Getting to know Jonathan Ball's PokedStudio

Daniel James
Daniel James
Getting to know Jonathan Ball's PokedStudio
Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Firstly, Dfinity Community wants to thank PokedStudio for sharing Poked Bots with the world. The tapestry of colors woven into a PokedStudio / Jonathan Ball creation inspires anyone who stumbles upon a PokedStudio masterpiece to take a second look and explore every element within a piece. These artworks range from being cute to delicious to dystopian.

Ultimately, we hope to bring readers on a short journey from Jonathan Ball to PokedStudio and its relationship with Dominic Williams and the Internet Computer to Poked Bots and beyond.

We understand that there will be further questions asked by others within the Dfinity Community team, and feel free to skip any questions that may have been asked previously.

History and background


How did the name PokedStudio come about?

The name came from some Graffiti on a wall, and I now regret the name choice
slightly as it is tough to give the name out on a phone call as they always miss the ‘D”.

Do you have a team of artists helping you, or is PokedStudio mainly just yourself?

So I work with a regular team of freelancers according to the needs of a project. For 95 percent of the illustration work, it is just me. But for animation and larger projects, 3-4 regular freelancers work with me.

Cardiff is well known for its coal, Principality Stadium, Roald Dahl (in particular Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Dr. Who studios, and Spiller's Records. Did any of these shape and inspire your artwork in any way, and if so, how?

Yes, I loved Charley and the Chocolate Factory as a kid. I used to love creating drawings of whacky chocolate and sweet-making machines. The more complex, the better. It was more the fact that I grew up in an inner-city and spent way too much time playing video games as a kid that has influenced my art.

I’m so happy I have been able to use all these seemingly wasted hours
on games and be able to turn them into a career.

Where we lived, there were always lots of crazy people about! We lived opposite a pub, and all the drunks would be in the street late at night. There was a lady in our street who used to tell us our parents had kidnapped us and we are aliens!

In previous interviews, you have mentioned that Akira and Blade Runner are both movie favorites. I can draw parallels between these movies and some of your artwork, particularly the more dystopian ones.  

Yeah, those films blew my mind when I first saw them, albeit on dodgy VHS
tapes. I didn’t understand Bladerunner on first viewing, but the world it created
captivated me and made me want to watch it again.

In my art, I have always been more interested in the world rather than any
individual characters. Akira is a true work of art! No other animated movie
matches it for me.

Taking this a step further, the UK is well known for its claymation, which brings out colors and a sense of depth to shows such as Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and Postman Pat, to name a few. Growing up in the UK, did you watch any of these shows, and did it inspire any of the characters that you have drawn and if so, which one? If not, did these shows have at least some influence on how you created your artwork?

Well, it would have been watching Tony Hart on Take Hart that had a big influence. This was a kid's art programme in the 1980s. On the the program was a stop motion clay character called Morph. This was created by Aardman studios who went on to make the Wallace and Gromit films. You had a chance to get your work shown on the programme if you sent it in, I tried many times but it never got shown.

Tell us more about your connection with Dominic Williams, including the time spent doing artwork for Fight My Monster. In particular: How was it working with Dom?

So yes, I remember getting a call from Dom maybe in 2009, he had seen my work portfolio online and was looking for someone to help him create monsters for an online game he was making. He talked me through the entire concept on the first call! At the time, I had a lot of requests from entrepreneurs to help on game projects, most of whom gave up after the first few hurdles.

Well, Dominic is more focused than most. We spent around 3-4 years on the project. The game was truly massive in scope, and we created a way to generate random creatures out of parts so that no two creatures were the same, all with random scores and attributes. You could then battle your monsters against each other, and if you won, your ranking would increase. We had a vast world and so many other significant things planed for the game.


There was one fatal flaw, though; it was designed to work on a browser with flash player. At the time of launch, the iPhone was newly out, and people were starting to make apps and games for it. The iPhone did not support flash.


In the end, this killed the project because as games started taking off on mobile, many prominent online games were left behind. What we realized looking back is that the game was a precursor to today’s generative NFT’s and the metaverse. We were too early!

What was the design brief given to you by Dom (and/or the DFINITY Foundation) for Motoko, and what inspired its final design? Can you walk us through how you designed the logo?

So the project was initially called phantom, so I started designing characters based on ghost and phantom shapes. After a few rounds of more abstract designs, I took the basic outline of a Pacman-like ghost and turned it sideways.


This gave it the look that it could speedily travel across a screen. I like the fact that it gave the mascot character some amount of dynamics and could see how it could be used in animations and games.

You have worked on the artwork for Fight my Monster for some time prior to the game meeting an abrupt end. Many love this particular game (including its characters) up to a point where there was a petition to revive the game. Do you have any plans (potentially together with Dom) to re-imagine the characters you created for the game into, say, an NFT-based game for the 21st century on the Internet Computer?


