minions_sergiopablos minions_sergiopablos
Feature Film

The Humble Roots Of The Mega-Hit Franchise ‘Despicable Me’

The fine-tuned, unstoppable global success of the Despicable Me franchise might lead one to assume that the series was developed by a committee of entertainment professionals, a perfectly-engineered piece of cartoon entertainment designed to captivate the masses.

The actual history of its creation, however, is far different. In fact, what is most striking about the origins of Despicable Me is its humble and unlikely artist-driven roots. The creator of the original concept, none other than animator Sergio Pablos, tells the story of the origin and development in this new video:

Pablos, who was the supervising animator of Tantor in Disney’s Tarzan and Doctor Doppler in Treasure Planet, explains how he developed Despicable Me after he had returned to Spain to launch his own animation company, Animagic (now known as SPA Studios).

The idea he came up with – Evil Me – was driven by a simple question: What happens if it’s in a main character’s nature to be bad? As he developed the idea, he was also dealing with the creative and financial challenges of running his own company. “The money was running out, no jobs were coming in, none of our ideas had landed, we were essentially waiting to die,” Pablos says in the video.

But just when it seemed that everything would come crashing down, Evil Me found an unlikely champion in Chris Meledandri, who was looking for a film to launch his company, Illumination Entertainment. He bought the idea and reconfigured it into what has now become the highest-grossing animated feature franchise of all-time.

Pablos makes it clear that others were involved in developing the film after his pitch. The iconic Minions, for example, came later. Pablos even jokes in the video, “I’m not to blame for the Minions.”

Nevertheless, the seed of the mega-successful DM franchise is contained in his studio’s original pitch. It’s a reminder that billion-dollar ideas can come from anywhere nowadays, including a small independent animation studio in Spain, and that’s something worth celebrating.

The "Evil Me" pitch by Sergio Pablos' studio eventually became "Despicable Me."
The “Evil Me” pitch by Sergio Pablos’ studio eventually became “Despicable Me.”
The "Evil Me" pitch by Sergio Pablos' studio eventually became "Despicable Me."
The “Evil Me” pitch by Sergio Pablos’ studio eventually became “Despicable Me.”
The "Evil Me" pitch by Sergio Pablos' studio eventually became "Despicable Me."
The “Evil Me” pitch by Sergio Pablos’ studio eventually became “Despicable Me.”
The "Evil Me" pitch by Sergio Pablos' studio eventually became "Despicable Me."
The “Evil Me” pitch by Sergio Pablos’ studio eventually became “Despicable Me.”
The "Evil Me" pitch by Sergio Pablos' studio eventually became "Despicable Me."
The “Evil Me” pitch by Sergio Pablos’ studio eventually became “Despicable Me.”
  • Thalesourus

    Publish the pitch book along with the story origins. I’d buy one.

  • Those conceptual images are so “killsome”!
    Thanks for revealing this franchise’s origin – so surprising!

  • Dave 52

    Why is it that the concept art looks so much more visually interesting than the movie? I like the design of Gru here a lot better than I do in the movie. It’s has so much more character in it. Why couldn’t they just take Pablo’s design ls and translate that to the screen?

    • Marie

      Agreed. I think I’m in the minority on this but I often feel that the hand-drawn concept art (and animation) looks more organic, engaging and appealing than 3D.

      • you’re not at all in the minority there :)

  • ランダム アニメーター

    Although I was familiar with the origin of the ‘Despicable Me’ franchise, I hadn’t seen any concept art until today and I wholeheartedly agree with everyone who said that this looks far more interesting than what the final visuals ended up being in the films. Not to mention that if Pablos had managed to get the funding for this project, he would’ve gone the hand-drawn animation route which, to me at least, would have been a lot more exciting to watch, even without the Minions, or should it be, because of the lack of them?
    Anyway, I can’t wait for his next feature film ‘Klaus’, the trailer looks absolutely stunning! Keeping fingers crossed it’ll turn out to be a smashing success so he’ll find less or no obstacles in getting his future projects off the ground.

  • Hab Oh

    Like Dave said, this version of Gru has a bit more vibrancy and style. However, I can understand why they’d go for the more basic round body and long nose for the kids. Maybe they can release an artbook or an alternative timeline short.

  • Tony

    Amazing how similar the pitch is to the final film, down to the individual gags.

  • Elsi Pote

    Thanks for pointing at this. Art is created by the artist’s mind and his/her perception of what sorround him/her, it will be never the byproduct of self appointed “leaders” that have nothing to do with art. A.k.a. most “Executive Producers” with too much old money in their hands.

    The DM franchise strikes a chrord because is honest and nothing more. Minions are who they are, Gru is who he is (Thanks to Steve Carrell for plussing him) and the girls are a truckload of cuteness and fun. Say what you will as a grown up person but this is the kind of things I watched and loved when I was younger.

    Seriously, just the whole unicorn subplot and big reveal of DM3 is worth the price of admission.

  • Inkan1969

    I guess the problem with a concept like this or “Megamind” is if it’s possible for the starring villain to stay evil. Is it possible to tell a satisfying story where Gru and the girls form a family unit with Gru remaining a villain, or can the premise only work if the villain has to reform at the end?

    • Barrett

      It works only if you can create a “villain you can root for” along the lines of “The Venture Bros.” The Monarch or to a certain extent Rick from “Rick & Morty.” I have to admit one of the weaknesses of the 2nd and 3rd Despicable Me films for me is that Gru is basically a somewhat grumpy “good guy” now. Even his pretending to be bad for a portion of DM3 was rather unconvincing. I would love to see some “villains you root for” in animated films instead of just cult TV shows. The closest example I can think of in semi-recent features is Mojojojo in the Powerpuff Girls movie.

      • Inkan1969

        Thanks, I forgot about the Monarch. It might be that a cartoon has to be R-rated/TV-MA rated for the villain to stay bad.

  • kiko
    Great article. As fellow Spaniard and animator, the “girl concepts” picture immediately brought to mind “La familia telerin”, a TV animation that prompted kids to go to bed in the 60’s and early 70’s Spain. Surely an influence in Mr Pablos’ career, as with so many other Spanish animators.

  • Would love to see a movie done in this style.

  • J

    That design is cool but it’s also very busy, and the big shoulders and drapery would be a hassle for animation and CFX. I can see why they went with a much more trimmed down design, especially considering the budget of the first movie.

  • Jack Newman

    No sign of Minions in the original artwork.

    • Mesterius

      Yep, the initial art does look better.

  • Jen

    I love that the board artists and animators seemed to really preserve some of the moments from the pitch into the final product.