Join us, as illustrator Michael Ee, shares his process & sketches of the beautiful illustrations that make up the virtual world of HOUSE IS OPEN .
Come find out about local prop-maker Sheryl Moo's process on how she went about handcrafting the props that seen in the music videos.
Discover the factors that went into Caspar Francis (aka our Creative and Technology Consultant) process while designing the UX/UI elements.
ILLUSTRATION lies at the very heart and centre of the game development for HOUSE IS OPEN. The foundation of the game design began with the idea of a bare stage which was then filled masterfully with the sets from
DECEMBER RAINS, MONKEY GOES WEST and the DIM SUM DOLLIES.
Come read this exclusive interview with illustrator Michael Ee as he generously shares with us sketches and stories about his process while working on this game!
I have always loved theatre, and if you pry through my family’s camcorder archives, you will find me dancing along to Les Miserables’ Master of the House as a three year old in the living room. When Kim pitched the idea of a game where people could play to find out more about our musicals, I jumped at this golden opportunity. Not only was I excited to meet new people in the project, I was very thrilled to see how I could bring my training as a graphic designer to help communicate the works and genius of the many hands, hearts and minds that have made our stage performances memorable. The vision for the project was also very much out-of-this world and I am always up for a challenge.
There were different iterations and ideas that the Fill the Vamp (FTV) team and I discussed. At one point, we were bouncing ideas such as having moving sets and curtains that came in and out to help signal the changes in levels. But of course, thanks to the forceful effects of time and the calls of my day job, we came up with the idea of having a backstage scene. Having worked in different black box and performance set-ups as a student and performing arts teacher-in-charge, I knew I had to bring out the idea of an organised chaos that would still be easy to navigate for players.
I definitely wanted there to be the shadowy spaces of the stage wings present, which is an exclusive experience that many an audience member will rarely get the chance to see. I also needed to fit the set pieces and costumes from three iconic musicals onto one stage, so depth was crucial. Perspective drawing with flat icons is always a challenge and I needed to have many rounds of redrawing this with pencil on paper first before transferring and redrawing this digitally.
WHO IS MICHAEL EE?
Beyond the school walls, he enjoys making art, reading and exercising. He has also taken a liking to Billie Eilish and Doja Cat of late. Michael has been fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of an exhibition every year since 2013, the most recent being Every Step in the Right Direction, the Singapore Biennale from 22 Nov 2019 to 22 Mar 2020.
Michael graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2015 with a BFA Graphic Design. He also received his Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the National Institute of Education in 2016.
I had to search and watch recorded footage and published printed material from the three musicals. It was also a trial and error process because as the space began to fill up with items, I would have to keep watching the footage to find new silhouettes that would keep the space looking filled-up while maintaining the depth. You will notice that there are a number of items with poles, railings, shafts, and holes. This was intentional because it allowed viewers to look through one object to the next, and ultimately to the back of the stage. This made the drawing of objects, their shadows and reflected shadows (on the ground) very intricate and complex. I hope that more visitors to the site consider playing the game on their desktop to fully appreciate the layers and textures that you will not be able to see as clearly on a smaller, mobile phone screen.
I enjoy working with colour, shapes and lines in my own art practice. Over the years, I also have a penchant for creating compositions and spaces that are dynamic and filled with overlapping visual elements that challenge our perception of space. Creating a backstage world for the three musicals to co-exist on a single stage was definitely an opportunity for my style to live and breathe.
The biggest challenge that was unique to this experience was working on a team with many different members who would come on board at different stages of the workflow. While I am familiar with client relationships, this project with FTV allowed me to meet an amazing, Creative and Technology consultant Caspar, and a highly skilled developer, Aditya, who helped to bring this project to life. While working with them was not an issue, it was having to plan my illustrations and workflow to meet their needs that was challenging and I did my best to ensure the labelling of files and layers was as clear and concise as possible.
It definitely was FTV’s synergy that allowed our different talents and skills to come together to make this project possible within the limited time and budget that we had.
PROPS have always played a vital role in elevating storytelling, providing context and setting the scene for both theatre and film alike. The use of props help to further the story-telling of a piece and in the case of HOUSE IS OPEN, help bring to life the characters seen in our Dim Sum Dollies medley.
Join us as we chat to Sheryl about her experiences and process in creating all the props and headdresses which helped us in paying homage to the Dollies in our game!
