Sub Atl: The Sixth Sun

Natalia Soto Leites

Context: How Sub Atl Came to Be

Sub Atl is a world building project that seeks to explore the mix of the natural world, the contemporary world and a fictitious, fantastic future world where everything is flooded and people have developed animal characteristics to adapt. It is a visual expression of the research I’ve done on the culture and aesthetics of Mexico to connect my roots and upbringing to my art practice, which has itself grown in a different country and with many many sources of inspiration. This project started as a way to strengthen my concept art and world building skills, with the possibility of someday being turned into a graphic novel. It is based, as I previously mentioned, on Mexico, specifically on Xochimilco, one of the municipalities in Mexico City. Its development has also been influenced by author of the literary movement of magical realism Isabel Allende and the dual identity that many Mexican people experience due to both previous immigration into Mexico and colonialism, as well as contemporary emigration from Mexico to places like the USA or Canada (such as myself). 

To visualize this research and exploration, I created a fictional world, imagined in a future version of Mexico. I focused on creating a cast of characters that could have evolved from how humanity is today, illustrating their image and the environment they live in. The project consists of their character sheets, visual development of the architecture and setting of the world, and a couple concept pieces to explore how the characters interact with their environment.


Tenochtitlan has fallen. Again. 

In the historic center of Mexico City (originally named Tenochtitlan until the Conquest), the Metropolitan cathedral finally sunk through centuries of foundations stacked one on top of the other, and into the lake where what we know today as Mexico City was first built. The displacement of water has reached and flooded every corner of the capital, and led to what some archeologists are referring to as “The Sixth Sun” in reference to the belief that, before humanity became what it is today, Mexica (also known as the Aztecs) gods recreated the world and their people five times before. Each era is one Sun, and so with the flooding of Mexico City and the evolution of its people that followed, we have entered the Sixth Sun.

Character Design

The characters of Sub Atl are all inspired by different animals found in Mexico City, and range from fully terrestrial animals to amphibious ones to fully aquatic ones. Each character’s design is determined by their respective animal’s distinctive features and color palettes.

Environment Design

The surface of the Sub Atl world is directly inspired by Xochimilco’s flat boats, known as trajineras, and the stilt houses found in Vietnam. The idea was to take the dexterous, easily navigated trajineras and make them more than transportation. Keeping the color and decoration you see on the trajineras accurate in the houseboat design was the main priority f this design, as well as exploring how you render each material and how textures can work together. 

The underwater environment of Sub Atl is significantly more fantastic and less based on mexico that the surface is. It is more of an exploration of how ruins and natural elements could come together to create something new. Most importantly, what had to stand out was that despite there being a clear sense of reverence and ancientness, that the environment was somewhere that looks habited at the same time.

The shell houses were originally an exploration of how one can visually depict social hierarchies, with the being underneath and attached to the house boats, but this idea is too underdeveloped at this point to make it canon.

The houses in the river floor are a stronger connection to pre-colonial religion. The icons at the top of each house are based on a representation of Tlaloc, the Mexica god of rain, as well as artifacts and animal depictions that are actually seen in archeological sites. 

A Look into Sub Atl (concept art)

These pieces are a look into the daily lives of three of the five characters of Sub Atl to help give both myself and the audience an idea of the context and story within the world. In the first image, Zyanya, Bruno and Yali are out enjoying some corn on the cob, a common street snack people enjoy in Xochimilco. The second one is focused less on the realistic element of this project and more on the fictitious one. We get to see the interior of some of the underwater architecture, and how the characters behave in it.

To see a more in depth look at Sub Atl and to see sketches, iterations and a more on each character and environment, click on the link below!

Natalia Soto Leites

I'm seeking opportunities
Contact Me
Natalia Soto Leites is a Mexican illustrator based in Vancouver, Canada whose work is inspired by the many fantasy novels and movies she relished in as a child and the bright colors of Mexican artisanal arts. Having moved from Mexico City to attend Emily Carr University, Natalia combines fiction, surrealism, and reflecting on the world she lives in through character and creature design, and world building. Her main medium is digital illustration, but has explored 3D modeling in both digital and analog formats. She hopes to take her practice into the animation world as a concept artist, visual developer or character and environment designer. Contact info:
Profile image of Natalia Soto Leites