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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Looking Back on Day of the Tentacle

Larry Ahern: You've probably heard this before, I think a lot of us say this. It was one of the best games I've ever worked on. And I feel that way in terms of the experience as well as the results, which is funny, because it was very limited technology. There were a lot of things that we wanted to do that we couldn't do. But I think a lot of times you get great creative solutions to problems when you have limitations, and, combine that with a small team and a relatively short development cycle, we weren't going to bite off more than we could chew. We just found ways that we could innovate, and then, I think, within the limitations that we had, we just did our best to do something that was fun and funny and visually interesting.

Peter Chan: All I can say is that for Day of the Tentacle, for me, it was such a learning curve for me. When I think back at it, I'm trying to think If I had fun, and I did have fun, but I also was pretty new at the company at the time, and, I felt like I had so much to learn, and so I think Day of the Tentacle definitely... I put my head down and just tried to pick up things as quickly as I could. And I was very intimidated at the time, just because I wasn't a gamer, and everyone else seemed to be. And so, again, I was insecure and was trying to impress, but at the same time, I was insecure, just because I didn't know anything about games. And I was surrounded by all these incredible talent and artists and animators, and so, I was really just there, I think, Day of the Tentacle was fun.

LA: Day of the Tentacle was pretty focused, so, and like I said, it was a fun team to work with, it was a small team, so everybody was very collaborative. It's a heck of a lot easier to work on stuff like that when everyone's riffing off stuff together and figuring out how to do it, and come up with great solutions, whereas they, I look at Full Throttle, we tried to do way too much on that, so I think if you look at a lot of individual shots, there are things that are pretty scrappy because we'd rough out an animation scene and realize, “Well, this is the scene that we want, and we need these three shots, but we hardly have any time, so let's just toss those together super fast.”

And, so, when I see those, I still cringe a little bit, even though the overall impact is, hey, that's a good scene, and then by the time we got on Curse of Monkey Island, it was just a huge team. That gets hard. I feel like that starts to turn into more of an assembly line, and I think the animators on that did phenomenal work, but, trying to keep that all coordinated, I probably turned into a little bit more of a dictator than I should have. Hopefully all those guys have gone on to do bigger and better things and don't hate me...

PC: Luckily, I don't get bombarded [with Day of the Tentacle questions] a lot, because I live on an island; I don't live in California anymore. A lot of people don't even know what I do for a living out here, and, that's because that's the way I like it, and, so, for me, it's kind of like, when it does happen, it's mostly when I go over to Denmark, because I teach at a college there, an animation college called the Animation Workshop, and I've been doing it for eight years now. I go over there and teach concept art. So, when I'm there, that's when I get a lot of questions. Mostly from the young students, they're all in their twenties, so, our games were part of their childhood, part of their middle school experience, and, so, when they come up to me, it makes me feel old, of course, when they say, “Oh, yeah, when I was in the sixth grade, or when I was in the eighth grade, whatever, I played your game,” or, I would hear many stories of, “I used to put tracing paper on my computer screen and try to draw your backgrounds.”

LA: Other than kind of figuring out how to animate on the second Monkey Island game, Day of the Tentacle... pretty much my learning curve on animating was happening on the job. But, I was just going nuts for it. We were getting out Looney Tunes movies and freeze-framing on things to see how things were done and getting all the reference books we could get. That was happening across the company, because we had a lot of new people there as the company was growing, and, we did a lot of after-work sessions studying animation and doing cartooning, and everybody was just going crazy for learning how to do this stuff.

So, there's a lot of healthy competition between projects, people trying to figure out how to do things and one-up each other. It was kind of a point of pride. How good can we make this? And I just loved the process of learning how to do it, figuring out technical limitations, how can you get an animation to look the way you want, how can you get a character to turn out. And for me, having worked, I guess I'd been there a year and a half or so, I felt like all the previous projects I had worked on were little pixelated characters that didn't have the level of personality that I wanted to put into a character. So, this being the first game that I got to design the characters, it was just a thrill.

Special thanks to Liz Lerner for the interview transcriptions. Original Day of the Tentacle background images courtesy of neurotech's Imgur account. Original Day of the Tentacle sprite rips couresty of jhrobert's DeviantArt account. All other assets courtesy of Double Fine Productions.

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