Honestly, it sounded like an incredibly fun project! Nat had gotten in touch and I had just gotten back from the UK not too long before that, so the prospect of working on something local was exciting. Since the brief was to create headdresses for the Dim Sum Dolly medley, there was also a bit of nostalgia as I was the assistant stage manager for one of their shows. I was also looking forward to working with friends!
Oh it’s definitely a process! There are quite a few things to consider before you get down to the physical making of the prop. First, I’ve got to get the reference images, and then find out the practicality of the prop and what needs to be made. Does the prop have to be strong? Is someone dancing with or wearing it? Is it for film or theatre? How much detailing is required? The answers will determine how and what I end up making. After that, I start with my budget. I see how much I have, look at my reference images and try to think how much money I’ll need to make each prop. Of course, I set aside about 10-20% of the budget for contingency too!
When it comes to the actual making, there are many different ways each prop can be made; this would depend on the maker’s style and experiences. I always try to manage my time well, and to work with materials or processes that I’ve worked with before.
With regards to HOUSE IS OPEN, I had to create 3 headpieces (Merlion, Vanda Miss Joaquim and Kucinta) and 3 Samsui women hats. They all needed to be light so Fill the Vamp could still sing when wearing them, and FTV had to be able to put them on and take them off easily. So I considered all this, looked at the budget, and got those creative juices flowing to come up with the methods and the materials I’d use to create them.
WHO IS SHERYL MOO?
Sheryl comes from a sunny little island called Singapore. She graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, UK where she studied Prop Making.
She is a Prop Maker who enjoys all aspects of making, ranging from small to big projects. My skills include: Model-making, Fabrication, Fibreglassing, Sculpting/Carving, Mould Making, Casting, Resin Work, Woodwork and Painting/Finishing.
Oh, this was a fun challenge. I started by looking at the reference images provided - these were actually photos of what the Dim Sum Dollies wore for one of their skits. Selena (Tan) was dressed from head to toe as the Merlion, wearing a massive headpiece that extended to the torso and integrated with her costume. I initially thought of recreating something similar, but I actually only needed to make a headpiece without a costume. I also had less time and different materials, so I had to match the making of the headdress to my skill set - how can i create this with what I know I can try to do? It was very tricky because Kim would be singing while wearing it, so it couldn’t be heavy.
Eventually I decided to use styrofoam (polystyrene) to create the Merlion headdress. I had to google pictures of the Merlion - of the front, side and back views - to get the full look of it. I printed those out, drew the outline on the styrofoam and then started carving!
After carving out the face, I needed to use a different material for the mane. By this point I had used expanding foam as glue to put the face together, so it was already quite heavy. The material for the mane had to be light, so I chose some craft foam that I could bend into shape for the mane. For the base of the headdress, I used a cap so that it’d be easier to wear.
Fun fact! Polystyrene is notoriously troublesome and irritating to work with. I have to sand it down after carving, and the bits that come out while sanding are so small and light that they stick onto everything and anything! I have to keep my vacuum cleaner next to me when sanding to make sure my work space doesn’t get covered.
Ha, yes there were! I had a few more issues than I had anticipated when creating the samsui women hats.
Honestly, I thought that they’d be easy to make and therefore didn’t consider them as much. I first wanted to replicate how they were made in the past, but after some googling I realized that it required too much fabric. I ended up googling how to fold an origami samsui hat and doing that! However, the felt that I had bought was a little too soft, and I had to figure out how to make it stiffer. Sometimes you don’t really know what the result is going to be - you just have to do it, and if the result isn’t what you want, you’ve got to be creative and come up with ways to get to what you want.
Well, all the pieces I had to make were very different. I’d have to say that the three headdresses for “Singapore Icon” (Merlion, Kucinta ears and a Vanda Miss Joaquim) were the most fun to create. How often does one get the chance to create an orchid or the Merlion?! I got to immerse myself in a really creative process to get all of them done.
UX/UI DESIGN focuses on the user experience and how they journey through the game. It was paramount that the design of the frame would be interwoven seamlessly with the illustrations in order to bring HOUSE IS OPEN to life.
In this interview, Caspar articulates all the considerations he had to take, balancing the integrity of the illustrations, direction and technical limitations faced, as he walks us through his process.
