Of the many ways in which video game fans can pay tribute to their favourite titles, Steven Charles Gauntley's 3D "shadow box" pictures are one of the most visually appealing we've yet seen. Gauntley creates these unique, limited edition pictures via his company 8-Bit Boutique, and also does a mean line in teeny, tiny arcade cabinets.
Keen to know more about his inspirations and background, we sat down with Gauntley for a wee chat.
Nintendo Life: Could you give us a little background info on your life as a gamer, and what systems you grew up playing?
Steven Charles Gauntley: The first system I ever played was my glorious Amstrad CPC464 green screen. This was insane to me as the only computer I had ever seen before this was the Acorn Electron which my entire primary school shared between 300 kids! I spent many happy hours watching green lines form on the screen waiting for tapes to load. As others over the age of 35 will attest to, there wasn't much to do entertainment-wise back then, so I was captivated waiting for these bloody lines to draw on the screen. I remember my friend having the Amstrad with disk drive and colour screen!
I progressed from there to the Sega Master System when it was first released in the UK, and it blew my mind. Instant loading cartridges and arcade graphics! I realise now these were some amazing years in video game history, where I would buy pretty much all the gaming magazines (shout out to C&VG and Mean Machines) and would see technological advancements all the time. When Sega released the Mega Drive my mind was again blown, and many a playground dispute would be over which console had the best graphics! I had an imported Mega Drive and there was an awesome shop in Doncaster that used to sell imported games. Needless to say, they saw young me coming when I visited to pick up a Super Famicom (along with the £100 copy of Street Fighter 2) sometime later.
These years in gaming are my golden years; the time that I look back on with the most fondness. I was lucky enough to get pretty much every system as we went along, and all hold special memories for me. Amiga, NES, Game Boy, Sega Game Gear - even the Atari Lynx. When the Mega CD came out I couldn't afford it, but those grainy FMV games like Night Trap again blew my mind. I used to love the arcades as well, and spent a lot of time blowing away my money there. This is where my love of arcade gaming and the aesthetics and art of arcades comes from. I went to Uni is 1997 and have a lot of Uni memories of N64 GoldenEye and even my beloved Sega Saturn.
After Uni, I was somewhat forced to pretend to be a grown-up, but I've kept up with every generation of video game hardware. I was very sad to see Sega drop out of the hardware game, but have enjoyed every generation of Nintendo consoles. I'm even a fan of the Wii U!
How did you get started with your 3D artwork? What inspired you?
I used to have a very stressful job where I was was responsible for a lot of people, and I also had a very corporate-type job, too. After some pretty devastating life experiences - which I won't go into as I don't dwell, nor do I want them to define me - I decided that you're only living and breathing for such a tiny amount of time and life is so fragile and beautiful that I had to follow my heart and find what makes me happy. I don't mean what I think others will respect, or what will make me the most money - just what it is that makes my heart sing, and when I'm being creative is when I'm at my most happy.
Everything I have created and continue to create, I never really know where it comes from; it's like ideas just appear in my head, but I've trained myself to recognise them, even the bizarre and wacky ones. I believe a lot of people have these creative ideas, but through a lifetime of walking in lockstep and forming an orderly line, they dismiss them. I allow them to come out, and I just try and make my hands keep up with my brain!
I'm inspired obviously by the art and design of video games, but my biggest inspiration comes from the world of literature. You probably weren't expecting that reply! It's a pair of quotes by William Blake that I have framed in my studio here: "I must invent my own system, because if I do not I will be forced to live by the systems of others," and "the fool who persists in his folly becomes wise the long way around" Not that I'm purporting to be wise!
How do you decide on which scene or screenshot you're going to use?
Ideas for screens just pop into my head and I'll then spend many hours pouring over old magazines and games looking for just the right scene or moment. To create my 3D art I first of all spend time in Photoshop, working digitally on imagery to create approximately 12 different pages of graphics for each one piece of art. I then print the graphics using archival inks onto 320 gsm ultra gloss card stock, and then hand cut every single graphic and detail, and add hand-touched elements to ensure all the pieces are perfect.
I then assemble the many individual pieces, elements and layers, building the picture up into a three-dimensional space, supporting the layers with foam card artboard and balsa wood, until the final 3D diorama is achieved. Then I house the diorama art inside a deep wood shadow box, and mount using a hand cut bevelled cold press card mount. Each limited edition finished piece is then signed and numbered on the reverse.
How long does it take to create a typical picture?
A long time! It's a good job I love it, put it that way!
What's the response been like to your pictures?
It's been overwhelming, to be honest. I'm flattered and thankful for my blessings. People seem to really love my art, and I cant ask for more than that. I've sent my art to dozens of countries on every continent on Earth, and I've done some large bespoke art jobs for companies. It's only recently where I've decided to get on social media, and I am my own worst critic, so when people tell me they love my work, I'm blown away, and I have to pinch myself really.
Do you take commissions for unique pictures?
Yes, I work with people often on unique commissions. I can usually create just about anything a client can imagine.
Do you have any concerns that you could come under legal fire for your work, or do you think screenshots are fair use?
I see a lot of video game inspired artwork out there. Have a quick look through Etsy for one. I think what I'm doing is fair use, and my art is a tribute to the games. I have done this for many years with no problems at all, and have even made artwork for video game publishers, both to hang in their offices and to send out as PR products relating to their games, so I would say all seems cool on that front.
You've also started using LEDs to create more striking pictures. Do you have any other new ideas you'll be bringing to market?
I'm of the mind that I follow my heart and if people like what I create then that's another month where my bills are paid and life is sweet. I'm just continuing to refine what I'm doing and adding to my portfolio, whilst also I have a sketchbook here full of ideas even I thought were too crazy, so I'm planning to go through that and let some of these ideas get life in reality. I'm developing a series of collectable 3D enamel badges, a 3D pop-up book about retro arcade games, and also my first ever officially licensed product, which I'm unable to tell you about just yet.