 3” was a great opportunity and a child dream come true. I helped design the look and feel for one of the fight sequences in the film. It was the sequence where he was fighting Sandman in the train station. I also created various concept paintings that were used as reference for lighting and texturing of the digital environments.

I also truly enjoyed working on “X-Men: The Last Stand.” I designed a tremendous amount of concepts for that film including Phoenix’s power fields, designs for new mutants and the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge. On “Superman Returns,” I worked on several 2D and 3D matte paintings for the scene where Luthor entered the cave and activated the crystal console.

The biggest thrill for me was probably working on “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem.” I provided art direction, conceptual designs and digital paintings for the Predator Planet and the spaceship. I even built some of the concept spaceships in 3D for the directors to look at early in the development stage. It was a great opportunity and very exciting for me to work on that film especially because I am a huge “Alien” fan.

Can you tell us what other projects you’re working on right now?

I established my own small press and development studio, Bionic Unit Media and Publishing in Los Angeles a few years ago. My focus will continue to be establishing properties in the form of comic books, art books and toy/collectibles. I’ve already created various proto-type collectibles from my other project, “The Unknown.” “The Unknown” is a sci-fi, action/thriller hitting stores as an art book, this July. I plan to produce a toy line of this project in the near future.

Currently, I am still heavily involved in both 2D and 3D development for feature films. I am the Visual FX Art Director at Caf� FX, a respected VFX production house with offices both in Santa Monica and Santa Maria. Some of the recent film projects I’ve worked on include, “The Spirit,” “Speed Racer” and “ Dragonball.”

Now discuss this story in CBR’s Indie Comics forum.

Tags: x-men 3: the last stand, spider-man 3, Digital Webbing, team 14, alp altiner

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