Avengers: Infinity War featured

Interview: Artist James Raiz on Drawing to Celebrate the Release of 'Avengers: Infinity War'

April 20, 2018Ben MK

James Raiz isn't just a talented artist — he's a superfan of Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And when you're as passionate as he is about these movies, that passion definitely shines through in your work.

It should come as no surprise then that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige tapped the Toronto-based Raiz to create a massive art installation to celebrate the release of Marvel's upcoming blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War. After getting Feige's attention with his intricately detailed piece focusing on the Star Wars series, Raiz then set out to create one of his most ambitious artworks yet: a sprawling, interconnected piece of art depicting all 18 films to date in the MCU, from 2008's Iron Man to this year's Black Panther, with (of course) the Mad Titan Thanos at the center of it all.

Now, 250 hours of painstaking effort — and one press tour — later, Raiz is ready to unveil his masterpiece, which will be on display at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto leading up to Infinity War's release on April 27th, after which it will make its way to its next global stop. By the end of it all, the piece will have been seen by moviegoers in China, Los Angeles and, of course, Toronto, to name a few.

I sat down with Raiz to talk about his inspirations, to find out more about the attention to detail that went into the creation of this impressive piece of art, and to see what advice he has for those wanting to break into the industry.

How did you get into doing comic book art, and then creating film-inspired art?

Raiz: Ok, so let's go back, way back! [laughs] I've been drawing my entire life, though I've never considered it seriously as a career till probably my last year of high school. Till then I was gonna be a doctor, like a lot of Asian kids. [laughs] But my last year, I looked at my schedule and was like, "I kinda wanna draw for a living." So I made a deal with my mom, I said, "Let me go to art college, and if I can't find a job, I'll go back into medicine after that."

But after college, I got my foot in the door. I started drawing comic books, actually. I started off just drawing backgrounds for a specific artist, and then that led to me drawing comic books full time. So I did that for about six years. I worked for most of the major publishers, including Marvel — I worked on Hulk: Destruction for Marvel — and then from there I wanted something where I could actually go to work and then kinda leave it there, so I went back to school. I went back to Sheridan college; I took computer animation, and from there I started working in film.

So from there, that started a ten-year-long career working in film for various companies — like company-hopping three months here, six months there. I worked as a 3D-modeller and a matte painter. For those who don't know what that is, it's more like filling in the green screen type thing (so, I'll put a building behind there, you know, whatever the director wanted). And that was till roughly around two years ago, when I realized, you know, I was gonna turn 40 soon, and I kinda wanted to try doing art on my terms — not really work for anybody, just try to do it myself.

So I quit my job to fully concentrate on my YouTube channel — youtube.com/theboxofficeartist — and just try to put content out on my channel. And I had a lot of fun doing it. And one thing that I really wanted to do, being a life-long Star Wars fan, I wanted to put together this big mural of Star Wars. So, I'm a detail guy, I love drawing little details, so what I wanted to do was draw every single theatrically-released movie at the time. So that was all eight movies I wanted to draw on this one giant mural. So that's what I did. It took me about seven months, 450 hours worth of work. And they actually brought me to Lucasfilm afterwards; they saw it, they liked it.

And that brought me to starting to do this type of entertainment art. And that was till about, say, December, when I noticed that Kevin Feige was Tweeting. And I said, "Why don't I try to Tweet." [laughs] "I mean what's the harm." So I Tweeted at him and Bob Iger, and I attached my Star Wars piece, and I go, "Hey, I would love to do something like this for you guys one of these days," not thinking anything of it. And then the next day, I get contacted by Marvel's marketing manager. And they said, "We saw your stuff, and we think it's great. And we'd like to use it for something. We're not sure yet, but why don't we keep talking?"

We talked over the next few months, and then they told me that a theater was interested in me producing art for them. So that's when we started talking about what exactly I would do for them. So, knowing that it was Marvel's ten-year anniversary, and being a fan of all the movies — like watching these characters come to life for the past ten years — I said, "I wanna kind of touch everything, if I could." So that's when we got the idea that I would draw every single Marvel movie into one big image. So it's like I would draw eighteen mini movie posters that, at the end of the day, would combine together, with a giant Thanos in the middle.

And they loved the idea and said, "Go for it." And they pretty much gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted with the entire piece. So, by that time, they said, "Can you get it done by (I think it was) April 2nd?" So, from there I only had about a month to actually put it together, so I didn't sleep for a month [laughs] and I was able to actually put it together. And that's where we are today.

And actually, it was just going to be the one theater at the time, but then other theaters saw it, and then they wanted it as well. So not only will it be in LA, but it'll be right here in Toronto, Canada at the Scotiabank Theatre, starting this weekend. And it'll also be in China, I believe, [and] South America and Europe as well. A few places are going to have this piece of art.

You mentioned the 18 different posters (one for each of the films prior to Infinity War in the MCU) that make up the total piece. Was there one film in particular that you enjoyed working on the most?

Raiz: Of course, all of them I loved — like how do you pick between your kids? [laughs] But at the same time, one of the ones that I'm very proud of, and [which] was most difficult, is the Black Panther one. Not just because it just came out, but [because] each one of the characters had such an intricate outfit. Like Okoye's outfit — so many little lines and details that I tried to get right. Even Black Panther's helmet itself, [there were] so many little lines and little details. I couldn't just fake it, I had to go in and draw every single little piece of that. So out of all of them, that Black Panther one, I think that took the longest. And I think that was one of the first ones I did too. I had fun doing all of them, of course, but I really enjoyed putting that particular one together.

What techniques and tools did you use to create the whole thing?

