Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Joel P. West)

Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" finally arrived in the fall of 2021, after multiple delays caused by the COVID pandemic. Despite numbers still limited by hesitant post-lockdown audiences, the film was successful theatrically and earned solid critical praise. After a long development process at Marvel, American director Destin Daniel Cretton took over the reigns of the project, his first project anywhere close to this scale, after directing a number of smaller indie darlings. The film introduced a diverse cast and a focused on showcasing a fresh new world to the MCU (with only smaller connections to previous films). The trailers really undersold the film, but I was won over by Simu Liu's charm and humor, some of the best martial arts and action ever choreographed for a Marvel film, and given emotional gravitas by veteran Hong Kong actor Tony Leung, as Shang-Chi's father, and the tortured leader of the Ten Rings terrorist organization. Though the final act begins to flounder, as many MCU films do, it was nevertheless an exciting, colorful, hilarious, heart-felt film that brought many new elements to the big screen.

Joining director Cretton was his long-time collaborator, composer Joel P. West. Principally a singer/guitarist/songwriter, West was brought into film scoring by his friendship with Cretton, who urged him to submit a demo for "Shang-Chi", despite never having scored a film anywhere close to this magnitude or genre. Ultimately West got the job, and did extensive research into authentic Chinese music and instrumentation, though he opted to use those colors sparingly and when earned, rather than just writing a cliched Chinese-sounding score overall. West also developed a dense web of themes and motifs, largely centered around the Xu family. Featuring melodies for Wenwu, Shang-Chi's mother and sister, and a love theme. The protagonist begins with more of a modern beat, not so much a melody, but over time, his music builds and incorporates elements of all three of his family member's music, as the character embraces his roots and struggles to become come to peace with the good and evil that is contained in his family history, ultimately inheriting his father's theme by the end, turning it from a somber melody for cello into a percussive and bold hero theme. Being a relative unknown, certainly for the major blockbuster scene, West shouldered a huge burden taking on this film, but he really delivered big and made quick the splash, and I hope he's able to return to a score of this magnitude again in the future. 

I really had gone into this film with low expectations, but was quite pleasantly surprised. And hopefully the character will return to the MCU soon to further build on this world. I'd always wanted to explore covers for this film, and had made a single cover alt for my own collection, but it was a treat to finally be able to revisit this material and complete a full set. There was a variety of colorful artwork created, both by the studios directly, and also licensed commission pieces. Here I present a total of twelve covers, not totally exhaustive, but most of my favorites. The official Hollywood Records/Marvel Music album's cover always felt way too cramped, so it was fun to let this project breathe.

The first six covers all feature official studio artwork, either final posters or teaser art. All of them took some kind of patching work, either to remove text, or combining two of three variants of the same piece to get the widest possible artwork, and all the usual work to balance and blend those images smoothly into one. I also really wanted colors to be vibrant, including shifting the tones on Cover 3's art to make it pop better and make skin tones a bit more natural. The text was fairly simple, was able to find hi-rez versions of the logo, just had to match the extra text credits to sit comfortably along.

If there was one unfortunate bit of trimming, it was that I had to cut out one piece of imagery from the two posters that featured it, which duel of Shang-Chi and Wenwu as featured in 2 and 3. For Cover 3 (my remake of the official album cover), the design is just too vertical to feature on a square design. This meant, going the album route of cutting out the characters at the bottom, unfortunately I couldn't find an actual poster that had a clean version of Shang's body as an actual poster variant, so I had to combine bits of the album cover, and then take a full body of Shang from the art used for Cover 5, and then painstakingly patch it all together (maddeningly, the angles of the body aren't identical, so I had to warp and stretch it into place) and try to match the colors and effects. This works well enough, and I think that cover remake now sits much more comfortably. 

In Cover 2, I kinda broke one of my unwritten rules, which is a straight unaltered image getting awkwardly mutilated by the crop. In this case, you can see Wenwu fine, but Shang-Chi himself gets buried under the title. Probably most won't notice or care. It bothers me in principle, but honestly the patch job in 3 was a major headache, and I felt in this case I could let it slide. Otherwise I would have had to cut them out, somehow shift them into horizontal, rather than diagonal, orientation over the title, and then repaint all the detail behind them. Posters like this often reuse certain character shots or elements, and I always try to feature all of them cleanly, but in this case I made a concession. I hope the arbitrary design gods will forgive my laziness in this case.

The next set of covers, 7-10, all feature officially commissioned artwork, produced by MEOKCA, Inc., a collection of artists and designers collectively known as the Poster Posse, that create sets of custom designs for major studios, featuring the artists individual styles. There were a few more posters created for this set, but I chose my favorites and ones I thought would best be adapted for cover use. The artists featured here, in order are Adam Stothard (7), AJ Frena (8), Khang Giate (9), and Cryssy Cheung (10). As these were singular releases, I couldn't find textless releases, meaning I can to manually edit out all the logos and text to be able to insert my own in a better fit. This meant that for the bottom portions of 7-9, I had to paint out or clone to try to create a clean textless space to work with, as best as I could.

The final two pieces seem to be non-licensed creations. Cover 11's art is by Nicolas Tetreault-Abel, and I opted to create a custom version of the title, as the official logo would simply have blocked out too much of the artwork. This way I could just keep the outline, and make the title semi-transparent, and then cut out the fighting characters at the bottom to pop in front of the text. 

Cover 12 uses a piece by Matt Ferguson. I simply widened the background a bit, to not have to make any edits to the art itself, and again used my semi-transparent title to not block out too much of the artwork.

This was a fun project to work on, and I was able to knock it out in a few days. Always a joy when things flow smoothly. Hope you enjoy and let me know your favorites below!

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