How to Draw in the Pokemon Style

How to Draw in the Pokemon Style


Jack: Hey, how’s it going? I am Jack, and welcome back to another episode of Subjectively Speaking. The show where we discuss character design through a subjective lens. What that means guys, is that a lot of what I’m saying is, uh, my opinion. So, please be sure to leave your own thoughts on the video in the comments and start a conversation. And, while you’re there, be sure to smash that like button and subscribe for more content. I really appreciate it guys. Also, be sure to check out our sponsor Blick. Click on the link in our description for great deals on art supplies delivered right to your door. Alright guys, that’s enough of that. Let’s dive right in. Pokemon has had a huge impact on me, as both an artist, and in general. I was interested in it even before I knew anything about it. My earliest memory was this awesome Charizard lunchbox that I had in kindergarten. I knew it was a Pokemon, but I really just liked it because of its cool design. I mean, it was a dragon, like… I was gonna like it. I… [Sighs]. I later spilled milk in that lunchbox and it was completely destroyed. But let’s… Let’s stick to happy thoughts here. When I was in second grade one of my best friends wore this t-shirt with, uh, Mudkip, Marshtomp, and a Swampert on it. I’d never seen them before. I didn’t even know they were Pokemon. This was right before Ruby and Sapphire came out, and that shirt was actually the reason that I asked my mom for my first Pokemon game. And it was the first video game that I ever owned. Needless to say, Pokemon has continued to influence me and my art to this day. I’m not the only one with stories like this. In fact, You could ask anyone my age if they have fond memories of Pokemon, and I bet you that they have a tale of their own. Probably about a stuffed Pikachu doll, or a special pencil with a pokeball eraser that they lost on a field trip. And I don’t even have to mention at this point that Pokemon transcends generations. A lot of people might write it off as nothing more than a kid’s show, you know, something juvenile and without substance… But there’s a reason why Pokemon remains, to this day, one of the most successful entertainment franchises of our time. And one of those reasons is, you guessed it, the character design. I mean, think about it. Is there anything more iconic to people my age than Pikachu? Even if you have never played any of the games, or haven’t watched the shows since you were four, You could still recognize Pikachu. His colors, his iconic silhouette, even the sounds he makes. [Pikachu: Pika pika!
Lady: Yeah! Pika pika pika! He’s adorable!] All of those were intentionally crafted to both be marketable, and sincerely endearing. This goes for any number of Pokemon designs. Particularly, the mascot legendaries of each generations, that earn themselves a spot on the cover of every new game. These designs are the results of a large team of talented designers, programmers, and marketers all working together. But if we’re talking about the designs that we’re most familiar with, you know, The artwork on the covers of the games or in our handheld guides… That art can be accredited to one man. Ken Sugimori. Ken Sugimori has been working in the entertainment industry for decades. His earliest work can be traced back to 1981, when he illustrated a fanzine called Game Freak. Does that name sound familiar? Well, a few years later, Sugimori and the creator of Game Freak went ahead and pitched a video game idea to Namco under the production label of the same name. And, a few years after that, they worked with Nintendo to create the first ever Pokemon video game for the Game Boy. Ken Sugimori conceptualized and illustrated all 151 Pokemon that starred in the first game, Along with fellow Game Freak devs — Atsuko Nishida, Motofumi Fujiwara, and Shigeki Morimoto. Since then, Sugimori has been the head character designer and art director for every single core series Pokemon game… … From Red and Blue, all the way up to Sun and Moon. In the fifth generation games, Pokemon Black and White, he directed a team of seventeen other designers to help him come up with ideas, But the final illustrations were all still done by his hand. You see, it takes a lot of hard work and effort to come up with a good character design. Even if your illustration skills are well-developed and you’re completely comfortable with your materials, There’s a whole lot more that goes into designing something like Pokemon. Today, we’re gonna go through these steps one by one, and by the end of it, We’ll have our own Pokemon design that hopefully could pass as the artwork of Ken Sugimori. Now, I’ve had a ton of requests to do new mega evolutions and primal forms of Pokemon like we’ve done in previous videos, So today I thought we’d do a primal form of one of my favorite legendary Pokemon, Palkia. But as much as I’d like to, I’m not just gonna go ahead and start drawing. There’s a process that I’ll need to acknowledge if I want to make a design as strong as Ken Sugimori would. Step 1: Concept. It all starts with an idea. Something intangible, yet comprehensive. Space. Palkia, in the world of Pokemon, is the deific embodiment of the infinite void, And can manipulate physical matter to its whim. When the design teams first pitched the ideas