Project: El Pollo Diablo
Remember The Curse of Monkey Island video game? I know I do, and I hope you do. After all, it had a huge influence on my creativity – and on the style of my art. Also it planted a weirdly specific idea in my head.
The third installment in the Monkey Island series was, in my opinion, one of the best point-and-click adventure games ever made. It was released in golden years of PC gaming (96-97), but also at a time when its particular genre of adventure games was slowly fading away.
In 1997, LucasArts crafted this amazing piece of art, combining Bill Tiller’s atmospheric backgrounds, Larry Ahern’s funny character designs, and Michael Land’s fantastic soundtracks.
Thanks to all that – plus great writing – the game was full of memorable moments. One of them was when the game’s hero, Guybrush, enters the “Blondebeard’s Chicken Shoppe” and examines peculiar painting hanging on the wall.
I just love the fact that the game’s developers actually spent all that extra time – just to make that totally optional still shot.
A while ago, I decided to make a real-life replica of that El Pollo Diablo painting. And I wanted to make it big enough to hang behind my chair on my office wall – and big enough that it would terrify people on video calls.
That basically meant to reproduce the painting and make a proper frame for it.
A few other artists wanted to recreate The Chicken before, but the results weren’t very true to the original. And some just relied on Photoshop filters. In truth, these versions were mostly intended as tributes, rather than full attempts at reproduction.
I really do like the framed one, though – it seems that Jeroen was similarly dedicated to the idea.
In the original game, the pixel resolution was low, and the image was pretty small. Hardly enough to hang on a wall.
Even though Monkey Island offered the pre-game setting called Mega-Monkey, along with the forever-disabled 3d acceleration checkbox, these didn’t help much. And the ScummVM software used to run old LucasArt games couldn’t do much either, since it wasn’t a pixel-art game.
So, just to clarify – that original 640 x 480 pixels shot, printed at a resolution of 300dpi, would produce an image that was a maximum of 5.5cm wide (2.1”). And I needed a print of at least 50cm (19.6’’).
Nonetheless I took that only screenshot I had and determined to remaster it at nearly ten times the size. But before that, the least I could do was to re-tilt the source image.
The painting in the game was shown from a slightly tilted bottom-view perspective, to look more menacing, but the real print would have to fit the rectangle shape of the frame. So I had to straight out the chicken.
Turns out his head gets ridiculously big if you just do that. Probably because it was never meant to be shown like this in the first place. So to keep it faithful enough and in ‘realistic’ proportions I had to play around with perspective and warp tool a bit.
At this point I had the image fair, square and ready to be remastered.
Important part of the El Pollo Diablo painting is its golden frame, showing that specific over-the-top twirly-swirliness of the in-game graphics.
So I called one of the best frame-maker places from Krakow and asked them about it. I’ve send them the preview and after weeks of silence they responded with the familiar ‘uhm, I don’t have time…’ vibe, and gave me some ridiculous “barrage” price for it, just to buzz off.
Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned the part about a monster chicken? Or maybe they had a family history involving diabolical poultry? We’ll never know…
Fortunately, turns out my friend’s father-in-law was working in the carpentry business for religious places – renovations of altars and things like that. So making a golden frame of any shape was an option. I asked, I paid, and he made this:
Not bad for a 70y old man. I love how bizarre it is, but the color was a bit too bright comparing to the one in the game, so I had to repaint it a bit.
I used Rembrandt Series 3 deep gold paint to add a more warm tint to it.
I painted over the frame using a soft brush and a kitchen sponge. The goal was to avoid visible brush strokes and not to cover too much of the initial “goldness”, so the frame would remain shiny.
After few minutes of brushwork, and clueless wiping with a sponge, I got this result:
Some of the shininess was lost in the process but the result was closer to the original, I think. It should look more cartoony and less reflective in the spotlight when hanging on the wall.
I didn’t know that before, but the orange oil paint can dry for over a week! Not like I was in a hurry or something. I still had to solve how to rescale the painting.
The project went on pause for quite some time, since I had nobody to help me with.. enlarging that cock.
But! With the dawn of the new age of computing, some solutions have emerged. Year 2021 has brought few amazing innovations, like waterless haircare, real estate-themed NFTs or publicly available scripts for generating images from text.
Initially I was interested in AI that could transfer the contents of one picture into the style of another. So maybe I could just put the diabolic rooster into the hands of virtual Bill Tiller and “ask him” to paint it again, but bigger.
Sadly AI that handles this sort of purpose, at this moment, was only supporting limited set of styles – and was adding some deformations, weirdness and generally did not work great with anything other than transforming photographs into paintings.
Paid AI upscaling solutions such as Gigapixel AI was also disappointing, killing too much detail in the process, even with its dedicated Art & CG model option.
Few weeks later I noticed on Youtube that someone remastered all videos from the Monkey Island game with an AI. The interesting fact was how well it worked with this specific art style.
That guy used AI modeled specifically to only work with videos. Extracting other assets from the game was something different. Luckily someone on Discord mentioned another similar AI, trained to upscale images, often used for cartoons and anime, called Real-ESRGAN. It could do cool things like this:
Apparently it’s free to use too. So I found a public build of it and decided to give it a try. Results were very promising.
So at this step I went from 640×480 to 5900×8200 with “minor” losses in the details. Quite impressive. I could finally generate a picture big enough to work with in real life.
Adding the details and printing
AI may be smart and all, but sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands. The simplest way to make The Chicken more detailed was to just… draw the details. So I printed the thing, sketched over it using pencil, scanned it and merged the layers in Photoshop with a tint of noise on top. I also extended the margin on each side so it could fit to the frame if needed.
Then I added some more details using mouse and the smudge tool and voilà! The chicken was ready to be sent to the print shop.
After a week I got this bad boy waiting in my mailbox (well technically it wouldn’t fit in there, but you know…)
So, after everything, here’s a pic of the final outcome hanging on the wall:
And of course comparison to the original:
Summary and lessons learned
- It took waaay longer than expected
- Prints usually appear darker than on-screen proof of colors
- I should have pink walls for this, to stay faithful
- From all the The Curse of Monkey Island playthroughts on Youtube only one guy from Germany actually looked at the painting.
- I wanted to place LEDs under the chicken’s eyes but wife said it would scare our kid too much
- Maybe I will put some fluorescent paint on it someday 🤔.
- I wish I could use Procreate more and learn how to paint digitally
- Canvas prints have edges that have to be printed too, so the bleeding is quite big
- Canvas prints have a very bright gloss and appear darker in real life
- AI upscaling is fun! But also sucks!
- Goldest paint in the world is not the goldest
- Warm gold is called “Aztec”
- Linseed based oil paints don’t smell
- Dogs eat linseed oil paints (and smell)
- It’s my first blog post written in English!
- The International House of Mojo has some original concept art of the chicken