Illustration and animation studio Squid&Pig gives classic Street Fighter characters a cute, kawaii makeover in animated tributes that showcase the value of personal projects.

If you’re a child of the Eighties, Street Fighter likely left a lasting impression. The 2D fighting game from Capcom was a hit at the time thanks to its engaging combat mechanics and distinctive characters, and amongst its many fans is the creative team at the creative studio Squid&Pig.

Based in Valencia, Squid&Pig has over ten years of experience designing cute characters inspired by Japan’s kawaii aesthetic. Their client list includes the likes of Google, YouTube, and Mattel, but for one of their latest projects, they’ve decided to make something just for themselves. And it all loops back to the arcade gaming culture they grew up enjoying.

“We remember when Street Fighter II was released, and we were amazed by its design, illustration, and gameplay,” Squid&Pig co-founder Andrés Sanchis tells Creative Boom. “Many good memories are tied to spending coins at the arcade or playing nonstop on home consoles with friends.

“Additionally, Street Fighter II was a significant part of our introduction to the Japanese market, its culture, manga, and the universe that made us so happy. In this tribute, we tried to rekindle that memory, reviewing it with fresh eyes, and pay tribute to Capcom for the many hours of fun it provided.”

Simply titled Street Fighter II: The World Warrior Tribute, this personal project saw familiar characters redesigned with a cute look that aligns with the other creations in the Squid&Pig universe. “The idea was to take something as tough and strong as the original designs were and filter them through our own style, which emphasizes fun, approachability, cuteness, and kawaii elements,” Andrés adds.

“We exaggerated the characters as much as possible, pushing the size of their heads, eyes, and arms to the limit while maintaining the original reference. It was sometimes challenging but very fun!”

As well as being a fun tribute to a game they loved, this project also worked as an effective showcase of Squid&Pig’s capabilities as animators. It also demonstrates how, with good study and analysis, any project, idea, or concept can be given a cute look by using a more current visual language that references the source material.

“We believe it showcases how we work and help our clients find the right balance to connect kindly with their clients,” says Andrés. “For us, it’s a simple way to have fun and pay tribute to a cultural piece that has influenced us so much.”

At the heart of this project, as is the case with many tributes, is a lot of fun and learning. “In this animation, we tried to learn to limit our keyframes in order to mimic the limited sprites of the original,” Andrés reveals. “We also learned to add textures directly into the animation using Adobe After Effects. Trying not to overdo things and only including what’s necessary is often the most challenging part of a project like this.”

Indeed, simplifying the characters into something cute while retaining the essence of what made them likeable in the first place proved to be the biggest challenge of this animation project. “We tried to be geometric while retaining the warmth of the characters,” says Andrés. “We wanted them to feel soft and cute, so we eliminated elements and assessed which details we could remove.

“Another complex part was the lights and shadows created with textures. We wanted complete control, and we made them so they could be modified at any time, with a vector base, so we could adjust and move them if needed in each keyframe. This gave us a headache every time we rendered it to see the result. But it was worth it, as we believe it gives it a different style.”

Out of all the characters created, the old favourite, Chun-Li, still came out on top for Andrés and the team. “For everything she represents – her strength, power, beauty, and independence,” he says. “She is an important character in the series, and although she is difficult to play initially, she becomes deadly. Additionally, the original character design by Akira Nishitani is beautiful and has become an icon in video game culture.”

Regarding the animation, though, Ryu proved to be the most enjoyable to work on. “It was a double challenge: making a good adaptation of the original and differentiating him in both drawing and animation from his counterpart, Ken,” says Andrés.

“In the original game, they are almost identical, but we wanted to convey the characters’ different personalities. Ryu is a more serious, strong, and disciplined character compared to a more fun, carefree, and cheerful Ken. I’m not sure if all this is reflected in the animations, but for us, it’s all in the character’s redesign. And that makes him our favourite!”

Projects like this, where creatives work on something they’ve set for themselves, are perfect for experimenting and trying new things. For Squid&Pig, it’s also an opportunity to reach new places where clients usually aren’t given the creative freedom to explore.

“Creating projects for fun gives you the freedom to go further, experiment and grow as an illustrator,” Andrés concludes. “We love working with clients, but sometimes, in seeking the best result for the job, we limit ourselves. This is good for certain things, like the project’s goal and feasibility, but bad for our personal creativity and growth as artists.

“We always advocate that commercial illustrators occasionally undertake fun projects that take them to new and interesting places. And who knows, new clients might come from these new paths explored.”

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