Fil-Am artist Rodney Fuentebella shares what it’s like to work at Marvel Studios

Hard work – lots of it – got Rodney Fuentebella to where he is today: a Senior Visual Development Illustrator at Marvel Studios. It’s a gig that many a comic book fanboy might envy, but Rodney acknowledges that apart from talent, perseverance and drive played a role in landing him the dream job.

CAPTAIN AMERICA. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.
CAPTAIN AMERICA. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.

The Filipino-American artist, who helped conceptualize the look of Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers, and the Captain America and Iron Man film series, gave a talk in Manila last March 10 about his work with Marvel Studios, and shared tips for fellow artists.

CROWD AT CARLOS P. ROMULO AUDITORIUM. Photo by Gia Densing.
CROWD AT CARLOS P. ROMULO AUDITORIUM. Photo by Gia Densing.

“It’s important to have a good foundation,” he told the large crowd that gathered at the Carlos P. Romulo auditorium at the RCBC Plaza in Makati City.

Rodney’s own foundation is stellar. He has design degrees from the Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, where he’s still based, as well as the University of California. He later interned for Dreamworks Animations, and worked on environment designs for Electronic Arts. His client list also includes Disney, WIRED Magazine, Ubisoft, and Rhythm & Hues Studio.

“Drive and passion are what keeps you motivated,” Rodney emphasizes. “Making what you want a part of you and you, a part of it.”

Despite his achievements, Rodney speaks humbly about his art. It’s clear he’s just a geek doing something he loves, and the humility also translates to a self-deprecating sense of humor. So how exactly did he become a concept illustrator for Marvel Studios?

“I was socially awkward and painted and drew a lot,” he admits.

A concept artist illustrates an idea, a version of a script, film treatment, or pitch. It’s his job to make a movie director’s vision a reality.

Fun fact: Rodney designed Loki’s staff in the first Avengers film, as well as a pivotal scene where the Asgardian villain faces off with Captain America.

LOKI VS. CAPTAIN AMERICA. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.
LOKI VS. CAPTAIN AMERICA. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.

He joked about how his Filipino background comes into his art, as he sometimes designs characters with Pinoy characteristics. In the Loki vs. Captain America scene, in fact, he drew himself and his wife in with the crowd.

Geeking out with his audience, Rodney explained how key frame concepts are translated into movie scenes, how he makes environment designs to capture a certain look and feel for a film, how he comes up with intricate mech costumes and characters, and how tons of research and sleepless nights are part of the job.

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GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.

His tips for artists? Pick strong ideas and follow through on them, observe and analyze the world around you, and never stop learning.

During the Q&A, aspiring artists approached Rodney about how he broke into an already saturated market of illustrators and designers.

RODNEY POSES WITH FANS, INCLUDING FILIPINO DC ARTIST HARVEY TOLIBAO, AFTER THE EVENT. Photo by Gia Densing.
RODNEY POSES WITH ATTENDEES, INCLUDING DC COMICS ARTIST HARVEY TOLIBAO. Photo by Gia Densing.

“I lucked out with Marvel,” Rodney says, but recommends putting artwork out there and perfecting skills to get noticed, as well as going to events and conventions to meet with other artists.

“Make sure people look at your work, and get ideas from other people too,” he advised.

After the event, What’s A Geek got some one-on-one time with Rodney, who answered some of our burning questions:

RODNEY TALKS TO WAG. Photo by Gia Densing.
RODNEY TALKS TO WAG. Photo by Gia Densing.

What’s A Geek: What made you want to get into comic book movie art?

Fuentebella: I love comic books. I started reading in high school; I was a late bloomer. I’m a big fan of Sandman, [read] some Marvel comics here and there. But I never thought I’d get into this. I just wanted to be a great artist. I’m not there yet, but I’m trying to be as good as I can. The entertainment genre is what I got into.

WAG: Tell us about your favorite comics and comic book art.

Fuentebella: In terms of art, there’s so much great work. I love [comic book] covers. Arthur Adams did a great job, his stuff was awesome. I love graphic novels – succinct, with good stories that I could follow. I like Watchmen, the Hellboy series, Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, and Batman Year One.

WAG: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Fuentebella: Coming up with something that works. Every painting is a struggle for me. Nothing comes easy, that’s why I wish I had talent. It’s more like I work hard at what I do. I do a lot of work, so it’s somewhat presentable. I just keep working on it.

WAG: Among all the projects you’ve worked on, which one is the most memorable?

Fuentebella: Avengers for sure. That was one of my first projects [with Marvel Studios], the first thing I saw that I did work on in the big screen. My name was in the credit list. It’s amazing to be part of that universe, so it means a lot to me, seeing those key frame moments onscreen.

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HULK VS. JET. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.
HULK VS. JET. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.

WAG: What’s your dream project?

Fuentebella: [Something from] My childhood memories… Voltes V, since my brother liked it. I came [to the Philippines] every so often, and my brother would make me watch Voltes V. But working on Avengers, seeing a comic becoming super successful on the big screen is already great. Being able to continue to work with great people and grow as an artist, those are two big things I’m looking forward to.

WAG: Do you ever have geek-out moments working with artists at Marvel?

Fuentebella: Everyday!

WAG: Is it ever intimidating?

Fuentebella: Hell yeah! But I just have to do the work. I just think, it’s another day working with great artists. I’ll just produce what I have to, and hope I don’t get fired (laughs). Doing good artwork and being influenced by them is fun for me to be a part of.

WAG: Who is your favorite comic book character, and why?

Fuentebella: Iron Man. He gets to shoot beams out of his hands and fly.

Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.
IRON MAN. Concept art by Rodney Fuentebella. Property of Marvel Studios.

WAG: Have you met any of the actors in Marvel movies? Do you get to see them on set?

Fuentebella: Not really on set, since they’re in the [acting] mode. Once in while we do get to go on set, but they’re in a work environment so we let them be. But we saw the Avengers cast in Comiccon.

WAG: What’s the best advice you can give for aspiring artists?

Fuentebella: Tenacity. Have a sense of going for your goal no matter how defeated you feel. There’s a lot of hardships we go through, as people. Just be able to go, to keep going.

WAG: What’s a geek?

Fuentebella: Someone really into something that is a little fringe, but a little cool.

Photo by Gia Densing.
RODNEY FUENTEBELLA WITH WAG WRITER GIA. Photo by Gia Densing.

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Gia Densing
Gia Densing
Preppy riot girl with a geek streak. Tweet me: @gdensing.
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