|May 14, 2010 (Last Update)|
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BILL EAKEN
Bill Eaken worked at LucasArts for 3
years, in such games as Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis, The
Secret of Monkey Island and Rebel Assault II among others.
Graduated in the California State University, Fulleston, with a
B.F.A. in illustration. He worked 2 years doing portraits at
Disneyland. Right now he works as an illustrator, and is actually working
on two adventure games, Exchange Student and Autumn Moon's A
Vampyre Story. After working on Atlantis he joined Brian
Moriarty and started working on The Dig.
us a little bit about yourself and how did you get into drawing ?
As an artist you could have worked on movies at art departments, or at comics, why did you choose video games?
Computer games happened
by accident. I was contacted by a recruiter to work at Sierra Online
I hated Sierra Online,
as did everyone who worked for them back then. I met some cool guys
You worked on Brian Moriarty's The Dig, have you worked on Noah Falstein's version?
I never actually worked on Noah's Dig version, but I did get to come up with the basic "zoology" of the place. In the very beginning, Noah asked everyone in the art pool to come up with concept ideas on their own time. Only a few of us jumped on it. It's never about the money, or the praise, or impressing the right people-it's the creative fun. I wish people would make offers like that more often! I drew goofy looking monster things that I thought seemed kind of terrestrial, but still alien. I wanted them to be consistent like our world is. Mammals all have certain features, and so do all birds, and so on. I thought of making a group of critters that seemed to be part of a "family," like mammals or birds, but with no features like anything we know on Earth. My things were sort of smooth, six-limbed, large eyes, no scales, etc. Iain McCaig (who worked on concept design for the Star Wars movies) also did some sketches, but his were even more alien than mine-like life on the bottom of the ocean. Terry Whitlatch (who also worked on Star Wars designing monsters) also did some designs. Hers were a lot more Earth-like. In the end, Noah liked my in-between idea. He thought it had a good balance of alien and the familiar. I also did one animation of one creature for a pre-production presentation to Steven Spielberg. I almost forgot about that. Try animating a six-limbed critter walking! I felt sorry for the animators who actually had to animate them when the game started production. It must have been a real pain.
When Moriarty started working on The Dig you where in the final stages of Fate of the Atlantis, you wanted to work on The Dig, why was that?
I had planned on working
on Noah's Dig when finished with Indiana Jones. Ken Macklin designed
the background look of the game, and I was looking forward to helping
Ken with backgrounds. I didn't want to art direct in any way. I was
at the point where I just wanted a fun job while I worked on other things
(Ken kind of had the same attitude). I used to collect Ken Macklin's
Dr. Watchstop in Epic magazine when I was in high school. I met him
and liked him, but I didn't know at first that it was the same guy.
Only in the arts can you not only meet, but even work with, one of your
heroes. (I suppose athletes can sometimes do that, but not very often.)
Anyway, I was looking forward to the chance of working directly with
Ken. I was disappointed when Brian decided to throw all the work out
and start from scratch. So was Ken. He didn't need the job and was only
doing it for fun. So
By the way, some of the
guys, and I, tried to salvage all the art about a year later. Now that
I think about it, it was Larry Ahern and Anson Jew, and I. We came up
with a story that had a lot of the same elements as Noah's Dig, only
we wanted to do it with Boba Fett (I know I'm spelling that wrong!)
bounty hunting some alien, or aliens, on an alien world. We could have
used most of the art and story elements. We even wrote a plot proposal.
It was a brilliant concept, if I must say so, myself. But management
said that few people know who Boba Fett is, and brushed the idea aside.
George Lucas apparently thought Boba Fett was worth digging back up,
as we now know.
Let's talk about Brian Moriarty's The Dig. How did you come up with the overall look and feel of this alien world?
I love to just draw and
draw and draw. I let scribbles suggest things and mistakes send me in
new and unexpected directions. I can't remember a lot of details, but
I made dozens of sheets of large sketches every day and showed them
to Brian. He would respond to something and send me back to the studio
How was like working with Brian?
I bet you're baiting
me with that question. I liked Brian. Brian is a smart and creative
guy. I still have good memories sitting in his office and just brainstorming.
The sky was the limit. That's how it should be. Those were good times.
But I think as time went on he had stars in his eyes. I think he wanted
to show Spielberg what he could do and it became too much pressure on
him. After a while he just seemed to bog down under the pressure. I've
been accused of having an artist's temperament. But I liked working
on The Dig, and with Brian, and just being creative for lots
of money. When all the politics and Hollywood drama started to impede
Is it true that you came up with the idea of the geometry puzzles?
Holy cow! I'm impressed at how much you know about this stuff. You're bringing back things I have forgotten. Yes, I will say that the idea was originally mine, only in that I suggested it to Brian. But the puzzles themselves were all his. I came up with none of them. I have always been fascinated with things like imaginary numbers, pi, and the golden ratio. I thought it would be neat if we came up with something using geometries deeply embedded in the cosmic fabric, kind of like how Carl Sagan did in "Contact." But I had no idea how to do it. Brian did it differently than I would have, but it was kind of the same idea. I'm not sure what I would have eventually come up with. I might have made it too complicated and mathematical, because that's more of what I was thinking when I suggested it.
