I was there at Otakon 2010 when Dan Cattell unveiled the Chozo Statue costume, a throwback to Super Metroid for the SNES, and caught the attention of every cosplayer and camera that passed by. The man had spent the night before working on the final touches; he neglected sleep, making sure each brush stroke conformed to his designs. X-Acto knife nicks covered his fingers; caffeine replaced his blood; dedication consumed his thoughts. Everyone thought he was crazy for putting so much time into his costume and taking up all the floor space in the hotel room. They questioned whether he would get it done on time and doubted that the costume would work, let alone hold together. Even I had my doubts. Dan just ignored us and kept on working.
The walk to the Baltimore Convention Center the next day was hell: the costume was large, cumbersome, and he was forced to walk at a snail’s pace with the summer sun beating down on him. But the pay-off was well worth the effort: no other costume that day was as fascinating – or as original – as his. It was at that moment, amongst the throng of cosplayers praising him and cameramen snapping his picture, that I saw his art come to life. Also at that moment, I could taste my foot, which I had just realized was in my mouth since last night. Everyone else in our cosplay group also came to realization they were munching on their toes. Dan just smiled and kept on walking.
He didn’t end it there. Like any good artist, the success only pushed him to outdo himself. At Otakon 2011, he stunned the cosplayers again with another classic Super Metroid tribute, this one an exact replicate of Samus Aran in her iconic battle armor, worn by his girlfriend, Krystal Belcher. Dan’s artwork was once more the center of praise and the target of every camera, but this time around it caught the attention of more than just other cosplayers.
Recently, a representative from Nintendo Power had gotten in contact with Dan and interviewed him about his Samus and Chozo Statue costumes. For Dan, whose devotion to art is equaled only by his devotion to Nintendo, it must have been an honor. Curious as I am, I had to know more; but more importantly, I had to share his success with my fellow readers at Emptylifebar.com. After making some arrangements, I managed to sit down and chat with Dan about his success:
Joe: Would you tell us a little about yourself?
Dan: I’m a senior animator at Rutgers University. I enjoy mixed-media arts but have a preference for game design, as a medium.
Joe: What got you into Nintendo? Did it influence you to pursue a career as an artist and animator or was that path already predetermined?
Dan: I started gaming with the Sega Genesis when I was younger, but my first Nintendo console was the Game Boy Color, which I’d gotten to play the original Pokémon game. I was the kid who couldn’t focus on math prior to that point, but it really changed me to understand and love math, giving way to geometry and 3D animation. I actually come from more of a science background and thought that I’d be doing something in biology, but in retrospect, it seems like everyone else knew I’d take this path except me. As an artist, my foremost concern with my future work is to communicate a passion for education to my audience, inspired by popular science figures in media like Michael Crichton and Carl Sagan.
Joe: What are some of your favorite Nintendo games? Is there a particular genre you prefer over others: fighters, shooters, side-scrollers and the like?
Dan: As a prospective game designer, I play most genres of games. Only a few do I rarely play, such as sport sims and shooters. I love true innovation in games, such as Orbient, Rhythm Heaven, Odama, Cave Story, Chibi-Robo, Geist, Wario Ware, Pokémon Snap, Wind Waker, and Cubello. The series that grabbed me the most were Pikmin, Metroid, and Super Smash Bros. It’s tough to end these types of lists!
Joe: I can agree with you on that: my own lists are rather extensive themselves. But let’s get to juicy part of this interview. You’ve recently caught the attention of the Nintendo Corporation with your pixelated cosplay costumes. Would you tell us who you spoke with and what kind of questions you were asked?
Dan: I had intended to share my work with Nintendo Power this year, but ultimately decided not to because time constraints prevented Krystal and I from showing both costumes together at the convention. The magazine found it anyway, and I was contacted by Andrew Hayward, who told me Super Metroid was his favorite game, regarding an interview for the Community Section. I accepted and he asked if I could manage to do a photo shoot since all of our photos of them were found-images from all about the internet from convention-goers. In the end, I got my shots of the costumes together out of it!
Joe: What did you feel that exact moment?
Dan: It was a cool experience.
Joe: I can imagine it was. Has Nintendo asked you to do any other art projects for them?
Dan: I had the opportunity to make part of a Kirby quilt that was displayed at the Nintendo World Store as part of something separate, but I’d love to work with them again. That just isn’t up to me.
Joe: Let’s talk more on the costumes – what materials did you use to make them?
Dan: Surprising to most people, the costumes are merely cardboard and acrylic paint. Cardboard was the logical choice because it is cheap, lightweight, sturdy, and can be cut to the desired shape.
Joe: How long did it take you to finish the costumes?
