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