Dollfie Dream Y'shtola: interview with Lead Character Concept Artist Ayumi Namae

FINAL FANTASY XIV character concept artist Ayumi Namae explains how she ensured Y’shtola’s new doll was faithful to the game.
By Square Enix Merchandise

In case you missed the news, Y’shtola will be making her debut as a 60-cm doll in the Dollfie Dream series!

Dollfie Dream (DD) Y’shtola was brought to life as a collaboration between FINAL FANTASY XIV (FFXIV) and VOLKS. Under FFXIV Lead Character Concept Artist Ayumi Namae’s supervision, this product was crafted with careful attention to detail.

We had a chance to speak with Namae about DD Y’shtola and the collaboration with VOLKS.

About Ayumi Namae:

Following her involvement in FFXI and FFXII, Namae has been with the FFXIV team since its inception. Her works as a character concept artist span numerous NPCs, equipment, weapons, and more.

The role of a Character Concept Artist

The role of a character concept artist is to envision an image based on text-based information or words, then render them into visual form.

When creating character designs for FFXIV, the director or a planner provides the base information, which the character concept artist uses to propose a visual concept, which is then finalized through discussions with the director.

Once the concept is solidified, the illustration is further defined with details for the 3D team to reference when creating the in-game character data. The silhouette of the character is adjusted for balance, then the front/side/rear views are rendered in detail. Fine details such as material textures and accessory designs are fleshed out as much as possible during this process.

Dollfie Dream Y'shtola concept art

Our collaboration with VOLKS features Y’shtola, a character that appears in the story of FFXIV. Although Y’shtola’s outfit has changed a number of times throughout the story, her outfit during Shadowbringers, which she wears in this collaboration, was designed by me.

Details on Y’shtola’s Design Concept and Outfit

Working with the fundamental idea of a “sorceress,” I came up with the concept for a robe stitched together with leftover pieces of old cloth due to having only limited supplies. Her stylish upper-body silhouette and feather extensions accentuate her charming characteristics, while details such as her ring, brooch, and the soles of her shoes reinforce her image as a sorceress. I aimed for a design that would also resonate with people who enjoy fantasy settings like those of The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

Assuming the Supervision Role

I was assigned this supervision role by Producer and Director Naoki Yoshida after the sample was complete. Although he didn’t share his reason with me, I imagine he passed the role to me because I oversee his costume designs for official events and the doll’s outfit is a crucial aspect of this product.

I am a fan of works by doll makers Katan Amano and Koitsukihime and have been visiting exhibitions ever since my student days. So, when I was approached with the role of supervising this DD, my reaction was a combination of both joy and nervousness.

Supervision of Y’shtola’s Outfit

If the outfit was designed with tight and straight lines, like a uniform, I imagine it would’ve been easy enough to create a paper stencil and procure the necessary materials. However, Y’shtola’s outfit design emphasizes the handmade, haphazard look and texture of stitching together leftover pieces of old cloth, which I believe was very difficult to replicate when creating the doll’s outfit.

At a glance, it might look like DD Y’shtola is wearing a simple black robe, but the black segments are actually made using multiple materials with varying textures. VOLKS did an exceptional job with the intricate details, such as the fitted bodice or the fullness of the layers of gathers and pleats in the hem, which are difficult to replicate with actual clothing patterns.

Dollfie Dream Y'shtola close up

Her signature accessories are of especially high quality. The hexagonal adjuster part on her back has a thistle motif, and I was very impressed that it was masterfully crafted to the finest detail as early as the initial sample stage. The brooch on her chest and her ring are also worth noting.

Dollfie Dream Y'shtola close up

Supervision of Y’shtola’s Face and Makeup

Rather than simply creating a figure of Y’shtola, the idea was to make it appealing to DD fans and make sure it didn’t feel out of place when lined up next to DDs that were previously released. As such, it was very difficult to strike a balance between Y’shtola as a character and DD.

The DD series feature a larger head-to-body ratio compared to the in-game version of Y’shtola, so their faces are stylized with much larger eyes. With that in mind, I asked VOLKS to adjust the version they first presented to portray Y’shtola’s cool and collected mannerisms. DD Y’shtola’s face had an alluring presence even during the interim samples, and I couldn’t help but caress her cheeks and hair.

Dollfie Dream Y'shtola close up

Supervision of Y’shtola’s Arcane Weapon, “Nightseeker”

Her arcane weapon was also replicated in high-quality, with prominent edges even in the most minute areas, and it was almost as though it were plucked straight out of the game. Since its design concept was that of an ancient tree inhabited by magic, we asked for it to feature a worn and textured appearance.

Dollfie Dream Y'shtola weapon

Thoughts on the Finished Sample

There’s the Japanese saying, “As if a spirit dwells within this doll,” and that was exactly what I felt.

There was nothing out of the ordinary about the meeting room where I saw the finished product, but I felt as if I’d encountered a fairy or some other fantastical being. I was awed by the presence the DD had, as if it might start moving at any moment.

A Message for FFXIV Players

During my meetings with VOLKS, they informed me of the challenges they face when procuring durable materials, as well as during the steps between replication through mass production.

We were also joined by the SQUARE ENIX Merchandising Division, whom have been involved with the production of many figurines and merchandise, and there were passionate discussions like, “Based on our experiences, so-and-so material would be hard to work with,” or “How about so-and-so method?” Even though I lacked knowledge on these topics and was requesting things based on personal vision, they always assured me, “We’ll go the full nine yards, so please put in more requests!” and proceeded to procure materials and brush up on the design.

The VOLKS website had splendid photos showcasing DD Y’shtola in a forest-like setting, but there is a moving sensation you can only feel by coming face-to-face with the actual DD. The DD Y’shtola Display Caravan has the actual doll displayed at the VOLKS storefront, so whether or not you’re considering welcoming her to your home, I hope you’ll go meet her at least once. I’m sure you’ll be moved deeply.

Dollfie Dream Y'shtola close up