Dan: The first costume took longer because I didn’t know what direction to take it in. I considered a low-relief style by adding layers of cardboard, and ultimately rounded out the pixels of the sprite segments. After seeing the convention photos, I could plainly see that the more pixelated sections were more successful. People wanted it to be pixelated to the point that they were telling me that it was “a pixilated monster,” even though many of the pixels had been stylized.
I knew that I had to make another because of the reaction alone. The short walk to the Baltimore Convention Center became a long trek because of photography, the sheer amount of people personally telling me that I made their day, out of all the surrounding attractions that they had paid to see, and the hours of “Hold still!” every time that I tried to escape the lenses were all deciding factors. Thus, a modest costume became a series of works for me.
Joe: What was the hardest part during their constructions?
Dan: Regarding the construction, I planned the first one on-and-off for months. I used animation software to determine the proportions and scale of the pixels. As a large enemy, I made it as tall as my own height would allow, limited by the range of shoulder placement. It also allowed me to discover that the arms would have to be extended. The Chozo Statue took about two weeks to measure, construct, and paint, but Samus, which was worn by Krystal, not me, only took a few days.
Joe: Do you plan on working on them further: improvements, modifications and such?
Dan: I’d like to make a few changes to them that will require some ingenuity with moving parts, such as an opening beak from a head tilt and the arm cannon’s missile switch, but that will be prioritized under next year’s more ambitious Ridley costume which will feature wings, non-human posture, and a large tail and jaw.
Joe: I can’t wait to see that one: Ridley is one of my favorite antagonists of the series. Do you have other art projects aside from the costumes, Nintendo related or otherwise? Could you share with us a bit of what you’ve done?
Dan: Much of my current work is in animation, but I have works in many media including conceptual art performances, film, and now costume design. A recent discovery for me is that most of my work is highly based on reference. Often I may feel as if many pieces I’ve done have a creative or clever platform at the root but only consist of solid workmanship from there on up. I try not to get discouraged about things like that. All artists have their stumbling blocks that try to keep them down and you can’t let that happen to you.
Joe: Is there an art style you favor?
Dan: I love most art styles and mediums. That is why I love video games. The word is really a misnomer, like “comic books.” Most modern comics aren’t humorous as their defining feature, and many modern video games do not have a set goal or even an ending, such as The Sims. They are as versatile as the designer is imaginative. This is why I often refer to them as “the interactive amalgamation of the arts,” the ultimate mixed-media that combines literature, music and sound design with visual arts in such a way that is responsive to the audience like nothing else art, except maybe some performance pieces.
Joe: Dan, your success is surely nothing to be underestimated, and I for one believe this is but the first of many successes you’ll have. Would like you to share with me and our readers a little of your experience as an artist?
Dan: When I started my path towards animation, I hardly took any computer classes. You can easily cross-train in any other medium to build a solid foundation as an artist, and you should.
Joe: Were there times when you’ve doubted yourself and your work? How did you overcome these negative feelings; what kept you going?
Dan: Sitting in my first animation class, I mistakenly thought I’d be working in hand-drawn cartoons. Computer animation, I thought, was something you had to grow up with. Had to have a powerful computer from a young age and extensive knowledge of coding before college. That couldn’t be further from the truth. One of the things that I found most helpful in animation is the origami that I’d done as a kid. Polygons and papercraft are both just 2D planes contorted into sculpture.
Joe: Is there any advice you would like to give to other artists who might be reading this article?
Dan: Be critical and examine your methods, morals, and message to the source, or you will risk your work and the perception of it. Don’t let difficulty discourage you. For any artist: don’t be afraid to start over. In fact, plan to do it every time. You’ll always have a better understanding the second go-round.
Joe: Those sound like some helpful tips, Dan. So What does the future hold for Dan Cattell? Do you plan on continuing your education beyond a Bachelor’s Degree?
Dan: I don’t feel that I will need additional college classes, but education never ends. Not when you are hired, when you are a professional, or when you are the best in the world. I consider a day with nothing learned to be a day wasted. You only get so many, so start learning early.
Joe: Are you currently working on another art project, and if so would tell us a little about it?
Dan: I’ve been working on a spider animation most recently, for technical advancement and practice. My next big piece will likely be a bit more of a conceptual animation done by the start of next summer. This plan is closely tied with video games and the concept of control.
If you would like to view some of Dan Cattell’s other art projects, you can follow the links posted below. I hope you all enjoyed getting a peak into the inner-workings of an up and coming artist, so until next time fellow readers and gamers, keep button mashing (that’s the recipe for win).
Dan Cattell’s Art Projects Can Be Found Here:
Johnny The Homicidal Maniac – Trailer