for Palkia and its counterpart, Dialga, to the rest of the devs, They had them sit under their desk, turned off all the lights, And told them the ancient tales of time and space to really immerse their heads in the concept. This is a true story, by the way. I — I know it sounds made-up, but it’s true. This specific example is a little extra. I mean, it’s not necessary to physically involve yourself in the concept. But the reason behind it is solid. To make a strong design that is consistent in its themes, you must be entirely familiar with your concept… … To the point where you can explore every design option. So, in our case, the job of coming up with a concept is kind of half done. We have Palkia, the spatial Pokemon. It’s a god, it manipulates space based on the Shinto legends of Izanami and Izanagi, you know, yada yada yada. Ken Sugimori took these concepts and involve them from conceptual ideas to a physical embodiment. God translates to power, which converts to size, which has the most physical associations with dragons and dinosaurs and kaijus. Themes of space can be interpreted from his rocket-like, streamlined form and his almost mecha inspired armor… … And its pearls. What is a pearl? Is it sand? Is it mucus? Is it the result of the manipulation of physical properties by an individual being of its own whim? Or is it just kind of iridescent and looks like there might be a galaxy inside it? Either way, that choice was intentional too. So, we have all that, and it’s a good jumping-off point. Now, our primal form. Conceptually, primal forms of Pokemon refer to their state of existence before the involvement of humans. Groudon and Kyogre, two other deific Pokemon with godlike powers, are the only other Pokemon with primal forms. Unless you count primal Dialga. Which, design-wise, is pretty much just a glorified palette swap. Groudon and Kyogre represent the land and the sea; two physical concepts that have existed for as long as life on our planet has. But what does the primal form of space look like? What existed before… … Anything? Light? Darkness? Antimatter? God? Mew? A void… I think we have our concept. If Palkia is the physical manifestation of space, Then his primal form should be the physical manifestation of the dark void that we can only imagine existed before space. All right. We have our concept. Now, we start drawing. I know it seems like I came with these ideas pretty quickly, But I put a lot more thought into this before I started recording the video — And it’s still pretty base level. But, a good design takes a strong concept, and that takes time. Step 2: Exploring designs. Before we can just go ahead and go right to ink, We need to explore a number of designs that reflect our concepts and figure out which one works best. We don’t see a lot of this stage of design from the developers of Pokemon… … You know, as opposed to other games that tend to share their concept art with their fans. But trust me, Ken Sugimori and his design team do this too. What does the infinite void that predates physical space look like? Well, we want to keep the most iconic visual features of Palkia’s normal form to make sure that we can tell it’s the same Pokemon. As far as silhouette goes, I think his long neck, shoulders, wings, feet, and tail need to remain consistent. Maybe we don’t mess with the silhouette too much at all? Or maybe he’s completely different, and looks like the craziest XYZ Yu-Gi-Oh monster you’ve ever — Yeah, no, probably not. I think it’s a good idea to keep the silhouette consistent. And wait a minute though, I like those smoky wings. It makes him feel like he’s phasing in and out of our physical world. Hmm… And maybe his head isn’t that crazy? But, I like the idea of almost a dark mask containing something within. Maybe his pose changes, too. His feet in his default art are planted firmly on the ground, But what if it in this form, there is no ground for him to stand on? Alright, and colors… We should keep the pink. But maybe instead of white he’s black… I mean, this is the dark void we’re talking about here. Or, or maybe HE’S pink with black stripes… … Or maybe his pearl is orange and his body is blue… No, no that — That looks weird. Ooh, but wait, I like the orange pearl… Maybe we keep that orange, and the body stays like a dark purple. Hmm. Yeah, this is looking pretty good. I know, this seems like a lot. And this is the ABRIDGED version. I mean, if we were designing a character for a real game, these ideas would have to be approved by other designers, programmers, producers, directors… Even the marketers would have a say. But, these are all crucial steps for creating a solid design. Step 3: Execution. We’re gonna kill him. [Funeral bells chiming] No, I’m — I’m kidding. That’s not what execution means. Not in this case, at least. Execution refers to the final rendering of the design. The finished art that can go on the cover of the game, on a lunchbox, a t-shirt, you name it. In the case of Pokemon, and a lot of other video game franchises, the execution stage is where the artist incorporates the iconic style that is identified with their brand. For Pokemon, the most iconic elements associated with the “official artwork” (or, Ken Sugimori art), Are the linework, color, and values. Linework simply refers to the outline of the design. If all the finished piece