Ken Sugimori has worked on designing Pokémon from the very beginning, and he shared a little secret on how he comes up with designs using a concept of addition by subtraction and vice-versa. [Thanks, @mihori_t.]
Ken Sugimori, Pokémon series designer: The technique I often use when finishing up designs for Pokémon is to “keep the balance.” I might try adding something uncool to a Pokémon that is too cool, or I might add something cheerful to a Pokémon that is too serious. I spoke about making friendly designs earlier, but what I actually do is take something cool and make it less cool. [laughs]
Huh? But Lucario and Luxray look very cool.
Ken Sugimori: But if you were to make Luxray’s head smaller and eyes sharper, it would look cooler. “Making it cooler” is an adjustment I wouldn’t dare to do.
That is certainly a unique sensitivity of yours, Sugimori-san.
Ken Sugimori: I often tell members in charge of design to “take away from designs that are too cool,” but that is probably a sentiment that is difficult to grasp. What’s cool and what’s not is all subjective in the end. To put it extremely, my job is to get something that would look cooler if it didn’t have this or that on it, then put it in on purpose. [laughs] Basically, if it looks too cool then it takes away from what makes it memorable for the players.
So you’re saying that it becomes kind of like a pretty landscape painting.
Ken Sugimori: Exactly. It simply ends at “that’s cool.” After all, as Pokémon that are being sent out to the world, we want them to always remain memorable; however, I feel that in order to do so you have to add a touch to it. For example, look at Oshawott’s cheeks. It has three freckles, and if you take them away Oshawott becomes cuter. However, taking them away makes its face less memorable. Actually, a lot of people told me “I want you to get rid of the freckles,” but I strongly insisted “It is better to have them.” Going by my standards, this is the correct way to design Pokémon.
To give you guys an idea, here’s a look at Oshawott with and without freckles:
[Editor’s Note: Interestingly, the topic of Oshawott with freckles vs. without freckles was discussed on Reddit several years ago.]
The interview comes from the Pokémon Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon Essential Setting Information book that is currently available via Play-Asia. Here’s a peek at some of the design work shared in the book: