Pokémon Portraits

Muti interpret their favourite Pokémon characters to celebrate the beasties’ 20th anniversary

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Art: Muti

We’ve become pretty chummy with multi-disciplinary design and illustration studio Muti, which is why they were the first people we thought of after spotting our dev team walking around the office, instead of sticking to their regular routine of locking themselves away in the matrix and urinating into empty Monster cans so that they don’t ever have to stop looking at their computer screens.

Turns out the devs were playing Pokémon GO, a mobile game that was released 6 July and in just 24 hours had topped the American App Stores “Top Grossing” and “Free” charts. A week later we were all playing it, and the average daily usage of the app on Android devices had exceeded Snapchat, Tinder, Instagram and Facebook.

With 7.5 million downloads, and counting, this location-based augmented reality game allows players to capture, battle and train virtual Pokémon who appear in the real world. So far the game has done more for sedentary types than Strava ever could, and has fulfilled a fantasy where us Pokémon fans can catch ‘em all, IRL.

So what’s all this got to do with Muti? Well, since 25 May our preferred illustration company has been busy with their Pokémon fan art, drawing exotic and powerful beasties to celebrate Pokémon’s 20th Anniversary. Scroll down to check out all the awesome drawings and read a Q&A with the team. 

Why did you decide on celebrating Pokemon’s 20th Anniversary? 

Quite a few of the illustrators at Muti grew up in the time when both the Pokémon manga and games were popular. When we became aware of the 20th anniversary, we jumped at the opportunity to give our own artistic interpretation of some of our favourites. It’s always rad to give a unique take on an established brand. Especially if that brand played a part in your own youth.

Which Pokémon have you illustrated?

We decided to limit our illustrations to the first generation of Pokémon. So only the first 150 were given as an option. Of those, we chose Gengar, Koffing, Slowbro, Bulbasaur, Omanyte, Bellsprout, Seaking, Cubone, Ninetails, Growlithe, Squirtle and Arbok. Each one was illustrated by a different member of the studio, based solely on which Pokémon they liked best.

This was a purely creative outlet – how important is it for you as a design studio to create things just for the sake of it?

We’re always looking for new opportunities to explore different styles and this type of self-initiated job provides us with that freedom to create. It's an essential part of our development as a studio. 

What was your reaction when PokémonGO was released and are you surprised by all the hype it’s been getting?

We were pretty excited to hear Pokémon GO finally got released. We’d been aware of its development, but were surprised that they managed to push it out this early. I don’t think any one could have anticipated how quickly the hype around it would build. I mean, anything that matches Twitter’s daily user count in a week is always going to be a bit of a shock.

Are you guys playing PokémonGO in the office, and if so who’s the best? 

Two guys in the studio are playing Pokémon GO . They both got it pretty recently, so it’s a bit early to make any judgement as to who is the more skilled trainer. 

What’s the best Pokémon GO story you’ve heard so far?

I dont think we have enough experience to have a good story yet!

Pokémon GO proves that Nintendo has some of the most valuable character intellectual property in the world. Which characters would you like to see make a comeback next?

We’ve followed the Nintendo characters for a while now, and don’t believe they’ve lost popularity enough to have to make a comeback. It might be fun if some lesser-known characters get their own games and time to shine. 

Is it fair of Ash to catch and battle Pokémon?

It's a bit like dogfighting, and if you add elemental powers to that, it actually seems downright cruel. Luckily the Pokemon seem to be tough buggers who relish the chance to show off. 

If each designer in your studio were a Pokémon who would they be and why?

Dave - Psyduck: Spacey, with a top knot.

Tamzyn - Clefairy: Friendly and charming. 

Mine - Eevee: Well-poised and approachable.

Bruce - Slowpoke: Reserved and intelligent. 

Brad - Machoke: Well-trained and prepared. 

Clint - Growlithe: Dependable and fluffy ginger.

Jay - Hitmonlee: He has disciplined ninja focus. 

Fran - Jigglypuff: Cute and whimsical.

Hannes - Meowth: Mischievous lanky joker. 

Cameron - Poliwhril: Intentionally ambiguous and lighthearted.

Which are the best and worst Pokémon and why?

The worst Pokémon is definitely Zubat. If you’ve ever played any Pokémon game, and have gone into a cave, you’ll know why. Those things are everywhere! The best Pokémon is a bit tougher. We think Ghost type Pokémon are best. They have consistently had the most interesting character design throughout all the generations of Pokémon. And ghost are just cool.

You showed the evolution of Squirtle – from a design point of view how have the Pokémon evolved over the years?

Because most Pokémon are based on real animals or objects, I think it’s become increasingly difficult to create interesting designs as more generations have been released. I find myself still liking the original Pokémon the most.

We love the idea of Pokémon being something that everyone can play – but is it really that inclusive, given that smartphones and data costs are a requirement? 

The cost of data in this country is always going to restrict the popularity of the game. It's an unfortunate reality. Next thing we’ll all be hanging out at wifi hotspots catching Pokémon.

How do you feel about the old school vs new school debate – Pokémon on an old console vs Pokémon GO on an iPhone 6? 

The original Pokémon games will always have a special place for those of us that played them. But I think Pokémon GO is a great continuation of the brand’s legacy. It’s a great way to get the old fans hyped about Pokémon again, while gaining some new, younger followers.

What do you think has given Pokémon its lasting appeal? Is it just an addictive game, or is it more about a highly adaptable marketing strategy?

It’s a combinationn of both. Sure, the Pokémon games are addictive as hell. But the real longevity comes from their constant reinvention. They know how to move with the times.