Meet the Filipino Artist Behind Some of Marvel's Most Beloved Movie Characters
Black Panther has been immensely popular since it hit theaters, not just for its celebration of African culture, but also its portrayal of strong female characters. The Dora Milaje are so beloved that last week, a Buzzfeed article about the warriors’ costumes went viral.
Filipinos were delighted to find that Marvel Studios senior visual development illustrator Anthony Francisco worked elements of Filipino culture into the costume design. It turns out that he took inspiration from the African and Filipino tribal decor he saw in his tita’s house in the Philippines.
In particular, he drew inspiration for the pattern and beading of Okoye’s tabard from his aunt’s table runner. “I remembered that table runner because it looked tribal to me and I played with it,” he tells Esquire Philippines. “I was also thinking of what would be a good shape to place in the midsection of the costume.”
The article also stated that the gold rings on Okoye’s uniform were based on “good luck charms from Filipino culture.” When asked if he was referring to anting-anting, Francisco clarifies, “I got inspiration from the idea of anting-anting, but it’s not based on an actual Filipino object. In every culture they have this.”
While Francisco looked at traditional Ifugao costumes while designing the Dora Milaje’s costumes, he emphasizes his designs are mainly based on African culture, particularly that of the Maasai and Ndebele people. While he studied Native American and Filipino culture, his ultimate goal was to design an African costume.
“So there are no actual historically correct Filipino designs on there, it’s more of my translation of the different cultures I tried to learn from,” Francisco explains. “I was trying to make something unique yet familiar.”
He’s tried to work Filipino cultural elements into movies before, but this seems to be the first time he’s succeeded. “I know it’s not only Filipinos who do this, but I experienced cock-fighting in the Philippines. I tried to make the blades on the roosters’ feet weapons. It inspired new ideas of how a warrior could fight. I haven’t been successful in getting that approved,” he says.
Francisco is definitely happy he got the opportunity to do the concept art for such a bad-ass group of women. “It was an exciting experience! I am so lucky I got this assignment. I know it was gonna be challenging to design something iconic, and I hope I accomplished it,” he says.
Apart from the Dora Milaje, Francisco has also done concept art for some of the other beloved characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: namely, Loki in Thor: Ragnarok, and Baby Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy.
“Oh, Baby Groot!! He is one of my favorites to work on,” Francisco says. “He is close to my heart ’cause my kids were my inspiration for them. The good thing about working here at Marvel Studios Visual Development is that you get to really own your character. Since I designed him for the movie on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1, I ended up working on him until he was older. I watched him grow up. I am very happy how it turned out.”
When it comes to creating concept art, Francisco draws inspiration from all kinds of sources. “It’s not just visual—it can be a feeling, it can be music, a smell that would bring you to a scene in your head and help visualize the design,” he explains. “You’re like a DJ remixing your experiences and putting them on paper—in my case, the computer.”
Francisco isn’t the only Filipino who worked on concept art for Black Panther. “There is a Fil-Am artist working with me. His name is Rodney Fuentabella—another amazing artist!” Francisco says. “He worked on Michael B. Jordan’s character Killmonger. You can find the images on his Instagram.”
Working at Marvel Studios certainly seems like every superhero comic fan’s dream. “It does not feel like work,” Francisco shares. “I just get to play everyday, it seems like. And yes, there is pressure to get things done, but we love the journey. I am working on stuff I loved when I was a kid. I have always collected comic books and drew monsters and superheroes ever since I was five. And I am with a team that are all good friends of mine. I feel lucky and grateful for my situation.”
“Creating concept art is a really fun job,” Francisco adds. “It can be really challenging at times, but it’s the journey that I love and when the fans enjoy our creations it is very fulfilling. We help the director find his vision and inspire the crew.”