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Fan Spotlight: Inna Vjuzhanina

Mar 17, 2024

Fan Spotlight: Inna Header

We are extremely excited to showcase the works of one of the Tomb Raider community veterans, the wonderful artist Inna Vjuzhanina. 

Q: How did your Tomb Raider journey start? 

Inna: I came to the franchise pretty late, around 2007 or ‘08. I wasn't into games involving shooting at all. I was, however, a big fan of puzzle-solving quests and riddles. So, I asked my university friend to share some puzzle game from her collection, specifically instructing her not to bring anything involving shooting. She brought me Tomb Raider: Anniversary. You can imagine TRA the levels of terror when the T-Rex popped up, and that's why I developed trust issues with the said friend :) When the battle was done, though, I really bonded with Lara. Her fearlessness, grace, and resourcefulness really charmed me. If we could survive an extinct beast together, we can survive anything. She’s been my friend and my Muse ever since. 

Q: How did your art journey start? 

Inna: Ironically, my art journey began with Tomb Raider. By the time I had completed all the games—old and new, I irrevocably fell in love with the world and with Lara. The emotions were so strong that I needed to do something about them. They needed a creative outlet, a physical form to exist outside of my heart. This was when I discovered deviantArt and a posing program called XNALara. I taught myself some basic Photoshop skills, posing various scenes in XNALara, exporting them to Photoshop, and adding final touches and effects. It was fun for a while, but I felt like the program was limiting my creative vision since I could only work with the models and assets available. I craved the freedom to create anything I could imagine, the way I envisioned it, which was only possible if I did everything from scratch myself. 

DeviantArt had a very active and beautiful art community back then, and some XNA artists I followed started pursuing the new and mysterious thing called “digital painting.” I was absolutely fascinated by it. So, I used the money I saved up to buy my very first tiny digital tablet. With some existing Photoshop skills, my art journey began. I started teaching myself art fundamentals through online tutorials and practicing with art books. A year later, I realized art is not just a hobby; it’s my calling and one of my greatest passions in life. So, I quit my dull office job and started the exciting art path—one of the best decisions of my life. 

As time went by, my art repertoire expanded drastically, and I started doing art professionally. However, I never stopped painting Tomb Raider. It excites me now just as it did then. To me, Lara is like an old friend—no matter how much time has passed, you can always come back to her, and you’ll pick the conversation back up right where you left it. Be it yesterday or ten years ago. 

Q: What are some notable Tomb Raider projects you’ve been a part of? 

Tomb Raider has connected me with some of the best people—many of whom are now my great friends, and we’ve collaborated on some stellar projects together. The one I am most proud of is my cover and booklet art for Peter Connelly’s Tomb Raider: The Dark Angel Symphony music album. It was a dream project from start to finish. I've also worked on a fan remake of Tomb Raider II called The Dagger of Xian, created by Nicobass (who is also one of my very first artistic inspirations!). I painted DoX’s loading screen, main menu background art, and some inspired pieces for it. 

I regularly collaborate with Dean Kopri on his stunning Tomb Raider-inspired music projects. His music inspired one of my personal favorite paintings (which I'll share in the TR2 art section). 

My recent significant commission came from a person I deeply admire—StellaLune. Her walkthroughs have guided many lost raiders, and I’ve always enjoyed clicking through her website pages just to admire the art on the banners. It was a huge honor when she approached me to create new banners for those same pages I admired. 

I've also created Tomb Raider art for magazines such as German Glamour, Pix’n’Love, and cover art for the Polish “Making of the Tomb Raider” book. But, of course, the biggest dream is to create official art for Tomb Raider one day! 


Lost Valley 

Lara Croft running away from the T-Rex.

This painting was a cover art commission. I was approached by the Polish publishing house Open Beta who were working on the “Making of the Tomb Raider” book. They wanted to feature an iconic scene of Lara and the T-Rex, which I’ve always wanted to paint myself but never got to. This is what I call a dream job! 

After discussing a number of concepts that I turned in, we decided we wanted both Lara and T-Rex facing the viewer. So we sent our girl running. I really wanted to capture the sense of scale and how huge and menacing T-Rex felt when we first saw it. So, I positioned Lara as close to the viewer as possible while placing our good old friend in the background right behind her. I wanted it taking as much space as possible, but still feeling far away. Adding atmospheric perspective fog and compressing value range really helped to achieve this effect. 

The whole painting has a blue-green color palette so Lara’s iconic accessory of red glasses was a perfect color accent to strengthen the focal point. 

It’s a New Adventure

Lara Croft having a break, sitting on the floor somehwere in Egypt

I love dynamic action scenes, so painting Lara in the middle of them always feels right. But this time around, I wanted to try something different. Our beloved adventurer always visits the most breathtaking locations, so I thought she just has to have a moment to take a pause and simply admire the view. This Egyptian scene with golden specks of dust floating around and golden light shining through the ancient stone cracks came to mind. I’m the kind of person who gets happy about little things, like beautiful rays of light or pretty little pebbles on the road. So, Lara had to suck it up and embody this part of me in this painting. 

Welcome to Vilcabamba 

Lara Croft in the middle of the fight against wolves.

