Yusuke Naora’s SMU Lecture Recap – Featuring New FINAL FANTASY XV Concept Art

February 27, 2015 4:28 am by Ashleigh Lillechurch

Is it a sin to use a hashtag within the opening paragraph of an article? Because right now all I can say is #Inspired.

As previously reported, SQUARE ENIX are visiting a few Universities around the United States to host a series of lectures about the development of the FINAL FANTASY series. Today, SMU’s Guildhall campus played hosted to renowned series artist, Yusuke Naora. Naora-san talked in detail about his long career at SQUARE ENIX, shared concept art of old and new games alike – along with some never before seen art from FINAL FANTASY XV. Attendees and stream viewers were also treated to a special surprise when he drew a piece of concept art for them.

We’ve got a summary of the lecture for your reading pleasure, so take a look. If reading isn’t your thing, the entire lecture is also available for viewing on the SQUARE ENIX Presents Twitch.tv channel and will be uploaded to YouTube in the coming days.

Career and the Early Days


  • Before joining Square (as they were fondly known back then), Naora worked as a part-time musician. This wasn’t paying enough money and he was constantly broke, so he went in search of a proper job. The rest? History!
  • Back in the early 90s, traditional skills weren’t necessary for game art related jobs. Games were being run on tiny-CRT monitors, with very little colour depth and memory available. Not an ideal medium for expressive art.
  • Going into the PlayStation-era, traditional art skills became far more necessary due to the huge jumps in technology.
  • Better technology meant there was a need for bigger teams due to more resources being required. Naora-san proposed that the Art Division should be established.
  • A lot of the sub-divisions of the Art Division still exist, in varying functions, to this date.


The Artist’s Role


  • The Artist is all about ideas. From the initial idea, through development and right into post-production, art conceptualises ideas and provides the framework for other departments to work within.
  • Production and Design require a huge amount of resources and manwork. The Art Division provided them with the assets that guided the overall “feel and taste” of the respective game.


New Technology & The Art Division


  • The advent of cinematics allowed the control and portrayal of time, in ways that previous were not possible before.
  • In FINAL FANTASY VII this was shown during the Assault on Reactor #7, where the explosion was hand-drawn frame by frame, over the top of the pre-rendered backdrop.


Key Art & Logos


  • As a game nears completion, or an idea has been fully fleshed out, there is not much for Design to do. This is usually the time that the Key Art is conceptualised.
  • The design of the game logo is also part of this process. SQUARE ENIX likes to reflect colours from the logo art, within the key art. For example: The green and blue of the FINAL FANTASY VII Meteor, are also reflected in the Mako energy and tone of the Key Art.
  • Another example is the logo for FINAL FANTASY VIII. The team knew that the Rinoa and Squall scene was a big moment in the game, so they asked Yoshitaka Amano to draw this for the logo. Notice how the Red to Yellow gradient of the logo reflects the sunset in the background of the Key Art?
  • Naora’s team also designed the logos for the Shin-Ra corporation.


Conceptualising Key Art


  • Key Art starts with a Line Art drawing. A second version is then created with a rough desired colour balance.
  • The line art and colour balance are combined, and the tones and feelings are added to the piece to portray the mood, feel, taste and drama of the scene.
  • Then the fantasy touches are applied.
  • The Key Art has to portray the game universe in a way that is accessible to the viewer and creates intrigue.


Final Fantasy Type-0 HD


  • Today, just being able to draw is no longer enough. There are a huge amount of tools and technologies available.
  • PSP was very limited memory-wise, meaning that the original TYPE-0 did not feature as much expressiveness as Naora would’ve liked.
  • Moving from the PSP to PS4 was also a very hard thing to tackle.
  • The imagination can only do so much. As FINAL FANTASY pushes toward more mature themes, personal experiences can provide huge inspiration.
  • Naora-san told a story of when he journeyed to a remote island off the coast of Japan that took over half a day of travelling to get there. While at the Island he caught a fish, but also realised he was quite afraid of the open ocean. This formed the basis for his inspiration for the Island that is home to the Rubrum Akademia, school of Class Zero. Notice the wrecked Airship off the coast of the Island, inspired by Naora’s fear of the sea.
  • Naora also wanted to get a more harder, grittier and mature feel for TYPE-0. In search of inspiration he went a Japanese Special Forces training camp to see what being a military cadet would be like. This was also used as an opportunity to test out new HDR camera tools.
  • He then relayed a story about a time he was walking out in Tokyo, and saw a cat that had been struck by a car and killed. The corpse was surrounded by other cats nudging and licking the corpse. This harrowing experience gave Naora the inspiration for portraying the connection between the students of Class Zero, both between themselves and with their Eidolons, and the pain of death and war. This is reflected in the Key Art featuring Machina and Rem next to a slain Bahamut.


Final Fantasy XV


  • Knowledge gained from the development of FINAL FANTASY TYPE-0 HD is being used in the development of FINAL FANTASY XV.
  • The Art Division was flattened out and made less section-based and more task based. Allowing for more collaboration and feedback from multiple disciplines. A big focus is placed on ideas.
  • The new team went on trips in small groups, undertaking activities like mountain climbing, cave exploring and even visiting a zoo to get practical real world experiences and references to draw upon.
  • The challenge of FINAL FANTASY XV lies with setting the Fantasy withint the boundaries of Reality. Naora wants the world to feel familiar, but unfamiliar at the same time.
  • This ambitious goal required a lot of resources that had to be allocated, or even outsourced.
  • The Lucius Palace is an example of this fantasy. A regal palace situated within a very everyday looking cityscape.
  • A lot of the architecture and feel was inspired by the area surrounding SQUARE ENIX’s old office in Kyoto.
  • To test the fantasy against the reality, Naora painted over a number of photographs taken around Kyoto to see how well the balance would feel.
  • The iconic Behemoth started life as a skeletal model, which then turned into a huge sculpt by Tomohiro Hasegawa (KINGDOM HEARTS series) to give a tactile feel.
  • The sculpt was so good that some of the staff wanted to buy it. Unfortunately, after a 3D scan had been made, Hasegawa accidentally drove into the sculpt and broke it!
  • Drawing on more real world inspiration, dissected fish were used as a reference for the Eidolon; Leviathan. Cutting up a fish allowed the art team to get a good look at home the scales shimmered and the eyes behaved. The fish were eventually cooked and eaten!
  • Several other references, such as drawings, sculpts and 3D sculpts were created to flesh out the concept of Leviathan. The end result was seen in the E3 2013 reveal trailer.
  • Finally, Naora revealed the team of artists he is managing. FINAL FANTASY XV has two other Art Directors besides Naora, each with their own individual teams.


Closing Words


  • Naora advises any upcoming artist to have a vitality, a specialisation and a special something that makes them stand out from the crowd.
  • Create something that people have never seen before.
  • If you get lost, create what is best for the product.
  • Be aware of your own limitations.
  • Have another hobby or escape that you can go too if things aren’t working out. Naora-san personally enjoys watching NBA as his release.
  • Always go back and finish what you’ve started.
  • As a special surprise, Naora-san also began making concept art live, based on a Japanese Kabuto helmet.

That concludes our round-up. Don’t forget that on March 12th, Kazuyuki Ikumori will be at the University of Southern California to talk about the CG production process for FINAL FANTASY. The lecture will be streamed on the SQUARE ENIX Presents Twitch Channel. We’ll also be live tweeting, and a full report will be provided afterward.

If you’re interested into getting into Game Development, why not check out the courses that SMU Guildhall have on offer?

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