Creating the Art for Exhibit of Sorrows


(An excerpt from the game's artist Theresa Kao)

BRAINSTORM

Since Max (the game engineer) already had the outline of the game completed when he approached me, I tried to not alter his overall outline or change the mechanics when I’m designing the sets. I wanted the art design to answer the essential questions about the game. Why is this sequence of events happening? Who are these clowns? What role does the player serve? How did we get here? 

Max already had a clear idea of answering the “where” (the exhibit!) so even though I have a few sick ideas, they are not considered (eg, “maybe… there’s a plot twist that this whole thing is happening in the basement of a serial killer clown!!”). The general synopsis ended up being “what if the player is the actual bad guy, and the clowns are actually innocent.” I think it’s a cool subversion of the fear of clowns in of itself. 

It was a struggle finding the right tone while drawing the game. In the end we went with the “cute children’s book illustration turn horror” tone. Initially I wanted to make it a schlocky B comedy horror like one of the best horror clown movies to grace the scene. 

However it’s a bit more difficult to get an implied story with lore across in a joking tone, especially when some of the implied acts are rather horrific and feels like it’s crossing a line to joke about. Thus the idea is scrapped.

ART DESIGN

In general I went about it by exploring the designs and color palette of the clowns first and asking the game developer’s opinion on it before finalizing it. It’s important for the silhouette to have distinctive and unique shapes.

I played around with the idea of making the art style more supernatural eldritch, highly rendered so it seems like something out of a Junji Ito manga. Though the highly detailed rendering is very time consuming so the “unnerving because it’s based in real life” style of Masaaki Nakayama seems more fitting. 

A very specific note Max asked is for the composition to look symmetrical and flat. He gave the example of Rusty Lake to reference, and I also looked at some of Wes Anderson films for inspiration.

PROBLEMS

One of the biggest problems I had with drawing for this project was that even though I feel like I am brimming with ideas, I also suffer from incredibly poor time management! I made a few pitches to Max about additional easter eggs, add ons, different ending routes, more elaborated backgrounds that go in depth with the story lore, but some of them ended up being a lot more work than expected. A lot of the crazier ideas such as redrawing a dark version of the backgrounds were cut out, but in the end I think we were still able to hit a decent balance of new ideas with what was practical to do. 

(What if Miss Stretch’s backstory implies she is just one of the many girls who suffered from the player’s actions?)

(What if there were a clown chasing sequence where the player has to complete tasks under a certain time limit?)

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Comments

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I love the Rusty Lake series! I felt like there was some inspiration in the vibe of the art, but since nobody I'm friends with knows anything about the series, I just figured it was a coincidence... I'm so excited to know that I wasn't just imagining that lol

Also, the Junji Ito-esque detailed art looks incredible, but I can totally see how it would've been really difficult to replicate that however many times over (I'm not an animator so I have no idea rip) so I'm glad you found something that just as easily fit the vibe of the game perfectly

This is the first game I've really felt this excited and wowed by since I first played Cube Escape, and I'm really glad I was able to find something that recaptured that awe for me! I really hope you guys make more!

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Thank you for providing this! I always love hearing the artist side of games and why they decided to do certain things!

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Wow, thank you for this breakdown of how you did the art! As in my prior comment, I liked how the clowns all looked distinctive and unique and seeing the concept art and color testing is really interesting. I also appreciated the lack of a joking tone. I feel like there was already a good balance of cuteness the first time around, and I think telling the story by forcing the player to do things to progress with minimal verbiage was a really strong choice!

I also got a Rusty Lake feel from this game though I don't know if it was because of the similar point and click mechanics and creepiness or if it was something from the art style. 

I appreciate the lack of a time limit on anything, mostly because if you fail it if you want to continue playing a horror game you have to experience the entire game again and that makes it tedious instead of scary. I think it also helped the tension in this one for the player to have time to realize they were going to have to torture the clowns. (Though it might be a good creepy thing to panickedly destroy things you don't want to as well?)

 I didn't really think about the backstories of the clowns -- I did notice there was something odd in Miss Stretch's background photos, but the implication of whether this is a real girl/what happened before went over my head. But looking at the game overall, I felt like the visual elements were the right amount for the gameplay and story, and I felt like there was a good amount of variation so I didn't get bored.

 I feel like horror is a genre where often I don't feel like playing again, especially in the case where it has me doing something bad, and that's makes it a success in the genre's eyes. This was a satisfying story.