Inspired Worlds: Grim Fandango

In the essay, I’m going to talk about how Frida Kahlo’s “She Plays Alone” (1938) could have inspired the art inside the game “Grim Fandango” by LucasArts (1998).

Grim Fandango was considered one of the last adventure games of its time. Players take the role of Manny Calavera, a travel agent who reaps the souls of the recently departed and sells them a passage across time. Grim Fandango is the first LucasArts film to feature 3D art inside a pre-rendered 2D world. Frida Kahlo’s painting is thought to be a representation of her when she was a young child during the Latin American festival the day of the dead.

In Grim Fandango the main character Manny Calavera is a skeleton and that is represented by just the dark features of his face because of the hardware capabilities at the time of making the game. Frida Kahlo’s painting shows a young girl wearing a skeleton mask. Both of these revolve around a day of the dead theme and both have the person standing alone in a barren setting suggesting it can be lonely when you are dead. Grim Fandango could have taken inspiration from the painting itself with the desert backdrop incorporating it into the game. Grim Fandango could have also wanted to preserve the authenticity and style of Frida Kahlo’s work by keeping the element of 2D with the pre-rendered backgrounds, also helping reduce rendering time and making it easier to run on those generations of machines.

In terms of colour, they are both using a similar colour scheme incorporating deep rich browns and bright whites. Both are leaning towards a warmer colour palette that gives a sense of warmth in the desert. They have a yellow cloudy sky suggesting the sun is setting and their time is running out. Frida Kahlo is holding a yellow tagete flower which is placed on graves during the festival linking to grim fandango’s theme of the day of the dead. Both characters are wearing colours that do not wholly fit into the scene helping them to stand out as well as their bright white faces.

In both images, a lot of light is concentrated around the face where the character is. A lot of light also goes into the background showing that the sun is setting and will be gone soon. All of that light concentrated around their face gives the characters a more villainous look despite their quite casual appearance. The higher portion of the background is better lit than the bottom brings more attention to the characters face. Although Grim Fandango is well lit as such giving it a much more creepy feel to the whole piece.


Frida Kahlo has a lot of shadows around her body and especially in her feet. Grim has a black outline around his ribs where it should be nothing but the ribs, but in 1998 when the game was released they did not have sufficient technology to do this at the time as they could not render that many polygons on a 3D model. Frida look-alike with her 3D looks against a plain background giving more attention to herself.

Usually, the eyes are the first thing you see when you look at someone, but on both character that’s not an option because one of them does not have eyes and another has a mask. They both are mostly made up of cuboid shapes and cylinders such as her arms and legs. In the foreground of the piece, she takes up quite a bit of room to show that she is the main subject as a whole. Grim throughout the game is also similar in this regard but in that image, he seems to be a part of the mid-ground range. The mountains in the background are shown to be quite far away from similar to grim fandango where the city behind him seems to be at a great distance, this is to convey that they are both far away from any civilization to emphasize the fact that they are alone.


The vanishing point is behind her but she is covering most of it showing that she is closer to us. Grim also uses two point perspective to show that the desert is closer and the city behind him is quite far away. In the rule of thirds Frida’s eyes are quite close the top third and most of her body fills the middle third. This helps keep your attention on the top and middle of the piece and away from the bottom.

Both pieces share a lot of similarities and Frida Kahlo with her day of the dead theme and Mexican background could have easily inspired Grim Fandango. They share a similar art style and in terms of light, colour, volume, composition, and perspective they both convey a similar message to the audience.



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