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The Art That Shaped Final Fantasy: Thoughts From Famed Artist Yoshitaka Amano

Many great artists have helped define Final Fantasy over the years, but Yoshitaka Amano’s work is the most recognizable, and has become closely associated with the series as a whole. Amano draws the iconic logo illustrations for every title, and is also responsible for the unique visual style that distinguishes many memorable monsters and characters. 

During our visit to Tokyo for our Final Fantasy XV coverage, we had the opportunity to visit Amano’s office and chat with the legendary artist (also known for his work on Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics) about his process, specific illustrations, and the significance of Final Fantasy in his personal artistic expression. Below are the thoughts Amano shared on this broad range of topics.

On beginning a new Final Fantasy illustration:
It’s in development when these requests come up, so there’s not much documentation to go by. But with the information we do have to work with, I take that and interpret that on my own and try to incorporate that and create an illustration out of it. Of course, main characters are very important. So even if we progress through development, not much of the important aspects would drift or change significantly.

On the Final Fantasy VI illustration:
I’m not quite sure if I’m the one who decided to move forward with Terra, or if it was a request to move forward with her. But what was memorable at the time was that she was one of the first female main characters in the series, and that kind of stood out on its own. Also at this time, it was just the silhouette that was being drawn; now you get actual faces and lines. Previously, it was more simplistic, and it gradually become more illustration-like over the years.

On creating art, not logos:
Because the title logo is monochrome to a certain degree, I don’t really illustrate because of the title logo. Moreso, I illustrate so that it will be a standalone piece of art. It won’t be fun unless we’re creating that art piece. So, regardless of the request, that is the one thing prominently in my mind when drawing these illustrations.

On the Final Fantasy VII and XI illustrations:
The most challenging logo illustration was Final Fantasy XI because there were so many characters. And it was on a huge piece of paper, so it was very tedious. But I also have to bring up Final Fantasy VII. It was based on Meteor, and when I looked at it, I wasn’t sure it would become the illustration – if it would become a piece of art. I drew a lot of different variations and concepts around that; there’s not a lot of instances where you’re drawing a lot of stone-like objects over and over again! I wasn’t quite sure if it was good or bad, so I said, “Here, you guys choose” in the end.

On working from text:
Rather than receiving visuals, it is more about receiving text-based information, like age and the role they play. I’m not a character designer, but an illustrator, so there are more instances where I’ve worked off of text I’ve gotten from the team.

This is going back to an example from something I created in the past, but there was a sci-fi novel written from the perspective of a robot, looking at humans and observing them. Written in that text was details about the humans. If you puncture them, they bleed. They have two eyes. Those kinds of details. And what was interesting was how they were depicted as weak living specimens, and that’s what you can draw from the text…Anything that’s written in text builds and expands your imagination. Whereas, when you have a visual asset to review or look at, that’s the end of it.

On the Final Fantasy XII illustration:
Between my office and the Square Enix office, there was quite a bit of distance at the time. Maybe about an hour or so. I drew up another piece while the Square representative was on the way to pick up the pieces – and the one I drew within that hour was the one that ended up being selected!

When we receive requests, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best to do it formally or properly. It’s because we had that baseline of what was created properly that we were able to break it a little bit. At that time, we were creating in Japanese-style ink, and it was kind of like watercolor, so you have those brush marks. That’s the touch and style of that particular piece. It had this kind of forward-thinking brush effect, and that’s something that can only come about when it’s not calculated. That may have been what was necessary for XII at that time, and came across as something that was refreshing. So, there are moments when it’s not necessarily about following the request; sometimes things come about spontaneously.

On consistency within the Final Fantasy series:
Simply put, the Final Fantasy brand name and its history are what tie everything together. It’s kind of like a fashion brand; whoever the designer is, Louis Vuitton and Gucci are still Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Anyone who joins in on a Final Fantasy project joins in on that name, and it’s their duty to help it develop and grow. So they’re a part of continuing that history and helping it evolve. It’s the responsibility of the individuals that have the opportunity to be a part of it. So, Final Fantasy itself is kind of like a living entity.

On the Final Fantasy IV 3DS illustration:
This was created new for the port. It wasn’t a concept that pre-existed from the original. This illustration is one that I drew, but the designers at Square Enix put the image and logo together, every time I look I look at this, it looks so cool. The designer did a really good job merging it together. This was originally ink art, but it now has some red in it – those kinds of touches were done by the designer. The coloring is very cool. I personally like these dark, boss-like characters and tend to lean toward these types of illustrations. It’s a shape and form that I really like.

On his first reaction to the tweaked Final Fantasy XV illustration:
The impression I had was “Oh, it’s finally being realized after all this time.”

Amano (center right) meets with Square Enix about an illustration for the Uncovered: Final Fantasy XV event, including FF XV director Hajime Tabata (far right)

On Final Fantasy’s impact on his career:
First, it’s what made me famous! [laughs] I’ve done a lot of different types of work, but even in my personal works, it all comes back to me as an artist. When I think about what’s important to me as an artist, the pieces that I’ve worked on for Final Fantasy come back to me.

There’s an interesting book that puts together the modern art history of Japan, and one of my personal art pieces was placed in this book. You can see several familiar Final Fantasy characters and illustrations spread across the piece – they’re existing as Final Fantasy characters within the art as a piece of expression.

In that sense, Final Fantasy is very important to my career, not just in name, but also in terms of the visual pieces and art expression. When you look at Andy Warhol using Marilyn Monroe, for example, or other famous people as a piece of art – for me, these characters emerge as my own expression in my personal art form.


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