Secret of Mana Redux

Interview with Rhett Whittington #2


Interview with Rhett Whittington #2

April 27, 2021

Secret of Mana fanart by Rhett Whittington

Draw what inspires you. Draw things that delight you and make you happy when you see them! Because odds are it’s special to someone else too, and it can end up inspiring them.

Rhett Whittington

You can imagine how much fanart I’ve seen in my many years of Reduxing, but rarely do I come across work as dynamic and imaginative as that of our good friend Rhett Whittington of Hope, Indiana.  Last year, Mr. Whittington and myself talked about the release of The Art of Mana hardcover book.  The plan was to follow-up with his own art, but with the transition from the blog to the site, things were held up for a bit.

Today, we’ll get to know Mr. Whittington better as we take a look at his work, and he’ll share what inspires his creations.  As you may suspect, Secret of Mana has something to do with it.

At home with Rhett
At home with Rhett

Rhett, welcome back to our site. Thank you for joining us again.  Somehow, a year has gone by since we went through The Art of Mana together.  Let’s hear more about you.  How’ve you been staying busy during the quarantine?

Hey there, Tim! I’ve actually stayed really busy. I’m working full-time and doing e-learning at home with my daughter, which is practically like having a second (part-time) job! *laughs* Luckily, I’ve also found some time to work in some gaming and of course, my own artwork. I’m sadly not doing any commission work right now due to my limited time, but I’ll get through it. I just replayed Adventures of Mana on my iPhone!

I have a small Jack Russell terrier dog named Frank. He’s 15 years old and is a tad on the grumpy side. Everyone thinks he’s a puppy because of his size, but he’s really a grouchy old man. *laughs*

Rhett Whittington and Frank

I’ve been in Hope my whole life. It’s the best place someone could grow up in. The town is a small, quaint midwest town of about 2000 residents. It’s a rural farming town and has a rich history as its beginnings go back to the 1800s. Just think of every depiction you’ve seen of Smallville in Superman comics or movies/shows, and that’s Hope. I’ve lent my talents to the town and have designed several of their road and directional signs in our town square. I’ve designed the official art for the annual Hope Ride, a charity bike event. I also do graphic design and sign work for our Fall Festival events and advertising!

Horse and buggy and signs, from the mind of Mr. Whittington:

Street signs by Rhett Whittington
Street signs by Rhett Whittington
Street signs by Rhett Whittington
Street signs by Rhett Whittington

It’s never too soon in an interview around here to profess your love for Secret of Mana.  Let’s hear it.  *laughs*

I was actually late to the party playing that title!  I was introduced to the series along with Legend of Mana, then Dawn of Mana and Children of Mana.  I finally played Secret of Mana after all of those and I found there was a lot I loved about it.

It was cool to see where a lot of later aspects of the series had their roots.  My favorite Mana character is Niccolo, and Neko [from Secret of Mana] too.  I love the idea of cat merchants.  It’s going to sound silly but I also *love* the inclusion of Santa Claus and Rudolph in the snowy area of the game!  I am a huge Christmas fan, and I loved the story arc with Santa and the Mana Seed.  I also loved Popoi’s character a lot because of the playfulness he brings to the game.  

Randi’s design is amazing.  He has one of my favorite looks/costumes of any video game protagonist.  I would say the only thing I don’t care for is the attack gauge and delayed attacks.  To me, it just felt unnecessary.  

I sadly have never finished the original SNES version.  I had to get the remake on my PS4 before I finally beat it and saw the ending.  I did spend a lot of time playing the remake.  I am a trophy hunter for the PSN trophies and I was determined to get all of them.  I thought they added some fun new challenge to a familiar game.  I also have Secret of Mana on my iPhone.  I wish that version could be ported to a console.  It has some great graphic upgrades but it’s still the classic version we all know and love.

In Secret of Mana, I’m also blown away by the sheer number of boss battles.  They have a lot of creative ones.  I love how so many of them became recurring bosses in the series!

A Chobin Hood from Secret of Mana
Poor little fluffy rabbit thing…this is what we’ve been axe murdering all these years :profuse sobbing intensifies:

The mobile art might be my own favorite.  They had to make some adjustments so it would run well on a phone, but I like what they did for a lot of the artwork.  I’ve actually switched to using mobile Sheex over SNES Sheex on a few of my ManaRedux accounts. 

So onto your art.  What’s your most popular work?

My most viewed poster ironically is a Christmas poster I did last year that happened to get featured on the main page of DeviantArt, and has a whopping 209K views!!!  In second place is my Mega Man 4 poster with 11K views.

Where did it all get started?  Maybe tell us about who influenced you.  What were some things you came to like?

