Meet the Filipino American Who Designed the Best Costumes in ‘Black Panther’
Anthony Francisco may not be a name you’ve heard of, but he’s responsible for designing some of your favorite Marvel characters on the big screen. Most recently, he’s designed some of the costumes for “Black Panther,” drawing inspiration from his Filipino upbringing.
As a senior visual designer for Marvel Studios, Francisco and his team has worked on dozens of movies including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” “Thor: Ragnarok,” and “The Chronicles of Riddick.”
Francisco grew up in Cubao, Quezon City in the Philippines during the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos. From 1965 to 1986, his regime was notorious for corruption and committing various human rights abuses including cooking and eating the flesh of victims in front of their families, water torture, electric shock, and forcing victims to strip naked.
“When I was walking to school one day, we saw a commotion in one of the corner streets and we went to see what was happening — it was a dead body,” Francisco told NextShark. “I didn’t see how many, but in our neighborhood, the dictatorship would be just leaving these bodies behind.”
“This was during Marcos’ time, so the adults would tell us that President Marcos is eliminating his opposition,” he added.
When he turned 17, he and his family immigrated to the United States through petition. After a two year stint in the Navy, Francisco quickly realized that it wasn’t the path he wanted to take. He left the Navy and started taking art classes.
“I started as a creature designer and I just wanted to do only monsters because I wasn’t really good at doing anything else,” he said. “When I was younger, I used to love watching horror films a lot. So as I was trying to find a career, I guess, wanted to just do art.”
Francisco’s big break didn’t come until he attended a creature sculpting class one day and met Alec Gillis, co-founder of special effects studio Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc. (ADI). The company is known for working on classic creature films like “Aliens,” “Starship Troopers” and “Jumanji.”
“I was just behind my friend while he was talking to Alec,” he said. “He saw me behind and said, ‘Are you also an artist?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ He just asked me if I had a portfolio. At that time I didn’t have a portfolio, but I just lied and said ‘Yes, I do.’ And he said, ‘Oh can I see your stuff like in 2, 3 weeks?’”
Francisco kept drawing everyday until he had a portfolio ready for Gillis. When he finally showed it to him, he wasn’t impressed. However, when he glanced at Francisco’s sketchbook, he was impressed by his eye for design and his ideas.
“When he looked at my sketchbook, he thought, ‘Oh that’s what I need. Someone who thinks instead of someone who just paints pretty pictures,’” Francisco said.
At 23, Francisco was offered his first job as a designer in the entertainment industry. Since then, he’s designed for movies such as “Men in Black II,” “The Passion of the Christ,” and “Spiderman” (starring Tobey Maguire).
Francisco, now 43, has worked for Marvel for five years now. As a member of the visual development team, he is mostly responsible for designing the heroes and villains in the Marvel universe. Major characters he’s worked on include Baby Groot, who’s modeled after his own children, Loki in “Thor: Ragnarok,” and others which he can’t yet reveal.
Most recently, Francisco worked on the costume design for “Black Panther,” which has been the most successful Marvel movie so far, grossing $1.3 billion worldwide, making it the highest-grossing superhero film in U.S. history and the 10th-highest-grossing film of all time.
Francisco was responsible for designing the costumes for the Dora Milaje, the group of warrior women who serve as the special forces for the fictional African nation of Wakanda. This project really hit close to his heart because he was able to draw from personal experiences when designing the characters.
“I haven’t had a chance to design any really strong female heroes. I got to design these characters and they’re a minority” he said. “The design elements that went through to their costume came from my upbringing, being Filipino, and what I’ve learned in school about the indigenous people in the Philippines.”
“But I didn’t just look at that as my own heritage, I also looked at Native Americans and I looked at all sorts of African cultures and I blend that all together into one design. As I was learning about these other cultures, it became more emotional and brought back memories when I was growing up in the Philippines.”
“Parts of the tabard reminded me of when I was in the Philippines with my aunt’s table runner because of the texture of it. I was trying to imagine the beading like friendship bracelets we used to do in the Philippines during class and you give it to your crush.”
“The importance of a strong Black female warrior was also another important thing. I felt like I had to make this thing look really good and not sexist. I didn’t want to make her scantily clad, like all the other female superheroes that you see. And it turned out to be successful.”
However, although Francisco has done a lot of amazing work, he hasn’t been immune to controversy. When he mentioned that he designed the costumes for the Dora Milaje, he received hate mail accusing him of lying because the credits listed only Ruth E. Carter, a known designer with two Academy Award nominations under her belt as a costume designer. While many designers work to make the costumes happen, the credit is not typically presented clearly.
“Usually when you do a design, it changes hands so many times it doesn’t even look like your design in the end, but director Ryan Coogler really liked this design. So they had to stay close to it, which is sometimes unheard of.”
“Ruth is doing more than just designing the costumes. She has to oversee a whole team and we are our own department also, which is headed by Ryan Meinerding. We have credits for our group, Visual Development Team, but that’s the separation people don’t know. Not everyone knows that we do the main characters.”
“If Ruth Carter gets a Academy Award for best costume for ‘Black Panther,’ I don’t know, what does that mean? Does that mean me also?”
However, don’t consider this a knock on Carter. When Francisco bought up the hate mail he was dealing with to her, she immediately took action.
“When I told her about it she said, ‘Let’s fix that. Let’s have a selfie together just show all this love in our collaboration.’ So that was really nice of her.”
“She’s the only costume designer I know that mentions the Visual Development team at Marvel often. She even mentioned me by name. I don’t blame the people that assume she’s a costume designer. That’s usually how it works anyways, but in this case, it was a little different.”
So how does Francisco think of these unique character ideas? Francisco broke down his design process to into four parts.
1.) Understand the problem you have to solve.
“What does the character do in the script. Where does he live? Underwater? In space? What kind of powers does he/she have? Asking the right questions helps with the design process. It helps determine what kind of reference I need to find.”
2.) Gather reference points.
“Have reference points like a mood board or a material/texture list. Sometimes I already have the reference in my head and I just start sketching in photoshop. This is just from years of working in the industry that I have developed a vocabulary of ideas and failed attempts at certain designs. I also look to my childhood experiences and movies I like to watch. I watch a lot of animal and nature documentaries because I love to learn how life on earth tries to solves problems and develops interesting ways to survive.”
3.) Sketch the foundation.
“Working in Photoshop, I sketch out the pose of the character or creature and get a sense of it’s gesture. This will serve as a foundation when I try to figure out the structure of the body. This is where I try to find a good pose but still show the design and its personality. This part is very difficult.”
4.) Clean up.
“In the end I try to cleanly render the forms and cut lines, clearly showing material changes and patterns. And sometimes when I need to, I will create the patterns from photo textures and strategically place them throughout the image. There is more that goes into it, but this is the basic set up.”
From growing up under a dictatorship to achieving the American dream and leaving his mark in one of the most successful films in U.S. history, Francisco’s positive attitude has certainly helped him achieve the success he enjoys today. He left some timeless words of wisdom worthy of any real-life super hero:
“Never say ‘I can’t,’ always learn to ask, ‘How can I?’ Be patient with yourself , as long as you practice and work hard on your craft you will get better. Be kind to everyone and be strict in choosing your friends, make sure that they will help you become a better person. Take failure as a learning experience and always try to be positive and believe in yourself.”
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