For the Netflix side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a new version of New York City was created. This version of New York differs only slightly from the version known throughout the world, having been damaged in The Avengers and being home to the characters from Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist. To develop this world, Marvel went above and beyond, making sure that every little detail ties into the universe they have created. Much of this magic was created by Zachary Zirlin, the graphic designer on Daredevil season one, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage. In a recent interview with Man Without Fear, Zirlin reveals that there was no detail too small for them to pay attention, including the whiskey labels in Josie’s Bar and the advertisements hanging in the Subway.
I have to say that liquor and beer labels are some of my favorite things to design. There is such a wide variety in the world and it’s so much fun to try to establish a fictional brand. I begin by doing research for some inspiration. I try to look at similar products as well as specifics of country of origin, perceived market, iconography, color palette, etc. From there I spread it all out digitally or physically and get going. We hopefully have a bottle style chosen at this point so I can design to a specific “canvas”, but I start by putting together all the elements. The name, the logo, any design elements, and even the little bits that help sell it as a real product, like the alcohol percentage and volume markings. I typically end up playing around with 3-4 versions before I’m happy to share with the rest of the team. Once approved, it’s time to get it made. I have a few vendors that I work with to turn the design into a reality. I love making them as realistic as possible and working with my vendors to make them something more than a simple printed label. I love to incorporate metallics, foils, and texture whenever I can to make it feel like a real brand. The subway ads are a very similar process but a little more difficult. Real subway ads are quite often for movies and tv shows. We’re creating our own realistic world and trying not to tie ourselves to any one specific time period so I generally try to keep things as non-descript as possible while keeping it as grounded and realistic as possible. Whenever possible, I try to throw in easter eggs and references to our other shows.
The selection at the bars in all of the shows appears realistic enough that most fans don’t realize that it is not a regular liquor collection. But the easter eggs and attention to detail don’t stop outside of the bar. When Matt goes to Fogwell’s Gym, in Daredevil, it is littered with posters for old boxing matches. For those posters, many of the competitors were also crew members for the show. This is for a very practical reason.
That is something you’ll see in most TV shows and movies. When we need to populate paperwork, posters, signs, etc., we have to do so with names that we are legally allowed to use. It’s typically part of our start paperwork and contracts that crew members names can be used on screen. So when I’m tasked with creating over 40 boxing posters, it ends up being a full on crew-on-crew brawl. It’s also a really great way to throw some love to the crew. It takes a lot of people to make a show and putting their names on something seen on screen is a fun way to show appreciation. (And I always get tons of requests to print copies for them). In order to show the passage of time, we created a ton of older posters that would play in both the flashbacks and the present day. We felt that Fogwell’s was an old school place that wouldn’t be getting rid of their old posters. We then created some more contemporary posters to help show the progression of time, but wouldn’t overtake all the history of the place.
One detail that was definitely noticed by fans was the selection of headlines for the New York Bulletin, the newspaper for the Netflix corner of the MCU. Ben Ulrich’s office was decorated with headlines from the “Battle of New York,” which occurred at the end of The Avengers. These were developed in close coordination with Marvel.
We work very closely to create the newspapers. I love putting as many easter eggs in there as possible. Michael Tuths, our clearance coordinator, has been invaluable in helping to wrangle and brainstorm ways we can keep as many easter eggs as possible. Creating the New York Bulletin was a lot of fun as we were creating our world’s version of the Daily Bugle. Due to all the rights negotiations and whatnot surrounding Spider-Man and Sony, we had to create our own newspaper instead of using the Bugle known from the comics. We went back and forth defining the type of paper we wanted, how it was perceived, the type of journalism, etc. and I began creating versions. It was definitely a fun collaboration that we’re all happy with. We had a lot of fun working closely with Marvel to create some of the Bulletin’s most famous articles and covers, many of which were written by Ben Urich. You can catch them in the background of Urich’s office and the Bulletin offices.
Those newspaper designs are one of the main details that ties Daredevil to the movies. Other references to the Chtauri invasion in The Avengers were more subtle. When we see the Ranskahov brothers in a Russian Prison, the tattoos on the bodies weren’t random.
The tattoo design was a really fun challenge. I did a lot of research into Russian prison tattoos. It is such an incredibly deep, symbolic, frightening, and mesmerizing world. Certain symbols mean certain crimes and there’s a vast visual language to it. So I was attempting to tell a bit of their stories with the tattoos. Their past, their crimes, their political views, etc. At the same time, it needed to be a fairly quick read on camera showing just how hardcore these guys are. After I had designed them and got them approved, I pass them off to Josh Turi, our special effects make up artist. From there he takes over in outputting them and making them look like they are real tattoos of varying age that are part of their skin, rather than a normal, cheap temporary tattoo. It’s pretty magical.
For the important logos, such as the Nelson and Murdock office sign, there is a lot of history for Zirlin to draw on, from the comics.
For those hero logos, we were given a lot of free reign. We had decades upon decades of incredible comic reference to pull from while developing them. But at the same time, we were creating a world specific to our show. It was based in the comics, but still our show’s unique interpretation. So it became about figuring out how we bring some these businesses into the contemporary, grounded Marvel universe that we were building. I tried to keep as many elements as I could in terms of layout, proportion, and type, while also allowing them to feel at home in our universe.
Zirlin couldn’t reveal his next project, but it’s possible that he is involved in Iron Fist, which is currently filming. Meanwhile, have you found any interesting easter eggs in the background art of the Netflix shows?
Source: Man Without Fear