Katie Menzies and Abel Reverter were a couple before they started working together for fun – now, they are Cabeza Patata, one of the most successful character design studios worldwide.
It’s only been three years since Cabeza Patata started to populate the world with their shiny happy characters, with hip and energetic humans, supercool dressed dogs, with fashion models in wheelchairs or marching musicians. But don’t let yourself be fooled by their colorful surface! We talked to Katie Menzies and Abel Reverter about the complexity of simplified characters and the difficulties in breaking down stereotypes, about constantly pushing the boundaries with clients like Spotify, Google or The New York Times – and why their work is not at all only about characters and fashion, but also about politics.
When you started working together, you just wanted to do it for fun and never planned starting a company. Now you work with big clients like Google, Spotify or The New York Times. When did the fun become serious? Katie Menzies: (laughs) Oh, it’s still a lot of fun. Abel Reverter: And that’s because we’re saying no to a lot of inquiries. Not only because the clients are not a good fit for us, but also for the reason that we want to keep the fun. Even with clients and budgets getting bigger, experimenting is still an important part of our daily work.
Your field of experimentation are characters. Most of them are humans, some are dogs. What does character design mean to you? Abel: Character design is a really fundamental part of artistic creation. Characters are the first things we sketch as little kids. We draw our family and our house and the sun. And often we also put a face on the sun. We love to look at everything through characters and create our own world. For us this has a special spirit, a beauty and playfulness. Katie: And at the same time so many people see themselves or someone they know in the characters and they fill them with stories about their lives. That’s a really lovely thing because that’s the idea of our characters which are not more than ears and eyes.
Are there limits to creating characters? How far can they stray from reality without losing their basis or relevance? Abel: The longer we’re working in character design, the more we realize, that as soon as you put two eyes on something, that’s a character. And sometimes you even just need one eye. (laughs) Our characters don’t even have eyebrows to get some expression from. And you don’t need them. You can simplify a character to the maximum. And even more so when you work with animation. There you need just some movements to characterize them, to express if they are happy or sad, tired or excited. Katie:
Yeah, a good character can be totally simple and abstract. If it catches you and you start to add your own thoughts it gets far more complex compared to someone else telling you the story.