Raiz: I'm a traditionalist at heart, going back to my old comic book days, so I'm very comfortable just using a pen and paper. [laughs] So, I actually drew all the line art traditionally. So, each movie I drew on 11 x 17 Bristol board (the size of a comic book page), and using just micron pens and Sharpies to put it together. I used a blue color Pilot [pen] to sketch it out, just because it's easier to scan in. So when I scan it in you don't see the blue line that much. And then I go straight to ink. So, once all the line art was done, then I would scan everything in, and I colored everything digitally in Photoshop.

Are there any Easter Eggs hidden in the piece?

Raiz: Not as much, because I wanted to make sure everything was there. Because honestly, it was a struggle just getting everything I wanted in there. Things I would consider an Easter Egg would be more something that should be featured anyway, so I wanted just to make sure all the featured players were in there. It's not like when I did the Star Wars one, I hid George Lucas and I hid some of the people who work at Lucasfilm in there. [laughs] I really didn't have the time to do something like that, but I wanted to make sure all the major players — everyone I wanted in there — were in the actual piece itself.

What's your general process like when starting a new project like this? Where do you begin with something so daunting?

Raiz: Well, of course, it all started with the idea. I watched every single movie again, you know, just trying to get all the scenes. Because I wanted people, when they look at this image, to remember certain key scenes, so I wanted some of them to be very close to how you see it in the movie. For example, the Avengers, when they're looking up; I pretty much draw it the way it looks in the movie — Thor holding his hammer, you know, stuff like that. I wanted it to feel like they were actually watching the movie itself.

And for each one, we wanted there to be a specific character that was featured. So, you'll notice in each one, there's usually one character that's larger than everyone else. And then everyone will have their sort of spotlight. That's what you'll see for Iron Man 2, you'll see Scarlett Johansson being spotlighted. And we also wanted to make sure that all the female characters were well represented as well. It's very diverse, the whole piece itself.

So, we spent about a week actually putting it together. And, to be honest, there wasn't a lot of back and forth. Marvel was really good with how I put it together. They just said, "Just make sure you do this… and let's see what you do." So I put my sketches together, and if anything, they said, "Maybe change the size of the actual paper itself." But other than that, that was really the only real feedback that I got from them. They pretty much let me do whatever I wanted with the whole piece.

I think the hardest part was [that] I had to film everything. Because when you see it in the theater, it's not just the art; on the other side there'll be televisions, and it's actually going to show me drawing the entire piece. So, it's not just the giant mural, it's a whole visual experience. Because for me, personally, it's more than just seeing the final art; it's like seeing a character's backstory. It's one thing to see the final art, but when you see the amount of effort and love it took to actually put it together, it gives you a greater appreciation for the art at the end of the day.

And at the end we had to rush to edit all the videos together and make sure that they made sense, in sequential order. You know, there was one day that the power went out at my house. They were fixing the poles outside, and I called them, like, "Hey, I need power." And they said, "Well, there won't be power for eight hours." I'm like, "Eight hours?! What am I going to do for eight hours! I can't wait that long!" [laughs] So that was a tough day, but I made it through.

You've drawn everything from Transformers, to Hulk, to Wonder Woman, to Star Wars, and now this. What has been your all-time favorite project to work on?

Raiz: Aside from this? [laughs] To be honest, how can you top something like this? Because I'm kind of done after this. [laughs] It's a culmination of everything I loved, especially growing up. And getting to draw all of it together in one piece that everyone's gonna see, you can't beat that, you really can't. So, I would say this would be my favorite, then the Star Wars one would be my second-favorite, just because of the amount of effort, and because I'm a huge Star Wars fan.

By the way, I'm not done that piece. [laughs] I have to add The Last Jedi; I think I know how to add Solo in there. I will have to separate some pieces to put Solo in there. I have a plan. [laughs] But I promised Lucasfilm that I'd finish it eventually, one of these days, so we'll see how that goes. But, yeah, those two probably are my favorites.

Speaking of following up things that are hard to follow up — What do you want to tackle next, if you could tackle any film franchise?

Raiz: I would love to do something Star Wars, officially, if I could. Creating that Star Wars thing was for me, but if I could possibly do something for the final movie, that would just be the cherry on top. But then again, for me personally, what can compare to this?

And at the same time, I'm also concentrating on my YouTube channel, getting back to that. I had to leave that for a month to finish this off. But also, I now teach at a few different colleges. I teach visual effects, and I teach drawing as well. Teaching is a lot of fun for me, I love giving back and teaching the next generation, because I'm hoping that most of this will be an inspiration for them. Because a lot of people on my channel saw me right from the beginning, trying to struggle, quitting my job not knowing what's going to happen at the end. And for them seeing it turn into something like this, you know, it's really inspiring for them.

And speaking of that, do you have any advice for aspiring artists who want to get into the comic or film business like yourself?

Raiz: Oh yeah, for sure! First of all, wonderful that you want to do that, you're gonna have to work extremely hard. Everything takes longer than you think it does. Jobs are hard to come by. But as long as you're passionate about what you're doing, it's not a job anymore. At the end of the day, you want to draw for a living, but in order to do that you have to really work hard. It's all about how much work you put into it.

A lot of the biggest artists out there, they worked so long. Like Jim Lee, for a year, that's all he did, he just drew comics for himself. For a whole year, before he actually got discovered. It's just that discipline of working, working, working. Always find time to draw. If you're not drawing, someone else is drawing, and they're going to get ahead of you. So if you really, really love art, you need to put in the time, and you need to put effort into it if you want to be successful. But it's all worth it at the end, because you end up doing something that you love to do. And it's probably something you'd be doing anyway, you know, if someone wasn't paying you.

There's always something to learn, that's one more thing too. Always something to learn, no matter how good you get — different techniques, different software, even ways of drawing, that's always new. You have to keep on top of that, and you always have to be willing to learn, so you can always get better.

Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters April 27th.

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