When an actor like Jack Black is cast to play an animated character, the animators can have a lot of fun. Nuances of the character form around the delivery, expression and personality of the actor. Even Jack’s eyebrows were an inspiration for Po. “Jack Black can do that thing where you can wriggle both eyebrows independently.” - Raymond Zibach, Art Director. Compare Po’s design storyboards with Jack Black’s expressions and you can see the hilarious resemblance.
I think every animated main character is a hard character to find and it takes you quite a while to decide. So much is hanging on your main character.
There’s two things that influenced Po’s design greatly. There was a painting of a golden bear in an authentic Chinese robe that Christophe Lautrette did. He had a look on his face that felt authentic and felt true to a world of animals walking around in robes. That set the tone, I think, along with the line-up that Nico Marlet did. He did a bunch of fun villagers that had a shape language and a style that was round and soft and his characters have a bit of charm to the idea of who they are and what kind of animals they are and what they do for a living. He had all this stuff going on in there.
Everybody took a shot at drawing a Kung Fu Panda. Nico ended up doing a pass and we started finding almost that yin yang flow of line work through Po. Po’s great kind of power colour is gold and seeing all these golden dragons depicted in art and in architecture and in sculpture kind of started the whole thing because we knew Po was going to be the Dragon Warrior and so gold was going to be his goal. All those things are very kind of cemented along the way and I think it gives more impact to every sequence.
Po was not easy. I would say it got a lot easier when they cast Jack Black. Jack Black’s personality just started ringing right through the story boards right away. You knew what kind of character you needed, down to how Po’s eyebrow muscles are huge and Jack Black would do that thing where he could wiggle both eyebrows independently. We don’t want to mimic the exact expressions of Jack, but we want him to be pliable and expressive.