From Russia to Japan: Achieving Dreams with Ilya Kuvshinov
Hailing from Penza, a small city in western Russia, Ilya Kuvshinov has established a name for himself within Japan’s cutthroat animation industry, now residing in Tokyo, Japan.
He has received high praise from Hideo Kojima for his work on multiple occasions, and has amassed one of the largest followings of any artist in the world, reaching millions with his artwork through social media.
*All art contained with this piece is credited to Ilya Kuvshinov, unless otherwise credited.
- Follow Ilya on Instagram and Twitter.
- Visit his ArtStation page here and his Patreon page here.
- For more information regarding his upcoming exhibition, Vivid, refer here.
Ilya Kuvshinov is a prime example of an exceptionally talented artist, who has achieved success primarily due to social media presence. In an era where society thrives on digital interaction and connection, it seemed interesting to strike upon the opportunity of how it all came together in Ilya’s case.
He’s an extremely humble and reserved person, grateful for everything he has, fame and fortune alike. I wanted to go back in time to see what made his art bug tick, and we worked our way up from there.
Well, I had started drawing a lot from 4 years old – both of my parents are art college graduates, so they were only supporting me in any scribbles I came up with. Then, at six years old I’ve seen Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell – I was scared, but charmed at the same time.A hand-drawn movie of that impact and quality? Now I know what I want to do for [the rest of my] life!
First, my teachers at lyceum when I was 11-17 years old. Following that, I found out about the existence of the internet. I was influenced by hundreds and hundreds of awesome artists – I wanted to draw just like them!
Alphonse Mucha and Bernie Fuchs are my all-time favorites!
Japanese manga, anime, and games hooked me [in] seriously, starting from age 13.[Ilya goes on to list his favorites of each]Mangas:
- Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou
- Ghost in the Shell
- Shamanic PrincessGames:
- Persona (the whole series)
- The World Ends With You[a short period of reflection]All of those titles resonated deeply with me and made me seriously dream about working in the industry.At 21, I got my first ever full-time job as a concept artist for a video game development company in Russia, and then at 23 moved to another company to storyboard/direct/art-direct 24-episodes of a motion comic series called Knights of the Void.I loved doing storyboards so much, after the series finale I decided to try and improve more and try to move to Japan to learn from industry professionals.
Keiko Kinefuchi, an editor from PIE International, emailed me one day proposing to publish my first personal artwork collection book.Thanks to this book, my career in Japan was kick-started!
Keiichi Hara, director of animated movies like Colorful and Miss Hokusai found my book in the bookstore, yes.Luckily, the book was unpacked and Hara could freely check out the contents. It seems as though he liked it, because he contacted me right away, asking if I’d like to work on his movie as a character designer.
More of [Shigenori] Soejima actually!
I can’t say I have a distinct style, more like just always trying different approaches and shadings – you can find a lot of my more manga-ish illustrations, and also a lot of realistic illustrations as well.So, you can say I’m still searching.
Yes, I just want (in the case of the internet) people to associate my name with my arts, not my face or body. As simple as that.
“Art” is too general, I think. There’s so many different professions in the industry you could call an art – comic artist, concept artist, storyboard artist, background artist, art-director, matte painter, costume designer, etc.It’s easy to have full-time job as an artist in entertainment industry these days, and still also have art as hobby after work. That’s what I am doing (laughing).
iMac Pro + Wacom Cintiq (Photoshop CC), iPad Pro + Apple Pencil (Procreate, Clip Studio Paint)
I usually try to mix cold and warm colors to get a richer palette – for example if the light of the skin is cold, I prefer to make the shadows warm and vice versa.Usually it works automatically in my head, but sometimes remembering about tricolor combinations helps out a lot.
When I first tried storyboarding.This is my favorite thing in the world – reading the text, imagining the scene in my head, then trying to find the best approach to how to show it on the screen with the movement, composition, camera cuts, etc.
The goal of my personal works, the illustrations I do after the full-time job is to unwind, practice, and just enjoy the painting and drawing just for process itself.For me, portraying female characters is the hardest, so I try to practice it more.There’s no specific character in situations where the character in one piece could look similar to the character in other piece though, that usually happens because of my preferences in character design to portray a strong, independent, energetic female characters.
There’s is this ideal image of the character in my head I always trying to catch, but I don’t think that there any goals to try and create the character that could be universally loved; my pieces is just my personal preferences and experiments.
The thing is, my personal illustrations I upload to social networks is not even a 1% of what I do.For example, for “The Wonderland” I’ve created more than 100 characters of all shapes and forms – big buff guys, rich girls and poor boys, kings and queens, birds and cats, and also backgrounds, cars, tanks, props and utensils.For new Ghost in The Shell the most of the characters are male, and there are a lot of variety: black people, white people, Asian people, big people, thin people, robots and maids, old people and small children.Most of my works are actually not the girls, and I draw my girls just for myself – on my social networks you can see only the tip of the iceberg, so please look forward to The Wonderland and the new Ghost in the Shell to check out the variety of designs I produce.The other thing is what people are calling “same face” is just the preference in shapes of the eyes and skull structure etc, and the question of me trying to catch that perfect image in my head.