was was line art, it would kind of look like an unused coloring book page. And hey, if that fits your concept, then that’s what works. Ken Sugimori did most of his Pokemon artwork traditionally, with a pen, a brush, ink, and some watercolors. Today, I’m guessing that he works digitally, as I am now. But there are still ways to replicate those tools. The line work, for example, varies very subtly with the pressure of the artist’s hand, and is imperfectly feathered as it would appear while using an ink brush. Once we have our under drawing at a place that we like it, we can go over it with our ink pen and give it a nice clean outline. If this was a traditional piece done on paper, it would be a better idea to do the colors first, So that the black ink of the lines doesn’t bleed into our carefully picked color scheme. But we’re working digitally, so now that we have our finished lines, we can just go ahead and create a new layer, and lay down our base colors. Ken Sugimori tends to use mostly desaturated and lighter colors in his Pokemon designs. I’ll borrow some colors used in other Pokemon palettes to make sure we stay within that range. Again, we’re working digitally, so I’m gonna start with the midtones. If we were painting this using traditional mediums like watercolors, it would be important to start with the lightest colors used for highlights, Because it’s nearly impossible to try to cover a dark color with a light using watercolours. Now that we have our base colors, it’s time for the values; or, as some people like to call it, shading. The term ‘values’ refers to the different colors used to indicate a light source hitting the subject. Simply put, it’s the highlights and the shadows that give us the sense of form through light. Ken Sugimori doesn’t use a ton of contrast in his values when doing default Pokemon artwork, And for our purposes, it’s more important to be able to understand the design of the pokemon without being distracted by a dramatic light source. Our contrast will come from the color scheme that we just picked out, Highlighting important elements of our character’s design, While the values are just used to give it a little bit more shape and form. Ken Sugimori has a very unique way of handling values, creating a subtle gradient between the mid-tone and the area of either light or dark. We should also keep in mind that these are not solid shapes of color. He uses several mixed tones that are nearly imperceptible at a distance, but are still important to replicating that style. They also give the impression of texture, similar to what would be achieved using traditional mediums. This stage, in my opinion, is the easiest part. A lot of people think that being a good artist means being the best drawer, But really, the best designs come from good ideas; and once have that, the drawing stage is actually quite simple. And a character whose design has been well thought-out and meticulously planned always looks better than one that’s thrown together in 30 minutes. You know, quality over quantity and all that. Alright, a little clean up, some spot checks, and maybe a color adjustment here or there, and we’re done. Let me know in the comments if you like my final design and if you think I’ve been able to successfully replicate Ken Sugimori’s style. One last important thing for you guys to know is that this process does not just apply to designing Pokemon. Sure, we took some specific steps here in the execution phase to give it that official art feel, But the rest of the steps can and should be used in every one of your character designs. All of our favorite characters, whether they’re humans, dogs, cats, dragons, fish, robots, or a talking soap bubble… … Have gone through these steps to get to the final design that we all know and love today. It starts with a strong concept. Then, a visual development stage to help exemplify the themes of that concept. Then, once they’ve settled on a good design, the artist goes through the painstaking steps of the underdrawing, color blocking, value rendering, and the application of texture when needed. The end result could be as something as simple as Magnemite, or as intricate as Kyurem. But, you can be sure that the artist gave plenty of thought into why their character was going to look the way it does. They put in the work to see their concept through to fruition. And with that, I hope you feel like you’re able to make your own believable Pokemon design. Something that can influence the next generation of creators, and make Ken proud. Or, if Pokemon isn’t your thing, I hope you’ve learned something about character design in general that will help you create something completely new. Pokemon is unfathomably huge now, but who knows. We always need fresh minds to come up with the next big thing. Thank you guys so much for watching! I hope you enjoyed this video, and I sincerely hope it taught you something. Please don’t forget to throw me a like and subscribe for more of the same, and give me suggestions for the next topic that you’d like me to discuss. Also, feel free to check out some of our other videos. We’ve done a ton of Pokemon videos where we fix designs that we’re not so crazy about, and a lot of them use the steps that we discussed in this video. All right guys, once again, thank you so much, and I will see you next time.

