Interview: Nathan Jurevicius on creating Scarygirl
Recently we sat down with creator Nathan Jurevicius, whose brand has inspired the new Scarygirl title on XBLA and PSN. We talk about Scarygirl's beginnings and evolution, from comic strip to browser game to graphic novel and now consoles; discuss Jurevicius' partnership with TikGames and Square Enix; set the record straight about the animated film; and more.
GameZone: Scarygirl is big, but it's not your only work. To start, tell us a little about your other creations—and yourself!
Nathan Jurevicius: I'm an Australian artist mainly based in Canada. I began my professional career as an editorial illustrator around 1995 for a number of magazines, including The Wall Street Journal, MacUser, and The Age. In 2001, conceptual designs on an interactive concept called Scarygirl started happening but was put on hold when I was approached to create limited edition toys with a company from Hong Kong. Since that time, I've partnered with Sophie Byrne of Passion Pictures Australia to create an award-winning online game and graphic novel based on Scarygirl, numerous products, and development of an animated feature film.
Scarygirl is what I'm mainly known for, but, as you've stated, it's not all that I've done. Over the past fifteen or so years, I've helped create short animated films and character designs for many companies around the world, including a multi-award-winning campaign for MTV called "Fauna," the Australian mascot (Kamone) for the World Expo in Aichi, Japan, and a new online game/TV series for the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] based on my Peleda (Owl) universe.
GZ: Describe your method of illustration. How has it changed over the years?
NJ: When I first began illustrating, I used acrylic and pencil for all my pieces. I was obsessed with old animation cells from Warner Bros and Disney. Later I taught myself to use the computer and started creating work using the vector letters/numbers in Painter (this was way back before I learned Illustrator). Eventually, I focused on pure computer-based illustration. My work now resembles a combination of the original art I used to do and a better understanding of Illustrator and Photoshop. For all my fine art shows, I prefer to use watercolor and ink (in fact, this is my medium of choice over anything else).
GZ: There was word you teamed up with Sophie Byrne to option Scarygirl for an animated feature film. What's the latest on that?
NJ: Yes, I have been working with Sophie on all Scarygirl-related projects since 2004, and we’re now in the exciting stages of having the final draft almost complete and the film ready to package for market.
GZ: Are you hopeful that Square Enix's recent involvement will help bump Scarygirl up on people's radars? Is your plan to go more global with Scarygirl? You are from Australia, but the game is getting a US release. What other regions is it being released in?
NJ: Square Enix and TikGames are both great partners, and it's nice to see them expanding the styles of games they release. They have excellent connections to get the word out, and gamers know who they are. The game is getting a worldwide release for XBLA on the 18th January, a PSN release in the States on the 24th of January, and a PC version will be coming in early 2012.
GZ: Scarygirl started as a series of cartoon strips before you made it into a graphic novel, collectible vinyl toys, and a popular web Flash game. What is Scarygirl, and why do you think it's resonated so well with your fans?
NJ: I suppose one of the main things I try to do in all my projects is to create a backstory and an entire universe around the character. I want to be engaged with what I make, and it helps to make it live in my mind—which I think resonates with others when I tell her tale. There are a number of relatable things within the Scarygirl world, too (despite it being a fantasy world). I look at what’s personal to me, the struggles/fears I've gone through, and bring that into Scarygirl's existence. You'll notice that nearly all the characters have small flaws and yet are still powerful in their own way. We all have these issues and are all on a journey to discover what we want in life—in many ways her story is a little parable played out in multiple mediums, each with their own little skew.
GZ: Tell us about the story of the original graphic novel. In what ways was it an accomplishment for you?
NJ: Originally the novel was developed as a one page, wordless comic that was published each week in a Hong Kong-based magazine back in the early 2000s. The story follows Scarygirl being abandoned and discovered, and then a journey takes place. All up there were thirty weeks’ worth of pages ending with the discovery of Dr. Maybee's lab. The graphic novel is a redesigned, re-illustrated version of the comic, but the details and character development have been enhanced. We discover a lot more about the personality of Blister the octopus, Bunniguru and his dark side, and are also introduced to Treedweller, Chihoohoo, and Egg. During the creation of the book I was going through a bit of an intense time and living in Providence, Rhode Island. It was my first graphic novel and the largest amount of sequential illustrations I had ever done. It was nice to be recognized for the work at the 2009 Aurealis Awards.
GZ: The graphic novel is available for purchase in the US through Last Gasp Books (and retailers like Barnes & Noble), correct? Any plans for an updated version or digital release? Or a sequel?