How was regular day when you where working on The Dig?
I always came in late.
Then I would deal with the creepy corporate politics most of the morning
(yes, I do have an artist temperament, if that's what it's called).
Then I would have lunch with the other artists somewhere. Lots of great
restaurants in the San Rafael area. Those were good old days, sitting
around and chatting about artists we liked, and so on.
Man, you must have really
talked to a lot of people. You remember more than I! Okay, I like telling
I was in the middle in
the back seat, between Lucy and Brian, and Lucy was on the left. At
the gate I could
Spielberg's front office had cool Disney background art, by the way. In his office he had a lot of original illustration art, like Norman Rockwell. We showed our stuff to Spielberg and gave our spiel to the berg. He had a lot of suggestions. He didn't care about this project-it was just fun for him, no pressure like the films are. So he was in a good mood and having fun with the whole thing.
Brian brought an expansion disk for one of the aerial battle games Larry Holland was making. Spielberg was a big computer game geek! He was waiting for this upgrade/mission expansion thing. He called his assistant in and just mentioned what it was. She immediately knew what he meant and said she'd send it home and tell someone to have it installed and running for him when he arrived. I decided at that moment I would have an assistant like that someday.
Anyway, when we were
through we told him we had a few hours to kill and wondered what rides
we should get on back at the theme park. He said the E.T. ride, since
he helped design it. It was brand new at the time.
But the best part of the whole thing for me was his enthusiasm. He really likes games. This wasn't work to him to have to hear us go on about The Dig.
What kind of
things did Spielberg wanted to emphasize on The Dig?
The only thing I remember
very well is that there was a part where you had to remove the lens
Do you remember if Spielberg wanted shooting stars on The Dig?
I don't remember Spielberg
wanting the shooting stars.
I've seen a couple
of early paintings you made for Brian Moriarty's The Dig, and
when I first saw them it
There was no inspiration at all, and I'm not just saying that. I've always preferred evening lighting, which is what may have reminded you of Loom. It creates a dreamlike quality which seemed to fit. It's far more fun to paint, and much easier to create a sense of drama and mystery than if the sun is right over your head. The colors just fit the light scheme I was after. The most beautiful range of tones for me is gold to purple, with everything in between. That was my sole inspiration.
Could you explain us a little bit further about the technichal process of making backgrounds?
we first started The Dig we wanted to scan images to get that
organic look that was difficult to get by
In the end I figured
out that I could do a quick image in Deluxe Paint just to get the palette
and color worked out, and know how it would/should look on the computer.
Then I painted it in black and white with poster paint (cheap and easy
to work with). I could paint three a day like that. When it was scanned
I could paste the color palette right on top of the gray scale palette
in Deluxe Paint. I would do this for each part of the image that used
a different range of palette. It was easy because I already did a rough
version of the art on the computer and already had the palettes ready.
After I left the project and Bill Tiller took over they had higher color space tools like Photoshop. So Bill did everything in millions of colors in Photoshop, which produced the nice color gradations, and then crunched the color down to less than 200 colors. Much easier and better, but I bet my old, clunky black and white poster paint was quicker. What I did was a desperate attempt to force the primitive technology to do what I wanted. It sounds a little complex, but it wasn't. I thought it was an elegant solution at the time.
You designed the PenUltimate,
how did you come up with the idea for this communication device?
Have you been in any of the Pizza Orgies?
Oh yeah. They used to do pizza orgies for all the games. I don't recall ever attending a pizza orgy for The Dig because I think they stopped doing them by then. Maybe they did them some more after I left, but I doubt it. I did attend one for Noah's version, though. I'm not sure if you want me to describe it. You probably already know all about them from some of the other guys so I won't bore you with details.
Have you played The Dig?
You're this is odd when I tell you this, but I can't remember. Well, I know I played it, but I can't remember if I ever got through it. Many things were changed or added after I left so it gets fuzzy in my memory. I can't tell anymore what I'm remembering from playing it, or from working on it.
Any final thought about your overall experience of having worked in The Dig?
It surprises me now that
people still remember it.
As for working on The
Dig specifically: Lots of fun memories. I liked sitting in a room,
or building, filled with people all being creative on one project that
took all our skills and inventiveness to pull off. It's even more fun
when there are other similar projects in varying degrees of finish.
They were working on Day of the Tentacle when we were on The
Dig. Peter Chan had a cubicle next to me and was just starting on
the fun-silly backgrounds for it just as I was finishing the dramatic
If I had it all to do
now I would make the concept art more vibrant, and keep it archived
for myself somewhere, now that I know people will someday want to look
at it. It often bugs the s#*t out of me that most of it is stuck in
a drawer somewhere. Nobody there cares about that stuff. It's just a
matter of soul-less "business as usual" to stuff it away and
forget about it, even though there are people out here with a soul who
would get a little spiritual pleasure out of seeing it. If I had any
idea back then I would have grabbed a bunch of it because the robots
running things wouldn't have a clue and would never have missed it.
I should have scanned it and put it on disk, but we didn't even have
CD Roms yet! (They existed but no one was really using them just yet,
so I was only vaguely aware of them.)
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