100 thoughts on “How to Draw in the Pokemon Style

  1. This Vid reminded me of the Arceus cutscene in HGSS when u can get a Dia/Pal/Gira egg. Sinjoh ruins event.

    Edit: WOW I WAS UP TO 7:00 IN THE VID WHEN I WROTE THIS COMMENT AND WHAT DO U KNOW 20 SECONDS LATER THE SUBJECT OF MY COMMENT APPEARS IN YOUR VIDEO LMAO

  2. nice design. would have been awesome if you showed what tool preferences you used to mix the colors that sugimori way.

  3. Dude that Primal Palkia you made looks sick I kinda want it as a background picture on my phone lol

  4. If Verification is what you need in order to get something through into a game, Then I am worried how some things made it into games….

  5. 1) Draw a common items (Light bulb, trash, cat, jar)
    2) Draw some eyes
    (If you want it to be legendary add some random geometry and amputate all the most important limbs)

  6. How I got into pokemon was my dad had a friend who had a 3ds and had pokemon X and he let me pick a game to play and X caught my eye so I asked what it was and he said it was a pokemon game then I asked if I could play so he restarted the game and handed the ds to me and thats how I got into pokemon, I still own the pokemon X game and it’s about 3-4 years old

  7. Few things!

    First of all, I wanna say that now that I’ve watched this video twice, you are very knowledgeable and I think would make a great teacher.

    Second of all, I hit subscribe because I’m a fan of your content, and and wanna see more of it!

    If you have a more in-depth tutorial somewhere that focuses on line work for pokesketches, I would love to study it and learn from you. Thanks man!

  8. pretty much anything would pass as a pokemon. draw an half emty grocery bag and its a pokemon…. -.-

  9. Expected the vid to be about what qualities characterize Ken Sugimori’s art style. Was instead about the process of character design generally. Not a bad vid, but I’m somewhat disappointed

  10. I think as a piece of art it's incredible. But don't think it's got the pkmn style … and imo I think primal evolutions should have less armour and stuff, that's kind of what I saw as the whole point

  11. This is like… the first fan-made pokemon design that actually looks legit imo. You were able to match how they do lighting which I think REALLY sealed the deal, but yeah, I would totally believe that that was a real design if it was used in a deep fake lol.

  12. I think it would have been great idea to remove its legs and enchance his look as a "primal dragon". Or maybe just make jets instead of legs or wings. Also there is no need for eyes in absolute darkness, in a place where no photons existed.

  13. I remember when I used to draw all kinds of Unova Pokemon when I was young, it’s how I became an artist to be perfectly honest

  14. I really like this design! The body and wings are smooth and in circles, and I like you you added those sharp edges in the face tail and feet. It adds angularity to the design.

  15. Love the design, it looks like it could be a real Pokémon.
    Though I must ask, as an artist myself, what kind of brushes you use and if, by any chance, you happen to sell that brushes palette? I've always wanted to try the pokémon art style myself but I'm extremely bad at making brushes, lol.

    Thank you again for the great video and explanation, it sure does inspire me to create some pokémon concept!

  16. Its Hard to belive there where Many toughts in a trash bag thats smoking weed
    you know what Pokemon i mean.
    And they had 17 people in that generation?
    here is what i think they had ablokade all of them and then decidet to smoke some grass and than they made that pokemon after looking at a trash bacl for 30 minutes straight but it felt like 5 h

  17. i still have alot to learn. though i can draw quite well, there mostly empty shells if we refer to their consept.

  18. I am 26 and still play my original Red cartridge. I found out my 30 year old colleague plays Blue. We're trading with eachother so I can finally complete my Pokedex and he sent me on a quest to get a shiny Mew on our shared Crystal cartridge.

  19. I just thought though that if a person is hidden without light they become very pale not dark so wouldn't that be the same or something I don't know but amazing design anyway

  20. I love how the design turned out, it really looks like the original style and also something I'd love to see in the cover of a new game!
    This was also super useful to learn about design overall, which is pretty cool <3

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