I think it would take a new team to get the game going again. They could put a new spin on it. There is lots of potential for anyone who wants to try. I would be happy to help out in some ways; I still have much of the game assets on an old hard drive.

Early Influence


Regarding the above images, what emotions and feelings do they bring out (if any)? Is there any connection in the above pictures to the Poked Bots NFTs that were recently released?

So yeah, 1980’s arcade video games were the best! There will always be elements from them that find their way into my designs. I take a lot of references from old game characters, obviously I adapt them and make them unique, but I think you can always see the DNA behind them.

I have read that you first started off tracing characters from Beano comics. For example, the bottom left of the above picture is that of Beano's Billy the Cat, whose shades and whiskers seem to have inspired some of your artwork (I've seen similar shades and whiskers on some of your Poked Bots Drivers). Which particular character (or characters) from Beano did you enjoy drawing, and which ones ultimately influenced all your future designs?

When I was bored in school, I used to copy the characters out of the Beano and Whizzer and Chips. I guess to some degree, and this helped me learn how to draw characters. Though my style now is different.

Of the gaming consoles shown above, which was your favorite one, and which was the one you used the most often and why?

So I had all of these apart from the game boy. I remember going to Toys ‘R’ Us with my friend, and he pulled a stash of ten-pound notes out of his pocket and bought a master system. I couldn’t afford one at the time and was so jealous. I got a few paper rounds and eventually had all the consoles! PC-engine was my favorite as it was never officially released in the UK, and you had to order the games from Japan. It felt like we were in an exclusive club!

Favorites

I understand your artwork has been inspired by your childhood, city life, and everyday objects. Following this, we would like to delve into your ' favorites.'

Fondest memories as a child?

Finishing my lego spaceship and having it next to my bed, waking up in 1981 to the biggest snowstorm ever. We opened the front door, and there was a wall of snow up to the top!


Favorite city (real or imaginary) and why (including whether you have been there)?

Mos Eisley from Star wars!


A favorite everyday object(s) that inspire your artwork the most?

Food mixer!


Favorite cartoon character?

Bubble bobble!

Favorite 80s cartoon growing up?

Battle of the Planets.

What aspect of Blade Runner did you find most intriguing? (for example, the city itself, colors, exoticness, futuristic aspect, etc.?)

I love designing cities and streetscapes; at some point, I will be designing the environments for the Poked bots, I’m looking forward to it.

Headphones seem to feature a lot in your artwork. Your website has an entire category dedicated to headphones. I am guessing this may be an ode to your love for music. Following this, please tell us more about your passion for headphones and which particular headphone is your favorite?

Yeah, I always had headphones on as a teenager! They were almost glued to my head!

Favorite rock band/music artist etc.?

Mogwai.

There have been cats featured in your art. As such, do you have a cat? If you have a pet, has your pet been featured in any of your artwork, and which one?

We always had cats. In the end, we had one I was allergic to and ended up having bad asthma attacks. After that, I vowed never to have a pet again.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - if you have seen the show, which is your favorite ~ the original or the remake (considering you dislike big Hollywood names)?

I like the 1970’s one the best, though the book is way better. The remake is vivid and colorful, which will not look out of place in any of your artworks.

Movies - following your love for films such as Inception and Prometheus, have you watched Tenet? If so, how does this compare to Inception and/or Prometheus? Better, Worse, or about the same?

I enjoyed Tenet, but it still doesn’t make much sense to me. With a few tweaks Prometheus could have been a fantastic film.

I read about Akira being one of your favorite animations. Why is this so and which aspects of Akira do you find fascinating (e.g., color scheme, cityscape, storyline, etc.), and which parts of Akira have you borrowed to create art for PokedStudio?

Akira was so groundbreaking at the time. There is so much detail in there and the atmosphere is terrific. Again it may not make much sense without repeated viewing. I tend to like films with extra layers of depth and need multiple viewing to understand fully. The cityscapes have been a real inspiration in my work.

R-type was one of your favorite games. If so, which aspects of R-type did you like, and did any aspects of R-type have any influence on your artwork (and if so, which one)?

Again R-type was groundbreaking on release. I loved the innovative end of level bosses ( based on the film alien ), they were very different from what we had seen before, being more a mix of robotic and organic.

Did the game Bubble Bobble inspire the Poked Bot Drivers? If not, what inspired Poked Bot Drivers?

They are based on the smiley, a visual icon created by Harvey Ball. ( though others have a claim to it as well ) We used to draw them on our books in school. I remember turning them into characters.

The above image paints a dystopian future. Do you view the world we live in now as generally good or bad? Do you see your artwork heading more in this direction, and if so, why? If not, what direction/theme do you see?

