The Spyro Reignited Trilogy has soared into our hearts. One of the individuals responsible for its breathtaking design is Nicholas Kole. He’s an amazing artist who designed the unique dragons that litter these remastered worlds.
I was lucky enough to sit down and chat with him and discuss his life, his loves, and his thoughts on working on this special project.
Thanks so much, Nicholas for accepting the interview invite.
Oh, it’s my pleasure.
Where does your love of artistry come from? Was it in your family?
Yeah, my mother is an illustrator. She does children’s book work and used to do illustrations for news media when that was a lot more in vogue so there were a lot of markers and pencils around the house. So when I started to show an interest it was quite easy for me to move into a space where I was being encouraged and supplied with lots of tools for that.
So how long before you realised this is my path, I want to continue this after I finish high school or did it even start then in high school?
High School was definitely a turning point and there were a few things. I think one of the main ey turning points for me was watching the special features of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and watching the team at WETA Workshop just all caught in the joy of creating and designing all these costumes and set pieces and armour and creatures. Everything was so rich and interesting and they seemed so inspired and that was a definite moment where I thought I’d love to work on a team like that.
Where did you go to college to further your career?
I was accepted into the Rhode Island School of Design which is on the east coast of the United States. I actually grew up in Europe and was living in Austria at the time and it’s quite expensive to go to American Universities so I was so grateful to get financial aid to help me out there because otherwise, Art School can be really expensive. I wound up studying there for the full 4 years, got a degree in illustration and that was really formative for me I think every artist is different some people can be really successful going the self-taught route I needed some peers around me to intimidate me and some professors to really push me out of my comfort zone so I’m really grateful for that experience.
So you said there you were in Austria. Were you born in Austria and moved to America or did your parents have you in America and moved to Austria?
The latter, my folks met overseas as travellers and we came back around when my sister and I were born. My dad is a journalist with the Associated Press which means we followed his job.
What about your sister does she have the same proclivity to art as yourself?
It’s interesting we both had a proclivity for it as kids but we started to diverge around about high school. She had much more of a pull towards writing and acting and the art thing really took over for me so she works a full-time Minister as a campus program in the States and is always speaking and engaging people.
So we’re here to discuss your art that’s taking the world by storm and if anyone is on Twitter and hashtag Spyro Reignited Trilogy they will find you very quickly. I mean that’s how I found you myself so was game development and concept art a plan or did you fall into it?
It’s interesting yeah I did in a way. From the outset when I graduated from college all I knew was I wanted to draw and I love comics and movies and shows and games and toys. The whole bunch of it sparks my interest and the biggest industry when I graduated in 2009 was games and I signed up full time with a studio which unfortunately collapsed a few years later but games had already gotten their claws in me and I was really excited about the possibilities of that industry that was expanding. I still find as a freelancer specifically I’m able to work across all these mediums so I’m still able to create art for animated films, shows, and concept art in that space and I can be a little more choosy about the game projects I pick. I’ll also do stuff for toys and kids books so I love having such a broad scope of projects to work on because I think that helps me grow.
You mentioned there that you’ve worked on several projects with toys. If you can list some of the other games and kind of toys you’ve worked on?
Yeah for sure. Toywise I’ve worked with both Mattel and Hasbro at different times. The longest gig was with Hasbro on the Play-Doh brand which was a lot of fun. That included a lot of drawing but also a lot f me sitting on the floor of Hasbro offices literally playing with Play-Doh. I was rolling, it shaping it and trying to help them with designing characters and ideas for the brand and for storytelling. Other games and that sort of thing in the platformer space I had a little bit to do with a game called Lucky’s Tale that was out last year for the Xbox and that was a fun project. I’ve done work for fantasy MOBA projects like Dawngate which was around for a while and I did a webcomic associated with that and there was a project called Shardbound which was a turn-based strategy kind of game and that was a couple years back. Funny enough as you follow the threads of jobs and people as one project closes up people move on to the next one and I’ve followed a lot of the people I like all the way to Spyro.
