Art Essay: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Impressionism

For this essay, I am going to talk about the art movement Impressionism, and the way that this art movement has impacted the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword’s main art style and aesthetic choices.

The art movement Impressionism dates to 19th Century France, and it’s mostly characterised by bright and pure colours and tones, made with small brush strokes. An easy way to describe this art style is that it’s like a glimpse of the subject, take for example a scene, but you only catch a fast and slightly blurry glimpse of what you want to see, that is how impressionist art looks. These paintings traditionally use lots of bright, and vibrant colours, and even though this art style looks blurry, it still has an abundance detail. Most impressionist art has many finer details, mostly incorporated by adding a mixture of strokes together to show shadows and light reflections. Classic examples of impressionist artists include Edgar Degas, an artist who focused mainly on figures and poses of ballerinas, and added immense detail into the costumes and surroundings of the ballerinas by using pure, yet subdued colours, and another personal favorite, Claude Monet, who mostly focused on beautiful outdoor landscapes, and showing the subtle changes in atmosphere in these places, famous examples including gardens and seaside locations. A favorite piece of Claude Monet’s art is Water Lily Pond, which uses bright and lustrous greens and blues with very small brush strokes to create a serene but stimulating environment.

Traditionally, impressionist art was created with oil paints (or in more modern impressionism, water colours are also a popular choice) and canvas, and to create the effect they did, the artists used small dabs and flicks of bright and purely coloured paint. They used a variation of tones for smaller details like shadows, and most artists used lighter colours to highlight the focus of the painting, for example Claude Monet’s painting Water Lily Pond uses lighter tones to highlight the bridge, on a sea of bright green shrubbery and plant life. To digitally replicate impressionist artwork, the first step would depend on having a graphics tablet, because it is much easier to create brush strokes with a tablet than it is to with a mouse. Secondly, it would require the art software of choice, and you would need to choose bright colours. Most objects only ever need 2-3 colours, the main colour, the shade colour, and possibly a white highlight colour if attention needs to be drawn to that object. In terms of painting, the art style mostly requires small brushes to make it look right. The best way to do this would be to block out the main colours on their own layer, then on a new layer, add the shading, and for highlighting make a new layer too.

My chosen game to focus on was the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, because this was the first time in the series that this art style was used, and it gave the game a much different feel. Traditionally, Zelda games have always used a variety of art styles, ranging from pixel sprites to cell shaded 3D games, however in 2010 when the Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword was announced, people went crazy when this new stylistic choice was made. An interview with Shigeru Miyamoto shows that the impressionist art style in Skyward Sword was based mainly on the works of artist Paul Cézanne. Miyamoto is a fan of the “soft, warm colours and wayward brush strokes of Cézanne’s artwork”, and this art style is represented throughout the game in so many ways.

The first thing I analysed was the scenery and environments within the game. More specifically, the houses in Skyloft, the Faron woods, and the Skyview temple. The impressionist art style is used on every location within the game, but these examples are particularly good for a few specific reasons. The first place with a strong example of impressionist art is inside the knight academy and houses on Skyloft. The textures on the walls and floors of these buildings are prime examples of the impressionist style, because on the floor you can see strokes and dots of different coloured browns to symbolise a stone pattern. And on the walls, there is a similar thing but this just looks like wallpaper, however there are small decorative stones at the bottom of the wall, and that add subtle detail that fits the impressionist style. The floors are furnished with carpets that also use the “small strokes of paint” style, and this makes the carpets look like a different texture entirely.

Another landscape that uses the impressionist art style well is the Sky. The Sky is a separate section of the game from any other, it is how Link traverses between different lands and areas of the game, and stylistically is one of the most iconic sections of the game. The Sky is an area where Link flies on a bird above a bed of clouds, and this is a section where the art style flourishes. This area is specifically inspired by Cézanne’s art, more specifically his landscape art. After looking at the sky in Cézanne’s art, it appears watercolour paint based, and the clouds are usually taking up most of the sky. The cloud bed in the Sky looks like it was made with the traditional way of making small strokes, and the clouds higher up all look like lines were painted with a thicker brush. The colours of the clouds are all very pure and soft, and contrast well with the bright blue colour used on the sky. The small islands look like they were dotted there randomly, because no two ever look the same, are all in different Y axis. The Sky looks so vast, it looks limitless wherever Link travels because the horizon keeps on going like a sprawling sea of clouds, and the Thunderhead is a good example of the use of small strokes with darker colours to effectively emphasise shadows.


The next landscape I analysed was the Faron Woods. This looks different to the indoors because of the use of bright, vibrant greens, and compares well to Monet’s Water Lily Pond. The Faron Woods is another iconic area from the game, because most of the released concept art shows design work made for this area. This concept art shows a zoomed-out perspective of the Faron Woods, with the main tree as the focus of the image. The art style for this concept is distinctly inspired by one of Cézanne’s pieces of art. The impressionist style is extremely blatant with this art, it isn’t toned down because the concept art isn’t affected by gameplay, and there are subtle references to Cézanne’s art dotted throughout this art. There are mountains in the background that are similar to the mountains in one of Cézanne’s paintings, the cloudy sky and the rolling grass is also reminiscent of Cézanne’s work. The main tree has swirling branches which aren’t like Cézanne’s work, however could be a reference to Vincent van Gough’s Starry Night. The leaves on this tree look like they have been selectively doted near the tree, and don’t look connected to the tree itself, which makes this piece of art look further inspired by impressionist art as a movement. In actual gameplay, the rock walls are covered with grass at the top, and the rock and dirt of this area makes good use of using small strokes and dabs of paint to create a stylised texture, that is detailed enough to work in a game environment, but reflects the impressionist movement considerably. Another breathtaking feature of the Faron woods is the trees, which look reminiscent of Monet’s painting Woman with a Parasol. The trunk of the tree brings to mind the woman’s dress in the painting, because of the twisted shape and soft white tones, and the way the leaves are shaped with their curved canopy makes them look similar to her parasol. Some more small details that are linked to impressionist artwork are the variety of plant life that live within Faron Woods. There are swirling vines that are curled up in various areas dotted around the map that you need to shoot down to use, but before you do that, they are curled into a swirl, which is classically another thing that people associate with more modern impressionism, such as Vincent van Gough’s Starry Night. There are also bright green swirly plants that grow out of the ground, and also grow in caves. The ones that grow in caves glow and subtly resonate a blue light, which is reminiscent of Starry Night. The colours used in the Faron woods are similar to the beautiful greens and blues of Monet’s Water Lily Pond, and perhaps with this inspiration, the Faron woods are full of vivid and bright greens. Looking closer at the leaves on the trees, it is visible that the texture itself was painted with impressionist inspired blotches and droplets of colourful greens, which is a nice detail for any players that inspects the leaves.

Bibliography – general impressionism knowledge



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