Inspired by some of most unique creatures in fantasy, sci-fi and popular culture, Joshua Dunlop found his calling when he tried his hand at concept design. With a background in film fuelling his creative drive, Joshua’s art explores every possibility of fantastical realms, with a focus on characters and creatures.
His passion for dragons, dinosaurs and mythical creatures have earned him a global following, which exploded when his realistic Pokémon project went viral. He has envisioned 3D versions of some of the most popular Pokémon and is currently working on completing his collection of the original 151, including some iconic franchise mascots.
He has big plans for the future, both building on his Pokémon art and introducing his fans to more of his own original designs.
We spoke to Joshua to find out more about how his project is coming along and his plans for the future.
Kirstie: How did you get into art?
Joshua: I’ve always loved art since I was a kid. I used to lie in front of the TV surrounded by paper scribbling away. I think it drove my mother mad. Art became a strong hobby of mine, but it was only later in life that I decided to pursue it as a career.
Kirstie: Who were your earliest influences?
Joshua: I would say the artist James Gurney with his book Dinotopia really sparked my imagination, especially with dinosaurs and fantasy. Obviously film was very influential, anything Disney, Land Before Time and especially Jurassic Park. I think JP was the first film that made we want to somehow work in the film industry.
Kirstie: Who are your predominant influences now?
Joshua: Music, more than anything. I have a very eclectic taste in music and it can range from heavy rock to gallant soundtrack instrumentals. Music generally tells a story, and its up to you to figure out what that story is. Film is still a big influence; I actually got into 3D modelling because of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. But also games have increasingly become a source of inspiration, technology is moving so fast there are some gorgeous designs out there. It’s exciting!
Kirstie: What is your favourite material to work with?
Joshua: Well I’m a digital artist so I don’t use material per say, but I use programs such as Zbrush, Keyshot and Photoshop. They all work together as one, blending from 3D into gorgeous render and then put it all together with digital paint and photographs in Photoshop.
Kirstie: If you could design the poster for any movie, what would it be? What would your design be like?
Joshua: The live action Pokémon Movie of course! I’d probably do a few teaser posters with hints of Pokémon, like a trainer looking up under the shadow of a Charizard, or a Blastiose shell surfacing just below a fisherman’s boat. The final poster would probably be a trainer in a stadium holding a Pokéball ready to battle with a Pikachu looking up at him from the side.
Kirstie: What is the first piece of work you were really proud of?
Joshua: In recent years… Bulbasaur. The first 3D Pokemon I ever made and it came out better than I could have ever imagined – it’s what started this wonderful journey.
Kirstie: How have you changed as an artist since then?
Joshua: All artists grow. The wonderful thing about Pokémon Zoology is its always challenging me and taking me out of my comfort zones. Like recently I created my first birds… ever. And they weren’t my best work but I learnt a lot.
Kirstie: How did you get into creating concept art?
Joshua: It was a hobby. I was originally an actor and director. But as I went on I realised that it wasn’t what I really wanted, I loved creating things and art let me do that. So one day, I decided that I was going to do a Masters Degree in Concept Art. The first year was tough but I started to get work and when Pokémon Zoology kicked off I found bigger and better projects come along.
Kirstie: What would be your dream project to create concept art for?
Joshua: Besides a live action Pokémon movie? Haha, either part of the Jurassic Park/World franchise or a Dinotopia film.
Kirstie: You’ve done a lot of work with dragons and dinosaurs and video game monsters. What drew you to creature design in particular?
Joshua: I just find nature fascinating, there is just something so magical about it. The fact that we keep discovering new things and creatures with amazing abilities, shapes and colours, just blows my mind. Then using that to create my own amazing and fantastic beasts really excites me, it always has. The thing is with sci-fi and fantasy, is there really no wrong way of doing it, it’s pure imagination and I love that!
Kirstie: What inspired you to create realistic Pokémon designs?
Joshua: I was learning Zbrush in late 2016 and when I finished, I wanted something to test my new found skills on. I’ve always loved Pokémon, and Pokémon Go was big at the time so I thought it would be a fun challenge. I had no idea it would take off the way it did.
Kirstie: What was the most difficult Pokémon to place in the real world so far?
Joshua: Strangely it’s the ones that are closer to real world animals I find the hardest. People can really see when something doesn’t look right on a bird or furry animal, but they have to entirely suspend their disbelief with the more fantastical creatures like Geodude, essentially a boulder with arms, haha.
Kirstie: How much research did you have to do into real biology to get it right?
Joshua: Well I watch a lot of nature documentaries, so a lot of cool (sometimes useless) information seeps in there, but with each creature I spend a long time gathering information and images. Sometimes I have ideas on how a creature could do a certain thing and then see if I can find a real world counterpart to base it on. But yes, overall, a huge amount of research, not just biology but zoology, botany, and obviously the Pokédex (which most of the time makes little to no sense at all).
