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.

File_000 (2)

I tried to paint with watercolour for the first time, it seemed to be quite popular but I think it will take a lot of practice to get used to but I think it was a start. I tried drawing some dandelions in my back garden. I think if I kept practising I would eventually get used to using water colour but it’s okay for now even though flowers really aren’t my speciality. I thought I would try it at least once.

File_000 (1)

This is just a quick sketch of a face I did. I didn’t use a reference really when I should have. I wanted to experiment more with different angles, I was trying to go for a more cartoon-esque look and it didn’t take me long at all. The hair goes around the face so that your eyes would stay in the centre more. I’m happy that it helped me get into drawing again but the nose should really be bigger and the overall composition of the face could have been better.

Paint Study 2


I did this in a similar process to the last one I did except use a different picture.


I got this reference picture from the show Shameless, I started by outlining him and circled significant areas where they are dark and light.


I started to fill in the person by the shirt and it was pretty much all black and had no highlights to it so that was an easy part.


I then started to do the face, this part was much harder than it was before with the other study as I kept running into problems with my values and volume. This piece ended up taking me days as I was struggling to get past some problems. This is helping me understand white skin tones are very de-saturated and should not be making them red especially in areas around the cheeks and lips, the nose is usually always red on people and I shouldn’t be making everywhere red.


Next I did the hair which was pretty simple. It is mainly all black with some green-ish tones coming through where you can see his scalp a little bit. Other than that a few small flicks coming off him to give the illusion of hair strands and it looked okay.


This was the last time I used the line art as a guide, the background was pretty simple and all the areas were pretty much the same colour except for that one dark line I couldn’t draw straight. Lastly I applied a filter to it to fix my values problem, made my darks darker and lights lighter.

I’m happy this turned out okay and I was hoping to improve by spending less time on it but that didn’t work well this time, I’m getting better as guessing and understanding colours even though in my finial piece at the top is different to the final painted one. I still want to create more study but doing them every day seems like more of a challenge now, especially now that I’m going to concentrate on other work now.

Paint Study 1


I did this earlier to try and develop my art skills further. I plan on doing a drawing everyday to help be better at art and work on my line art as it’s not as good as it could be.


I got a reference picture from boyoungkimm and started outlining her, I also circled areas where it’s dark and very light to help be accurate with the piece. Most of what I did was very rough as my concentration was on colour for this and the lines were going to be left out anyways.


This is the layer I put all of my colour for the person on, I was planning for a quick one hour study but it ended up being a 5 hour piece, I found it tricky to not go far with my values as she is very pale and I naturally wanted to go very dark and saturated when I shouldn’t, especially around the face. This part helped me understanding shading white areas, I always used a light blue when I should use grey too. One of the hardest things to get right was the hair, trying to get dark areas around the hand while looking like strands, could have spent more time in this area but decided it wasn’t worth several more hours.


I made the glasses on a separate layer in case I went wrong and messed up the whole face. The tricky thing was that the glasses had shading and they were so thin, trying to get that right and making sure they’re round which I could have done a better job of but thought it was fine.


This is the last layer before I stopped using the line art. The background didn’t matter that much but the person started looking better when she had something behind her with the bright white of her shirt. Once I made the background I decided to blur it to make her stand out more and make the art look better.

I’m happy this turned out well and I hope to do more things like this in the future. It was only supposed to be a quick piece but I ended up taking a bit more time with it, over time I will get faster and better at this.

Character Concept Art


I thought I would try to create a close up of a person and this is kinda the design I went with. I think I’m going to change the colours and the eye shape to make it look more appealing with a faded background. Right now I was just messing with things in Photoshop trying to understand how things worked properly and I did alright but since I’ve finished some other pieces I feel like I could come back to this and make it much better than it is now.

I’m happy that I still got to do this I think I could improve on anatomy and composition instead of relying on a rule of thirds. I could improve the colours I put into it as I have too many to be complementary but for a start I think this has helped me develop my skills.

Viking Storyboard 1


This is one of the few moodboards I made for the viking islands project. I’m doing this for my creative and technical modelling piece to create a small house on a floating island. I used photoshop to create this and I tried to use the X composition which could have worked out better. I started using colour then changed to black and white because it’s only supposed to be a quick sketch so there’s no need to spend so much time on it. This has helped me get into perspective drawing more as I just used to avoid it but I won’t get better if I don’t try. I’m happy that it looks okay for perspective art but I think there is a lot of room for improvement.

Viking Islands


I added some particle effects to the foreground to give it a bit more depth and make the piece feel a little more finished. I’m happy I got to do this as it’s helping me understand the process of digital art more and how painting and light works, I could improve with volume and composition and understand colour more.