Interviews

Having A Chat With Bill Tiller

Bill Tiller, you might better know him as the guy who is majorly responsible for the looks of Curse of Monkey Island. He is the 'father' of the graphics that made the game so famous and which are being copied in so many ways by numerous (fan-) artists. Being a fanartist and a fan of Bill Tiller myself, I was so excited when I got the chance to have a little interview with him. The result might be quite interesting for any Monkey Island fan, not only the Tiller-admirers among us. So: enjoy! - an interview by Carla

Hello Mr. Tiller, thanks for taking some time to answer our questions. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

Yeah, sure. I am 5' 11'', have light brown hair in your basic male balding pattern. I don't like to shave and I have a slight bulge around my waste and have three kids, two girls and a boy, and a cat. That description sounds kind of familiar.

Though I don't have a dog (yet), I don't work at a nuclear power plant (though I live near one), and I don't eat doughnuts on a regular basis. I love to hike in the woods, play video games, and watch American Football, talk politics (Go Kerry!), talk religion (Go Buddha!), and draw a lot.

My grandmother on my Dad's side is a really good painter, and is especially good with color. I think that is where I get my talent. My oldest daughter is good with color too, so I am pretty sure there is a "a good with color" gene running through the Tiller family. I also studied the art of Tim and Greg Hildebrandt, and learned how to compose my image, how to paint light, and a lot about color from them. If you want to see a good web sight with the Hildebrandt Brothers art, go to arthistory.cc (link to Internet Archive) and then got to the fantasy artist section and look them up.

After high school I went to this great art school started by Walt Disney (calarts.edu) and learned how to make movies the "Disney way" from actual real Disney filmmakers.

At Lucas I was an animator, but I switched over to illustration and art direction as soon as I could. That was on The Dig. And I have been doing backgrounds, or "environments" as we say in the 3d world, and art direction ever since.

Which is the project you enjoyed working on the most?

I enjoyed working on most of them quote a bit. What make a project fun is the people you work with, The Two Towers team, The Indy Infernal Machine team, and the Curse of Monkey Island team were the most fun to work on. I probably enjoyed Curse of Monkey Island the most because of how much drawing and Phototshop painting I got to do.

What inspires and influences you and your work the most?

More and more I draw from fun and exciting experiences, memories and feelings I had as a kid. I keep getting these emotion filled flash backs exciting and adventure filled and imaginative experiences I had as a kid. I don't paint the actual experience, but rather draw from the emotion that came with the memory. I put that emotion into the lighting I do, because lighting creates mood, and mood is an ambient emotion that fills a scene. I think this really comes out in my art. There are lots of better illustrators than me, but I think I am more successful than most in conveying emotion and mood in my art. At least I hope so.

I love modern 20th, and 21st century illustrations, anything from game book covers to concept art for movies, from Disney cartoons to N.C. Wyeth. Good art will catch my eye, and I will think to myself ?Wow. That is cool. How did he do that? What makes that picture so cool?? I kind of like to "deconstruct" good art to see how it ticks, like a kid would take a part a mechanical toy in order to see how it works. Hopefully I learn from this art and grow, get better, and challenge myself in doing art I didn't think I could do before.

How did you end up doing the graphics for 'The Curse of Monkey Island'?

I asked Larry and Jonathan if I could do it. They weren't sure at first because I had just come off The Dig which was a more realistic game. They weren't sure I could do cartoon backgrounds. Luckily George gave us a bonus that year and my wife and I used to go to Disney World and the Bahamas. While there I got really inspired and took lots of photographs for reference. When I came back I started doing lots of Monkey Island drawings and Photoshop paintings. I think that art convinced Larry and Jonathan that I was the right guy for the job. Plus I bribed them with a bunch of Pirates of the Caribbean souvenirs.

When you first heard about the story, the places and the people of 'The Curse of Monkey Island', did you already know what it should look like in the final version as we know it today?

I had a basic idea of how the game would look. Larry had some specific ideas for some areas and roughed them out in thumb nails. But then I would take his basic idea and make lost of variations, He and I would work out the final composition. But I always knew the basic color and lighting scheme. It was the composition that Larry and I changed the most. We need it to work for the game as well as aesthetically. So, little changes were made up till the very end.

Looking back, are you satisfied with your work in 'The Curse of Monkey Island' or are there things you would change nowadays? What in 'The Curse of Monkey Island' are you most proud of?

I would changes lots of it. I crammed in too much detail in some places that I would now go back and simplify to make it easier to make out. My favorite images are the smuggle bunny cave, Puerto Polo, the grace yard, the Barbary Coast, the canon point of view screen, and the firefly clearing.

Many Monkey Island fans would like to see a Monkey Island sequel, if there is ever going to be one, in the style of 'The Curse of Monkey Island'. Why, do you think, is your art so popular and attractive to people?

I'd like to see one too. I'd love to work on it. My wife keeps saying that all my art has some whimsical feel or character to it. That is nowhere more apparent than in the art of The Curse of Monkey Island. The sense of feeling, mood and good color schemes I think is what makes the game's look so popular. It was a lot of fun to do so that is why I'd love another crack at it.

How could you explain that many people only bought 'The Curse of Monkey Island' because of it's graphics, and were after playing the game converted into real fans of the Monkey Island series?

Well that was true for me as well. I never intended to buy Monkey Island 2 when I went to the store, but Indy Fate wasn't out yet. So I bought Monkey Island 2 instead. I liked the look of it and I liked pirates especially the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. But it was the story and the jokes that got me hooked. I became an instant Monkey Island fan after that. I ended up liking Monkey 2 more than Indy Fate. So I think having good graphics is a great way to lure people into buying a Monkey Island game, but it better have a good story and funny jokes to keep people hooked.