Well, enough rest, back to action! I’ve always wanted to paint a tribute to the iconic opening scene of arriving at Vilcabamba and fighting the wolves. Last year, when the snow came, I felt inspired to finally do it. I wanted to go absolutely crazy with the dynamics, so I gave Lara a lot of strong action lines in her pose. I topped it off with the dramatic sway of her cape. If you look closely, the cape doesn’t really make sense, as it would have to be cut on the back to take this shape. But that’s the beauty of imaginative art – things don’t always have to make sense. I just love how the cape flows through the whole painting, and that was a solid enough argument for me. So now you’re all part of this little 'cape secret'! Don’t tell anyone. 


Adventure Calls 

Lara Croft adjusting her red sunglasses while her braid sways on the wind.

This piece was inspired by the most amazing music track Dean Kopri created for Nico’s TR2 fan remake. I could listen to it on repeat forever, and after a solid part of that 'forever,' this idea came to mind. The music evoked the feeling of starting something new, fun, and exciting. When the light breeze touches your hair, the sun warms your skin, and through the sound of rustling leaves, you can hear the call of a new adventure. 

Since this piece was meant to complement the level, I wanted to try something different in terms of the workflow here. I aimed for this Lara to closely resemble the model Nico used in the game. So, I got my hands on the 3D model from the level, posed her in XNALara, and then painted on top. This was quite an interesting and refreshing experience. I was really happy with the result, and it also ended up being one of my most loved TR pieces. 


Lara Croft in Tibet.

When the remasters were announced, I went bonkers with excitement. I had a work-in-progress for this painting on my back burner for a couple of years. I started it, but something just wasn’t working, and I eventually lost interest. After the announcement, my creative engines got fired back up, and I promptly understood what wasn’t working and fixed it. 

The painting itself is intended to depict Lara taking a little breather from all her action-filled life and soaking in the view. Being on top of the Tibetan Mountain definitely calls for it. I also decided to swap the regular climbing rope for the Tibetan string of flags to add some color accent to the painting. I’ve been smirking about it ever since. Using sacred Tibetan flags as climbing gear is such a Lara thing to do. 

Maria Doria 

Lara Croft holding a harpoon gun in the Wreck of Maria Doria.

Tomb Raider II is definitely my favorite game in terms of the variety of locations. I think I will eventually complete my art set with tributes to every single level. But for now, I can put a check mark on the Maria Doria ones. 

At that time, a sneak peek screenshot from the Remasters was published, and I went all hearts-in-the-eyes over it. I’ve always loved the visually delicious combo of sea blues and rusty oranges in these levels, so that was my main visual inspiration here. I’ve also always been captivated by the mysterious underwater atmosphere, and I had a lot of fun experimenting with dramatic lighting and unusual skin tone colors. If you use a color picker over her skin, you’ll see that those are dark greens, blues, grays, and blacks. Yet, they look perfectly 'human' in the surrounding colors. The beauty and magic of color relativity! 


TR III - Cover Remake 

Lara Croft holding her iconic dual pistols.

This painting is pretty significant for me. A while back, I set myself on a challenge to create my takes on the classic TR covers. There's always something so fun and intriguing about giving your own spin to something drastically different in style. I was just curious about what I could create here. At this point in my art journey, I've produced a lot of TR art, and my portrayal of Lara has always differed in each painting. 

When I started this cover remake project, I did each piece one after another so that I could stay in the zone. By the time I completed my third one, I finally captured that vision of Lara I've always had in my head but could never fully convey visually. So, after this piece, my Lara finally got her final look, and I've been painting her that way ever since. 

Crash Site 

Lara Croft touching a skull while raptors circle her.

This one is probably one of my all-time favorites. Despite its challenging number of details, it was one of those paintings that flowed smoothly from start to finish, and I actually completed it in just a few days. It was for a fan website project celebrating the 25th anniversary of Tomb Raider. I was asked to create a tribute painting for any of the classic levels of my choice, and I decided it was high time I painted the South Pacific location. I've always loved that outfit and Lara’s vibrant green shorts! 

I tend to always give Lara red nail polish – this is a legacy of Andy Park and how he draws Lara. He was one of my first artistic inspirations and his vision of Lara is forever imprinted on me.


Lara Croft in Nevada

Nevada levels are some of my favorites, even though I’m pretty sure I say this about every classic level. I got in the mood to paint something very dynamic and bright. The striking contrast of red rocks and blue skies is what I needed for this idea. The painting has a lot of ascending lines, creating a sense of imminent action, even though Lara is sitting still right now. Her whole pose has an ascending action line, continued by the jets and backed by a cloud in the background. Arches behind her add balance to the composition, reinforcing the ascending lines at the same time. 

I debated whether or not to include the sight of the military base down below. I did a rough layout and understood it didn’t really do me any favors visually, so I ditched that unnecessary chunk of work. The bonus that comes with it is adding more curiosity and a sense of wonder. The most intriguing scenes are where something is implied but not fully shown. It’s up to the imagination of the viewer to get into the scene and complete the story. We see Lara looking out for something, military jets flying in that direction, and radars… but what kind of story does all that turn into if you don’t know the game? That’s up to the viewer to figure out! 

You can follow Inna's work here:

Do you have a series of art or project you’re particularly proud of? Share it with us on social for a chance to be featured in our next spotlight! 

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