Kirstie: Are there any coming up that you expect to be a real challenge?
Joshua: Haha anything with feathers. I’m going to have to do the legendary birds at some point, so I’m going to get some practice in before tackling those.
Kirstie: How do you decide how to create the less animalistic Pokémon in a realistic way?
Joshua: Well I study its design, think about what could work as a real world counterpart, even using a variety of animals and plants as a resource. When it comes down to it, it’s mainly my imagination. I tend to do lots of rough sketches to play with ideas before moving into 3D.
Kirstie: What is your favourite Pokémon?
Joshua: Classically Raichu (it’s always stuck under Pikachu’s shadow) but I do love Lapras, Tyrantrum, Ninetails and Emolga.
Kirstie: Do you keep up with the more recent games? What do you think of them?
Joshua: I’m currently playing Ultra Sun at the moment. I’ve enjoyed it, they definitely tried to shake it up a bit which was refreshing, though I found the gameplay a little restricting compared to previous games. It definitely holds your hand, which is great for younger players just coming to the franchise, but as a veteran, I want more of a challenge. Maybe when Pokémon comes to Switch we will get a richer, open world feel game with plenty of side quests and adventures.
Kirstie: Will you continue creating Pokémon images after the original 151?
Joshua: Lots of people ask me that. To be honest I don’t know. I’m aiming to complete the first 151 and I think that’s a solid goal. I want to eventually try some of my own IPs that hopefully my fans will enjoy, but I’ll never say I’ll completely stop, as long as the demand is there.
Kirstie: Do you have any plans to build on your realistic world of Pokémon? Can we expect to see anything like books or models in the future?
Joshua: I have a lot of ideas lined up. Stage one is to refine my Patreon so my supporters get more of their money with behind the scenes features etc. that I won’t be releasing online.
Then I plan to do a Kickstarter later this year to build a Pokémon Zoology Website, which will act as a hub for the series. It will also act as a National Geographic of the Pokémon World. Looking at their biology, diet, habitats and more. Like a Pokédex for the adult fans.
I’ll then be looking into making a series of art books and I’ll probably make some sort of app based off the site. I’m interested in the idea of doing 3D printed models, but I would have to find the right company to do it.
Kirstie: Are there any other worlds you plan to move into once you’re finished with Pokémon?
Joshua: As I said before, I’d like to try and bring in my own IPs rather than delving into too many franchises. I genuinely LOVE doing the Pokémon artwork, but its always going to have a roof on it, because at the end of the day, it’s Game Freak’s baby. I want to build something of my own.
Kirstie: You’ve said you’re working on an interactive website. What are your plans for the site?
Joshua: It depends on what’s feasible. As I mentioned before, the overall arc of the website will be the zoology/biology of Pokémon but if we raise more than asked, I’d like to make it as interactive as possible, with more areas for the fans. I’m also open to the idea of bringing other writers and artists onto the project and try and build a real community on there. I’d also like to try and organise more events so I can meet more of my fans, I’d love to come to more of the comic cons over seas.
Kirstie: Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Joshua: Ok, here’s a few things:
1: Nail lighting! Your design can be poor but if your lighting is on point it will be fantastic! If you find it hard, try 3D and rendering tools like Keyshot, you can get some beautiful lighting in those.
2: Nail anatomy! It’s tricky I know but if the anatomy looks off on any character it can ruin a picture (even I’m guilty of it sometimes).
3: Love what you do! Do what you love and refine those skills. That doesn’t mean don’t push yourself or get out of your comfort zone, but I tried for years to do everything, and at the end of the day, I just became okay at everything. Refining my skills into something I loved got me work.
4: Keep learning! Watch tutorials, go to life drawing classes, and emulate your heroes, KEEP LEARNING. I wasn’t magically born with talent; I worked hard to be where I am. I have people say they feel discouraged when they see my work because their work isn’t as good… screw that! Be inspired! I was once bad… very bad. You can see on my social media, I have progression images. I worked hard and so should you.
5: Be sociable! I know this is tough for some people; one of the reasons I delved into art was because I was bullied at school. But trust me, be confident, be engaging, be carefree. These are qualities that not only people around you will like, but also potential employers will like. End of the day, employers want to work with people they can stand to hang around everyday. You might be a fantastic artist, but if you’re antisocial you won’t get far.
5: Never give up! No matter how discouraged you get by a picture not working out, learn from it, move on, do it again. If you want to be an artist then you will be if you work for it.
Hope that helps!
We’d like to say a huge thank you to Joshua for taking the time to talk to us. To keep up with his work, you can follow him on ArtStation, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, or support him on Patreon and Etsy.