Videogames have grown up. There are no if’s and’s or but’s about it. Starting from a childhood past-time, gaming has quickly moved into a multi-billion dollar business. The kids that used to sit for hours, looking at the old tube TV as they dispatched hoards of blocky aliens or valiantly save the princess have also grown up. They still hold a spot in their hearts for the joys of gaming, but as adults, want to push the boundaries of what is possible in the space. Music, art and true collectibles allow everyone to express their passion, while still, at times, hitting that special balance between reliving their childhood and being a modern adult.
Iam8bit managed that balancing act with proficiency and style. Their products are stunning collections that anyone, not only gamers, would love to have in their collection. From limited run games, jaw-droppingly beautiful albums, and art that brings everything to life, iam8bit have build something that hits that special nostalgia bone in us all. With albums featuring music from some of today’s most beloved games, including Persona 5, Rez, and Shadow of the Colossus, the future is looking bright for the small, passionate team at iam8bit.
We where lucky enough to get a chance to chat to Amanda White and Jon M. and discuss the formation of iam8bit and their projects up to this point, along with how they got involved with Sony and were able to release the record for the iconic release from Team ICO.
CGMagazine: How did iam8bit get started, and how has it evolved as a company since that point?
Jon: Oh man, that’s a loaded question. iam8bit began way back when in 2005 as a group art show. The namesake of the company was the very same title of that show, enlisting nearly 100 artists to whip up paintings, sculptures, woodworking – really, whatever – interpreting old-school video game characters and worlds. Seems like a no-brainer now, but back then, pop culture themed art shows didn’t exist. iam8bit was the first of its kind. Now pop culture galleries are a dime a dozen. It was fun to watch the trend take off, because pop culture art is now a legitimate business for so many nerds. Like, you can actually feed your family selling Lost, Rick & Morty and Bojack Horseman prints now, but you would have been considered a madman before we proved out the model.
But the thing is – it was a hobbyist thing for me. I was writing cartoons for Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network and had a bunch of artist friends. It wasn’t about money; it was about full-on geekery. The mission was to shake people of that icky frous frous grossness of stodgy fancy pants galleries. I certainly could never afford a $100,000 painting of a blobby abstraction; but what if Zelda and Link were rendered in acrylic on canvas? The bet paid off; people really liked it. Then a bunch of companies started asking iam8bit, the “marketing agency,” to produce t-shirts, influencer mailers, events – AHHHH!
Along the way, Amanda and I met… and those humble ragtag beginnings turned into a real business. It’s good karma for me to publicly acknowledge that she saved me from burning it all down.
Amanda: He’s not kidding. The day Jon and I started working together, we were burning hay in his backyard as part of a marketing mailer. The wind kicked up and well… let’s just say his swimming pool really saved the day. In all seriousness though, Jon and I complement each other’s skill sets in a way that I think, neither of us had really imagined was possible, before we met. Together, we’ve turned iam8bit from a scrappy little company into a real contender in the games marketing and retail spaces, all while remaining connected to those roots of authenticity. Somehow, we manage to keep each other humble and in check through all of the twists and turns that growing a business involves.
CGMagazine: Could you tell us a bit about the process of how iam8bit chooses what albums to bring out?
Jon: These are secrets! But the truth is – we’re usually making bets years before a game is announced. It’s rare that we’re cruising Twitter and poaching the new hotness. This isn’t just a job for us; the game industry is chock full of our pals, and we’re constantly poking our noses into what our friends are working on. We’re making bets on passion – on insatiable artist drive. Seeing the fervor in someone’s eyes that will result in high art. We started talking to the Studio MDHR folks about vinyl over four years ago, long before Cuphead was a phenomenon. What Remains of Edith Finch was on our radar before there was even a finished soundtrack, and we fell in love with the emotional vibrance of the game very early in development. We were really persistent for several years in collaborating on a Steven Universe vinyl. The bottom line is – music only resonates if there’s a genuine soul behind it. That soul is human. We like humans with soul.
Amanda: I just toss coins.
CGM: With the world moving to a more digital landscape, why do you feel the resurgence of vinyl has been so strong?
Amanda: People spend so much time in their heads, on devices, sending communications into cyberspace. Our sense is that when people unplug these days, they want to interact with something they can touch. Something tangible… something analog. Vinyl is the perfect medium to fulfill this desire. It entertains, but not unless you put forth some effort beyond tapping on a screen to make it so. It forces you to engage and be in the moment. It’s meditation in action.
Jon: Fun fact: Amanda is a certified Iyengar yoga instructor, and from a philosophical standpoint, she’s taught me a lot. I’m much more present in the now – and appreciative – than I ever was before meeting her.
CGMagazine: How did the Shadow of the Colossus vinyl album come to be, did Sony come to you, or did you go to Sony?
Jon: PlayStation and iam8bit are buds. Even before vinyl, we worked creatively behind-the-scenes on a lot of marketing activations, so when we started minting vinyl, the conversation was natural. We’ve collaborated on a lot of rad releases, starting with Journey – which, to this day, remains one of our best-sellers of all-time. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t emphasize that Shadow of the Colossus was on the top of our wishlist from the very, very, VERY beginning of our music relationship. It was a dream project – and that’s no exaggeration – for everyone involved, from Sony to iam8bit to Nimit, the artist, to the audio engineers to the copy editors to the production plant. Seriously, this is the Cadillac of Japan Studio releases. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the rare games that has actually made me cry, and that is strongly linked to the power of the orchestral cadence and atmosphere of the story. Ico being another – clearly related.
CGMagazine: How did you enlist Nimit Malavia to do the art for this album?
Jon: Way back when iam8bit was in its infancy, Nimit was an intern at a Los Angeles gallery. He was young and so, so, SO talented. That kid could paint up a storm of elegance, like his soul was thousands of years old. Japan Studio is very protective over the identity of their games, but we could literally think of no other artist that would do The Last Guardian vinyl album art justice… and from the success of that painting came an opportunity to continue the love affair into Shadow of the Colossus.
CGMagazine: With so many albums being released from iam8bit, are there any that stand out above the others?
Jon: Picking favorites is not fair! What do you think, Amanda?
Amanda: I love the Steven Universe set that is about to be unleashed into the world. Colorful, fun and cute – just like the music and the series.
Jon: Okay, fine. I like Rez Infinite. That’s a super important legacy release, because Mizuguchi-san essentially created an entire genre of game with Rez. Music and games were never so severely intertwined until Rez. That seems crazy to think, since it was only 16 years ago, but Rez is absolutely legendary. That game – and that soundtrack – CHANGED gaming forever.
CGMagazine: Part of the beauty in Vinyl is how the art is how the art is Prominently on display. Could you tell us a bit about the process of selecting the art and the building of the full album look?
Amanda: We work closely with artists to define elements from each game’s story that really connect with fans. We do our darndest to then manifest those details either visually thru imagery, texturally thru special paper treatments or via color – say a translucent disc, for example, and to create an overall product experience that amplifies and expands upon what fans already feel about a particular game. It’s kind of like serving up the perfect amount of icing on a really delicious cake.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Brendan Frye’s work such as his interview with EA Motive about Star Wars: Battlefront II, and his in-depth look at the Equifax Hack!
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