His paintings of everyone from Superman to Captain America brought new ideas to the comics page on how to draw fantastic characters looking like real people, and it seems as though soon, Alex Ross will be taking those ideas to costuming a real life movie superhero.
As announced today at the Dynamite Entertainment panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Ross will soon partner with Hollywood producer Bob Teitel ("Notorious," "Barbershop") of State Street Pictures to help develop superhero properties new and old for film. And unlike so many Hollywood deals built over lunches in L.A. and meetings with agents, Ross' involvement stretches back to a different kind of meetup all together. "That's the key interesting point in this is that Bob and I were roommates in college," the painter told CBR. "When I was 17 and had just came into Chicago, he came up to go to Columbia College where he met George Tillman – the director he's worked with for years. And of course, I honestly don't think I ever met George...the last thing in the world I would have suspected was all the raging success Bob would have in his field. He's gone on to do things where he's a very important figure in movie making these days."
Ross hooked back up with the producer later in life, once they were both established in their respective fields, and the talk soon turned to what the artist could do to help Teitel realize a superhero on film. "We saw him just at Christmastime when his newest movie, 'Nothing Like The Holidays,' was having its premier here in Chicago. So he invited me and another friend from the dormitory to it. It wasn't anything that we discussed as a possibility, but I think the talks started because of the success superhero movies have had, and the challenge for he and his partner is that, since they are at a very good point to take on such a massive project, what kind of superhero would they do?"
Aside from providing character designs and other visual aide in developing a new movie, Ross said he'll also serve as consultant for whether State Street wants to option an existing hero or create a new one from whole cloth...or both. "I can tell them, 'Here's this thing you should get your hands on,' or 'Hey, we can create this together.' And it looks like that's what we're going to be doing," he said, adding that Dynamite will be involved on the publishing end for whatever character comes to the fore.
"There will probably be a comic series to help jump start the concept, and that'd be based on everybody's ideas coming together. I'm going to go hand in hand with them on what they'd like to do. We've already discussed that this will most likely be an African American hero we'll be crafting. I'm excited about the possibilities. It's nothing that's happened to me yet, and it's a cool invitation to be brought in on."
The painter has had his forays into the Hollywood world before, crafting things like the official poster for the Academy Awards and providing some early, unused character designs for the 2003 "Spider-Man" film, but overall Ross feels that comic book movie costuming could use a facelift to "get past the era of influence from the 1989 Tim Burton 'Batman' movie."
"I want to put my hands in on guiding people away from certain things," he said. "If I could have one effect on all this, it would be that there would be as little rubber used as possible on a human being. I don't want to see another superhero costume I've loved turned into a giant rubber mess...The way I've worked for several years has been to look at how costumes look on a person in one style of another, and also I've had a catalogue of costume ideas in mind knowing that there's no absolutely original thing I can come up with. But I know where to stay away from other people's creative territory, so you either use some stuff as a guide or know how to completely do the opposite.
In citing superheroes that have worked on film, Ross said, "If you're going to take a costume that is almost a protective accoutrement and bring that to film, then go all the way like they did with Iron Man where it really is a shell. I'm sick of having rubber pieces underneath cloth as if somehow they are representing the physicality of the person underneath. I'd rather see a human body painted a color, where you get a guy who's in shape and put the spotlight on that person. The human body in great, muscular shape is an amazing thing to study, and I think that could have a powerful effect if that's not filtered through layers and layers of crap giving an imitation of body form.
"Arguably, in the new 'Watchmen' movie, Rorschach is a much more exciting character in his rough-hewn texture versus the rubber costume of Night Owl. I would say that's the juxtaposition I would look more towards."
And even though his own approach to painting involves some careful and considered staging to bring characters to life, when it comes to costuming a character for State Street, Ross said simplicity is key. "We're in an era of over-thinking things. That's what it comes down to. Nobody argues how well Superman was pulled off by Christopher Reeve, yet when it was time to make the new movie, they over-thought the way to do the outfit. They couldn't help themselves from having a God awful, three-dimensional Superman shield. That's not helpful for these kinds of characters and where they come from."
And with a deal inked with a production shingle like State Street, the question of Dynamite's future in Hollywood came up strong. For his part, Ross thought the wheels were turning to take more of the publishers heroes to the big screen over the years to come. "I think it'll all come down to the visibility of the company and its assets – showing that we're integrated with all points of media. Us being involved with a film property would mean quite easily that you could imagine all these other properties he's got now – Green Hornet or Thulsa Doom – mixed in with genuine movie properties that are obvious for their viability in film. There's a lot of overlap here."