At the end of 2020, I found myself captivated by the Game Baker’s latest release, Haven. In Haven, Kay and Yu are two refugees living on a remote planet after fleeing a cybernetic technocracy. It’s a story full of humor and love, set in a world bursting with rich colors.

The artistic presentation in Haven stuck with me long after the game. In the process of researching the art team, I stumbled into Koyorin’s vibrant portfolio of cyberpunk characters, imaginative landscapes, and the many illustrated job classes of Final Fantasy XIV’s Hilda. I reached out to Koyorin, Haven's character designer and illustrator, who was gracious enough to answer our questions.

Trevor: Okay, first off, five quick questions just for fun. Favorite Final Fantasy XIV classes, go!

Koyorin: I used to main Red Mage back in Stormblood, but when Shadowbringers came out I played a lot of Dancer. Ever since capping all classes I tend to rotate between a few, but Dancer always ends up being the most played.

T: Favorite drink?

K: If we’re talking alcoholic drinks, my favourite is umeshu. I’ve had many different kinds and it’s always been quite pleasant to have late at night. If we’re talking non-alcoholic, I am quite fond of iced tea, whether it is iced lemon tea or just Japanese green tea.

T: Favorite beats to work/study to?

K: I listen to a wide range of music, including black metal, hardcore punk, math rock, and alternative/post rock. One album I always end up recommending at least once a year is Okurimono by Hyakkei, a very nostalgic instrumental post-rock album. I also like listening to various game soundtracks, and have many favourites under this category. I would list some but I’d feel bad about leaving some out, haha.

T: Hades Infernal Arm and aspect?

K: Some of my favourite runs were done with the Aegis and Exagryph. I liked playing most of the weapons but those two had the cleanest and most entertaining runs for me personally.

T: Biggest artistic inspiration?

K: Believe it or not I don’t really think about this much, these days; I tend to take inspiration from things as they come as well as the things I’m interested in and I don’t look at any specific artist or source’s work too much, especially long-term. I love a lot of general themes, but I don’t have a specific biggest inspiration — I think I did earlier on, but it ended up being really restrictive.

T: As we get into the more professional queries, the world must know... do you name your layers? Or is it all “layer #” all the way down?

K: I do name my layers, and I place them in folders as well. So linework ends up in the linework folder split between “hair”, “face”, “body”, and so forth. Colours are the same as well, and if something is a different colour it gets it’s own (appropriately labelled) layer. The only exception to this is if I’m painting and I want to add on some rendering before I merge, since in those cases there’s usually no question of what it’s going to be other than more rendering (though I will consolidate characters and backgrounds to their own folders).

T: Now to dig into your professional background. When did you first begin drawing and illustrating? Did you receive any formal training, in academia or otherwise?

K: Well, I’ve been drawing my entire life, but it wasn’t until I had to enroll in university that I actually settled into focusing on art. At that point I wanted to develop skills in numerous areas, such as music, writing, and visual arts. But the answer was fairly obvious to me once it came down to it since I drew a lot in my free time, and so I chose to focus on art. I enrolled in university for Drawing and Painting as my major, but eventually changed it to Illustration when I realized I had enrolled in a fine arts program and the things I was doing there weren’t super relevant to my interests. I eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Illustration, and the rest is history, haha.

T: Can you walk us through your process? What steps happen going from conceptual, to thumbnail, to final product?

K: For my personal work I tend to play it pretty fast and loose, haha. If I don’t have a specific concept in mind I’ll do a couple of different rough sketches, usually just trying out the pose and composition. I frequently leave a lot of specific design elements until later, during the inking process. Next is just flatting out the colours and such, then applying lighting if necessary, and then post-processing. This is usually the more fun/experimental stage since things can usually take a turn from the initial idea, usually through quirks that are the result of the technology being used. Then I apply some more post-processing if necessary, and the piece is complete.

T: I’ve heard you’ve done storyboarding as well. I imagine the approach there is... rather different from illustration. I’d be interested to hear how. Can you walk us through what happens there?

