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.



Some things I did in my A5 sketch book lately, trying to draw more often.



A paint study I did to try and get into digital art a bit more. A big reason why I didn’t like it much was because of the brushes I had available and I couldn’t achieve the look that I wanted. Now I feel a bit more confident with the things I can do in the software. Usually I start by drawing the person and then start with values, but her skin is very light while the hair is dark so it was hard to not go so dark on the skin at all while trying to convey depth in the image. I let the background bleed on the image because I liked the way it looked. I didn’t go into detail too much because it was supposed to be quick and I just wanted to get some shape work done. I like the brush I used it helped me feel better about the art.

I’m happy it looks okay although I could have spent more time on it, it wasn’t supposed to be a big piece, I could have paid more attention to colour because while the values were restricted I could have played with them more.


This was kinda hard to take a picture of this because of the lighting but I tried to edit it to make it easier to see. This is a simple idea that would be fitting to have a neutral colour scheme with harsh lighting across the table and up the book shelf to make it look more interesting. The colour scheme of the room is supposed to have warm colours but I thought I would play more with a variety of things. This is supposed to be like downstairs in one of the corners where someone can just sit and read, with big pictures for decoration and I’ll find a way to incorporate the logo in somewhere. I think this will be fun to do and work on my perspective more too.


A storyboard piece I was doing and will probably take it into Photoshop and make it look better and digitally colour it in and everything. I wanted the stairs to be in the middle as they’re supposed to be the centre piece of the room. The original idea is that above the stairs is a big door that would have been the master bedroom and there would have been books and other furniture surrounding it. This was a good idea that people were playing with and I think I could develop it more and make something more of it. I think it was important to have other elements in the room such as the arches underneath the banister and the pictures on the wall. I think I will spend more time on it to make it better as a big piece and I’m happy I got a general idea to make something but it could look a lot better than it does right now but I don’t think perfection is the aim of a storyboard.


Quick sketches of doors and I just did what people would find easy to texture as going into something complicated would only frustrate people. These are just simple for people to do. It’s a bit mixed right now but I think they’re going for a simple square door and Stephen did one with lots of bolts on them. They’re all going to be wooden expect for the door frame which is going to be made of stone. Hopefully the stone will have a bit of a silhouette to it and won’t be a plain square around the door. I probably could have spent more time making this look better but I didn’t really think that it mattered and getting my idea across was what was most important.


A few rough sketched for a window idea I was playing around with. I use a lot of 17th century Gothic architecture inspiration to do this as I think they have a lot of interesting shapes and a lot of old castles seem to be very blocky with windows that look like slits in the walls. 1 or 6 is what I would have liked to ultimately have gone with for the big two windows at the front with a nice arch and some different shapes on the inside but we went with something different. 2 and 3 are too simple to look at but 3 is good to use above the doors on the second floor as they would create a nice shape on the floor when the light passes through the windows, the same goes for 1 and 6. 7 just looked odd being a circle in all of this, although it might have worked in an attic, but in a building with a lot of sharp edges I don’t think it would go with the room very well. 8 would be a very good window if we were to make another room as it’s nice and wide which is something people like to see in bedrooms. 9 would have been good if the building was old and worn down but that was not the look we were going for but it was nice to think about the idea.

I’m happy that I was able to get my ideas across well and I could definitely work on my shapes more but these are good few ideas to get started with.


I was looking into what type of walls we should have and what material should go on them. I played around with different ones and mixing them together to see what matches best. 1 is stone and wood which would have looked nice but I don’t know how they would have been seamless across the walls which might have created problems further down the pipeline which is something we wanted to avoid. 2 is just one less beam in the wall which would have worked in terms of it being seamless but it might not have looked as nice against all of the decor. 3 is what we ended up going with because it was easy to do and we knew it would be seamless across the room, this matched well with everything in the room. The last was was just not an option from the start as the original idea was to have wooden flooring and we didn’t want to have too much wood as it might clash with the mass amount of wood in the room so we thought to scale it back a bit.

5 was too boring and we didn’t want to end up with a box room which wouldn’t have been pleasing to look at for the viewer. 6 had a corner that was too small and might have been strange to do and almost pointless. 7 is the hexagonal shape we were going for to make it more interesting and not just a big basic square.


Stephen needed to model a roof and he didn’t know what to do in terms of design. So I decided to do a bit of research and came up with a few ideas. The first one is just a simple square roof tiling design where there is wooden beams going across and then they go in a little and go in again so it almost looks like steps going into the roof. This is to avoid it looking too plain but Stephen took the idea and made it much better and more interesting to look at which it good, I guess he just needed a starting point. People were playing around with the idea of a dome shaped roof which I ended up being against as it didn’t really look good and wouldn’t have fit in with the shape of the room. Third picture was just and arched roof but this seemed to be too complex and would have wasted people’s time and would have taken too long to do so we thought maybe not. The 4th and last roof was more of a viking style roof which may have not fit into the castle aesthetic properly. The last one would have been the one that we picked but Stephen seemed to like the first one and seemed to be best for simplicity so that’s the one we went with.

I’m happy that we got what we wanted out of these drawings but I wish I could have done them a little faster (and better) but the point is to just get ideas across at the moment.


Stephen asked for a pattern or a stamp of sorts that can go into the corner of the roof tiles. I wanted to create a simple and pleasing design, since this wasn’t going to be viewed up close I thought detail didn’t matter a great deal. I originally created some designs first to see which kind of pattern I was going to go with first.


As you can see I went with the last one. I started by creating a circle, tear drop, and triangle shapes. The circle was originally too thick so I just created another circle, made it bigger and put it around the other circle to make it seem thinner. I got the tear drop shapes and duplicated them so there was 4 of them. I placed them exactly in the middle of each rotation. I wanted it so that the point would touch the middle and the outside would touch the circle and still leaving room in-between the tear drops so that the triangles would fit inside of the gaps. I did the same with the triangles as I did with the tear drops, I rotated and duplicated them. With the tear shape on the inside I just duplicated the first shape and scaled it down so that it would fit inside to make it look more interesting.

I’m happy it turned out well and I got exactly what I wanted and I know I can use Photoshop well to manipulate shapes and get the result I want. It took me about half an hour to do it so I guess it was pretty easy. I guess I could improve by having a more stylized design. In the end I got the stamp to Stephen and it worked well with the texturing process.

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