Exclusive Interview with No Straight Roads Concept Artist, SillyJellie

SillyJellie is a Malaysian mural artist who’s best known for her eye-catching murals around Selangor, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, and Penang, with a penchant for incorporating mermaids into her work. She’s also the lead concept artist behind Metronomik’s No Straight Roads (NSR), lending her unique and pleasant art style to this highly anticipated local game.

In this interview, we’ll be learning more about her journey as well as her experience as a concept artist for Metronomik. If that sounds interesting to you, be sure to dive right in!

Disclaimer: Answers may be edited for clarity of reading and comprehension.

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Ellie Yong, known professionally under the name of SillyJellie. I am currently working as a concept artist in Metronomik as well engrossing myself in various illustrative works and murals. I love immersing myself in my little mermaid world to escape the pressures of the world. My therapist is my dog.

How did you begin your career as an artist?

My career has been a somewhat random series of things. I don’t really like to sit in a studio for too long, as while I was in college stuff happened and I vowed to not ‘die chained to the computer’. Right after college, I joined a local animation studio for 3 months. After that, I volunteered in art events, then freelanced for a year while painting murals. I even tried teaching some high school kids, and let me tell you, it was a disaster.

After that, I was somehow convinced to enter another studio; however, I left that studio within the year to partake in another animation project that didn’t pan out in the end. Then, I freelanced for another year and painted some children’s books. Finally, I was convinced by Wan Hazmer to join Metronomik, which I honestly first thought of as a freelance project, but I have since stayed in the company for 3 years till this day.

While working at Metronomik, Wan Hazmer let me pursue my murals and other interests on the side. Perhaps this is the balance that kept me sticking around as well, now that I think about it. 

“Forbidden Fruit”, located in Artbox Malaysia

How did you become involved as the main concept artist for No Straight Roads? 

The creative director of Metronomik, Daim Dziauddin, saw my art from college about 5 years ago on DeviantArt, and somehow my silly name was memorable enough for him to remember me. Both Daim and Wan Hazmer weren’t sure where I was from, but they decided to email me just on the off chance that I might be interested in working on their game.

Serendipitously, I just happened to be a Malaysian currently based in Malaysia, so Wan Hazmer and I set up a meeting and the rest is history. As mentioned in the previous question, I wasn’t interested in settling down in a company at the time, but the premise and story of No Straight Roads captivated me.

Who is your favourite boss character you designed, and how did you come up with their concept? 

My favourite boss character is Eve, because her design is probably one of the more unique ones that I’ve ever come up with. To be fair, I wasn’t the only one who worked on the design. The team already had an idea of what the character should feel like at the time, with keywords like weird, dangerous, diva-esque, and hints of Lady Gaga and Bjork.

“Eve” illustration from No Straight Roads

The two-toned colour palette and multi-armed idea was something my creative director (Daim) wanted and had already designed. He felt like her fashion and vibe wasn’t quite there, so he let me try my hand on it. Basically I threw on a bunch of things I thought would look cool and pushed her design further bit by bit. I wanted the oversized jacket that a lot of girls seem to favour wearing off-shoulder, but have it magically stay on somehow despite not being connected to her body. I also threw random shapes on her, made her hair wrap around her leg for no reason, and gave her mismatched foot wear and boob stickers. Yep, I was just having fun.

Did you face any challenges when coming up with the characters or environment concepts? 

Definitely. Before that though, I have to give credit to the other people in the team, as I wasn’t the only one who came up with the levels and environments. I had a good direction from the creative director, script writer and game designers who already had a base idea for me to bounce off on.  Our task was to make sure that the environment and characters look good together.

For example, with Sayu, we had to keep changing the colour of her design as she kept camouflaging into the background. I wanted the colours of the environment to reflect the characters, but not to the point where you can’t see them. During times like these, we went back to the drawing board, tweaked the design and the environment, put them back into the game, and checked to see if our fixes worked. If it doesn’t, the process is repeated.

Concept art for Sayu’s stage in No Straight Roads

Was the finalised concept different from how you envisioned it at first? What character or district went through the most drastic change from start to finish? 

I think for characters, we have mostly been faithful to the concepts. For the districts, the modelling team was mostly left on their own. I gave them really rough sketches on the overall look, like how the plaza should be more historical, or how each district should have their own unique elements, etc. Due to my very loose supervision, I’ll admit that the districts don’t quite look like what I envisioned them to be, but they did shape up nicely in the end.

Do you have any advice for aspiring video game artists? What are some of the challenges they may face? 

My advice would be to venture out of video games if you want to be a video game artist. One of the reasons I was hired is kind of due to my abysmal knowledge about games.

Let me try to give a more detailed explanation. First, I have not been playing any video games properly since my high school days, and even then, my gaming experience revolved around Nancy Drew games, the Harry Potter series, and the Sims. Instead, what I’ve been doing is ‘hentam-ing‘ (Malaysian slang for doing things out of impulse without any detailed consideration) random art experiences and trying out new things. This gave me different flavours to my interests that I was able to regurgitate and create new designs from. However, since I’ve been in a game company for a few years now, I really should expand my game cred. I’m currently doing that, albeit rather slowly.

Some challenges I think a lot of people tend to face will have to do with handling critique, and not taking critique too personally. It gets toxic really fast. Of course, there will be environments that are not ideal. It’s best if you can find a team you can respect, or at the very least, a leader you can respect, otherwise you’ll wake up every morning wondering why you accepted the job.

What do you do when you get into an artistic slump? 

Consume other art! I also tend to watch some shows that I’ve been reserving for times like these. Other than that, I play some games, read some books/comics, talk to my dog, or bother my friends.

Who are your artistic inspirations? 

As always, it’s too expansive to list everybody, and the list changes from time to time. The three from the top of my head are James Jean, Loish, and Victo Ngai. My artistic inspirations also tend to shift with different projects, but those three have remained relatively constant with my visions for my own art.

Lastly, any upcoming projects that our readers can look out for? 

Well, in the realm of personal projects, I’m still continuing on my much delayed MerMay series, so once I’m done with the 31 drawings, they can expect some merch like a zine, calendar and prints. 

We’d like to thank SillyJellie for the chance to speak with her! For more amazing art and inspiration, be sure to check her out on FacebookInstagram, DevianArt, ArtStation and Tumblr or support her on Society6, Etsy and Ko-fi.

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