K: Well, storyboarding doesn’t have to be as tight and polished, for one. Conveying motion and composition are really important, so spending time ironing it out isn’t particularly necessary since there’s a lot of dynamic shapes to be found in the roughs stage. Storyboarding is also a sequential format, which I like because you can show a lot of one scene and its details throughout various shots, instead of just one singular illustration where things might be covered or out of sight (though of course they have different final applications).

T: The latest release where people can see your work (that I’m aware of, at least) is Haven. To wind the clock back, how did you first end up involved with The Game Bakers?

K: I was quite lucky to work with them on Haven, as we started work on it the same year that I graduated from university. The Game Bakers reached out to me soon after I had started freelancing — they sent me a pitch and we talked about the long-term plan, and I was on board from there.

T: I wanted to zero in on the character design experience here, specifically. When you were brought on board, how much of Kay and Yu’s background had been ironed out? And I suppose more specifically, how did those elements help inform their design?

K: I don’t know how much I can disclose publicly, but needless to say I was involved in the process from the very beginning. So that includes helping establish who Kay and Yu are through some of the illustrations I produced, and drawing various slice of life things to nail down their personalities, etc.

T: How much of what we see in Haven is your work? Character portraits, loading screens, the mind-blowing music video opening?

K: Most notably it’s the character portraits, which I drew all of. I also illustrated all of the loading screens, but the animated opening was produced by Yukio Takatsu and Yapiko Animation. There are also some other illustrations you can see in the game’s assets that were done by me (the character status screen and skill level ups, some of the art featured on their fridge photos, etc.) I also worked on a lot of concept stuff behind the scenes as we developed Haven through its iterations and brought it to the game we know and love today — I was not alone on the art team of course, but my duties in the beginning did extend to various other types of concept work and storyboards.

T: How many of the loading screens were your ideas, and how many were something the creative director came up with?

K: Quite frankly, I was given a list of scenes to draw for the loading screens and that is primarily how they were done. I likely pitched a few, but the majority of them were handed to me in text; I would actually hazard a guess and say that all of the ones featured in-game were ones that were handed to me, since I can't remember if there were any in the final game that were originally based on my suggestions. I did a lot of early sketches when we were figuring out their personalities that were along the lines of the loading screens as well, which is partially what inspired the theme of them.

T: Did you do the loading screen? You know the one.

K: I drew all the loading screens, yes.

T: To roll the clock back even further and pivot to something else, I’m extremely curious how you ended up part of the RWBY board game, Combat Ready. It sounds like there were quite a few artists involved with it. How did the division of labor work out there for all of you? And were you in communication with each other, or was it a very individual process?

K: I communicated primarily with the art director on the project — I didn’t know who else was on the project until I saw their work, although I never thought to ask, haha. They probably would have shared that information if I did but it didn’t really cross my mind at the time.

T: Do you have a favorite card from Combat Ready?

K: Aside from the character card backs and cover, my favourite card artwork I did was “Red Divide”. I had to complete a large number of illustrations in a relatively short period of time but I think that one turned out nicely all things considered, haha.

T: Not to put you on the spot with your professional contacts here, but do you play every game you’ve done work for? Or have some fallen through the cracks?

K: Only one major game I’ve worked on intensively has been released, so yes I have been able to haha. I was able to complete all of Haven once the game was out. I believe the next one will be Astria Ascending, which is slated for a 2021 release. I contributed some boss designs + illustrations to that game. If we’re talking games with smaller contributions I’ve made, (ex. Momodora: Reverie Under the Moonlight, VA-11 Hall-A, and Monster Prom 2), then the answer is still yeah, I have been able to play all of those.

T: A question our artistic readers will desperately want to know — what equipment and software do you typically work with?

K: Well, this may or may not surprise anyone but I don’t have a particularly complex setup — because I (under normal circumstances and not pandemic circumstances) travel annually to visit my family overseas, and I used to do a fair bit of my homework on campus at school, I work on a 15” MacBook Pro, with an Intuos Pro Medium tablet. I work primarily in Clip Studio Paint and Adobe Photoshop CS6, but if I’m in transit and need to work on stuff a bit I’ll use Procreate on an iPad Pro. All of that is mostly out of force of habit, so my setup hasn’t really changed since I was 15 and got my first tablet.

