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LIKE: The Art of Yoji Shinkawa

By Tamoor Hussain on Wednesday 5th Sep 2012 at 11:55 AM UTC

Welcome to LIKE, our new semi-regular series where we praise the wonderful oddities, small miracles and flashes of genius that, in their own specific ways, have enriched videogame history.

This series is not intended as an exploration into grand or pioneering games, but instead a focus on one specific thing that the whole medium wouldn't be quite the same without.

We have intentionally called this series LIKE because, if you happen to love the thing we are praising, you can press the LIKE Facebook button as a way of democratically supporting its inclusion into the series. We hope you enjoy!

Previously on LIKE: Metroid Prime's visors | The Strider from Half-Life | The PlayStation Adverts | Ganon


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Illusive as a person, prolific as an artist, Yoji Shinkawa is famous for taking the pastiche of Hollywood movie influences that informed Metal Gear and unifying them under a single artistic aesthetic.

While the hide-and-seek gameplay driving the series was unique enough, Kojima's stealth-action games were chimeric in their visual identities.

As a shameless cinefile, the Metal Gear maestro has woven Hollywood call-outs into the DNA of the series. In recent years Kojima has exercised subtlety, but early Metal Gear games displayed his reverence for Western cinema with nary a thought given to legal repercussions.

Solid Snake was originally modelled after Terminator protagonist Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn, and then later looked like Mel Gibson. And early renditions of Big Boss bore more than a passing resemblance to Sean Connery.

As character and concept artist on Metal Gear Solid, Shinkawa shed these adopted visages and fathered the series' own icons, intrinsically linking his unique art style with the Konami franchise at the same time.

Big Bosses
Ironically, Shinkawa forged his own unique art style through imitation. It is by identifying and dissecting these influences that his illustrative style is best grasped and appreciated.

Shinkawa has previously mentioned Dutch artist Pieter Mondriaan as a big influence on his work. The relationship between Mondriaan's avant-garde cubism obsessed work and Shinkawa's drawing style isn't immediately apparent, but his ethos on simplification and reduction to core, essential elements is evident in Shinkawa's brushstrokes - or lack thereof.

In my younger days I fancied myself a bit of an artist. Being obsessed with Metal Gear Solid and Shinkawa's works, I spent many hours attempting to replicate his style myself. I failed, and it was the lines that weren't drawn that were my downfall.

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The beauty of Shinkawa's artwork isn't just in looking at the strokes he has made, but also in noticing the ones he's omitted. While some artists go to painstaking detail to ensure one stroke seamlessly and logically flows into another, Shinkawa relishes in premature halts and sudden starts. This is most seen in his earlier works, in which he makes just enough strokes to suggest form. His black marks look almost alien amongst the abundance of white space.

The decorative flamboyance of Shinkawa's art is likely the result of his love of English illustrator Aubrey Vincent Beardsley, and I'd wager that his fondness for overpowering blacks stem from the Brighton-born artist too.

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