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Illustrator Kejun Zhao creates beautiful graffiti artwork for Marvel’s hit ‘Runaways’

From the time she was just a child growing up in Shanghai, China, painting and drawing have been Kejun Zhao’s greatest passions. She was a born artist, and the moment she puts a pen to a piece of paper, it feels natural. As she grew, this love for the arts only intensified, and she knew that it was not a hobby, but a career.

Now, Zhao is an in-demand illustrator in her home country and abroad, showcasing her vast talent and versatility with every project she takes on. Whether storyboarding for popular television shows like Netflix’s award-winning hits Orange is the New Black and Dead to Me, promotional material for major brands like Anastasia Beverly Hills, or concept art for blockbuster films including Hotel Transylvania and Bad Moms, Zhao knows how to capture the essence of the story through her work.
“I enjoy the freedom of creation as an illustrator. It’s a very creative job, not only for my own projects, but also in commercial ones. The client will have directions as well, but it’s very generic, and we have enough space to have our own ideas to create real art, so our voice will be heard as an artist,” said Zhao.

Zhao has worked with many renowned art and advertising agencies, including Cold Open. It was with the firm that she recently helped to create the concept illustration for the second season of Marvel’s hit television show Runaways. The series follows a group of six teenagers in the Marvel universe who discover that their parents are secretly members of a super-villain cabal called The Pride. After deciding they're no longer safe in their own homes, the kids go on the run. In the midst of hiding from their elders, the teens learn about themselves and become a family of their own. In the second season, the teenagers are now on the run from their parents, living on their own and figuring out how to stop The Pride.

“I know Runaways is a popular young adult web TV series on Hulu, so when the executive director of Cold Open asked if I’d like to work on this project, I accepted with great pleasure,” said Zhao. “It’s a great honor to participate in this Marvel project, and I feel proud when seeing my artwork stand out as particularly notable among the many collaborations. The campaign includes my illustrations prominently displayed on billboards, bus shelters, iTunes page, Facebook banners, etc.,” said Zhao.

The main focus of this project was to figure out the personality of each character while showing their superpowers. Superpowers appear a lot on Marvel’s films or TV series, so it was a great challenge for Zhao to show that in a unique and impressive way. Since the characters on this TV series are all teenagers, they needed something to differentiate their superpowers and the other Marvel adult heroes. Therefore, Zhao and her team studied the background story and the relationships between characters first, and then figured out the specific visual styles Hulu was looking. Once this was established, Zhao began sketching out rough sketches of each character, in different styles, poses and expressions, and eventually adding details and textures to make polished illustrations.

Because of her strong drawing and painting ability, Zhao was able to paint both portrait and full-figure characters digitally, but still kept them look like hand-drawn graffiti. Her sense of colors then brought the illustrations to the next level.

“When I was illustrating, the important thing was to keep our characters determined and unbeatable, even though some of them are shy or quiet, so as to convey the idea of being brave to the youth. That’s also the main reason why I brushed dynamic saturated colors on the illustration and followed the graffiti style on this campaign,” said Zhao.

After receiving praise for the success of the Runaways concept art, Zhao continued working with Cold Open on several more projects, including CBS’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, HBO’s Barry, and more. They have formed a great partnership, and Zhao can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.

By Annabelle Lee
Photo of Kejun Zhao by Dawn Si
Aug. 2nd, 2019

Illustrator Kejun Zhao creates beautiful graffiti artwork for Marvel’s hit ‘Runaways’ Reviewed by JaamZIN on 7:58:00 PM Rating: 5
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