Well, I’ve actually been drawing ever since I could pick up a pencil.  A lot of my major influences growing up were comic books and stuff like Superman, He-Man, and [Teenage Mutant] Ninja Turtles.  I really began to get serious about my art in junior high, and began trying to draw and emulate what I saw in the DC comic books I was reading.  I try to be detailed like [comic book artist] Jim Lee, but I also find my style suited to cutesy or cartoony type art. 

One thing that impacted me was the Rankin & Bass Hobbit cartoon.  To this day, I still love the backgrounds and character designs, and its somewhat sepia or washed-out look.

Rhett Whittington

The Ninja Turtles…I was always partial to Leonardo.  I guess because I like blue and I had the toy with the swords that were big enough to take and hit people with.  So this was the cartoon?

Yeah!  The cartoon and the video games especially were a huge influence on me.  

My fav has always been Raphael, because he’s more the serious lone wolf of all the brothers.  In the old cartoon, he mainly just made wise cracks, but as a kid I liked that too *laughs*.

Secret of Mana fanart by Rhett Whittington

Sadly, I don’t know much about the technical side of things.  But I do see different styles in your work that remind me of comic books or cartoons that I’ve come across, mainly back in the day when I was into that sort of thing.  How do you know which approach or style is appropriate based on the subject matter?

I generally like to adhere to a style that’s similar or familiar to the subject I’m drawing.  Occasionally, I’ll just let my own style come out and see what happens.  A good example would be my Trials of Mana poster.  I made that after I played the game, and I had almost no contemporary official character art to reference, so a lot of that is just my natural take.  It’s kind of a blend of cartoony, and traditional western style comic art.

The world of Mana

Now it’s time to make art.  Where do you get the inspiration to start?

My inspiration generally comes from whatever is catching my interest at the time.  I may read a book or watch a movie, or just get really excited about the video game I’m playing.  Then, my mind begins to come up with ideas or stuff I would love to draw from it.  I’ll generally have one strong image of a single character (my fiancé always teases me about this…), but I can never leave it at that.  Any time I draw one character, my wheels begin to turn and I start to come up with entire huge poster layouts and ideas.  Soon enough, I’m drawing 20 or 30 things for these big epic posters that I do. *laughs* For me, I think the joy is really in the making.  I just like to keep busy.

I think you said last year that Castlevania’s your favorite series.  Is that also your favorite source of inspiration?  

Probably.  I’ve been playing the games since I was about 7 years old and it has had a huge impact on me.  That includes my art and my style of drawing.  

It’s funny that Castlevania and the Mana series are almost at opposite ends of the gaming spectrum.  One is super dark and gothic and the other is bright and cute.  But I like being able to switch between the two.  It’s always refreshing to draw the bright characters in Mana after a stint of drawing the vampires, monsters, and Gothic architecture of Castlevania.

Let’s start the process.  What does this look like?  

I still draw everything with pencil and paper.  Then I use tracing paper and ink over top of the pencil art.  It’s just cleaner looking and easier to use tracing paper than ink directly onto the pencil art.  And then I take the finished inked artwork, scan it in, and bring it up in Adobe Photoshop where I do all my coloring and lighting effects.

Popoi from Secret of Mana

Duran from Trials of Mana

What’s the most time you’ve spent on any single piece?

That might be my Castlevania Lords of Shadow poster.  It took almost two months.  It’s double the size of one of my usual posters.  My interest and excitement can really speed a project’s time along.  My recent Donkey Kong was finished in two days!

Simply Rhett

What do you think the future holds?

At the moment, I like to talk with other fans and hear their stories—memories of games or what not when they see my work, and that’s really fulfilling for me.  But if I got asked to do something high profile like character design for a game, that would be amazing.

The best tip I can give for any aspiring artist is—just keep up with it!  Draw what inspires you.  Draw things that delight you and make you happy when you see them!  Because odds are it’s special to someone else too and can end up inspiring them.  Always stick with it and don’t be too critical of yourself or your art.  

One of my professors told me, “a graphic artist’s greatest enemy is apathy”, and that couldn’t be more true.

Christmas artwork. Or Mana artwork with Santa happily enjoying life after that Frost Gigas phase back in ’93.
Early hand colored art
Another early Rhett
Sumo from Final Fantasy Adventure
Sumo from Seiken Densetsu (Final Fantasy Adventure)
Watts the blacksmith
Watts the blacksmith
Undine the water spirit
Undine the water spirit
from the first Final Fantasy

This post features not-for-profit representations of the subject’s “fan art”, which appears to follow the stakeholders’ suggested guidelines for such works referenced on Secret of Mana: Redux’s Terms & Disclaimer page. All copyrighted and trademarked material appearing in this article belong to their respective owners.

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