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