Toikido’s Art Director, Anthony Rule, on toyetic illustrations – and the importance of creativity

From BT Phonecards to Pinata Smashlings: Toikido’s Anthony Rule on their upcoming toy launch…

Anthony Rule! I don’t ask everyone this but, first, I’m really curious about your surname! Do you know where that originates?
I wish I knew for sure! The family story goes that a Greek Monk called Regulus came to Scotland in 345 AD – with the bones of St. Andrew. Apparently, he bought the name Rule to the UK.

Regulus did?
Right. Regulus is Latin for rule. So – sadly – nothing to do with Royalty!

Ha! Well, there we go! We could wrap it up now and I would’ve learned a lot! Let’s press on, though… So: you’re currently the Art Director at the creative, toy-led gaming studio Toikido. What does your role involve, Anthony?
I’m responsible for creating and overseeing the illustrated elements relating to our IP. That involves character development and concept work as well as working with the team to conceive and develop new IP. As a small company, we all have a hand in everything… We’re given the space and freedom to create without barriers, which is rare. This results in an incredibly creative working environment where things happen really quickly.

How did you come to be the Art Director? What’s your background?
I come from a freelance background. I started freelancing fresh from university, and continued on that path many years. It allowed me to work with a vast number of clients, and gain a lot of experience – specifically how to interpret a brief and create appealing characters. I always thought that, if the right opportunity came along, I’d like to give a ‘real job’ a go.

Anthony Rule, Toikido

And Toikido was the right opportunity?
Absolutely. I’d worked freelance with Jeff Hall – Toikido’s Chief Product Officer – for many years, on various projects. He approached me to help with a large project Toikido was working on and the rest is history. Toikido is young, nimble and highly creative. I saw the role as an opportunity to join a company on its way to great things. It’s been the best career move I’ve made.

Fantastic! And for whom else did you work as a freelancer?
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with a lot of big companies and creative individuals. I find it interesting to see the connections between people leading to the next job. For example, I did some illustrations for the Formula One magazine which in turn led to me illustrating Bernie Ecclestone’s personal Christmas card for over two decades.

Good Lord! That’s quite a coup!
My first visible job was for BT, where I illustrated a set of phone cards –remember them?!

I do… God. That seems like a lifetime ago! People collected them did they not? The illustrated cards I mean.
They did! Around the same time, I did the covers for over 200 WHSmith’s student guides. The agency dealing with the design of those then got me to create packaging artwork for Tesco sweets, which led to a long association with them…

Anthony Rule, Toikido

What did you do for Tesco?
I illustrated their ‘Learn Together’ range, packaging for kids food, drink and cereals, and some boardgame packaging too. I also had a long association with Cambridge University, creating the look and feel of their ‘Young Learners’ brand. In 2012, I created the Slush Puppie brand character and key art that remained on pack for many years.

That’s a very diverse portfolio. So, let me ask you this… When you’re developing characters for Toikido, how does that responsibility fit in with the game design process?
When we’re creating characters here at Toikido, the first consideration is ‘toy’. It’s important that any IP we greenlight for development has toy, game and animation potential. If a character works well for toys, it stands to reason that it’ll work well in a game – the aesthetic and physicality translate really well.

But that’s not necessarily as true the other way round?
No, not always – a lot of game characters out there wouldn’t make great toys. I work closely with the creative team to ensure this is always the case.

That’s fascinating. So what challenges do you face when creating gaming art that appeals to younger people?
It’s impossible to second guess children and predict the next viral trend or fad. The best place to be is in front, creating the trends. As a company, we keep a close eye on new and emerging areas, especially in the gaming world. Being a small company means we’re are able to act on those very quickly. The biggest challenge, though, is keeping kids’ attention. Content is consumed so quickly these days – so creating characters that stick is incredibly important.

Anthony Rule, Toikido

And for context, on what have you been working recently? In what way did it challenge you, specifically?
Recently, a lot of my time’s been taken up working on our first in-house IP, ‘Pinata Smashlings’. It’s an amazing, colourful brand for which we’ve created a full and rich world – the Pinataverse. I’ve illustrated hundreds of little collectible characters called Smashlings, and their guiding helpers in the world, the Pinatas. We have a game that’s just launched on Roblox. With a worldwide toy launch and licencing program set for September, we’ve really had our hands full.

Sounds amazing!
Another exciting project that ties into Pinata Smashlings was the development of the UEFA Euro 2024 mascot, Albärt…

This is the teddy bear?
This is the teddy bear, yes. For that, Toikido founder Darran Garnham dropped me a line telling me we had the chance to pitch for the mascot – which was incredibly cool. This was a fantastic character-development opportunity, and we were lucky enough to win the pitch against dozens of other hopeful agencies. The character’s based on our Smashlings, and will be entering the Pinataverse in the Euro 2024 football forest – a Roblox experience linked with our own game.

There are a lot of other projects, of course… We’re always moving forward at Toikido, so we have numerous other IP’s in various stages of development. As an Art Director, there’s never a dull day here – watch this space!

Anthony Rule, Toikido

I hope you’ll come back and tell us about some of those. In the meanwhile, how important is creativity in what you do, Anthony?
Creativity is everything, and building a visual identity for the games and IP we create is very important. It’s the imagery that initially captures the attention and imagination. That ultimately leads to engagement, so I see it as the front line in the battle for players.

With that being the case, how do you stay creative?
You know, it’s not something I think about really… I’ve been drawing since I was big enough to hold a pencil so it’s very much who I am. I’m a visual thinker; all of my ideas come to me while drawing – one rogue sketch could lead me in a totally different direction. I love that.

Lovely answer. Thank you, Anthony. We need to wrap this up really… Just before we do, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?
What’s the secret to a happy life and career?

Goodness me! I’m glad I asked; I would never have been so profound… What’s the answer?
Work with people you genuinely like and respect, always remain positive and make time for your family and friends. Work-life balance and creative freedom are very important to us here at Toikido.

Brilliant. Thank you, Anthony; some really fascinating insights. Come back anytime and tell us more!

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