Fantastic Four was a huge mess in every way. Even its marketing wasn’t exactly dynamic and exciting, its posters full of a sullen Fantastic Four glaring out at you. But oh, what might have been, if we take a look at the art of Dave Rapoza, who helped plan Fox’s original ideas for the film’s posters.
Rapoza—who you might remember from his recent comic kickstarter Steve Lichman—recently shared these pictures of his work on his Tumblr, explaining that he’d been hired by 20th Century Fox marketing in 2014 to previsualize a series of posters for the then-upcoming film. “Well, initially I was approached by Neri Rivas, my Art Director, because of a small series of X-Men portraits I had done in a comic book style,” Rapoza told io9. “They were throwbacks to my old favorite versions of all the X-Men from the early 90s and the posters were done with retro colors and were sort of made to look old.”
“At the time, Neri was looking for someone to help on X-Men: Days of Future Past, he wanted to have a more traditional retro comic vibe for the marketing. So, we worked together for a few weeks and I was able to use the style I had done previous in hopes that they’d use it for the campaign. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, although some small elements did make it through to final photo manipulated posters.”
But although his work didn’t make the cut for Days of Future Past, Rivas returned to Rapoza when Fox was preparing for Fantastic Four. At the stage he was brought on, barely anything about the film’s visual aesthetic, or even the appearances of the cast, were nailed down. “ At the time, everyone already knew that Michael B. Jordan would be cast as Johnny Storm. Outside of that, I only really knew that the tone was going to be more serious than the previous Fantastic 4 movies,” Rapoza added. “I don’t know if Neri knew, I don’t think he did, but I certainly didn’t know what the costumes would look like. But that’s ok when you’re doing the work I’m doing because really all I need to nail down is the composition and the vibe of the marketing campaign. Everything else can be plugged in afterward.”
As time went on, though, Rapoza started learning a little more about the movie—for example, the surprising fact that the team would spend most of the film not in their classic uniforms. “We learned as the job went on that they would most likely be in regular street clothes for most of the movie, but I also wanted to have fun so I just designed whatever I thought they should look like,” Rapoza joked. He also chose to highlight the Thing’s transformation in each poster. “I had a feeling that the Thing might want to show his face in the final movie, I’m glad they didn’t go for that, but that’s why in mine I wanted to show the actor’s face in mid-transformation. Basically, it’s mostly guess work on my part for the outfits and their appearance.”
Although Rapoza had to design both team posters and individual character ones, his main goal was to emphasis the Fantastic Four as a unit—something the movie itself ended up diverging from. “The first thing I really wanted to focus on, outside of the single character shots, was the team coming at us as a unit. I never liked when teams of characters like this seemed to function as individual heroes in movies, doing their own thing, so I wanted to make the compositions seem like they were flowing together,” said Rapoza. “I tried to make them feel like they were mixing together as they rushed forward at the viewer, as a team.”
It wasn’t just in that regard that Rapoza’s work started to diverge from what the film would become. “I really wanted to nail down an energy I really hadn’t seen from the Fantastic 4 so far. I don’t have a lot of love for making everything dark and gloomy with the super-serious vibe, so I wanted to counter the aggressive mood with some lighter colors.”
So what makes a good poster concept stand out? Rapoza told us that the key was to establish a vivid sense of mood in every drawing. “Everything is mood to me. I want to show whatever I think is the coolest aspects of the characters, if it is about characters in the movie, and show that above all else. I always think back to when I was a kid and the feeling I had playing with action figures, making my own poses and trying to move them around for different camera angles.”
Ultimately, many of Rapoza’s ideas were left out of the final Fantastic Four marketing campaign—possibly due to the fact that the film strayed far beyond the fantastical scifi of the comic books, to the radically gritty tone Rapoza had pointedly avoided. “I love what I do and I love working with people like Neri, I could never complain,” Rapoza concluded. “I totally understand that my direction did not line up with the movie, and am right there with them that they should not have been used. My posters were more focused on the comic book’s idea of the heroes, while the movie went in a different direction entirely.”
Image Credits: Dave Rapoza/20th Century Fox. Used with express permission of the artist.