Date: 22nd May, 2019

When we were touring the main hall at the Texas Pinball Festival earlier this year, one of the stand-out items on show was an edgier, scarier, re-imagined version of the Monster Bash translite which was on display at the Back Alley Creations stand.

Back Alley Creations had their pinball mods and..
Back Alley Creations’ stand at the Texas Pinball Festival 2019

We needed to find out more about how and why it was created, and whether any other games could be getting the same treatment. So, we went straight to the source and spoke to the creator of the translite, Brian Allen.

The framed Monster Bash translite
The framed Monster Bash translite

Brian is no stranger to pinball, getting his first commission from Heighway Pinball where he designed backglass artwork for the Limited Edition of the Alien machine.

He told us, “Andrew Heighway had reached out to me and needed something very quickly in time for Alien Day. At the time, I had no idea about the shaky history of the Alien machine, and I was really disappointed that the company dissolved just a couple weeks after I had finished. We had originally planned on doing a second version that would allow a space for the optional LCD screen, but Andrew left the company before that could be finished so the backglass wasn’t used much, or at all. I was devasted when that happened because it felt like a great opportunity had just vanished and I had no control over it. But as a freelancer, you learn that sometimes those things just happen, and you learn to just keep moving and don’t dwell on it.

Undeterred, Brian has also worked on logos for pinball clubs, rethemed a Judge Dredd into a custom Breaking Bad game, and created a backglass for the next Quetzal Pinball title, due for release next year.

With a lengthy back-catalogue of clients such as Activision, Hulk Hogan, Rick and Morty, Harley Davidson, Hard Rock Cafe, Metallica, and the
Philadelphia Flyers – where he designed their new mascot, Gritty – we wondered why Brian wanted to get back into designing for pinball, particularly after the disappointment with his Alien experience?

He said, “I’ve always loved the unapologetic and over-the-top bold artwork on classic pinball and arcade machines. I love the bold colors and fantastical, sometimes politically-incorrect themes. I really wanted to be more involved in pinball, but frankly, it’s tough to break into. There really aren’t that many companies producing pinball machines, so the field is pretty crowded with some of the best talent working in any industry – the bar is extremely high.

Brian described to us the processes he uses to create his designs, from the initial ideas to the finished artwork. “I often do my rough sketches on paper“, he said, “but the finished work is almost always done digitally. I have a sweet Wacom Cintiq tablet that I spend most of my time hunched over. With that, and a program called Clip Studio Paint, the technology has grown to mimic traditional materials so much that I can’t really feel a difference. Working as a freelancer, it’s hugely beneficial to work digitally because of revisions, and outputting final files. But I’ll still ink on paper with brush pens for fun from time to time.

Pinball has no shortage of iconic backglass artwork from a multitude of talented designers. With such a wide range of options, we asked Brian why he chose to reimagine the Monster Bash design. He said, “Monster Bash just really spoke to me because I love all things horror and monsters. I knew this would be a perfect one to start with because I really dig drawings things that are spooky and goofy at the same time. Nothing spookier or goofier than monsters playing in a band.

Creature and Drac giving it their all
Creature and Drac giving it their all

Brian’s Monster Bash design takes Kevin O’Connor’s original as the starting point but makes numerous changes, turning Frankenstein’s Monster from a virtuoso keyboardist to a headphone-clad disc-spinning DJ, adding a scarier feel to the Universal Monsters’ depictions, and adding some familiar horror characters to the audience, who no longer wield flaming torches and pitchforks, preferring chainsaws and knives instead. It also removes the Monster Bash title, Williams logo and “IT’S ALIVE!” text from the composition.

The finished composition
The finished composition

Despite those changes, to those familiar with the game it clearly still says Monster Bash and obviously resonates deeply with the original design. So, we asked Brian why he didn’t opt for a totally original composition.

He explained, “For the future titles, I will definitely make an effort to create a completely different composition. For this design, I wanted to pay tribute to the original by keeping the concept generally the same, but modernize it with my style. I changed the instruments and the background as well. I also tried to add my own twist to the characters, and make them sort of edgier. In addition, I added the images of some modern horror movie monsters in the foreground moshpit (like Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers, etc). I also made the characters themselves much bigger, because that was my favorite part of the piece.

