Meet the Filipino-American Artist Who Designed Killmonger’s Look on 'Black Panther'
It’s pretty clear by now the Black Panther is one of the most talked-about, relevant, and empowering films Marvel has ever produced. While the film is a celebration of African culture, it’s struck a chord with audiences the world over, including Filipinos.
A couple of weeks ago, we were thrilled to find out that the bad-ass Dora Milaje costumes were designed by a Filipino named Anthony Francisco. And as it turns out, he isn’t the only Fil-Am on the team. Senior concept illustrator Rodney Fuentebella worked on the concept art for Killmonger, King T’Chaka, and Ulysses Klaue, too.
He says getting the opportunity to work on a villain like Killmonger has been a thrill. “I love visualizing the motivations of such a complex character and seeing what I can add using concept art to heighten the director Ryan Coogler’s vision. Michael B. Jordan’s role as Killmonger blew my expectations away and created a character that people will be talking about for a long time,” he says.
Killmonger is certainly one of the most memorable movie villains we’ve ever seen. While his methods may be wrong and his ruthlessness chilling, his desire for revenge and determination to free people of African descent from oppression are all-too understandable.
Fuentebella wanted to incorporate Killmonger’s history and motivations into his costume. He explains that the villain’s tactical vest, with its sharp lines and jagged appearance, is symbolic of his disturbed and tumultuous past. At the same time, it includes references to his Wakandan heritage.
“The tribal designs wrapping around the vest are a symbol of his longing to be back in Wakanda”
“The tribal designs wrapping around the vest are a symbol of his longing to be back in Wakanda,” Fuentebella says. “They are integrated yet slightly hidden—the tribal designs are integral to the structure of the tactical vest, but play second string to the look of violence.”
Fuentebella also designed the sash King T’Chaka is seen wearing during the flashback at the start of the film. He envisioned a version of the monarch’s Black Panther suit that would come before Ryan Meinerding’s Captain America: Civil War designs. It had to be slightly less sophisticated, yet still advanced for T’Chaka’s time.
“I wanted to add a softer element, a sash or some kind of cloth on top of the suit to visually separate the current Black Panther suits from this one,” he says. “I researched kings of the past that would have a cape or garment over battle armor, and integrated that with what I saw African tribes doing with draped fabric. I looked at patterns and weaving designs from mostly African tribes and baskets to create something familiar but new.”
“I researched kings of the past that would have a cape or garment over battle armor, and integrated that with what I saw African tribes doing with draped fabric."
King T’Chaka’s final look was a combination of concept artist Andy Park’s helmet design, Ryan Meinerding’s suit, and Fuentebella’s sash. “Just like the film itself, this was a group effort and I am humbled to be part of it,” Fuentebella adds.
While the inspiration for Killmonger and T’Chaka’s costumes is primarily African, Fuentebella also looked at Filipino tribal patterns to “create a look that is fitting of Wakanda, familiar yet different.”
“So, I took the geometric motif I found in African Kente patterns and African Zulu baskets I found online, as well as those found in the Philippines,” he continues. “I loved the bold, geometric Yakan patterns I saw, as well the T'Boli ones and the T'nalak’s strong, contained shapes. The triangles and play of constantly changing colors I saw from the African Akan tribes to Ikat weaves and Gaddang textiles from Northern Luzon [all] greatly influenced [the] look of Killmonger and King T’Chaka.”
"I always try to put a bit of the character’s persona into the concepts I create. For Yondu, it's the patchwork of his trench coat that covers him up, acting as a shield to protect his true self from the outside world."
Fuentebella has been working at Marvel Studios for over eight years, and in that span of time he’s created an Iron Man suit (Mark 25,) and Ultron Sentry. But among all the characters he’s worked on, he says Yondu from Guardians of the Galaxy and Killmonger have a special place in his heart.
“They are both complex, deep characters that touch the audience in ways I’m proud to be a part of. I always try to put a bit of the character’s persona into the concepts I create,” he explains. “For Killmonger, it’s the Wakanda patterns weaving into the tactical gear and for Yondu, it’s the patchwork of his trench coat that covers him up, acting as a shield to protect his true self from the outside world.”
Fuentebella says working for Marvel is like a dream, and that the breadth of films the studio produces—from comedies to blockbusters—blows his mind. He’s certainly living every comic fan’s fantasy.
“I feel so privileged to be able to work in such a place that stretches my creative muscles and that is so well-loved around the world,” he says. “I’m amazed that movies like Black Panther were created here—[movies] that tell a great story, showcase a world that has never been seen, and have characters that are memorable and resonate with the audience. I still pinch myself that I get to work on these movies and have my concepts be seen by audiences around the world.”
To see more of Rodney Fuentebella's amazing art, check out his Instagram account @rodneyimages.