Articles >

Studying The Collaborative Process Between Art Department Members

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

John Dexter has never been to Comic-Con. Yet, he can’t wait to stand in front of a room full of aficionados, enthusiasts and fans. The art director behind films such as 2011’s “Planet of the apes,” “Pirates of the Caribbean II, III” and the upcoming forth installment, “The Wolfman” and “Captain America: The First Avenger” will be moderating a new panel being presented by the Art Directors Guild at the ‘Con on Friday, July 19th called “The Feature Film Art Department: The Art of Collaboration and the Collaboration of Artists.”

The panel will re-unite two additional members of the “Captain America” art department team: graphic designer Karen TenEyck and lead vehicle designer Daniel Simon. The team will use the way they brought the period-specific comic to life as a springboard for the panel’s discussion. Paramount to the film’s creative challenges was establishing an aesthetic dialogue between the crews based in Los Angeles and London, where “Captain America” was shot.

“It’s becoming a new standard in collaboration,” said Dexter. “We started in L.A. then (production designer Rick Heinrichs) went with a storyboard artist to London to meet the crew there. We had to solidify the collaborative venture.”

Working with a nine hour time difference between the two hubs, a detailed discussion of the day’s need would take place in the London studio then was passed to L.A. where teams would complete the work (during London’s off hours). To be successful with this work model, a strong understanding of a singular creative vision was needed. A group of eight illustrators worked on Captain America for several months to refine every aspect of the film’s vision.

“We all worked as quickly as we could,” said Dexter. “I was right there to gather, sort, and push through the real hero moments in L.A. before approaching London. Then Rick would go over the work with the London team, and pass back needs to the L.A. crew.”

Dexter is especially enthusiastic about the impact of going over individual contributions, such as the vehicles designed by Simon for “Captain America.” He feels exploring these unique creations and the impact they had on the believability of the story will have a tremendous impact on the crowd.

“The amazing cosmic motors and specialty vehicles Daniel designed really gave the world a uniqueness and point of interest,” said Nixon. “People aren’t always aware of the powerful contributions of all the individuals. Once a visual style spreads to the art department, it becomes a great melting pot.”

While Dexter is excited to emphasize the importance of the individuals who compose the art department, he also wants to define the importance of creating a timeline and distinguishing a movie’s visual needs.

“It’s important to define when different members come on and who contributes,” said Dexter. “Bring a broad group on too soon, and you’re dead.”

In addition to highlighting individual contributions of the varied at department members, Dexter also plans to highlight the contributions previs makes during the creative process. Aware that the audience will contain a fair amount of aspiring artists, Dexter plans to describe how art school graduates can often move into art department positions, as well as the need for fresh contributions and perspectives in the field. Dexter also knows that the audience members will be coming in with plenty of questions, so he’s focusing on presenting the material as efficiently as possible to leave room for a substantial question and answer period.

“The ADG presented a panel on all things ‘Pirates,” and it was really interesting to hear all the different perspectives that came from the audience,” said Dexter. “The questions we got were fantastic. I’m really looking forward to the reaction from the Comic Con panel!”

To learn more about the guests on this panel and other ADG Comic Con panels, please visit: