Posted on February 04 2015 by Paul Grzelak
If you’re a user or lurker of Reddit and a
Zelda fan, you might have noticed one thread has recently set the Zelda subreddit on fire, gaining more than 3,000 upvotes in a single day. The creator of that thread, Jessica Smith, is an artist whose recent Zelda-inspired artwork you might have seen online.
Yesterday, Smith answered some questions from Zelda Informer about herself, the work she does, and where she’s taking this series of Zelda paintings.
Could you first tell us briefly about yourself and your history as an artist?
Firstly, thank you so much to the guys of Zelda Informer for this opportunity for an interview; it’s an honor to be here. My name is Jessica Smith, and I’m a freelance concept artist/illustrator working the entertainment industry. I’m from Australia and have always loved drawing when I was a kid, especially while watching my big brother play video games. I would draw the characters and scenes in the game because it was so fun. I kept pursuing my passion and found out about concept art when I went to a workshop of CDW Studios in Sydney, which opened me up to the industry. It blew my mind and I knew this was what I wanted to do, so I dropped out of college and then self-studied digital art by taking online classes and flew to Los Angeles to study at Concept Design Academy with industry professionals working in film, games and animation.
Ever since returning to Australia, I’ve been freelancing for clients across the globe. I’m still trying to find my feet and sometimes feel scared and lost with what I’m doing, but am doing everything I can to the best of my ability since this is my passion. Art is my life.
What prompted you to throw this particular Forest Temple illustration on Reddit? And what was your response from the way it has been received so far?
Last year in June, when I watched the E3 conference and Nintendo announced the new Zelda game for the Wii U, I was beyond ecstatic after watching the trailer. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I had to paint something to express how excited I was. My good friend told me to share it on Reddit, which I wasn’t too familiar with at the time and after it got such a large good response, I really wanted to make more art for The Legend of Zelda.
So when 2015 came, I turned down clients that I didn’t like doing work for and devoted more time into doing this series—“Zelda Open World:” creating what I imagine the new game’s world might look like and its environments. This was also a project I wanted to do to help me improve at environment concept art as that’s my specialty and I want to get better at them—so painting what I imagine one of my favorite games might look like makes it even more fun. I started with Forest Temple, as I’d just finished that level recently on Ocarina of Time and still have the energy of it so it was easy to immerse myself into the painting. Plus, I felt like Forest Temple was a good way to begin the series, kind of like how they do it in some of the games.
After posting Forest Temple on Reddit yesterday, I think my mind was blown with the amount of positive responses it got. Everyone made it hit the front page of Reddit and Imgur and it’s gotten over 500k views. It’s now the number one top post on the
Zelda subreddit of all time. I’m still so overwhelmed, it’s too humbling, I’m so indebted to all the people that showed their support; it’s all thanks to you guys that love Zelda. I wasn’t expecting anyone to look at it but am so grateful that people love it. I’m excited to be able to share the next ones I’m doing, but knowing there are expectations now make me quite nervous. But I’m going to try give the upcoming ones my best shot.
You mentioned on Reddit that you’ve been influenced by Team Ico’s work, and the visual similarities between this piece and Ico and Shadow of the Colossus are apparent, but can you tell us about some other major influences for your work?
I love Team Ico and
Shadow of the Colossus; they were one of the main reasons I pursued concept art when I was first starting out because I found the game and its story so inspiring and emotional when I first watched my brother play it when I was younger. I wanted to created stories and visuals just like them. Other major influences for my work are Hayao Miyazaki and all the Ghibli animations—some of my favorites from him are Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Totoro. I’m also a big fan of Makoto Shinkai who is one of the kings at environment paintings. I’m also influenced by other amazing artists, like Craig Mullins, Imperial Boy and Herge.
What prompted you to illustrate the next Zelda game instead of, say, the next Uncharted or Star Fox or any other subject? What made you decide to dedicate so many hours of work to Zelda instead of something else?
Even though I’m not a complete nerd and I haven’t played all the games (I wish I could but painting always comes first),
Zelda has a special meaning to me because it was one of the first games I played when I was a kid on my Gameboy Color—Oracle of Seasons. It wasn’t the popular one but it was the first Zelda game that opened me up to the world of Link and his adventures. It’s always been something that brings the child inside of me out and is very nostalgic. When I play Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, I shut off everything around me and dive into the world of the games. I’m immersed completely. That immersion is very similar to how I feel when I paint, so combining the two together makes it even more special.
What’s your favorite Zelda game?
It’s hard to pick a favorite, everyone loves Ocarina of Time but I missed out on it in my childhood, sadly (that’s why I’m playing it on 3DS to try to make up for it!). It’s one of my favorites but I have to say
Twilight Princess, as that’s the game that got me back into the world of Zelda. The visuals and story for it was really captivating, and it was the one I kept replaying again and again. I’m grabbing Majora’s Mask soon too when it comes out, super excited!
You’ve said this Forest Temple piece is part of a series of “key locations that might pop up” in Zelda U’s world, and you’ve included Kakariko Village and the Water Temple as locations you’re interested in illustrating in the future. This almost reads like a list of things you’re hoping to see in Nintendo’s next Zelda game. How much of your hopes and expectations for the next Zelda do you think you’ve put into this series of illustrations so far?
To be honest, I think the real game itself when it comes out on Wii U will be better than my rendition of what I think the game will look like—I think Nintendo will do it justice with this new one for the Wii U console, they know people are waiting for it. My expectations of the game that I’m putting into my illustrations are that I’m hoping the new game’s world will be HUGE. Pushing the scale of the environments as well as make everything interactive would be amazing. I hope they include iconic places that have been in the previous games like Kakariko Village and Zora’s Domain, but with a different twist. Personally I really hope there’s a snowy-mountain level too, they better have one!
What else do you want people to know about you, your work, or this series?
Well, one thing I guess I’m happy to let you guys know is that on February 14 (yes, Valentine’s Day), I’m doing a 24-hour Painting Livestream for charity—to express my love for art for a good cause. I’ll be mainly painting the Zelda series live and you can ask questions and see if I can survive 24 hours of painting. If you want to stay updated about it, follow me on Tumblr or subscribe to my website and you’ll stay in the know.
As for the series, I won’t give too much away, but I can say that other than Forest Temple, two of them are completed, and I’m currently working on the fourth one. I’ll release the second one online next week, so look forward to it!
Where can people access the highest-quality prints or digital versions of your work?
For prints and also all future prints of the Zelda series, you’ll be able to get them directly from my Society6 store. The prints have no watermarks and I’ll put them up there straight away when I release each piece in the series—you can get them on canvas there as well if you’re into that and they sometimes have free shipping specials.
Places you can see my work online are:
And my Reddit is jessmeixing: http://www.reddit.com/user/jessmeixing/ if you ever want to reach out to me.
Thank you Zelda Informer! You guys rock!