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DirtyRobot's dynamic art


DirtyRobot's dynamic art

Daniel Isles talks about his great Shinobi game art print, Shadow Dancer.

Arjan Terpstra

24 Nov 2022 ⋅ 5 min read

In art, East is East, West is West, and Daniel Isles is Daniel Isles. Born and bred in Birmingham, UK, he lives in Hokkaido, Japan, where he has been residing for many years now, carefully carving away at a career as an illustrator and graphic novel/comic artist. Working under the moniker "Dirtyrobot," he is known for his expressive and dynamic cartoon style, fusing elements of Western line art with manga-inspired dynamism. His character art is seen as futuristic, borrowing heavily from street fashion, but also from video game art.

After working with Daniel on his great Jet Set Radio-inspired piece in 2018 (a collaboration also involving SEGA), we teamed up with him again for a fresh take on another legendary gaming classic: Shinobi. As is evident from the resulting new "Shadow Dancer" artwork (available as art print through this website), dynamism is still at the heart of Isles' work. We caught up with the artist to gain more insights into his art style and his love for the Shinobi games.
© SEGA/Daniel Isles

Shadow Dancer by Daniel Isles/DirtyRobot. Available as luxury art print from this website, please check the product page by clicking this link.

16-bit games

Cook and Becker: Hi Daniel, good to have you back! In an interview you did with us earlier, you mention: "I use elements in my work that are inspired by video games, especially the more retro type stuff. The 16-bit era being my main source." Could you dive a little deeper into this please? You're not exactly a pixel artist, so in what ways does 16-bit art inspire the art you make today?

Daniel Isles: "Glad to be back, thank you for having me again! The 16-bit stuff I tap into not only because of the awesome games that were being released but also the actual time period with what was cool around that time. Both the 8-bit and 16-bit eras had a profound effect on me. If I play certain games from back then I almost instantly remember where I was— they’re sort of like a soundtrack to my life and so they will always inspire me in some way shape or form."

CB: Is this also why you chose Shadow Dancer - The Secret of Shinobi, as inspiration for your Shinobi print?

Daniel Isles: "Exactly, because this was a game I have fond memories of renting from our local video store around that time. It wasn’t my favourite of the franchise, that accolade is reserved for Revenge of Shinobi. I'll never forget the bootleg Spider-Man and Batman bosses— they always cracked me up. I feel Shadow Dancer is a different beast, one that I felt would make a more interesting piece, art-wise, so I chose to do that one."


CB: After your stunning Jet Set Radio piece, your next project for us is the Shinobi print. Both are very dynamic pieces, both carry your style, and yet they are strikingly different. Can you detail if there's a difference in approach to both works? Do you have like one 'standard' procedure to go from sketch to full artwork, or do you take different routes?
Robot Think Human
© Daniel Isles. Used by permission.

Robot Think Human, Daniel Isles.

Daniel Isles: "The design approach wasn't that dissimilar, I think. The execution was, however. For the Jet Set Radio piece I used traditional, analogue methods and inked the lines by hand (see the great making-of video here). The Shinobi piece was all digital, which allowed me more freedom to edit and colour lines where needed."


CB: Both the Jet Set Radio piece and the Shinobi piece use a low camera angle and (in Shinobi's case) a tilted horizon for dramatic effect. How do you find the "dramatic" composition in these works?

Daniel Isles: "Both games are high energy and action oriented, so that was the frame of reference to build up both pieces. The tilted horizon flows from that idea, too, as I just knew I had to go for something dramatic to make the prints impactful."

CB: Many people see a manga influence in your work. Has manga art impacted these works, too?

Daniel Isles: "No, not directly, as I tried to remain true to the source materials as much as possible, while maintaining my vision to recreate something unique. Of course the artists responsible for Shinobi were versed in the manga of their day, and I've absorbed a lot of manga too, over the years. So there are definitely some indirect references."
Garden Of Fairies
© Daniel Isles. Used by permission.

Garden of Fairies, Daniel Isles.


CB: For the Shinobi print, how much and what did you research before settling on this design? Was this a "drawn from memory (of playing the game)" kind of thing, or did you study the art, look at gameplay footage?

Daniel Isles: "It's a bit of both, I guess. The aim was to go for something iconic from the game, and with that in mind I couldn’t look further than the Statue of Liberty level with the elevator and the swarms of ninjas. Everything else stems from that level too, apart from the colour palette that was drawn from the Mega Drive cover art used in EU territories. The rest, I guess, flowed from my muscle memory, haha."

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Daniel Isles (DirtyRobot) Commissions