Nico Marlet

I’ve been thinking a lot about the sort of characters I want within the short that we have to create for this module and it’s come back to character design once again.
I was watching Kung Fu Panda 2 and realised that I really don’t pay enough attention to the credits and look up the animators and head character designers and such….
So at the end of watching the film I decided to really take care in getting the names of these people and looked them up.
Nico Marlet was the first person I looked up and my gosh has he created some incredible work.
If you simply Google his name, enough images will come up to inspire anyone. His characters have so much to them but still carry all the simplicity to be well animated and understood by anyone within the audience. Here’s a link to a website with just some of his work and then below that is an interview with Nico himself about his work on Kung Fu Panda,
Below is a short blog post by a great character animator who works for Disney named Bobby Pontillas who writes a great post on Nico Marlet’s work within the film.
I think it’s great to see someone who is doing so well within the industry critiquing another artist as one animates them and one designs them. Although Nico Marlet has also worked within animation and done some himself, this may be why his characters come to life so well.
I must clarify this is simply copied from Bobby Pontillas’ blog which you should check out by clicking the link below,
He also follows all these pieces of advice that I’ve gotten through emails and watching other people work and just finding things, with his line work, character design and ideas.
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, drawing 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.

Here’s someone that’s also done their incredible fair share of work!
Dan Wagner, although it’s fairly hard to find out information about him over the internet, was the head animator in Kung Fu Panda 1 & 2 has an incredible catalog of films behind his name that he’s been able to work on.

Check out this link about some of his work,

I’d love to be able to have a chat with him and just be able to pick his brain a little bit and see how he did it. I’d love to chat with all these people and I’ll defiantly be at least trying to send an email and hope they have the time to reply!

I really need to keep in mind that all these things link together, whether it’s animation or film or VFX or layout or character design. They all link and work together and need to work off the same principles and ideas. If I can play with the way in which Nico Marlet creates characters I can think of a character design for the short within this module, as I can’t actually create something very scary yet and feel much more comfortable at the mooment playing with something more open, creative and humourous.


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