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An Interview with our Number Skills Illustrator - Matt Oxborrow

(4 minute read)

We have loads of fantastic people here at Teach Your Monster contributing to all our wonderful games. So we thought we better introduce some to you! In this month’s edition, we interviewed Matt Oxborrow, the genius behind all the wacky and wonderful designs in our game Teach Your Monster Number Skills!

Matt Ox and the characters of Number Skills

Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Matt… Matt Oxborrow, or just Matt Ox. I’m a freelance illustrator and art director and I’m responsible for all the artwork on Teach Your Monster Number Skills. All the monsters, rides, funny little things with eyes and the little bits of detail on things that no one else really notices.

How did you get started as an illustrator?
I illustrated my first book of animals when I was 5 years old. I started taking it a bit more seriously after school and got a degree in it before starting out working life as an animator. That led me to character design and art direction, then 25 years later to here.

When and how did you get started at Teach Your Monster?
A funny little Non-Player-Character called Darren Garrett got in touch after seeing my work for another highly successful app. I think it was about 4 years ago when we’d all been banished to our homes and not allowed out so a big project like this was just what I needed to stay relatively sane. 

How do you develop your ideas? What are your stages?
I like to start by going out and sketching monsters in the wild. They’re actually everywhere if you know where to look. Paredoilia (the phenomenon in which people see faces or other patterns in ambiguous images) definitely helps. The early sketches provide the wild silliness and humour then it’s a case of distilling it down into something that’s still fun but has the articulation and dexterity necessary to do its job on screen. I often rebuild a sketch using geometric shapes and strokes in Illustrator then when the composition is nice, I kind of bash them around and beat them up to make them look a bit more handmade again. 

What are important considerations when designing for young children?
They’re very stubborn and very honest critics so you have to revisit a design a few times with fresh eyes to make sure it looks like what it’s supposed to look like. Stylisation can sometimes come and kick you if you’ve drawn a monster that can be interpreted as a cat for example. Kids will never unsee the cat.

Do you use your own kids as part of your process?
Absolutely. My daughter was 2 or 3 when we started Number Skills so is one of our earliest testers and has been my litmus test for whether something is fun or ‘boorwing’. A truly valued critic.

How do you design for games vs regular illustration jobs?
As I mentioned earlier it comes down to articulation. The rigs (the ‘skeleton’ of the characters that control it’s movements) are very rigid so you have to make sure every character has the physical ability to perform it’s job or it’s going to look weird. Imagine a T-Rex trying to stack a pile of crates… Nope. 

What do you use for inspiration and research at the start of a process?
It depends on the job but everything starts with an observation or an obscure reference. I look at nature, animals, people and their funny clothes and habits, loads of old cartoons and comic strips. The internet is a treasure trove for character designers. I also find myself looking at my own old work and reminding myself what worked and what didn’t.

What tools do you use?
Pen and paper for initial musings then Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop with my Cintiq Pro (drawing tablet). 

Out of all the things you've worked on at Teach Your Monster, what are you most proud of?

I love the player characters and the Monster Dressing up shop. It took so much work to get right but being able to build your character from all those sets of limbs and heads is pure joy.

If there was part of the TYM design process you'd like other clients to follow what would it be?
Creative freedom and belief in my decisions.

Is there anything you wanted to get in the game that didn't make it in?
I really wanted to make the magic mirrors actually reflect your monsters in weird distorted ways. Dawid (one of TYM’s game developers) has an idea of how it might work so maybe one day.

What's your favourite ride or character in Number Skills?
The rollercoaster is my favourite ride. I love its stupid grin and the little train that zooms around the track when you go near it. Brain in a Jar is officially the funniest head in the monster customiser. There’s also a new game and character in the pipes that I really like… (stay tuned for this in an upcoming update)

Has working on Number Skills helped you help your own kids?
Yes, even learning how to pronounce ‘pedagogy’ has been invaluable. It’s a fascinating field to work in.

Has working on Number Skills improved your maths?
Embarrassingly, yes. 


Check out Matt’s amazing illustrations by playing Number Skills here!

You can take a look at the rest of Matt Oxborrow’s great work on his website.

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