From Ultraman to Mad Max, illustrator Kim Hu talks inspirations behind her unique style
This article is part of INTERLINKED, a new series where we speak with industry masters who influence the making of games like CHAOTIC ERA. Sign up for our newsletter here or follow us on Twitter to dive deeper into the worlds of artists, game developers, and more.
This week we’re speaking with Kim Hu, illustrator, concept artist, and “skeleton enthusiast” working out of Germany and Japan. Many of us will recognise Kim’s work from her Skullman character as well as her apocalyptic and cyberpunk environment designs. Kim spoke with us about her process, inspirations, how she came to draw skulls, and left some advice for aspiring artists.
What does your workflow look like for new illustration projects?
Once I have received a briefing for the project, the first step is usually to go online and collect a first round of pictures for my reference and inspiration. Afterwards I will move on to thumbnails and quick little sketches, to see which approach to layout, values, and composition would work the best for the specific illustration I want to do. The chosen thumbnail sketch will then be refined and turned into a better, cleaner sketch. After that comes the clean inking, then the colours, and in the end some tweaks like color gradients or adjustments to overall colours and lighting and maybe fixing some flaws I did not notice before.
What drew you to skeletons and how did you first get into drawing characters this way?
Haha, there are two things to blame for my fondness for skeletons and skull-faced characters. The first one being ”Masters of the Universe” Skeletor, who I just thought was extremely cool and left a lasting impression on kid-me, and the other being dinosaurs. When I was a young child, dinosaurs were simply everywhere and so I just got into them a lot. I drew them, collected toys of them and all my favourite animals were dinosaurs, which, inevitably, meant skeletons. When you went to visit them at a museum, they would be skeletons. So in my childhood, I never made the connection that skeletons are supposed to be scary and instead have found them very interesting and kind of cute. Something that just stuck with me until this day.
Which movies, tv shows, comics, or artists have most inspired your work?
Growing up in Europe I had comics like “Tank Girl” and “Adventures of TinTin,” so the style of Herge, Hewlett, but also Moebius influenced me a lot growing up. I still remember tracing TinTin panels and Snowy from my Uncle’s comic books as a child. So definitely the European ligne claire. Later I got interested in the classic Japanese ukiyo-e artworks as they were historically one of the inspirations for Europe’s comic artists. As far as movies go, I really enjoy Japanese Tokusatsu shows and monster movies, but also western sci-fi.
Are there any western sci-fi series or movies that you have a special fondness for?
Western Sci-Fi stuff I enjoy would be the Pacific Rim movie, Mars Attacks, Tank Girl, Mad Max, the Legendary Kaiju-verse, but also things like Alien, Space Odyssey or low budget movies like what "The Asylum" is doing. Anything space or apocalyptic usually gets me interested.
What are some of your favourite and/or most exciting projects to have worked on?
I sadly cannot talk about my most exciting projects just yet for reasons of NDA. I have only been working in my current artistic style for about 2 or 3 years, so most of it is still in production. Before that, I was working in advertising and my style kept adjusting and changing with each new project. So I am glad and grateful I am getting more and more opportunities to make use of my personal style. I hope I can continue to work in the games industry in the future and, soon, there will definitely be something to show.
Do you have any dream projects, personal or professional, that you could share with us?
I hope to be able to continue working in games. I would love to work on a Fallout game at some point, as the series has always been very dear to me. In general, I just wish to be able to work on cool projects and help design worlds as a concept artist. As far as my personal projects go, I have a comic story that I hope to be able to draw some day.
Finally, do you have any quick advice for aspiring illustrators out there?
Just draw a lot and draw what you want! Don’t try to chase what you perceive as popular at the time, but listen to your own voice and draw what brings you joy. Entertain yourself with what you do and have fun while drawing, but also try to gradually up the challenge for yourself and slowly incorporate more things you are scared of drawing into your art. Maybe try to incorporate a first simple background, or play around with the perspective, use more challenging poses, things like that. This way you can improve your skills but without overwhelming yourself or losing the fun in what you do.
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