Almost a year ago, an inconspicuous Tumblr blog called the PortraitDex caught my attention. It challenged artists, primarily webcomic artists, to create “Pokemon Self Portraits.” Translating the immensely introspective task of portraiture into the evolutionary design language of Nintendo’s smash hit game proved to be an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Creating my piece really got me thinking about the design language involved in the design language of these evolutions, the very deliberate ways in which forms grow and transform. When you approach these little critters as a legitimate design space, it quickly becomes obvious that each stage changes both the morphology and personality of the pokemon, resulting in a dramatic change from the first to final stages. I even managed to find a scholarly article on the topic. Inspired by concept artists who use simple silhouettes to quickly generate starting points for their creature designs, I decided to explore the evolutionary process of pokemon design as my generative assignment.
I began by really digging into the basic geometrical changes of the 16 original pokemon with 3 stages of evolution. I choose to stick to the original 151 pokemon as they were the work of a single illustrator and have served as the template for the 500-some additions that were to follow over the course of a dozen years of games. Reducing the creatures to their basic forms revealed some commonalities – Rounded bodies and large, friendly eyes in the first stage, slender bodies and elongated limbs in the middle, and powerful, confident forms as the monster achieves its final form.
Identifying a number of basic elements (Head, Torso, Arms and Legs) I created a simple processing applet that would, as much as possible, generate forms similar to those displayed in the designs of actual pokemon. I initially explored using Box2D or Toxicglibs to create these forms, but was unable to wrangle them into the simple parts I required, ultimately ending up with an elementary series of ellipses.
Once many many silhouettes were generated, I decided to incorporate the concept artist’s methods and actually create a few rough sketches of potential pokemon based on the program’s results.