That’s right. Everything came full circle. Ilya’s the lead character designer for the reboot of Ghost in the Shell, via Netflix and scheduled for 2020, entitled Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045.
While working on the video games as a concept artist, I’ve done a lot of different things – fantasy monsters and armors and locations, realistic cars and interiors, and landscapes. Sci-fi spaceships, guns, and aliens.Not everything was fun, so I think it really helped me with realizing what kind of designs I prefer myself.
Basically, after finding the best idea and concept possible, you just need to produce the piece step by step.Sometimes it’s relaxing—everything is already decided, you just need to sit and finish the illustration, but it could also be a frustrating process—you already have enough to convey the idea, but need to spend more time to just polish, when you can spend the same amount of time on producing more ideas.
Keiko Kinefuchi would have never contacted me with the proposal of making [publishing] my book if not for my social network activity.For the publishing company, if an artist has a substantial amount of followers on the internet, that translates into them realizing that there’s a good few people that’d buy the book.Keep in mind that thanks to the book being published, I now have my dream job within a Japanese animation company; my social network activity played a giant role in everything I have now.
Texture is important.It could make the character more real. You can feel closer to the expression of the piece, and using texture wisely can help a lot.In movies, textures are really important too—you can feel the touch of the grass on your feet by just looking at close-up scenes, the roughness of concrete wall on your fingers just by seeing its texture, even density of mud in a heavy rain just by staring at the screen.That is, if the textures are used skillfully.
I think having a following on a different social networks is the main thing in terms of letting people know that I have a page where they can support me.I am grateful to all of my patrons, and their support is the biggest part of my motivation to produce personal illustrations.
Square Enix just contacted me because they found my FF fan arts I uploaded to pixiv.That’s why I [would like to reiterate] always to draw what you love, and someday, somebody will contact you to pay you for what you’ve been doing.
Then, Ilya met Hideo Kojima.
What sets Kojima apart from many in his field, is the degree to which he uses cinematic elements to strengthen storytelling. He is among the most revered video game designers living, which also comes with one of the largest cult-like followings.
That was a funny story!Kojima’s personal assistant tweeted about Katsuya Terada visiting Kojima Productions, and I replied “I wanna come too!” and then Kojima tweeted “Sure, please come!”—looks like sometimes, you just need to ask.
The genius illustrator, Ilya Kuvshinov has visited Kojima Productions. He brought so many presents, thank you very much for signing and drawing along side with director Edgar Wright.👍🌈🦀🐋🐟☔️ pic.twitter.com/c9bT5glxXi
— HIDEO_KOJIMA (@HIDEO_KOJIMA_EN) February 25, 2019
It starts with the emotion and idea I want to express, then it’s rough image of color and composition in my head, and after that I just try to fit the character in created limitations.I could change something half the way to suit the idea more, but usually it’s just the producing all the way after starting to physically drawing.
In all Russian things, Russian literature had the biggest influence on my artwork, especially Shishkin (Maidenhair) and Pelevin (The Sacred Book of Werewolf).
Yes, a lot of my art inspired with the actual tracks!For example, my black cat portrait I use as a userpic [profile picture across socials] called “Corporation”, and directly inspired by Jack White’s “Corporation” song.
I suppose I just prefer to use those to express the strong emotional contrasts in pieces.
Thank you!After working on storyboarding I became really mindful of usage of space, silhouettes and chiaroscuro. You can say a lot just by placing shapes, and I really love creating interesting compositions out of simple shapes even without any characters or real objects.
My biggest goal is to become an animation director, but I also really want to help and learn from my favorite creators, so I am really looking forward to working with Kojima.
Japanese fashion!Architecture, trains, food, bookstores, people!Temples, bicycles, music, statues!Convenience stores, parks and more!
Those are so different, and I live both for a different things. In terms of work and career, I feel that Japan is the best place for me.
Hanamaru Udon! I also love yakiniku!
Yes, Hakone and Kyoto are my favorites!There’s a couple of my illustrations inspired by those places.
I usually play story-based ones, and there’s a lot of Playstation exclusives there
- The Last of Us
- God of War
- Spider-ManRecently, I really loved CONTROL.
Japan respects its workforce, but sometimes the pressure is just too much.
All I have now is thanks to my drawings, but I can’t say I enjoy drawing.Sometimes it’s so much stress I actually start thinking about changing careers; but I could totally say that it’ll still gonna be something in entertainment industry.
Totally Yoko Taro and Hideo Kojima.
It’s really strange for me, but I appreciate it.
That was actually never the goal.I just wanted to be in industry, and the social following helped with that, so I am really grateful to all of my fans, followers and patrons.
Looking back, everything happened as it should have been happened. All the stress and anxiety, depression and uncertainty; taught me to be grateful for everything I have.
Thanks to the internet, you have all the resources you need to become good at anything you want.Don’t be scared. Just google, learn, and practice a lot.
Love yourself.Never give up.Be kind.
However cliche it sounds, the trajectory of his career is evidence that with enough practice, nearly anything is possible, it just isn’t going to happen overnight. A testament to the idea that progression will come with dedication, and without self-discipline, it’s not a realistic goal.
Whether it’s Russia, or Japan, or some other country, Ilya’s work remains timeless.
We need not know his complete identity, for his art has one all its own.
As for his next move, we sit back and wait.