Creating the translite design wasn’t a simple task either. Getting the composition completed and printed in time for its debut was another challenge.

Brian said he only had ten days to work on it before it would be revealed at the Texas Pinball Festival in March. “I had a ton of client work on my desk, so this I had to plug away at this on my weekends and evenings. Sometimes having a tight deadline like that produces better work, because there’s less time for second-guessing and noodling around.

The Bride and The Mummy get a helping hand from Igor
The Bride and The Mummy get a helping hand from Igor

I gathered a lot of reference images of all the monsters, instruments, etc, and started sketching the loose poses and composition. Then I draw again and again over top in successive passes, adding detail and cleaning things up. I often get absorbed in the inking stage and spend way too much time on that. Then finally I color underneath the linework and add effects, shadows, and highlights. The printing process itself is quite long for each backglass, because the printer lays down two passes of white, and two passes of color. The ink is so thick that if you scrape it off, it’s like a thick decal. But the extra time is worth it because it produces a really vibrant result.

The illuminated Monster Bash translite
The illuminated Monster Bash translite

While altering a popular piece of art is fraught with dangers if not handled respectfully, wherever Brian’s translite has been shown the reaction has been overwhelmingly favourable.

He told us what pinball fans had been saying. “I’m very lucky that the response was very positive overall. I’ve seen pinball fans tear things apart, so it makes their compliments even more rewarding. I met a lot of really nice people at Pinfest in Scranton that saw it in person and really liked it. I see a lot of flaws in the artwork myself though – it’s hard to unsee those. However, I did get a couple of comments from folks that did not like that Frankenstein was a DJ. I didn’t really have a motive behind that – I just thought it would be funny, him scratching discs with those massive stiff arms.

Uncoloured, with Frankenstein's Monster hitting the deck
Uncoloured, with Frankenstein’s Monster hitting the deck

We wondered if he’d heard anything from fellow artist Kevin O’Connor who created the original, and if so what the reaction had been? So far Brian hasn’t found out what Kevin thinks or ask his opinion.

I have not – I’m too much of a weenie to reach out to him. I’ve had people redraw my artwork before, and it can feel both flattering and violating at the same time. I don’t know if he’s seen it, but I hope if he has he knows that my intention was to pay tribute to his masterpiece. He did all the hard work, I’m just standing on the shoulder of a giant, as they say. If I ever found out he hated it, I’d probably never recover!

This new Monster Bash translite was produced in a limited run of 125 units along with a run of 100 smaller 11″ x 17″ signed prints. Brian thinks limiting the number of translites to 125 is about the correct number for the pinball collector market, and with just a few of both the translites and prints still available to purchase it looks like he got the numbers about right.

The full black and white artwork
The full black and white artwork

Producing ‘derivative’ artwork from existing copyrighted designs is a thorny issue, especially when dealing with rights-holders who are eager to protect their brands and investments.

In this instance, Brian contracted with Planetary Pinball who license the Williams/Bally pinball intellectual property. Brian explained the rationale behind that move.

I’m really happy that we were able to officially license these. And with the future titles, we will be able to actually put the title text on the artwork, which we weren’t able to do with Monster Bash due to a timing issue as we moved quickly to get things ready for Texas Pinball Festival. I think being able to advertise that these are officially licensed from Williams makes them more valuable, and gives us more freedom in the future to recreate more Williams/Bally titles. I hope that pinball fans can appreciate the credibility the license adds to these.

The translite in a Monster Bash machine
The translite in a Monster Bash machine

There has been plenty of talk of future releases, so it’s clear Monster Bash is far from a ‘one-and-done’ project. In fact, we can look forward to more titles being released in the very near future.

Brian told us, “We are planning on doing at least two more this year. I’d like to do Attack from Mars or Cactus Canyon next. I’ve also received a lot of requests for Dracula and Medieval Madness.

You can find out more about Brian’s limited run of 125 Monster Bash translites and buy one for $225 plus shipping (if there are still any left), plus find out all about his other pinball artwork at this website.

For more of his other work take a look at his website or follow him on Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.

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