Well, Kim had initially approached me, wanting to bounce off ideas that included the digitization of musical theatre. FTV had big ideas, wanting to incorporate the archival of local musical theatre and somehow turn that into a platform for education, and those ideas really drew me in!
She told me that they wanted to push the boundaries of digitization, and wanted to do more than film material and put it online, eventually presenting this idea to create a 2D online game on a HTML5 site - I was beyond thrilled. This amalgamation of theatre and technology was really aligned with what I wanted to explore, especially since I identify myself as part creative and part technologist. So I immediately jumped on board.
I actually toggled quite a few roles in House is Open. Among my responsibilities would be Creative/Technology Consultant - assisting FTV in bridging creative intentions and technology realities, but I also handled UX/UI design, music/audio production, as well as created the trailers.
As a UX/UI designer, my job is to serve the consumer. UX/UI stands for user experience and user interface, so I am always thinking about how I can make the game more compelling for the consumer? I was also the middleman between our backend developer, Aditya, and our illustrator, Michael. Bringing Mike’s illustrations to life was my goal, but I had to do so without compromising the backend.
The first challenge was wireframing. Which keys and buttons would trigger responses and interactions on the app. What is the chronology of events that take place within the game? So the solution was to wireframe this from the perspective of a story, or journey, and then have the codes and scripts follow through in that order.
He is the CEO/Founder of the RAWSPARK, a creative agency, and also the CCO/Head of product development for Virtual Music Festival TAKE BACK THE NIGHTS.
Caspar is a multi-faceted creative director with over 10 years experience that span across multiple fields including Design, Advertising, Film, Animation, VR/XR, Music and Experiential Marketing.
Together with RAWSPARK, Caspar and his team have serviced prestigious clients like DBS, DesignSingapore Council, Revolut, & National Gallery Singapore.
In 2020, Caspar co-founded TAKE BACK THE NIGHTS, a VR Music Festival that was initiated with the aim of uniting the music, arts & entertainment industry.
Animation wise, I decided to keep things simple - using small movements like nudges and wiggles, playing with scale and perspective, and introducing light and shadows as an element. Some questions included - what aspects of theatre could I weave into the animation to bring about an essence of storytelling, for instance, a light beam, intended to be a follow spot that shines on the pieces when you click the hint button. I also used simple fade ins and outs, which were simple but purposeful. I wanted to use light as a narrative device - shedding light (pun most definitely intended) on the unfortunate reality of our theatres having to go dark during the pandemic.
Sound is actually also a huge part of the UX/UI design. There were sounds when you clicked on each of the objects or buttons, and there are a certain set of moves that would trigger the sound. It’s so important because it's part of the user experience, and you’re helping them immerse themselves in the game. In summary, with HOUSE IS OPEN I had to adopt a design-first UX approach - UX designers typically start going all tech-head first - but given that the game was so aesthetic, i had to lead with my design hat on, and fit the scripts and codes to where they functioned.
It’s so different from UX/UI. As a mixing engineer, I believe that you're also a musician, but you’re behind a console, and that this console is just as important as any other instrument. Your craft, however, is a little different as you’re not creating the sound. Instead, you’re working with sound that is already presented.
For the videos in HOUSE IS OPEN, we had already recorded the tracks live and they sounded good, but my goal was to make it sound like a live show with the finishings and style of a studio record. There’s a huge difference between mixing for live music and studio recordings; I wanted to retain the original performance quality of the video and just amp it up a little, so I balanced the tracks individually to get that.
I had the most creative control in the mixing of “Hero for a Day”! I loved Joel Nah’s arrangement, and when I heard it I immediately visualized the band Journey playing in a massive arena in Tokyo, and I just wanted to bring that kind of intensity to the power ballad that he arranged. So I pushed the faders up, trusted my gut and ta-da! The mix for “Hero for a Day” was done.
I actually enjoyed them both as much, just differently.
I’ve trained in both mediums, starting off as a sound engineer then picking up UX/UI design 3-4 years later, and I like to tap into both and give them equal amounts of attention. There are different forms of joy - with UX/UI design there’s more freedom in crafting, expressing more in the design and throwing in ideas, but with mixing it’s about taking what there is and putting a spin on it. I do believe that design and music go hand in hand with each other and are equally important, and I’m really happy to have had the creative freedom to toggle them both.