Video Game Artist Luigi Guatieri's Lost Civilizations Are Colorful and Ominous

We spoke with the indie-game artist about sad robots, architectural design and the ideals of sci-fi and fantasy

Boston-based illustrator Luigi Guatieri has designed artwork and immersive environments for several fantasy and sci-fi-based independent video games. Some games, including The Counting Kingdom, are marketed for children, and others communicate a darkness that’s best explored by adult players.

Guatieri’s affinity for bright colors and texture is obvious. I found him through Boston’s game development community, and we chatted over email about his concept art.

I adore your environments series, especially that 3D modeled building. Do you think about architectural structure a lot when you’re creating?

Funnily enough, I briefly studied architecture at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand before deciding it wasn’t for me. Also known as: I didn’t do well enough to make it into the second year.

Whenever I design man-made spaces I do think back to my studies, to help inspire my ideas and add the necessary detail to really push my structures visually. I’ve just recently been jumping into 3D, which has only reinforced my understanding of architectural space.

I notice you’ve worked on quite a few indie games. What is it about the aesthetics of independent gaming that inspire you?

The first time I became aware that independent games were even a thing was about eight years ago, when Braid by Jonathan Blow was released. Not only did it have almost unmatched platformer game design, but it was artistically inspiring in ways I had not experienced in games up until then. The use of impressionistic paintings and wonderfully soft music just blew my mind.

As I looked into the project, I was astounded to find that not only was it not linked to any major company, but that it was made by such a small team. They had a vision and message and communicated it through a game like a fine artist would a painting. That realization that video games didn’t have to be huge, over-wrought behemoths of ultra focus-grouped crap opened my eyes to a new world.

Games could, and should, be something more than just shooters and trope-ridden medieval fantasy RPGs. Since then, I’ve dived head first into the independent game scene, and it is almost all I dreamed it would be. The entire industry is teeming with frighteningly intelligent designers and artists giving themselves voices through games, and I can’t help but find inspiration in it all.

I know The Counting Kingdom, one of the games you designed for, is marketed for children. Your art uses bright colors and rounded shapes often — do you think of your imagery as childlike or child-friendly, or does that just happen to be a demographic who takes your work?

Years ago, when I first started drawing seriously, I was afraid of color. I would stick to dark, mostly pen and ink, drawings because color was scary and color was complex. Eventually I decided enough was enough and faced my fear, exploring color.

Now I can’t get enough of it, I love color and sometimes its all I think about when I begin an illustration, or even an entire game. Your assumption is right: it just seems to be a market that takes my work. I never set out to make more child-friendly art, but if my style works with that genre then I’m all for it.

I am a big fan of contrasting child-like color and design with more mature themes to give some real strength to a message. Movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and Spirited Away are great examples of this.

You’re clearly capable of working in digital-style art, or using an aesthetic that seems hand-drawn. How do you decide which look to use?

I’m that type of artist that finds voice and style through the task at hand. Many of my successful friends have an amazing art style they have mastered and get sought out for, I have taken a different road in that I mold my style to fit what needs to be done.

For games, it completely depends on the type of game I am creating. For The Counting Kingdom, I obviously went for a more child-friendly aesthetic which is in contrast to the romanticism inspired sci-fi backdrops of Elegy for a Dead World. I try to find the emotions and feeling the game designers want to express and then work from there.

“I Am Human” is so sad. I think it’s my favorite character of yours. What’s going on with that robot - who do you imagine he’s wearing the sign for? Did he make it himself?

Wow! You picked an old design. A lot of people are drawn to this robot, I think it’s because it tells a story. I have always been fascinated with the idea of post-humanism, immortality and artificial intelligence.

There are so many philosophical barriers people have to overcome to come to grasp any of those potential futures and there will be bumps along the road. This robot is one of said bumps. Maybe they were a conscience transferred into an artificial being, or maybe they are an artificial intelligence forever protesting the enslavement of their kind for human use. It’s rusty nature adds to this message, the neglect this character has faced in opposition to what they stand for.

I was excited to see you had drawn Gimli and Peppermint Butler, who I actually have on my laptop as a sticker. What sort of characters are interesting to you, visually? How did you decide to draw those guys?

Well, fan art is an interesting topic in its own right. For these two, let’s just say I am huge fans of their respective worlds. I have read almost everything Tolkien has put out (save the multi-volume “History of Middle Earth”, no idea how anybody can wade through that) and I have watched every episode of Adventure Time.

As far as Gimli goes, I have always been fascinated the the Dwarves in Tolkien’s lore and he is one of my favorite characters from the book series. Peppermint Butler is also an interesting case, I love how his character has such a dark past in contrast the generally happy-go-lucky world of Ooo. What did this guy do to make Death himself owe him a favor?

How do you feel about science fiction and fantasy imagery? Are there any examples of great art you enjoy?

Both Science Fiction and Fantasy are both great expressions of the ideals and circumstance of the times they were created in and because of that are fascinating to research from different time periods. The 50s saw the atmoic age and through it, a hope for mankind to explore the universe. Today we understand that things aren’t so easy and the world might even need a reset button to undo the trouble humans have wrought, leading to many of the post-apocalyptic imagery we have these days.

I am a big fan of sci-fi illustrators like Moebius and Ralph McQuarrie, both who use fantastical imagery but with considered restraint.

Personally, I find too much of fantasy imagery these days is too complex and too over-burdened with detail, and any expression or message is lost in the noise. Again, that’s just my personal taste.

Artists like McQuarrie and Moebius try to make their imagery more iconic through simpler and geometric designs, and with this thinking their images become stronger.

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