Behind the Art of Day of the Tentacle

Behind the Art of Day of the Tentacle

COVER STORY: LucasArts alumni Peter Chan and Larry Ahern chat about the challenges of making a "cartoon adventure" under the constraints of early '90s technology.

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Touching Up the Past

While the art and animation of Day of the Tentacle stands as an impressive achievement for 1993, refurbishing the chunky sprite graphics and pixelated backgrounds for the standards of today requires a careful touch. Luckily, both Chan and Ahern assisted the artists at Double Fine by ensuring DoTT's art successfully makes the transition from low to high resolution.

Larry Ahern: Basically, they talked to me about converting the characters to high-res versions. I sat down and did some sketches to kind of point them in the right direction for how I would refine the details, if you're taking this pixelated version of the character, what would he look like in high res. How do the small details like the mouth and the tip of the nose and whatever translate. Because, sometimes, someone trying to take something to high res, they're guessing. Does the nose split between these two pixels, or does it lean towards one or the other? And sometimes it matters. So, I did some high-res sketches of the three main characters, and then, I also did the, I don't know if it's packaging art, there's no box, I don't think. But whatever the new art that's used in the marketing stuff. So, I did the black and white version of that, someone else painted it.

Peter Chan: Thankfully, Yujin Kiem, he was hired to help, and his incredible team. Yujin has kept in touch with me, and at the beginning he would email me and share some of the old drawings and the new drawings, and asked what was I thinking. And so, we went back and forth, and I shared my thoughts. This is the reason why I did this and that, and Yujin got it. He was brilliant. Yujin studied my stuff enough to see where I was going with it, and, he got into the spirit of things, and I think he passed that down to his team. I think those guys did an amazing job of cleaning up and doing everything that I wish I could have done twenty years ago.

Chester, another of Day of the Tentacle's cut characters. (He was later turned into Ned and Jed Edison.)

LA: It's funny, because I actually stumbled across a playthrough video interview with Tim the other day, and, they had the interview in the main screen, and then a window in the corner showing the game that they were playing through, and they were playing through the high-res version, and, like, when I've looked at the high-res version myself, I kind of go, “Yeah, that's pretty good, but I liked the original better,” because there's a certain amount of just blending and averaging, I guess, is what it feels like. It feels like, this has been averaged on some level, and it may not be exactly the way I would have done it. But then I saw it in that little inset, and I realized, oh, it looks fantastic there. If I get too close to it and nitpick the details, I'm like, “Ah, I wouldn't have done it that way,” but when I can step back from worrying about that stuff, I thought it looked fantastic. So, I'm sure anybody but the person who designed it will love it.

PC: What I also appreciate is, the people who are playing it, they have this nostalgic feeling for it, and the last thing I wanted to do was clean it up so much that it's unrecognizable. I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to change it, I just wanted it to be cleaned up a little bit here and there, but I wanted to keep that old nostalgic feeling, because that's what they grew up with, and that's what the fans want. It's like the old Star Wars. Just leave the old Star Wars alone. But, you keep changing it, and it's not the same. So, that was the goal, was, try to be true to it as much as you can, so then the fans could hopefully still appreciate it.

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