Aled Lewis is a young, London-based designer and illustrator mashing up popular culture in style. His retro, pixellated work is a who’s who of my childhood. From Guybrush Threepwood to Donkey Kong, the nostalgia’s infectious. Most of the time, it’s the creativity of the idea and the fun in the execution that’s most striking. Besides video games, working with sites like Threadless and Woot, Aled’s also an in-demand t-shirt designer, responsible for one of the most popular shirts on the whole Threadless site. I caught up with him over a pint to find out more.
How long have you been designing and illustrating for?
For as long as I can remember, really. I studied graphic design at London Met, finished in 2008 or 2009.
With such a strong video game influence, you have to be a gamer?
Yes! I’ve been a gamer all my life.
What are you playing at the moment?
FIFA’s probably the game I’ve put the most hours into. Other than that, Black Ops and all the Call of Duty kind of games.
Who are some of your favourite girls of gaming?
Er… I think Lara Croft’s right up there. And I’ve got to give a shout out to Princess Zelda.
What’s the idea between Cammy and Chun Li’s Kiss? Just from Googling the characters, both seem pretty popular with the cosplayers?
Yeah, they’re both big with the cosplay scene. That image, 'The Kiss', is really famous. I just thought it would be funny to mash up pop culture characters with a pop culture image. And it’s been popular so far, so...
Top five old-school games?
Oh man… This is in no particular order: Prince of Persia, the 1989 version, Xenon 2, Golden Axe, Golden Eye 64, and I got a lot of time out of Pilot Wings as well.
Who are some of your favourite video game artists? Like, who’s behind the iconic Donkey Kong and Mario images?
There’s a couple of galleries in LA, like I Am 8-Bit Productions and Gallery 1988, showing artists whose work is based on pop culture. They’re getting a lot of attention at the moment. People like Scott C and Jim Mahfood are killing it. I can’t remember the name of the dude that invented Mario (Ed - Shigeru Miyamoto).
Do you prefer old school video game art and pixilated images to modern day HD graphics?
To be honest, it’s just something I’m playing with. It’s a lot of fun to work in pixels. It’s kind of abstract. It’s nostalgic. It reminds people of their childhood.
What’s the idea behind mashups like Homer Simpson and Paperboy, or the DeLorean and Doctor Who?
I think the fun is combining elements of popular culture that people recognise in a new way. It’s also the pleasure people get from recognising it. If people get it, it excites them.
One of your most striking series is Gaming Meets Real Life. Any deep philosophical explanations?
Not really. It started off with the Ski Free yeti coming out of the forest, imitating those classic blurry Bigfoot photos. The thought behind it is, when you’re playing those games, when you’re a kid, you become completely immersed in that atmosphere, even though it’s really crude and pixilated. Even as an adult, that world is really real.
Do you take the photos yourself?
I source them. I take ages trying to find the right photos. If I did the project again, I’d take the photographs myself. I stopped at 12. I didn’t want to do too much and get people bored of it.
How do you make the final image?
I usually work from Google images of the 8-bit characters, the actual sprites. Then I build it on a grid in Illustrator, pixel by pixel by pixel. Then I transport the pixilated image into Photoshop and blend it into the photo.
Is the series just for your own personal amusement or was it commissioned work?
For my own amusement. I’m trying to make an effort this year to be more productive. I’m doing a 365, make something every day project. Two or three weeks into it, I started doing those.
And how’s the project going? Have you missed a day?
I might be two days behind. Every now and again I do a catch up.
What’s been your most popular t-shirt so far - Hot Chicks On Wolves?
No, it’s a design called The Horde. An homage to zombie movies. That one’s super popular.
And what’s next, more video game images?
At the moment, I’m still enjoying pixels; mashing things up with 8-bit, 16-bit art and that kind of thing. I’m also doing client work at the same time, so I’m always trying to balance the two.
You’ve got a trailer for Dead Island on your blog, what other games are you looking forward to in 2011?
Arkham City… There’s loads I’m looking forward to, I just can’t think of them. I got Little Big Planet 2 the other week. That was awesome.
To keep up with Aled, check out his website, Tumblr and Flickr. To order Aled Lewis t-shirts from Threadless, click here.