Have you played 'Escape from monkey Island'? And why do you think was it less popular than 'The Curse of Monkey Island'? And what do you truly think of the looks of 'Escape of Monkey Island'?

I played it during the Pizza Orgy and when I got my free copy, but I got stuck and didn't play beyond that area. I am not sure why it was less popular than CMI. I thought they sold about the same and got about the same reviews, though I think CMI scored slightly higher. If as you say it is less popular I would say it was because of the story and the low poly models. Since in 2d you can draw whatever you want and your only limitation is time, 2d art tends to look better. But in 3d you have time constraints and polygon constraints, so EMI tended to look too simple in some areas and was lacking in the detail all the other Monkey Island games had. The art crew was pretty new too, so many of them were just cutting their teeth on adventure game art. Also they didn't have strong lead background artists, a person with a clear and solid vision, so the art tended to change style from one background artist to the other, which is the first time this happened in a Lucas adventure game. All the other games had basically one artist set the style and do the bulk of the work, like Peter Chan, Bill Eaken or me. But EMI clearly had some talented people on the game, they were just blazing a new trail and when you go off in unexplored territory one is bound to make a few missteps along the way.

If you look at the numerous Monkey Island fan art you can find on the net, you will notice all these young artist trying to copy your style. How would you explain this huge influence?

I am just continuing a tradition that stared back in the 1800s with a group of artists called the pre Raphaelites, who then inspired the Brandy Wine school of illustrators, who then inspired Disney Artists and then the Hildebrandt artists, who then inspired me. So people inspired by my art are continuing that great tradition of illustration. I am just adding my slant to these tried and true illustration techniques. And I think it is fitting that I have used a 21st century medium in which to continue the tradition in. I think CMI sold 500,000 copies, so apparently my art has been seen by quite a few people. If I hadn't worked on a Monkey Island game I don't think I would have had as much of wide influence.

Are there any hints you can give young artist to become such a successful animator and artist like you?

I would say have a love of illustration, a real passion for it. Draw and paint all the time. It helps just like football practice, or whatever. I would also suggest going to check out museums and buy books of artists you like. Just be surrounded by it, It will soak in and have a positive influence. And learn to dissect the art you're looking like you would an old machine or a broken toy. Figure out why it works or doesn't. There are rules and reasons behind good art. It isn't just about talent. A lot people don't realize that art is HARD work. It takes preparation, research and a lot of correction, and even help from peers, teachers and directors. As with anything, to be great one has to work at it. I always suggest the best way to be a good artist is to copy one to the Nth degree and then eventually ones own unique style will come out. Taking classes doesn't hurt either.

Which graphic program did you use for the graphics in 'The Curse of Monkey Island'?

Photoshop and debablizer. We also had an 8 bit paint tool build in house called Gpaint. But I only used that on touch ups. I drew all the stuff on paper then painted it in Photoshop. Debablizer helped me shrink the pallet from millions of colors to just 248.

What's your favourite artistic medium? Are you rather one of the people who directly paint on their computers, or do you rather belong to the group of people who draw their images with pen & paper and then transfer it later (i.e. by hand or with a scanner) onto their computers?

I like to paint on the computer and draw on paper. Currently there isn't a drawing program out there I like better than paper, with the possible exception of Alias Sketch book, but that works best on a tablet PC not a desk top PC. It allows me to kick back on the couch or in bed and sketch away. Works pretty good, but pencils on paper is still king. When I do paint I usually use acrylics. But real paint is to damn slow and messy and the kids like to get into it and I spill water on it occasionally. Photoshop is just better.

Many people talk of the adventure-game-genre as almost dead. But rankings and game-releases always show a different drift. What do you think about the latest cancellation of 'Sam & Max 2' by LucasArts?

Lucas just has a lot of overhead. I just don't see how they can financially make adventure games. I know they want to but it is hard to convince the business people. These games are just so expensive these days, and Lucas is a fair sized operation. They could easily make a game for less than a million dollars. Maybe they will figure it out. I haven't given up on them just yet.

How does the future of adventure games look like: 2D or 3D, point & click or keyboard-control - and why?

Not sure if I can tell the future, but I think Point and click works the best and I hope, at least for 3rd person games, it is the interface of choice in the future. 3d is with us to stay and I don't have problem with it as long as it is well done. If it isn't, then doing it in 2d wouldn't help either. Good art is good art. I think there is room for both 2D and 3D, but because of cost I bet you'll see 3d more than 2d from now on. And as far as animation is concerned, it is just cheaper and faster so and animator can spend more time tweaking it so it looks better and you don't have to draw as much. It just makes a lot of sense artistically and financially.

So thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Tiller. Is there anything you would like to say to the LegendOfMI.com community?

Keep bugging Lucas Arts about Monkey 5. And tell them to get me to art direct it! Just joking. It is time to give another up and coming artist a shot at Monkey Island, like Paco. That guy can seriously paint.

Carla • November 11, 2004 • 3 Comments

Junior

I know I've said this before but: Great interview! I really like the way Bill answered your questions. It's very amusing and interesting alike. Top stuff!

November 11, 2004 • 6:43 GMT

Gabez

Yeah, great questions and great answers from Bill. It's nice when people like that take the time to answer these things fully, and it's always an interesting read!

November 12, 2004 • 9:45 GMT

KnUcKLeS

I loved the interview,specially because I had an idea to dedicate my self to what Bill Tiller does.....He would be in some kind of a way.....a master to follow and learn!!!thx!

November 12, 2004 • 10:14 GMT

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