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Father of Baby Groot Anthony Francisco Visits UCI

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Creative Director at Dolphin Entertainment and Filipino American artist Anthony Francisco spoke about how he learned to embrace his culture through his art at an event hosted by UCI Illuminations on March 9. 

Best known for his work at Marvel Studios, Francisco helped create some of the cinematic universe’s most iconic characters: Loki from “Thor: Ragnarok,” Okoye from “Black Panther” and, of course, Baby Groot from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” His visit to UCI is part of Francisco’s larger mission to promote the talented people behind the camera of these famous movies and to encourage other artists to share their individual stories. 

Francisco revealed that Groot is technically considered Filipino, as he took influence from balete trees that grow in the Philippines when creating the beloved tree character. Francisco was also inspired by his son; he modeled the opening scene of Baby Groot dancing in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” after videos of his toddler. 

“I guess I unknowingly insert my Filipino culture into whatever I’m working on,” Francisco said. 

Francisco was first introduced to comic books around the age of 5 years old. Without much money to buy comics, he drew his own characters and created figures out of paper. Since then, drawing has become a useful creative outlet for him.

“I didn’t know there was a job in the industry that pays you to make these things,” Francisco said. 

Associate Professor of Asian American Studies at UCI, Dorothy Fujita-Rony, Ph.D., who moderated the event, described Francisco’s life as reflective of the Asian American experience and the complex relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines. 

Francisco was born in the Philippines, where he was taught about Indigenous Filipino history and culture in school, but the curriculum never addressed the United States’ colonization of the Philippines. He then immigrated to America with his family when he was 18 and settled in Los Angeles. 

Surprisingly, working on “Black Panther” taught Francisco the most about his culture. He studied the traditional wear of the Filipino Ifugao people, as well as the Maasai and Dinka tribes when designing characters for the movie. The red woven cloth worn by the Ifugao served as the inspiration behind the costumes for the all-female warrior tribe, Dora Milaje, in the film. 

“The school I went to talked about the Indigenous culture of the Philippines, but I wished they [had gone] more in-depth,” Francisco said. “I hope they do it now because I learned so much more about my culture after designing for ‘Black Panther.’ When I do designs, I really research everything from the beginning of time to study ancestry and ancient tribal aesthetics. It has made me kind of sad because that’s when I learned more about the history of racism and colonialism.” 

After working with Marvel Studios for nine years, the former Senior Visual Development Artist now wants to focus on directing and producing works he’s passionate about. Francisco hinted at a current project of his similar to the “Harry Potter” series, but with Filipino folklore instead. 

“In films, sometimes, the people who design the things behind the scenes don’t get proper credit,” Francisco said. “It’s not just about getting proper credit, but really inspiring other people like me, especially people of color.” 

As Francisco pursues his new directing career, he hopes to continue visiting more universities and encouraging students interested in the film industry not to be afraid to bring cultural elements to their works. 

Yuika Yoshida is a 2022-2023 Campus News Editor. She can be reached at campusnews@newuniversity.org.