Monday, June 9, 2008

Nico Marlet rules

To acknowledge how great I thought Kung Fu Panda was, I thought I'd write a little bit about one of the film's strongest suits, character design. In particular, some of the work of character designer, Nico Marlet.

I'm not saying that the following are the only elements of drawing that constitute great character design. But this is my attempt to break down and articulate what I'm seeing and why his current work appeals to me. I've wanted to do this immediately after seeing his work in the recent Art of Kung fu Panda book.

Drawing from Life- I think its very apparent that Nico has gone back to study reference of the actual source material. Haha, when I look at this design of a Monkey, I feel like he's forgotten about every simian design in any cartoon that came before him.
Come on! That dude is a bad ass!

And check out this design of a viper. The way its more than a simple tube shape, but that added detail of v-shape that defines the spine, I feel like I've seen in particular snakes before, but never would've thought to incorporate and emphasize it that way. I've heard alot of people complain that you can't tell that the tiger is a female. Are you kidding me? I said he looked at life, not every other cartoon feline out there.

I'm glad that Nico didnt take the easy way out and slap on breasts and wide hips to convey a female tiger like I would've done. Those choices that came from looking at real life make the character feel more real, different, and genuine to me.

Textures as Pattern
- Something I see alot in his work is the treatment of different textures (fur,scales,fuzz) and how they are designed into patterns.
Take this Sheep's skin, (I even love all the implied texture that white space has):
or the way he's describing the "fuzz-like" quality on a bee's ass.
Alot of times they involve small shapes in even repetition, that when
looked at as a whole begin to describe a very specific texture or surface. Here are some on a mantis and a croc.

Clean,Flowing Gesture
- Take this character sketch from a Bee Movie. Every line laid down is meant to emphasize the overall gesture. Even details inside the clothing (wrinkles, etc.), are meant to emphasize, and tie into the flow of her pose.
And speaking of strong posing, Nico comes from an animation background, and his work shows it. And it goes beyond the classic S and C-curve gestures you've seen in the Preston Blair books. Look at this pose man!
It has a "rounded-off blocky" quality to it that I love. The shape of the gesture itself is just a great design.

Shape Language- Nico's work has a specific and personal "shape language" that is applied to what he's researched, and becomes the foundation to all of his drawings.
I'm a big fan of real graphic stuff. So I love to seeing really clean, simple, and sometimes flat, graphic shapes. Whats great about Nico's work is that it is all of those things, but it still feels dimensional. That is, you feel like you can move and rotate these
around in 3D and they wouldn't fall apart.
This is great too because it shows that he's not just making drawings for great drawings sake, but these eventually are to be turned into a 3D characters. How brilliant is that pig though? I dont even remember him in the movie but I feel like a whole feature could be made around him.

Thats all I got, for now. Obviously there are so much more to successful design; attitude, personality, uh, drarwing good, etc. But I feel like these are known and universal and should be applied to ALL character design. I'm trying to hone in on some of elements that make his drawings stick with me.

You can check out all of these samples in these books.
The Art of Kung Fu Panda
The Art of Bee Movie

14 comments:

RAWLS said...

Awesome my friend! Great breakdown. I really appreciate your thoughts on these designs. Nico rocks!!

Lianne said...

Concerning the tigress character design and people not knowing whether or not she's female...I think Clio Chang summed it up best: "the Tigress didn't depend on size of mammaries or a certain shape to read as feminine (like... real animals!!! What a novel idea!), instead it was the way she stood or acted. "

And I wholeheartedly agree. Her mannerisms in the animation conveyed her gender well. I love how powerful posing and posture are and the tigress is an excellent example of that. Couple that with Nico Marlet's superb designs and you have gold.

After I watched Kung Fu Panda, I went out and bought the art book myself, and your added insights are great! I've been following your blog for awhile and am still loving it. Thanks for your thoughts and continued animation inspiration. :D

gamusino Javi said...

pretty cool blog man!!
Thx for you words. I`ll use it.

Matt said...

Of all the things to love about these designs the choices on the Tigress may be the best. Cheers to Nico for making a character that is feminine not a character that belongs in a domestic beer commercial.

Clio does a great job of capturing actual women thru drawings. I'd also like to give a shout out to Jenny Lerew (blackwingdiaries.blogspot.com/), she does a great job of making really feminine and alluring characters without resorting to the gigantic breasts and hips.

Bobby Pontillas said...

Thanks alot for your insights as well everyone. The tigress is also my fiance Cheryl's favorite design.

The end credits have been posted online , and its awesome to see those designs done straight into 2D animation!

One thing in the book Nico mentioned that I thought was interesting is he usually fleshes out the shapes first, and the personalities come out of that later. I'm not sure that is always a good way to do things, but obviously its worked in this case.

Derek Osborne said...

I totally agree with what you're saying. Having a background in graphic communication, being able to see strong use of shapes and simple graphics principles in his work it very refreshing and wonderfully spactacular.

The strength of the design of Tigress is amazing, with extremely strong and solid line and character, but being very feminine at the same time.

Overall I absolutely loved the movie not only for the strengths of design, but the animation and story were great as well.

Bobby Pontillas said...

Hear Hear Matt! Along those lines, Annette Marnat is another great artist that you should check out. I can go on and on about the many female artists that capture what you're talkin about.

Oh yeah Derek, definitely seemed like an animators wet dream. The story was simple enough, but the actual story telling, built on the strength of Po's character was what made this movie for me!

Graham Ross said...

Hey! Where's his stuff from Monsters, Inc?

maya said...

Amazing! I'm so excited to see this movie... eeeeek! Thanks for your insightful posts!

Vince Gorman said...

Nico is amazing, I first discovered him when I saw his designs for 'over the hedge'. Unfortunately, little of his magic made it to the screen, but man, his poses, shapes and attitudes are amazing, i can't imagine that he wouldn't animate? Does anyone know?

Olivier Ladeuix said...

great post Bobby!

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Maggie said...

I agree. Nico Marlet rules!

Roxanne Rainville said...

Nico Marlet quenches my illustration thirst!