Editor-in-Chief Alex Taylor interviews Kitt Byrne, 2D artist/game designer on ‘Gibbon: Beyond the Trees’ and a part of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort.
BAFTA Breakthrough, supported by Netflix, is BAFTA’s flagship initiative for highlighting new talent working in film, games, and TV. This year marks BAFTA Breakthrough’s tenth anniversary, having supported over 200 people across the UK, US, and India.
First of all, a massive congratulations to you, this is amazing, this must feel like such a huge, well I guess like a huge breakthrough opportunity! What does it mean to you?
It’s huge really, I associate it with people in the industry who’ve really cemented their place and really proved themselves, proved that they belong there, and done something really great, so to have it then given to me, I really didn’t expect it, I’m really over the moon with it.
That’s amazing, clearly you’ve proved you belong, and have done something equally really great. How did you find out?
I just got an email. I was just working from home and the email came through, it was just a complete surprise really I wasn’t expecting it.
What is it about this industry that you love, unlike film or television, what is it about games that sets them apart for you?
Games have always appealed to me ever since I was really tiny, really. Just because the realm of possibility is huge. It’s so immersive! To not disrespect film, because obviously film is a fantastic medium you can tell stories in a way that is so immersive and unique. You can learn so much in games, you can change people’s outlook on the world, you can open their mind, you can share empathy from one kind of person to another that just feels so much stronger than any other medium.
I’ve read a little about your time in Japan, how do you feel that’s influenced your work and your career, or just your perspective as a person?
Oh yeah, massively actually. It’s one of the best thing’s I’ve ever done in my life, really. I always was interested in Japanese culture and things like that. But, being there I was very influenced by how in Japan the kind of history of Japan, and the religions they’ve had in Japan really feeds a lot into their relationship with nature and character design. From everything like Pokémon to just everything that they make like [studio] Ghibli films, I think you can just really tell a Japanese game because there’s this connection to nature and this spirituality of nature that really comes through, and that just really spoke to me and I absolutely loved it being there and I’ve definitely carried that forward into a lot of the things that I do.
That’s fantastic! Was it something you knew before that you loved, or did you discover that in Japan?
I think I knew I liked it, and then I got there and one of the funny things that happened is: I was learning Japanese while I was there and I was often asking my Japanese friends ‘what’s the word for this animal?’, or ‘What’s the word for this plant?’. Quite often actually, because Japanese is a complex language, they wouldn’t necessarily know the name of it! I realised I was the kind of person that asked a lot about animals and nature just by reflection.
And evidently a very curious person, and presumably that feeds into ideas of world-building and answering these questions. Did your experience in Japan feed into the idea of wanting to do social good?
Absolutely. So, I studied in Hiroshima University, which the world knows for being the location of the A-bomb, and that involved actually one of my modules was peace studies so that was a privilege to be able to study that and learn about that, even though my degree was unrelated; it was an arts degree. So that’s had a huge influence, I really respect one of the things we did as students was go to the annual peace ceremony in Hiroshima city where Japanese kind-of makes an international callout against war ever year which I thought was really beautiful.
Wow, that’s amazing. Going back to this idea of wanting to do a social good, social justice I guess, where do you think that comes from in your personality?
Gosh that’s a big question! Just need to think about how I’m going to answer! I think, ever since a really young age I had a lot of empathy. I told my parents I wanted to be a vegetarian from like age 7, as soon as I realised what the deal was with eating meat. And I think what I touched upon with games being really important. Entertainment’s really important, games are really important, you know we can’t all be doing really worthy things all the time, but at the same time it’s an opportunity to make the world a better place, basically.
That’s amazing, and clearly you do that in more ways than just your career, you mentioned you’re a vegetarian, and clearly this empathy has been an ongoing thing that you’ve happened to have dipped your professional side into. How do you think this has influenced your work then?
I guess I would say it’s been a huge influence, it’s not something that’s easy to do, you have to make a living. You can’t just go through life picking and choosing these super important topics, but my first job in games was at a company called ‘Preloaded’. Whose kind of slogan is that they make games with purpose, and I was particularly attracted to apply for that job because of that reason, they’d made a lot of educational games, games for museums, things like that. So really the trajectory of my career has been very heavily influenced by that and I would say I’ve been very privileged to choose projects, that’s one of the things I’ve been very grateful for, that I’ve managed to find projects that are very important to me.
And what is it you might look for in a project?
I guess anything to do with nature, education, or history. I suppose, maybe it’s a bit less about ‘looking for’, it’s kind of serendipity that you’re available, somebody wants your work, and that the game that they’re working on is of this kind of nature. I’ve actively avoided working on things like gambling games, and that kind of thing.
