GDC 08: Art of Final Fantasy session impressions

One of the most anticipated panels at the 2008 Game Developers Conference was called The Art of Final Fantasy. Go figure. Square Enix’s Isamu Kamikokuryo’s panel/interview drew a massive crowd for the Thursday afternoon event, and hundreds of attendees lined up to get a sneak peek at concept images and a new trailer for Final Fantasy XIII.

Unfortunately, we won’t be able to pass that sneak peek onto you. As was the case with most of the other GDC 2008 panels, photography was prohibited. You’ll just have to settle for my impressions for now.

Hit the jump for details on The Art of Final Fantasy.

Kamikokuryo, originally trained as an oil painter, submitted one of his oil works in his job application to Square Enix. It was this painting that eventually led to him landing the position art director for Final Fantasy XIII.

The first part of this session was formatted as a sort of interview, with questions being asked by Steve Theodore. Through these questions we learned a bit more about Kamikokuryo’s art background and influences. He cites artists Alex Ross and Frank Frazetta as influences. It seems that the all-powerful Final Fantasy VII inspired him to pursue a career in games, and he eventually moved his way up the ranks. Kamikokuryo also showed some examples of his photography work from a worldwide trip where he snapped off more than 40,000 shots. 

Then the discussion moved towards how art is created for the Final Fantasy series of games, specifically the high-quality CG art work. After he gave a brief overview of how Final Fantasy art teams are structured, Kamikokuryo stressed Square Enix’s focus on stylized art direction. He says that there never has been a fixed Final Fantasy style, and that distinctiveness is the only conscious commonality.

Of course, the Uncanny Valley issue came up. Kamikokuryo said, “we can’t go there,” and adds that this phrase isn’t used in Square Enix’s art offices. He said that all artists are constantly mindful of the issue, and adjustments are constantly made so this problem doesn’t arise.

One question on style actually became reversed back to interviewer Steve Theodore. After being asked about  Japan’s love of the handsome male lead character in their games, Kamikokuryo asked Theodore why American game leads are always middle-aged, macho men. Theodore jokingly replied that they make better z-brush models. 

After the interview session, a Final Fantasy XIII trailer was shown. This was the first public US showing of the beautiful new trailer, though those familiar with the Japanese-only CLOUD DVD may have seen it before (video above). The trailer received hearty applause, and the above example does it no justice.

The highlight of this panel was a slideshow of concept images for Final Fantasy XIII, and each slide was a sight to behold on the session’s large, high-resolution screens. The first slide was called Cocoon, the spherical world. This lush, green world is supposed to be the main setting of the game. The following image showed a closer look at Cocoon from the inside.

Several other slides showed images of the game’s main city. For one incredibly detailed work, Kamikokuryo said it took a month to come up with its fresh ideas. A birds eye view of one city showed mostly white buildings with pointy spires, and several featured translucent covers and other elements. Another showed an internal view of this city, complete with a female riding a sort of flying motorbike. 

Finally, a gorgeous image of a large airship was displayed. Kamikokuryo says that the game contains an air force-like organization, and that this ship was a sort of flying base for this group. 

The panel didn’t give us many more details on Final Fantasy XIII, but it did offer a behind-the-scenes look at the inspired art direction. If the game is anywhere near as impressive as the concept art is so far, I think we have a lot to look forward to.

Dale North