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The Art of Candy Crush Saga

You have probably heard this before, but making games is hard, really hard. The best games mix programming, sound design and art into a smoothie of soul-melting awesomeness.

We could talk for hours about why people love the gameplay of Candy Crush Saga, why the music puts you in a zen state or how the sound effects make you want to swipe just one more time. Today we are going to turn down the music and momentarily halt our swiping fingers as we look at the art and the artists behind Candy Crush Saga.

What is Candy Crush Saga art?
You know Candy Crush Saga when you see it, right? You could probably tell from looking at the game logo alone! But where does that look come from? Who are the people that create the look of Candy Crush Saga?

We talked to Game Artists: Sandra da Cruz Martins, Tove Bergvist and Senior Game Artists, Ronya Grimheim and Ilias Patlis to find out what makes Candy Crush look like Candy Crush.
This crack squad of art lords have worked on Candy Crush Saga in all of its different stages, from a cute little digital baby to a proud five-year-old.

Ilias Patlis - Senior Game Artist, flicking through a sketchbook

Ilias Patlis, who has been working at King since 2012, remembers the inspirations behind the iconic style. “Candy Crush has had several influences, too many to mention since it has past through many hands by now. Art Deco, Paper theatre and old board games and really old cartoons and illustrations.”

The game wears its inspirations on its sleeves. The pins and the animations of the characters are tongue-in-cheek ways the art team hints at some unseen puppet master, jostling the characters and candies for your entertainment.

But influences don't magic themselves on to your screen... yet. It takes a conduit, an artist to turn inspiration into a product. The question then becomes, what makes an artist?

Concept character designs

When you look at a Colour Bomb, you aren’t just looking at the most powerful substances known to mankind, you are looking at hundreds of cups of coffee, countless discussions a heated argument or two and many, many late nights!
Each of the millions of pixels that make up Candy Crush Saga was designed by an artist each with their own ideas, experiences and unique take on the world. But how is this mysterious creature, the artist, created?

The desire to be an artist starts early in life, and the stories of our artist's beginnings all have core similarities. Sandra da Cruz Martins had “always been in love with Disney and Pixar Movies,” as was Ronya Grinheim, who as a kid “loved Disney” and loved “drawing cartoons.”
Senior Artist, Ilias Patlis, while not a huge Disney fan, still loved “everything from He-Man, Turtles, Thundercats and even My Little Pony.” It's no surprise that he also, “spent a lot of time drawing these influences daily.”

Sandra da Cruz Martins - Game Artist, getting her art on.

It comes as no surprise that cartoons feature so heavily as inspiration to the, then young, minds of our artists. A brief glance at Candy Crush Saga would make that clear.

Because no art is created in a vacuum, Influences and inspiration are so crucial to the creative process. To the trained eye, these influences are as clear as day! Candy Crush game artist, Tove Bergvist, sees that “If you know them [the artists] you can see artists personal style shine through and often guess who made a certain piece.”

So how did all of our artists get into game art?

Art isn’t just a job. For artists, the need to create is almost as strong as the need to eat. Artists will create whether they are paid or not.

Tove Bergvist - Game Artist

Take Tove, for example, “I was always wanted to do something related to art. I actually rather wanted to be a painter and just do my own artwork.” However, being able to clothe and feed yourself can often help the creative process, which is why Tove, “tried to be smart about it and do something that was easier to live from, and turned out I really loved it.”

Sandra “wanted to be a marine biologist!” but she felt trepidation entering into art for fear of becoming an “autonomous artist, making modern paintings and sculpts, which was not for me.” Her family eventually cajoled her into going to a University open evening that focused on the arts and computer sciences.

Ronya Grimheim - Senior Game Artist

Much like Ronya, who “after maybe 3-4 years playing World of Warcraft,” had the epiphany that “someone has to work creating this? Who is creating these awesome experiences?” Eventually, she ended up at the University of Skövde, where she would hone her digital art skills.

Ilias’ path is equally rad, he was working as a “Stuntman and personal trainer” when a client in a gym saw his work and recommend he apply to work at King. I like to imagine he arrived at the King offices by crashing a car through a window and barrel rolling into the interview, like a boss. I suspect he caught the train and wore a nice suit, but we can only dream.


Artist's rendition of Ilias' first day at King.

Where do artists draw their mystical energy from?

Artists are, funnily enough, often inspired by other artists. Tove “is inspired by friends and colleagues. Not just style wise, but more by their ideas and projects and creativeness. Having a lot of artist around is amazing. Checking out each other’s work and nerding out about art stuff.”

You’ll also be surprised to know that artists are in a mystical and ancient secret society that few people can see. Think of the platform 9 3/4 in Harry Potter or the glasses of truth in They Live… only less dystopian. Some call it the great beyond, the all-seeing eye, others call it social media.
Ilias knows that “social media feeds you with such a variety of awesomeness on a daily basis” in fact there is so much inspiration that it can be “more important to log off rather than looking for more inspiration!”

From sketchbook to screen, the artistic process in full

Sandra has been particularly moved by the work of the artist Phil Hansen. He helped inspire her to “think out of the box and appreciate art for art, not for the amount of rendering hours of the typical concept paintings you see day in and day out.”

How does art stay fresh?
Like the people who create it, the art of Candy has changed and matured throughout the years. Subtle changes to the candies, the characters and backgrounds have helped improve the game, keeping it looking fresh and exciting.

It happens so subtly and over time that you almost don’t see it happen, but to look at the game from 2012 and from 2017 side by side, you’ll see a huge difference.

Artists also have to stay excited, it’s what fuels inspiration, which we have learnt is at the core of an artist.

For Sandra, that excitement comes from nostalgic art, “old Disney movies but also illustrations in books I used to read a lot. For example, there is a famous Dutch illustrator called Anton Pieck and his work is gorgeous, always 'brings me back'. I love his penmanship, the muted colors and the unique line art he used to do.” Whereas for Ilias, it’s “looking through people’s sketchbooks.”

Like anything creative, Candy Crush Saga, isn’t just a game, its weddings, it’s birthdays, it’s your favourite cartoon as a kid. It’s the cumulative experiences of a group of talented people whose personalities have been focused on a common goal; creating a fun experience.

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