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Skullgirls’ Artistic Origins

April 5th, 2011
Written By: Alex Ahad

Welcome to the Skullgirls website – from here on, the team will try to do a blog post every Monday.

Since Mike has spent so much talking about Skullgirls’ gameplay, it was suggested that we kick this off with a post about the game’s art.

First of all, let me introduce myself: my name is Alex Ahad, and I’m the Creative Director and Lead Artist on Skullgirls. I’m fairly new to the game development scene, and it’s a frankly a bit overwhelming to be given such a remarkable opportunity. I’ve worked for Gaia Online, Playdom and WayForward before coming to Reverge Labs, and before that I mostly did artwork for print, with contributions to Scott Pilgrim, Udon’s Tribute books, Girls of Gaming, and the small press comic anthology Lava Punch.

I’m here to talk about my style’s many influences, but before I get into that…

Some people think that I made the characters to pander to a fan service-craving audience. However, in my mind you can’t really please anyone but yourself, so I start there and figure there are bound to be people with similar tastes. So really I’m doing what I want, and people are welcome to come along for the ride if they’d like to. I’m not actively trying to imitate anime or draw an “amerimanga” style. Really, I just like certain western styles and eastern styles, and what you see is just the way I ended up mixing them.

With that in mind, I draw from a wide variety of influences, including comics, television and games. I doubt I’ll ever reach the level of any of these guys, but their work is a huge inspiration for me.

From comics:

The cinematic storytelling and compositions of Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, really caught my eye back in college. He’s been a pretty big influence on what I like to see in monster designs, especially.

From animation:

The styles of Bruce Timm and Shane Glines, particularly in Batman: The Animated Series were a big influence for me. Plus, I love the art deco inspired aesthetic – it’s incredibly fitting for Batman, and was obviously a big inspiration for Skullgirls’ “Dark Deco” aesthetic.

Studio Gainax has also been inspiring, especially their OAV series FLCL. Their pacing and style have an intensity that you rarely see anywhere else. In particular, Hiroyuki Imaishi is one of my favorite directors/artists. Ever since seeing his works I’ve always tried to capture a similar sense of energy and attitude.

I really like the exaggerated style of retro cartoon vixens, as well, and that has strongly influenced by character’s proportions. I’m mostly referring to examples like Betty Boop, Tex Avery’s Red Hot Riding Hood, and the later incarnation of this archetype, Jessica Rabbit. A lot of my favorite western artists (in addition to some of the examples mentioned here) are at least partially inspired by these same cartoons, too.

From games:

I’ve always been a big fan of classic Capcom games and sprites – they really know how to create style and give it that extra punch, which is pretty hard to find in modern fighting games. I draw particular inspiration from the Darkstalkers series and Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. I’m also a long-time fan of Nishimura Kinu, who did character design on pretty much every Capcom fighting game. Capcom’s artists are truly my heroes.

George Kamitani and Vanillaware really influenced me, especially with their most recent offerings, Odin Sphere and Muramasa: The Demon Blade. Ever since I read about their company in a Play magazine interview, I was inspired to pursue a career in games. Their team is so small, but they are dedicated, talented, and stick to a very distinct style. I have the utmost respect for them.

For similar reasons, I’m a huge fan of Daisuke Ishiwatari, creator of Guilty Gear, and Daisuke Amaya (Pixel), the lone creator of Cave Story.

There you have it – basically, my style is a mix of all these influences, plus a few others. You’ll see a wider range of character designs in the near future, with a little something for everybody.

Thank you for reading this – hope you enjoyed it and got a better sense of where I’m coming from, and didn’t find it too rambling!

Check back next Monday for another post from the Skullgirls development team!