Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nico Marlet

French born character designer Nicholas Marlet may have only recently gotten a lot of notice for his unique and appealing character designs, but he's been in the business for quite a while. He started as an animator on "Ducktales", "Talespin" and "Balto", doing character design on the latter which lead to a character designer position at Dreamworks. He worked on "The Prince of Egypt", "The Road to El Dorado", "Sinbad", "Madagascar" and "Over the Hedge". But it wasn't until his work on "Kung Fu Panda"and "How to train your Dragon" that he became a household name within the animation community.

Marlet's early work for traditional animation didn't include his now trademark textures and patterns, but his keen design sense with strong shapes, charming expressions, rock solid anatomy and winning poses clearly shows in this design for an unproduced adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's  "Cats":

"He was so unique in his solutions that I had a hard time finding other people to emulate it,"  Dreamworks production designer Raymond Zibach says of Marlet in this Variety Interview "The way Nico designs, he looks at the actual animal and tries to distill down what's there into something that works for the film," Zibach says. "Some of the rules we followed were actually his, like we don't stick necks straight up out of torsos and then put animal heads on the top or it just looks like a guy in a costume. Instead, we have the neck coming forward, so the head and neck and body are really one unit."

Marlet's early designs explored the panda's basic shape -- round curves, stooped neck, heavy belly. "They're very appealing already," Marlet says of the animal. Then he tested the balance of black and white in the bear's face: "Jeffrey didn't want to have too much black." His breakthrough was the bear's brows, which were big and flexible enough to accommodate the full range of Jack Black's expressions -- even though the actor had yet to be cast when Katzenberg signed off on Marlet's approach.
 (All Ku Fu Panda images from "The Art of Kung Fu Panda" )

Po shape and pose experimental sketches:

For the supporting cast, Marlet had to juggle multiple considerations. In addition to representing the animals' true natures, the designs had to be flexible enough to reflect their respective fighting styles and distinguish the characters not only from one another but also from animated films that had come before. Tigress reflects a particularly striking solution -- and one of Marlet's favorites.

"I love cats," he says. "They are perfect for kung fu. The way they fight is very elegant and at the same time very powerful, almost like a dance. If you look at different styles of tai chi, they do the same movement very slow and hold the pose." Marlet based Tigress' proportions on actual cats, emphasizing the short hind legs and elongated torso, which posed a challenge for the modelers and riggers accustomed to animating human-shaped characters.

Note how the characters are primarily comprised of a few strong shapes; a dominant, which usually dictates the primary action line, just a few subordinates and an accent or two. The small details are all laid in well after the character is fully constructed.
Monkey was adapted to provide more comic relief, evolving from a macaque to a golden monkey to accommodate a wider range of expressions:
Concept art for "The Bee Movie":

Concept Art for "How to Train your Dragon":

How to Train Your Dragon character designs from "The Art of How to Train Your Dragon."

More of Marlet's designs, along with those of several other artists, from the "How to Train Your Dragon" book:


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  2. I just love his sketchy style with the color pencils and marker. His technique is so unique and effective at the same time. I hope to be taking a workshop with him in December.

  3. its marvelous. It's surprising how he came into limelight after HTTYD n kfpanda. His work has always been AMAZINGly inspirational.

  4. truely awesome, very inspirational!!!!
    looking forward to see more......

  5. Anyone ever found out what marker pens he uses?

  6. Admit fault is "totally" Christophe.Maintenant forgive everything is digital, it is good to remember his old col-erase 20044 20068 or blue light blue see even for those who have good eyes the famous Col-erase copy 1298-not non-photo blue.Et course the famous "end-use" 1098 N KOH-I-NOOR which as its name suggests not just Germany, and we use our pencils permetais up has gomme.Oh I forgot the col-erase 20064 orange Nicolas Marlet and Rob Stevenhagen 1277 Carmine red for Daniel Jeannette and 20043 for Pres Romanillos brown.

    Translated from french blog.

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