|Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) concept art by Mauro Borrelli|
You may not recognize the name of Italian artist Mauro Borrelli, but his artwork has contributed to dozens of films for almost 30 years. He's worked as a concept illustrator with directors like Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Johnston and Tim Burton while directing his own award-winning projects. He was kind enough to do an interview about what it's like working on one of Marvel's most popular films Captain America and told what smell he misses the most from working with oil paint.
Mauro Borrelli is a professional director and visual artist who's worked on Hollywood films like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).
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Maurice Mitchell: Thank you for taking time out to do this interview Mauro. First, how did you get into the business?
Mauro Borrelli: Yes, I started as a fine art painter in Italy after I started studying fine art at the Venice Academy of Art. Then, I was in Rome working as a fine art intern and I had an opportunity to start to work in the film art industry as an art director and a concept designer. On that occasion I had a chance to work on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen with Terry Gilliam. For which I did several storyboards. It was a great experience because Terry Gilliam is a fantastic artist himself and he was coming to Rome every weekend because we had a long pre-production for several months at the time. He was traveling and making sketches himself on the plane on the way to Rome. So, he was coming with a bunch of fantastic sketches. He would give me some ideas and I was able to develop those ideas. His work is fantastic and amazing.
So, it was great to work with a filmmaker that is also an artist.
After that, I had the opportunity to work on The Godfather with Francis Ford Coppola and on that show we created a pre-visualization technology that later evolved and now has become the "standard" for every big studio's picture. We basically started what is now called: Animatic, a rough animated film that will serve as reference for the actual shooting. Today it's done in 3D with the use of CG, at that time we were filming and editing handmade storyboards.
Then, I joined Coppola in USA and worked for him on Dracula and in several other productions as illustrator and a concept artist.
I also art directed the video game Zork Nemesis for Activision for which I got an award for best art direction.
After that, I move to Hawaii for 3 years to be the production designer for Final Fantasy a Japanese big-budget animated feature. It is considered the first 3d animation film using hyper-realistic CG actors .
Then, I returned to do Los Angeles continuing my job as a concept artist while I started to to some directing gigs.
MB: I did work for Rich Henrichs, a top Production designer, for several years and it was he that brought me into the project.
The film had a long pre-production in Los Angeles at the Marvel studio. The production was made in England. But, myself, I was able to continue to work on the show from Los Angeles. Thanks to the Internet, these days you can work as a concept artist on any show even if you work in a different part of the world. Through Skype I was able to communicate every day with Rich Henrichs and John Dexter, the art director and provided them the artwork and the revisions in a short-time.
MM: Do you have any memories of working on the film?
MB: I remember designing several versions of an antique northern European secret crypt. For the crypt, we came out with the idea of a large carved wood panel representing a tree. The style was inspired on the iconography of the Viking world, the Celtic and Northern culture. The tree had several roots and embedded and camouflaged in those roots there was a secret box.
In the same crypt I had to design a sarcophagus with the a Viking figure on it. Because of my classic background in fine art and my sensibility toward Italian art, I am often asked to create artworks that have a figurative element or that have an organic style and often need to be made by sculptors.
This wast the case for example in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows for which I designed the caryatids in the mansion. It is the same for Sleepy Hollow where I designed the tree of the death.
MM: Your career started using traditional art materials, was it hard transitioning to digital?
MB: No, I still miss the smell of turpentine. I remember when I worked on What Dreams May Come. That film was the a "Technique transition" for me. The art department was crowded with artists. Our desks filled with brushes, paint and markers. But also a few computers. We were creating our artwork on paper, by hand and then scanning and placing the last touches with Photoshop.
After that film, every other film I worked on, you see less paper and paint and more Photoshop. By the time I was on Planet of the Apes the paint and paper were gone.
Now every artwork is made digitally I still love when the digital work maintains the touch and feel of fine art. When it becomes too cold or too much of a collage from different pictures and looks like a photograph, or is just too realistic, I am not impressed or excited. Sometimes I think "if I'm going to publish a book of showing the artwork for a film I want to see quick sketches, I want to feel the emotion of the paint stroke, I want to see how an intuition started and later turned into an image of the film. The process is more interesting then a final finished product to me.
Watching a collage that looks like a photo is completely uninteresting to me. So, if I can keep more loose even when I do the digital artwork I prefer that.
MM: I always find that fascinating myself. So, tell me more about your directing work?
MB: The Ghost Maker was a small-budget movie. I wanted to bring in my experience as an artist to make a small budget film with certain visual quality. I, by myself, built an antique coffin filled with golden gears as if it was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. I also designed myself the illustrations in the old secret book that appears in the film.
I am working now on a couple of new projects that I'll be directing. Both have a fairytale quality in it, perfect for me to to exploit the visual elements. One is called El Toro a modern take on the Greek mythology of the minotaur, and the other title Heartface is in the same world of Edward Scissorhands about a boy who has his head shaped like a heart and he lives in a strange mansion, prisoner of his own parents. A dark fairytale, a combination between Coraline and Edward Scissorhands. So, in between making art, if I can exploit that into a vision on my own project that's something that I enjoy.
MM: Thank you so much for sharing your experiences in the industry Mauro!
See more of Mauro Borrelli's masterful portfolio at http://www.mauroborrelli.com
Click on the links if you want to see more of Mauro Borrelli's work or Captain America: The First Avenger artwork on my blog.
What do you think of the concept art? If you've seen Captain America: The First Avenger what do you think of the designs? Do you miss the style of traditional artwork?
Official Captain America: The First Avenger Summary
Captain America leads the fight for freedom in the action-packed blockbuster starring Chris Evans as the ultimate weapon against evil! When a terrifying force threatens everyone across the globe, the world’s greatest soldier wages war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull (Hugo Weaving, The Matrix).
Directed by Joe Johnston
Cinematography by Shelly Johnson
Production Designer Rick Heinrichs
Starring: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Stanley Tucci
Release date: July 22, 2011 (USA)
Official Site: http://www.captainamerica.com/