That’s great. You say about not being able to do choose every project, but you evidently have come down a path that’s led you to such a great place, and clearly you have worked very hard to be here. What kind of games do you enjoy playing?
Personally, I really love puzzle games. I really like casual games, I think they get pushed aside a little bit but I think there’s definitely a place for relaxing, kind-of puzzle games, but I really love anything that is kind of mystery-puzzle. So, things like [Return of the] Obra Dinn, I grew up playing Monkey Island, that was a really formative game for me, and probably my favourite kind-of ‘franchises’ are Zelda, because that’s like a puzzle adventure, really, and Animal Crossing I really like as well – it’s about friendship!
That’s nice! Also, animals! How do you feel your upbringing has influenced your career path and your subject matters?
Yeah, I suppose its two sides of a coin. Being from the North-East, there’s not a lot of creative industry up there. You know, you don’t really know anybody or meet anybody who works in a creative job, so there were parts of it that sort of held me back I’d say, but at the same time it gave me something to fight against – I am going to be an artist, no matter what anyone says! Then again, there’s a lot of things I’m grateful for, the college I went to was really good. I learned recently the guy that designed the LEGO Harry Potter castle for LEGO, also went to the same college as me so I feel like there must’ve been some good push there on a creative side. I suppose it’s also a bit more of a ‘nature-y’ place compared to other parts of the country. I grew up going to the seaside a lot, like Northumbria, natural parks things like that.
That’s great! Clearly you have pushed against it, and clearly you have made all the right decisions, and clearly you do have all the right bouncing-off points to be involved in the right projects, to work hard, and to earn your place. And now you’ve been cemented as someone who does that, and belongs, through this award. So just to round it off, congratulations, it’s been a pleasure!
UK Breakthroughs 2023
- Adjani Salmon, writer/performer/exec producer – Dreaming Whilst Black
- Bella Ramsey, performer – The Last of Us
- Cash Carraway, creator/writer/exec producer – Rain Dogs
- Charlotte Reganm, writer/director – Scrapper
- Cynthia De La Rosa, hair & makeup artist – Everyone Else Burns
- Ella Glendining, director – Is There Anybody Out There?
- Funmi Olutoye, lead producer – ‘Black History Makers’ (Good Morning Britain)
- Georgia Oakley, writer/director – Blue Jean
- Holly Reddaway, voice and performance director – Baldur’s Gate 3
- Joel Beardshaw, lead designer – Desta: The Memories Between
- Kat Morgan, hair & makeup designer – Blue Jean
- Kathryn Ferguson, writer/director – Nothing Compares
- Kitt (Fiona) Byrne, 2D artist/game designer – Gibbon: Beyond the Trees
- Michael Anderson, producer – Desta: The Memories Between
- Pete Jackson, writer/creator – Somewhere Boy
- Raine Allen-Miller, director – Rye Lane
- Rosy McEwen, performer – Blue Jean
- Samantha Béart, performer – The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
- Talisha ‘Tee Cee’ Johnson, writer/director/presenter – Too Autistic for Black
- Vivian Oparah, performer – Rye Lane
- Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys
US Breakthroughs 2023
- Amanda Kim, documentary director – Nam June Paik: Moon Is The Oldest TV
- Aminah Nieves, performer – 1923 and Blueberry (Film/TV)
- Apoorva Charan, producer – Joyland
- Cheyenne Morrin, senior games writer – Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
- Edward Buckles Jr. documentary director – Katrina Babies
- Gary Gunn, composer – A Thousand and One
- Jingyi Shao, writer & director – Chang Can Dunk
- Maria Altamirano, producer – All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
- Santiago Gonzalez, cinematographer – Shortcomings
- Shelly Yo, writer & director – Smoking Tigers
- Sing J Lee, writer & director – The Accidental Getaway Driver
- Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, writer & director – Mutt
India Breakthroughs 2023
- Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys
- Abhinav Tyagi, editor – An Insignificant Man
- Don Chacko Palathara, director/writer – Joyful Mystery
- Kislay, director – Soni
- Lipika Singh Darai, director/writer – Some Stories Around Witches
- Miriam Chandy Mencherry, producer – From the Shadows and The Leopard’s Tribe
- Pooja Rajkumar Rathod, cinematographer – Secrets of the Elephants
- Sanal George, sound editor/mixer/designer – Gangubai Kathiawadi
- Satya Rai Nagpaul, cinematographer – Ghoomketu
- Shardul Bhardwaj, performer – Eeb Allay Ooo!
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