It’s incredible that you mentioned Play-Doh there. It’s a hallmark all around the world. Did that give you any inspiration for your pet project, your original ideas the Jellybots?
That’s a good question. It actually worked the other way around. I had started those concepts and I think it was 2010 or 2011 to poke at this idea of Jellybots. It had been a long-term kind of in my spare time development project and I went in to interview with the folks at Hasbro and we got to talking and I had brought my portfolio and I brought a couple comics and things that I had created and sold at cons and one of these was a Jellybots book and I passed that over while we were talking. So they went through it and asked for more Jellybots art and I showed them more of that and they actually left the room had a pow wow, came back and the whole job description had changed in the interim time. They were like – actually we have this other thing we were thinking about and that’s how I ended up on the Play-Doh team.
That’s amazing because as we get into Spyro I noticed a lot of art creating art and that’s fascinating that your art further inspired them that allowed you to grow your career.
Yeah, and it was cool because the art I had done for Jellybots was something that was very close to my heart. The colour palette, the brightness, and playfulness of that world and that was the thread that followed through with Play-Doh and it was really cool to realise that if I was putting stuff out in my portfolio that I really believed in that sometimes people would connect with that and then I could continue that thread of stylistic and visual development which is very satisfying.
So, Nicholas, I suppose we have to eventually get to it. Spyro Reignited Trilogy, how did you come across that and were you a fan when it came out in 1998?
1998, and then 2000 yeah I was a big fan. I think at the time with PlayStation, the original there wasn’t something with that colour palette and something with this particular gentle sort of mysterious energy to it that I was really drawn to. Plus dragons, of course, I get to be a dragon and even now it feels weirdly rare – flying, breathing fire, and the fantasy getting to embody a dragon which is really fun to my kid brain. So yes I was a fan and there’s a story that I haven’t told for a number of years.
When I was in college there was an opportunity for me to apply for an internship to apply to Insomniac Games and I did and I was really excited because that was when Ratchet & Clank was still a pretty new franchise and I loved the aesthetic and the team behind it Creature Box. I was super hyped and then I realised these were the people who created Spyro That alone lit me up and I was wandering around my campus at the time and it was weird, I found a little toy on the ground. It was a Spyro phone charm that had fallen off their phone or out of their pocket and I picked it up off the sidewalk and thought it was a sign. Unfortunately, the internship didn’t work out at all so it wasn’t a sign at the time and I remember being really disappointed and frustrated about how everything had turned out but I never forgot that moment now years later it was a very surreal day when a coworker of mine who I’d worked with on Shardbound went on to become the art director on Spyro and he tapped me on the shoulder and was like – hey man I don’t know, it feels like this might be a good fit for you but would you like to join us on Spyro because we’d had such a good working relationship. I had this very weird out of body experience where I was picking up that Spyro toy and I was like YES! It’s silly, I don’t really believe in that.
But you can if you want lol because that sounds pretty amazing.
Yeah, it was a fun moment and notwithstanding I was really excited to play in that world and we had a great time.
What I loved about the original Spyro was the many dragons but even my young gamer brain was like – these all look the same save for one or two colour swaps and then you guys come along and give each dragon their own personality, their own voice, and each varying colours, varying sizes, weight, dimensions. What was it like going back to your childhood and then getting to go back give your own touch of fanservice?
We were pinching ourselves the whole time. It was a pretty bold move by our art director. He spearheaded that concept and so we started to look development for the dragons and of course, the earliest stages were really broad and really adventurous and we had a really killer team of artists doing concept work so those early dragon explorations were really inspiring. So we were there going we’re going to try and get as much of this into the final project as possible so every part of the process we kept checking back and making sure it was alright to go this deep. We had one toe out the door just in case.
There you have it a glimpse into the world behind the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. If you want to learn more about Nicholas be sure and check out the links below to see all his incredible work.