Friday, April 30, 2010


One of the first things you learn when starting out in character design is the importance of shape and the almighty silhouette. Are the elements that make up your character clean and legible? And more importantly, do they telegraph the personality that you are trying to evoke? Knowing that and actually mastering it are two very different things. I for one, still struggle with this skill, all too often allowing myself to get lost in the nuance of individual aspects of a design while missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. So when I see an artist accomplish it, and with such apparent ease, it gives me pause.
In this case, it makes me cry.
There are very few designers I know of who can distill a character's personality into such utterly "animatable" shapes as does Nicolas Marlet. By now, there are maybe three people reading this out there who have not seen Nicolas' work on the big screen. There are wisps of him in Prince of Egypt, and even more evidence of his touch in El Dorado, but it it wasn't until Over the Hedge that Dreamworks began to really understand the power of their secret weapon. In most animated films, there is more than one character designer at work on the same project and that is true of Over the Hedge. My pal, H.B. Lewis did very fine work in that film as well, so the end result couldn't be called entirely Nico's. That moment would finally arrive with Kung Fu Panda. I had secretly dismissed that film based on it's silly title (well, it seemed silly at the time) and the fact that it seemed to wallow in development hell for so many years. As it turns out, it is a masterpiece, especially in the visual sense and due in no small part to Nico's strong stylistic navigation. And now, on the heels of that coup, Nico has made his indelible mark again in How to Train Your Dragon.


Below are some images I pilfered from the Character Design Blog, because frankly, it saved me a lot of work and also because it's a good excuse to make you aware of that site (after you've finished here, thank you).

And finally, I want to alert you to a beautiful little limited edition sketchbook that Nico has just published which is available here.
You will not be disappointed.

This drawing is from the sketchbook.

Kung Fu Panda

Over the Hedge