Marked by dreamlike brushstrokes and an uncanny mind for fan service, Orioto's artwork is the type to stick with you after you've seen it. For years, this Paris-based digital artist has created moving portraits of a who's-who in the fictional gaming sphere: Link, Ryu, Sonic, and many others have all received the Orioto treatment. In my discussion with Orioto, we talked about which pieces of his are his best sellers, how he comes up with what to illustrate, and who wasn't so hot on their tribute piece.
Your video game inspired artwork is something you've been posting and selling on personal portfolio websites like DeviantArt for many years now. What is the difference between "fan art" and "art", and where does your work lie?
Well "fan art" means art inspired by something existing, so I'm definitely doing that. That's what I'm interested in. (I'm) working on something people know already, and giving a new perspective. It doesn't mean it's not art, it's just another form of it.
Your work captures fictional moments in time. What compels you to spend so many hours bringing these scenes - some iconic, some atypical - to life?
At first it was by curiosity, to see how it would look - an old pixelated memory with more details, looking like an organic painting. Now I'm more about giving feelings to people. That's what art is about to me. What you do, and how it makes people feel. So I want to get the tone, the mood, the mystical elements right. I want it to feel dreamy and to make you travel in your memory as much as your imagination.
Let's talk specific pieces. What has been your most popular pieces, and conversely, which have not been appreciated as much?
In the past, my most popular piece has been the first Link to the Past I did, under the rain. I guess it struck the right note for fans. I've had many really unpopular, unnoticed pieces, mostly when I was doing random scenes of random games. I learned I shouldn't do that!
One of the things I especially appreciate about your work over the years is that it breaths light into gaming scenes you wouldn't normally expect. An example: Mario holding a baby penguin over top the ice cliff. Are you suggesting that these stranger scenes aren't as popular with fans?
This is tricky. It's still super popular because they love the memory and the wink. Yet nobody will buy a poster of it because it's funny, but not a poetic memory! Now that I'm into selling posters, I've learned what kind of thing people want on their wall. It has to be contemplative, poetic, and a dramatic, narrative moment. Before, I was doing more gameplay scenes, but that's not something you frame!
Let's talk shop. Your work is digital, yes? What tools do you use? What school did you go to?
I didn't go to any graphic school. I studied cinema and had fun with Photoshop for years, which is still my only tool today. My work is a mix of digital painting and matte painting, which means photo textures or elements heavily transformed / repainted with other colors etc.
When did you first realize that people really liked your work? How did you settle on video games as your focus?
I was doing anime portraits before, then I started to do videogame HD mock-ups just to see what it would look like. The first one was immediately a success, actually, because it was Sonic and people wanted an HD Sonic so badly at that time. I've never stopped after that because it's fascinating to do, and it allows me to convey stories and moody landscapes. That is what I love about videogames.
Talk me through the creative process of any one of your pieces. How do you ultimately make the decision of what to make? How does the scene materialize?
Well, I usually choose the game and then determine what scene will be memorable for people, while still being interesting and fitting for my art style. I now tend to focus on scenes that let me play with colors and light sources. I'm interested in eerie, surrealistic scenes; I really want to work on the mood. For example, right now I'm working on FFVII art, and I chose the scene right after Aeris dies, right when Cloud puts her in the water, because it lets me play with tons of moody lights and have a great scale with trees behind him. It allows me to have the kind of art I like, while striking the right note with fans! It's all in the balance!
Have you ever worked as a concept artist for a studio? Is that something you would ever consider doing?
I kind of did commissions for some small games a couple of times. I don't want to be concept artist, nor could I be one. I'm just not that super skilled, efficient machine who does it when asked. It's more complicated for me. Also, maybe it'll take time but I'm more interested in the creation process, not by following an existing project. I want my own project. I want to write the story and work with other artists. I studied cinema to begin with! I'll find a way.
Have you ever heard back from any game artists or creators regarding any of your pieces?
Not really. I heard Dylan Cuthbert said my Star Fox art was rubbish. I've heard a Donkey Kong Country creator had my art in his office, but I can't be sure.
I guess that rules out a PixelJunk portrait?
I love pixel junk games actually, and their art direction.
You probably get a lot of requests for games to illustrate. Do you ever actually take any?
I don't take requests on individual basis, but I try to be aware of what my followers want!
Somewhere out there, there is a Mario Galaxy panorama with your name on it.
Thanks to Orioto for his time. His new artwork releases every week, which you can find here.