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Creator Story

Anthony Francisco’s Story: The Visual Father of Baby Groot

Using his superpower to design heroes, villains, and creatures at Marvel Studios

Team Nas Academy

31 Aug · 5 mins read

Anthony Francisco has been designing some of the world’s most recognized characters as a conceptual artist for the past two decades, but he believes anybody can learn to draw…in 30 days.

As a Filipino-American, he never would have thought his work would become so influential. But seeing people, all around the world, cosplaying as some of his characters is proof that visual artistry evokes something deep within us. This is why Anthony emphasizes how the fundamentals of drawing is about so much more than just a visual, it’s a feeling too.

He draws and bases characters on personal life experiences and takes inspiration from the natural world. At a young age, comic books provided an escape for Anthony from the difficult environment in which he was raised. It was, rather sadly, the only time he could see the world being saved – by superheroes.

From this, Anthony Francisco developed his own superpower: the ability to take everything around him and turn it into art.

Growing up in the Philippines

Anthony grew up in Cubao, Quezon City in the Philippines – under the notorious dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.

As a child, Anthony was witness to the devastating impact of fraud, corruption, and human rights abuses. It was a difficult time of political unrest, as public demonstrations swept through the nation. He still vividly remembers a traumatic experience from his childhood in the Philippines…

One morning, while he was walking to school, there was a big commotion on the street. He walked towards the noise and found a group of people gathered around a dead body.

It’s no surprise, given the hostile environment at the time, that Anthony found comfort in comics. He turned to fictional universes as a way to escape his own reality and get lost in his imagination.

comic book scene with a marvel superhero

Anthony’s “life story,” the good and the bad, has been a continuous source of inspiration for his art. He believes that everyone has a lens through which they see and translate everything in the world around them. Through this lens, each individual is creative in their own way.

For Anthony, his upbringing and heritage would eventually play a significant role in designing the costumes for one of the highest-grossing feature films in the entire world. (More on that below.)

But, before he went on to do so, he first immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 17 years old.

Early Career

Anthony enrolled at a vocational art school and originally planned on securing a scholarship to a more prestigious school. But, once there, he found the learning experience to be more hands-on than traditional education as most of the instructors were industry professionals.

He wanted to pursue creature design, so he attended a creature-sculpting class at an open house. Little did he know that he was going to stumble onto a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

At the open house, he was standing behind a group of people who were surrounding the legendary Alec Gillis, co-founder of special effects studio Amalgamated Dynamics Inc. The company was known at the time for working on classic creature films like Aliens, Starship Troopers, and Jumanji.

Anthony was, and still is, a shy person. But Alec noticed that he was quietly standing at the back of the crowd and intentionally made eye contact with him. “Are you also an artist?” Alec asked. “Yes, I am,” Anthony replied, shell shocked but delighted to be included in the conversation.

Alec then asked Anthony if he had a portfolio to show him. The truth was: he didn’t have one. But he knew that it was his one shot to get a foot in the door. So, of course, he said he had a portfolio and agreed to drop by the studio with it.

Needless to say, he spent every second of the day creating sketch after sketch, trying to demonstrate the sum of his skills in one portfolio. He continued to draw right up until his scheduled meeting with Alec. Off he went, uncertain if he was good enough or even ready to present his work.

The meeting was almost a failure. Alec looked through Anthony’s portfolio… and wasn’t really impressed by what he saw. However, he decided to ask if Anthony had brought along his sketchbook. By pure luck, he had. Anthony reluctantly handed over his messy-looking scribbles and ideas, and he watched Alec flip through the pages – smiling from ear to ear.

It was precisely what Alec wanted to see. Although he felt Anthony had some improving to do on his sketches, he was satisfied with the level of attention to detail in the thought-process itself.

Alec offered him the job. It was Anthony’s big break in the entertainment industry, and he started his career in special effects at the age of 23. He designed for movies such as Men in Black 2, Spider-Man (2002), and Chronicles of Riddick.

He went on to work at a video game company, called NCSoft, as the Lead Character Designer. And he worked on games such as Guild Wars and Tabula Rasa. Eventually, the company was sold to Intel, and Anthony moved back to Los Angeles to direct his own short film.

Working at Marvel Studios

Before Anthony could pursue his own project, Marvel Studios contacted him to work on Guardians of the Galaxy. It meant his short film would have to wait.

From that film, he designed one of the cutest Marvel characters and became known as the “Visual Father of Baby Groot.”

Anthony Francisco Arts - Baby Groot

Designing a plant, specifically an alien plant, is challenging. When it came to the body structure of Baby Groot, Anthony’s own children were the main influences for designing the character. The idea for the character itself wasn’t his, of course, because that came from the comic book. But Anthony took the director’s vision for Groot and turned it into something you could actually see on screen.

A lot of the inspiration for his work comes from Filipino folklore stories that his uncle told him; so, the things that once scared him, when he was younger, are now the sources of inspiration for creating scary things for the big screen.

And as a lifelong fan of comic books and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), it is Anthony’s dream job to be working as Senior Visual Development Artist at Marvel Studios.

He works alongside a team of talented artists who all design characters for the MCU. But visual development actually involves more than creature design, it also includes environment design and costume design.

For environment design, Anthony develops keyframes for important moments in a film. These keyframes help producers and directors visualize a scene, from the lighting to the mood, and contain information about the start/end point of an action.

For example, Anthony designed the epic battle between Thanos and Doctor Strange in Avengers: Infinity War.

Infinity War Scene

For costume design, he worked on the costume design for the Dora Milaje in Black Panther, the all-female guard to the ruler of the fictional African country of Wakanda.

During this creative process, he thought about the textures that he was exposed to during his upbringing – specifically a table runner in his aunt’s home that he used as a costume when he was a child, and what he learned in school about the indigenous peoples of the Philippines too.

Those references helped him problem-solve during the design process. But he didn’t only turn to his heritage, he also looked at Native Americans and different African cultures – and blended it all together into one design.

The Dora Milaje costumes draw from Pan-African roots; the gold rings the warriors wear around their necks come from the Ndebele tribe of South Africa, and the deep red color of their armor draws from Maasai warriors from southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

While the visual design of the costumes were guided by director Ryan Coogler’s “Wakanda Bible,” again, it was Anthony who had to visually translate the strikingly memorable garments.

The dora milaje from Black Panther

Oftentimes, Anthony and his team have to start working on the production before the movie even has a script. This means that they also help with shaping the world, designing the scenes, suggesting ideas that support the storyline, and developing the script.

He has worked on dozens of films, including Guardians of the Galaxy; Thor Ragnarok; Captain Marvel; Avengers: Infinity War; Avengers: Endgame; Ant-Man; Doctor Strange; and Black Panther.

He has also been a part of production teams that won the prestigious Art Directors Guild for Excellence in Production Design Award, in 2015 and 2019.

The Anthony Francisco Academy

Anthony Francisco's StoryAnthony is launching his very own academy for illustrators, concept artists, or hobbyists who want to learn how to draw characters. Artists of all skill levels are welcome to join and learn how to design iconic creatures in 30 days.

This is a unique chance to get an insider’s look at Anthony’s method, presented in three simple steps. Join the “How to Draw From Your Imagination” course and walk away with your own masterpiece to add to your portfolio.

Learn to draw your own creature!

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