I find dystopia very interesting. I can't see how we are not heading there in some way. When humans try to make progress, they end up making it even worse again. We have to accept some level of change and that the world we grow up in is not permanent.

Do you own any other NFTs, and if so, which is your favorite?

Yes, I have around 400 ICP NFT’s! I have various Apes, Cats, Kitties, geometric shapes, and a lot more!

Poked Bots

How did the concept for Poked Bots come about and how long it took  to design 10,000 bots ?

I already started creating these robots several years ago, the initial idea was to create a short animation with them. When I started reading up on generative NFT’s I realized they would make a great NFT project. I could see how I could use the drivers as the central characters and how each Bot could be different.

Why DFINITY and the Internet Computer?

Because I had worked with the DFINITY team on various projects, I quickly made the needed connections to make the project work.


In addition to Blender, Affinity, Photoshop, what other tools/software/hardware (if any) were used to create the Bots?

Apart from the script created by Entrepot's Bob Bodily, that was it.


What frustrations were faced during the design process?

There were a lot of issues with Blender ( the 3D software ) crashing and corrupting files. Also, I had to do lots of testing and adjust the models to make sure they all fit together correctly. I had to check all 10,000 visually files, but the files were synced to Dropbox, and unbeknown to me, it wasn’t showing me all the files in osx. So I did miss a few things.


Who helped with the marketing of Poked Bots (if any)? Before Poked Bots, did you have any prior experience with marketing and/or Discord? In addition to marketing, did the DFINITY Foundation assist PokedStudio in any other way (for example, a grant)?

I have quite a bit of marketing experience, but DFINITY did tweet about the release, so this did give a helpful boost to the project! I never had a grant, the project was all self-funded.

Why is a Wild Bot so unique? If there is a lore/theme behind the Wild Bot, what would it be (in, say, a short sentence)?

They are part of the god bots collection and have a special role in the bots universe. Most of them have them have mutated and have multi drivers.


Which was the most difficult Poked Bot to design and/or which is the most complex?

The ultimate master was the most complex to design. Also some of the food bots were tricky as it was hard to get the parts to fit together well, so I had to do a lot of experimenting.

The Golden Bot, which was sold for 3000 ICP, reminds me of Han Solo being frozen in carbonite, the difference being that the Bot is still wide awake. Did Star Wars have any influence whatsoever on this Golden Bot or any other bots?

Yeah, he has been frozen in a golden carbonite substance for 10,000 years, no one even knows his true origin, but maybe he will be awakened …


What is the most likely use case for the Poked Bots in the future (apart from them being mouth-watering eye-popping Robots)? If you were to create a game for Poked Bots, what type of game would you like it to be?

I would love to see a game and an animation with the bots. A 3D game, where you can explore the bots world and modify your bots would be great!

How long did it take you to create the entire collection of bots, and can you share with us the challenges faced along the way?

It's hard to say as some of the designs were created several years ago. But I would guess in total, around six months of work went into it over several years.

What are Poked Bots' strengths compared to Mekaverse?

They are full bots, not just the head, and they are more detailed by far!

Any Insight on Gen 2 Bots ?

Yes, Gen 2 Mutant Bots are the stage 2 of the Poked Bots project. These bots will be fully 3D & Animated

The Future


IC Gallery / 3D Moonwalkers recently received a $100,000 grant from Dfinity Foundation to further develop its metaverse and NFTs. Is PokedStudio planning to obtain a grant from Dfinity Foundation and/or open-source funding via the SNS (in the form of a DAO?)

I’ve worked as a freelancer for DFINITY, so not sure I meet the criteria for a grant. If someone else has a good business proposition or wants to work on a Poked bots game and intends to apply for a grant and team up with us that would be great!

Any collaboration plans with other NFT projects and/or IC dApps? If so, which is the project / dApp that PokedStudio will most likely collaborate with?

We are in talks with a few different parties but are yet to decide on the best way forward yet.

In terms of design, what takes up your time the most these days: logos, characters (bots), commercial art (within a design brief), or something else?

I’m no longer accepting commercial projects as I want to focus on the Poked bots and my un-game_land animation project. I still also do visual design work for the DFINITY foundation.

Do you still use Blender and Affinity for your artwork? If so, what are your top 3 tips on using these programs to create a work of art?

Yes, they are my main tools. Each of them takes time to learn. I’ve used Blender for around 17 years now, and I am still learning all the time. Persistence is key!

Did you enjoy the creation process for Poked Bots, and will you continue creating a metaverse for these Bots as we advance?

Yes, Poked bots is my favorite project I have ever worked on. I can't imagine stopping making these characters.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions 😊. I am sure everyone will be as excited as me for the Bots' future.

Connect with Poked Bots

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Connect with the author: Twitter | Email | Distrikt

Graphic Designer  - Jay Damani: Twitter | Instagram


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