NJ: Yes, the novel can be bought online worldwide and in various bookstores/specialty shops throughout the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries. There's also a Portuguese version published by ARX in Brazil. I'm currently working on the sequel right now—due for release at the end of 2012. There may be plans for a digital release, too.
GZ: What kind of challenges did bringing Scarygirl to developer TikGames and publisher Square Enix present?
NJ: Probably the biggest challenge for TikGames was making sure we had a game that fit into the Scarygirl universe. It needed to be visually and narratively true to the novel, toys, and online game, yet bring something new and exciting to the table. Getting your head around an indie brand that's been bubbling away for ten years can be fairly daunting—especially when you have fans expecting a high standard achieved from companies that take on Scarygirl.
GZ: How has the partnership with TikGames and Square Enix benefited the game and Scarygirl in general?
NJ: It's definitely helped reach a new audience beyond the fans of the original online game and anything we have done in the past with Scarygirl. I'm hoping it will also enlighten a lot more people to her backstory, showing depth to her world and all the various personalities within it.
GZ: How much involvement with the new game have you had? Are you overseeing the game in any way, or is your influence minor? You reportedly had a lot of artistic freedom when you worked on the browser game.
NJ: The online game was wholly developed by Passion Pictures Australia, me, and with Film Victoria's assistance. On that project we were running the show and had total freedom. The console game was quite a different beast to deal with! My role initially on the game was approving various visuals and sketching potential characters and elements for the environments. As time progressed, I think TikGames was impressed with my input, so my involvement increased and I spent a lot more time in-house with the developers finessing the environments/designs. Time is always an issue with games and there's only so much you can get done before delivery, but I feel like the small team did an amazing job, and I'm really pleased with what they achieved.
GZ: Are there any new characters or other goodies that you helped design for the new game that veterans of Scarygirl should look out for?
NJ: You'll see a bunch of new characters that were either toy concepts that were never made or are part of limited edition blind box figures I designed with Kidrobot. These include all the healers and vendors in the game and most of the swamp characters. My favorite enemies in this new game include the Ghost Squids (evil squids that hide under the shell of a woman’s head) and the Swamp Elders (ancient skeletons covered in slime that spew poisonous goo at you).
One of my favorite things in the game is co-op. It really enhances the gameplay and actually changes the way you can battle creatures. Bunniguru's moves are totally different from Scarygirl's, and when you time certain actions together you can create super moves. Bunniguru also acts as Scarygirl's mentor when you enter the dojo.
GZ: The downloadable Scarygirl title is an entirely new game, correct? Are there any similarities between this new game and the Flash game? And how do they differ?
NJ: Yes, it's a totally new game with a new storyline. The only similarity between the Flash game and this one is that you are on a journey to the city and Dr. Maybee is the man you must encounter at the end. There are also familiar characters, such as Bunniguru, Blister, and Treedweller, obviously. Aside from this, everything else has been designed from scratch—new worlds, artwork, gameplay, backstories, and ending.
GZ: How do you like the 3D look of the new Scarygirl?
NJ: Having created over fifty characters that have been made into toys, I'm used to seeing them in three dimensions. Though, it is surprising to see how she moves and what she’s capable of in this game. It's the first time she's really been powered-up and utilized her arm for more than just swinging. The 3D version of Scarygirl in Scary Mode is pretty crazy, and I like how it's something no one has seen her do before.
GZ: For you, what's been the most exciting part of this whole process of having Scarygirl made into a console game?
NJ: On a technical side, it was really enjoyable to see the worlds being built not merely for an animation, but as an actual playable universe. I liked the way the story also developed throughout the game. It's inspired me to get involved more in the early stages of game design.
GZ: Where would you like to take Scarygirl next?
NJ: We have some great DLC content being made for the Scarygirl game, and completing part two of the novel is also on the list. It's the ten-year anniversary of Scarygirl, and I'm planning on a group show later this year to celebrate. The biggest thing next for Scarygirl will be the film—very excited about this!
GZ: What are your favorite games and comics?
NJ: I grew up reading Tintin and Asterix comics and was a big fan of the old Superman and Spider-Man comics. I remember I learned to draw anatomy as a kid based on Spider-Man—probably the reason all my feet have only one toe. As far as games go I used to love playing the Jak and Daxter series and for a while got into World of Warcraft. I just bought myself an Xbox Kinect, so we’ll see how that goes.
Visit the official website of Scarygirl or follow Nathan Jurevicius on Twitter.