T: Do you ever experience burnout or fatigue? How do you combat it?

K: Yes; it was much worse early on in my freelance career when I didn’t know how much I could comfortably handle, and I found myself burning out after taking on a large amount of commercial work at once and trying to send updates to clients daily, while also keeping up my social media. It took a while to pace myself out but once I had experienced a fairly unpleasant burnout period, I found a pace that I was comfortable with, and I now only try to prioritize speed if it’s within reason with the client’s deadline. In terms of burnout and fatigue, find a speed you can handle, and take regular breaks. Everyone works and lives differently, and taking care of your health is high priority.

T: As we wind down, I wanted to turn to something more personal. Your various social media accounts include everything from original works, to fan works for FFXIV, Cyberpunk, League of Legends, and more. There’s even some Monster Prom 2: Monster Camp illustrations, which I understand are in the game. What I really want to ask about though is something that is uniquely yours — Weapon Girls. A 3rd installment coming out soon. Can you tell us a little about how it started, and how you met your guest contributors?

K: Weapon Girls 3 has already been shipped out last year (thankfully), though the pandemic certainly threw that for a loop. Since everything is done solo (minus some help with layout, and printing production), it’s always quite a slow process. I think it started during some time in university, when I already had some experience producing zines through a comics class I was a part of — I won’t go into it fully but due to the circumstances of my major, which was more editorial illustration focused, I wasn’t able to pursue things that I really wanted to create. I suppose I was left wanting because of that, and I needed more room to exercise my character design ideas. I realized that producing a zine would motivate me to do just that since I could pick an overarching theme to unify all of them and having a project to complete/focus on could give me motivation to keep going with it. So I produced my first Weapon Girls zine solo, which included producing each physical copy by hand (so it was an extremely limited run).

I then moved on to Weapon Girls 2 later on, which I created a large amount of designs for but also wanted to invite some of my friends. Weapon Girls 2 was no longer assembled by hand and I printed it through a printing company, so I didn’t have to worry about quantity and accepted preorders for it. The guests in the zine are all friends of mine that I’ve met over Twitter, or were classmates of mine from university (primarily the former). And following Weapon Girls 2’s completion, I slowly began production on Weapon Girls 3. This process was a bit slower due to the fact that I decided to make all of the illustrations full colour, but also the pandemic threw the production part of it for a loop since 2020 was the year that I received the last of the guest art. Thankfully it went reasonably well from print to shipping, the main downside being the time it takes to pack and write addresses for every order. I definitely do want to produce a Weapon Girls 4, but the format might be slightly different… we’ll see!

T: What would you say draws you towards the cyberpunk aesthetic?

K: I think there’s certainly various things I like that pertain to the genre; not only the aesthetics and visuals that come with it, but also the themes that are typically covered by the genre (artificial intelligence, ideas of dystopia vs. utopia, utilizing cybernetics to become more than human, etc.) I’m a big fan of Akira and Blade Runner as well, which I think got me more interested in the genre when I was a bit younger. Later I also began exploring popular/influential fiction in the genre, such as William Gibson’s writing. Of course, when it becomes visualized in artwork, the visual range of what is classified as “cyberpunk” is quite broad but I think that’s something I like about it.

T: Are you involved with any upcoming releases?

K: Currently the next project I’m involved in that is coming out soon is Astria Ascending, a 2D turn-based fantasy game developed by Artisan Studios with some incredible contributors who have worked on various Final Fantasy titles. Other than that I don’t have anything else big to announce at the moment, haha.

T: And lastly, are there any self-insert characters out there we ought to be looking for in any games you’ve contributed to?

K: Nah, I’m a pretty private person, haha. Although I’ve attended conventions on occasion to sell prints and such, I generally prefer to keep myself and my personal life private.

A huge thank you to Koyorin for their time.

You can find more of Koyorin's work on Twitter, Instagram, and ArtStation. You can also support them directly via Patreon.