Ryan Meinerding is the head of visual development at Marvel Studios, the studio behind Iron Man, Black Panther, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, and many more. Part of his job entails overseeing the generation of hundreds upon hundreds of character designs. Some are pretty close to what ends up in the movie, while others... well, others are best kept on the cutting room floor. He posts many of these designs to his Instagram, giving fans a tiny glimpse into a world that might have been.
It turns out the Incredible Hulk almost had a beard in "Thor: Ragnarok."
The character design process involves a lot of trail and error, which makes for many discarded versions of our favorite heroes.
When a new movie is being worked on, Meinerding's team of artists will draft many disparate "looks" for director and studio approval. They'll take the things that work best and try to improve on them, while discarding mock-ups that didn't generate much enthusiasm.
Meinerding described the process to "Entertainment Weekly:"
We're just always trying to make it better. It's as simple as that. It's looking at what we have and figuring out different ways and creative solutions for trying to improve it.
Sometimes costumes are chosen not only because of how they look, but because of what they say. Meinerding commented on Captain America's costume in "Captain America: The First Avenger."
He covers up his costume with a leather jacket and a helmet, and it feels like he's trying to be more of a soldier and through the process of rescuing those soldiers, the jacket gets a little more torn up and the star starts to poke through a little bit. I think at the end of that journey, he ends up realizing that there's a value to be had in not only being a soldier but also being a symbol. It's the idea of those first two costumes being combined into the final look in that movie.
According to Meinerding, it's not always an easy process:
In my opinion, it's much, much more difficult to find the first version of the character — more or less because the tone of those movies are still being worked out. We have to do a bunch of versions just to get in the ballpark of what the visuals are gonna be and what the tone of the movie is gonna be.