The Art of Metal Gear Solid | Sidcourse


Hi and welcome to the Sidcourse. Like discourse, but, my name is Sid. I don’t believe in hero worship. I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of anything, because I don’t believe in putting people or products on a pedestal. Growing up, there wasn’t anyone that I personally looked up to or considered a hero or inspiration. Filmmaker friends would cite directors like Spielberg, Tarantino, and Nolan as their inspirations. Musician friends would say Hendrix, Jackson, or Shakur amongst others, as theirs. And in the world of video games there aren’t that many names that stand above that of Hideo Kojima. A legend in the industry whose storytelling and games are loved by millions. His contribution to the games industry spans over 30 years. In this episode of the Sidcourse, we’re going to look at the man behind the legend. His Art Director and close friend, Yoji Shinkawa. [Song: Snake Eater} What a thrill…. Without a doubt, the Metal Gear franchise is iconic. It’s one that’s solidified itself as one of gaming’s greatest. And even though it’s famed for its convoluted storyline, tragic characters, campy moments and giant death robots, there’s nothing more iconic about the game, than its artwork. That’s where this man comes in. Not much can be found about the life of Yoji Shinkawa outside of select interviews and prose from his art books but much can be said about his work. Instantly recognisable, even someone like my girlfriend, who’s completely unfamiliar with the franchise, can tell that this style and aesthetic is synonymous with the Metal Gear franchise. Mixing both traditional and digital mediums together to create these incredibly evocative and nuanced pieces. Generally, concept art for games usually look like this. Beautiful, highly rendered pieces that captures the mood and feeling of the world that in creation. These works of art are brimming with colour and texture and show us what the world is, long before the world exists. Unlike most concept art, the world of Metal Gear isn’t defined by its environments or locations, but by its characters and machines, which is one of the many things that makes Metal Gear such an incredible series. The characters have always been the central focus, coming off the page and into this virtual reality. Characters like Big Boss, Revolver Ocelot and Les Enfants Terribles are loved by so many, and they couldn’t exist outside the world of Metal Gear, because they are what define the world. ou can change out Shadow Moses, Camp Omega and Mother Base with any location in the world and the heart of these characters would still live on because they’re what’s most important. What strikes me the most about Shinkawa’s work is not just his technical accuracy, or the wonderful cast of characters he was tasked in creating, but his style. Art has changed and evolved over centuries. We’ve seen styles come and go across time and what it reflects unto the world. Romanticism, surrealism, impressionism, neo-classicism, cubism, futurism, pop-art, modernism, post-modernism. However as time compresses closer to the present day we start seeing artistic styles folding into one another. We’re at a point where new art comes from regurgitation, reference and remixing. One of the biggest trends on social media is hyperrealist art. Drawings and paintings that are so accurate to the source material that it’d be easy to mistake it for a photograph. Which showcases the incredible skill from the respective artists. However, in my personal opinion, it feels shallow and lifeless. It’s a recreation of something that already exists. What differentiates a hyperreal drawing of Rihanna from the photograph of Rihanna it’s recreating besides technique? That’s not to say that the work isn’t good. You can’t deny the technical skill required to create work so detailed and accurate, but at the same time, I can’t help but feel cynical about it. Whereas an artist like Yoji Shinkawa takes his technical skill as an artist and does what few artists living today actually do; create his own style. Mixing together Japanese Manga artists like Yu Koyama, traditional Japanese wood block printing, the fantasy of Yoshitaka Amano, the technique of Yoshikazu Yasuhiko and the grittiness of Frank Miller. With inspiration from the likes of Will Pogany, Aubrey Beardsley and Jean Giraud. In the majority of his work, his technique takes the core principles of sumi-e an East-Asian type of brush painting that’s been in practice since at least the fifth century. The philosophy of sumi-e is not to simply reproduce the appearance of the subject, but to capture its spirit. To paint a flower, there is no need to perfectly match its petals and colours, but it is essential to convey its liveliness and fragrance. Sumi-e artists spend years practising basic brush strokes to refine their brush movement and ink flow. In the hand of a master, a single stroke can produce astonishing variations in tonality, from deep black to silvery grey. By designing characters in a manga/comic-book esque way with ancient techniques and then building on top of that digitally, he’s able to create a unique and organic vision of this world. As an artist, it’s generally recommended to sketch out shapes and lines and build up on that in a non-destructive fashion. Gradually building up the character or environment until you’re ready to commit in ink and paint. Once the lineart is done, you can render the image with light and shadow and add colour to the piece. There’s not a lot of footage of Yoji working, but in this clip of him at a live art show in front of hundreds of people you can see him starting with the shading in what looks like an unorganised watercolour. Then overlaying black paint to create the silhouette and finishing off the details in a and finishing off the details in a white corrector. As an artist myself, this method of starting with the shading, then the outlines and using a corrector, of all tools, is what astounds me. His ability to see what he’s doing without reference or pencil lines to guide him and what the final piece will be says a lot about his confidence and vision in what he’s creating. Let alone creating a portrait that’s anatomically correct, at a 3-quarter angle with so much style, depth and character. Many artists and designers have tried to emulate his unique style, myself included, but none can match the confidence, the fluidity, tonality and spirit that these characters and Mecha embody. than Yoji Shinkawa. You can type in his name on DeviantArt and find thousands of works directly inspired by him, aiming to capture that style that seems to simple, but speaks volumes with each brush stroke. It’s fascinating to see that his character designs were not just used as concepts but translated directly from paper to 3D model in the game. Where characters from the same era would look like this, with as much detail as they could possibly muster, especially in the eyes. Metal Gear Solid just ignored that completely and created models based on the designs by Yoji. And even though the models may not have stood the test of time, they’re still integral to the Metal Gear experience. So much so, that when referencing the original in later games, Kojima and company literally use the legacy 1997 model of Solid Snake, pixelated textures and all, even though in 2004, they created a more realistic Solid Snake, in the re-release of the original game with Metal Gear Solid 2’s graphics, gameplay and engine for the Nintendo GameCube. It’s a shame that Metal Gear Solid as a series is over, following the infamous departure of Hideo Kojima from Konami. But, with the confirmation that Shinkawa will be joining him once again, to work on Death Stranding, it’s a beacon of hope for his work to expand to new heights. We’ve seen his talents be commissioned for the likes of Pacific Rim, Call of Duty and Godzilla, after 20 years of directing the vision of Metal Gear Solid, I’m looking forward to what visions he brings to this new IP. And like I said at the beginning of this video, I don’t believe in hero worship. They ultimately disappoint and fall from the pedestal that we put them on, especially when thrust into the limelight. Yoji Shinkawa is well recognised by the legions of fans of Metal Gear, but he’s far from a household name. But if I were to cite one person or one body of work as an inspiration to my creative upbringing, it’d be him. Thank you for watching. Let me know your favourite game art or artists in the comments below. If you liked this video, leave a rating. You can find me on Twitch, Twitter or you can chat and play games with us on our Discord server. And if you’d like to see more episodes of the Sidcourse, please subscribe. Stay sexy

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