The Incredible Story Behind Cuphead’s Fantastical Stop Motion Castle

IGN spoke with the developers and artists behind Cuphead’s Delicious Last Course to learn more about the process of building the King of Games section of the DLC, from the incredible stop motion castle, to the design of the minibosses, to the inspirations of the music. This is Art of the Level.

This video was originally published on Oct 5, 2022 on IGN Games.

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Not too long into the delicious last Course DLC for cuphead you climb a Ladder to a floating island and you're Grid with this When I first saw this I had to take a Second it's a gorgeous handcrafted Castle set capable of full rotation Animated completely in stop motion with Finer details like waterfalls motion Blurred propellers and Towers each with Their own unique faces cuphead is no Stranger to stop motion animation Backgrounds utilizing them in the Infamous dragon fight and the genie boss But this is on a whole other level and What's even more impressive than how This model looks is the story behind Studio mdhr's collaboration with the Veteran stop-motion animators at screen Novelties who were already huge fans of Studio mdhr to take cuphead's iconic art Design and elevate it to another level The castle isn't the only story to be Told here either it along with the rest Of the king of games portion of the DLC Is only a small part of the delicious Size course and yet this series of five Bosses never feels like an afterthought Quite the contrary the king of games Exemplifies Studio mdhr's commit Commitment to Quality and its Vision To learn about all these stories and More we spoke to the members of the Studio mdhr team as well as some of the

Creators behind this beautiful model to Find out the origin of the spectacular Castle The Inspirations and design Decisions behind all five king of games Bosses and the soundtrack that brings it All to life It's art of the love [Music] [Applause] The main game of cuphead is split into Two different types of levels the Plentiful headlining boss battles and The Run and Gun platforming levels that Reward you with currency you can then Use at the shop to buy new weapons and Charms but in the delicious last course Studio mdhr wanted to try something else To fill that complementary role Something that had actually been on Their mind since the beginning of Cuphead's development but wasn't Feasible in the scope and scale of the Base game in the original game before we Had decided on platforming levels we Were like what if there was a different Type of boss that you could only Parry To to engage so if you actually jump Back to some of our earliest postings of The game there's a weird jellyfish that Moves back and forth so the same concept Kind of existed at that point where we Were going to have an Airship that would Move around and reappear here and it was Kind of a fun way to earn coins but what

We ended up deciding on was like the Game was already so boss heavy that we Kind of wanted a slightly different Break in between playing the bosses and That's when we decided why not try our Hands at the platforming stages Scrapping the idea the idea of mini Bosses was the amount of work required To come up with a handful of mini bosses For each aisle the smaller scale the DLC Presented the perfect opportunity there Was only one Island so they only had to Come up with five mini boss battles as Opposed to 15. Once Studio mdhr settled on the idea of Mini bosses as the method of rewarding Coins in the delicious last course they Then had to come up with the setting for These fights for that they came back to That original idea the fight against the Jellyfish that took place on an Airship And we started kind of daydreaming Between like fancy star ones floating Castle where you fight lassic to like uh Miyazaki being Castle in the Sky and Then it was like it's Trope but it's not Like an overused one so at that point we Were like this this is something that we Want to lock in is the notion of this This other world kind of detached from The main island that you're on and I Mean the logical progression from there Would be like if it is a castle then it Is logical that the king and a Queen

Live in it so it was like let's take one Of the most beloved things chess and and Apply it to to what will be up in the Castle The result as we all know is a Collection of boss fights all themed Around chess pieces the pond the night The bishop the rook and the Queen [Applause] But while Chad and Jared moldenhauer and The rest of Studio mdhr worked on these Boss fights a modest animation house was Putting their own unique talents to work On something that would tie everything Together in Unforgettable way [Music] We're just a little sort of creative Studio dedicated to Doing handmade animation or puppetry Anything that involves miniature Photography Sheamus Walsh is a Co-founder of screen Novelties with Clients ranging from Nickelodeon to Cartoon Network and heck they even did The work for this fortnite season 7 Trailer they are masters of their craft And as it turns out they were also big Fans of Studio mdhr we had been Following what mdhr had been doing for Years like we all heard about this game That was supposedly going to have a 1930s aesthetic to it and all of us at Screen Novelties like the whole reason We started our company is because we

Wanted to do that kind of like that Otherworldly type of animation and uh And and we all one of our main Inspirations for doing what we what we Do is uh the early Fleischer shorts Um you know the the Betty boops and the Fleischer color Classics and so we Followed what mdhr was doing in just Rooting that this game would somehow Finally get actually made you know they Would release little Snippets of it and Uh when they finally released it we were Just like oh man they just they nailed It we felt like they had everyone's Tried to kind of like copy that 1930 Style with the cycled little scrunch That the the flashers used to do and I Feel like when they you know finally Released the game they were like man They just really nailed that look better Than anyone else really ever had ever Since then eventually their paths would Cross when screen Novelties was hired to Do some work on the cuphead show and the Two teams immediately hit off thanks to Their shared love for classic Fletcher Era animation this ultimately resulted In studio mdhr not only hiring screen Novelties to work on their game awards Reveal trailer for the delicious last Course but also to construct the Stop-motion Castle set that would serve As the home of the king of games we were Pretty taken aback when they asked us to

Help out because we're like well you Guys could you guys obviously have the Capability to do it but I think they Wanted it to be you know it was a little More complex with because that whole Rotating turntable aesthetic kind of Comes from the Fleischer color Classics Cartoon which are all these old public Domain things and they're really great And the sculptural style of them is so Specific so yeah it was a pretty short Back and forth because you know the mdhr Folks really know what they want and we Understood the aesthetic and how to Translate that dimensionally which you Know there's a lot of things that go Into that and um Kelly who's one of our Main animation directors just like dove Into that right away like figuring out Because there was so much stuff about How to line it up and make the animation Loopable and all that speaking of Kelly Meet Kelly I am Kelly mazarowski I am The animation director production Designer for the uh king of games making The animation match the needs of Different states of the game turned out To be one of the biggest challenges Kelly and the team had to face so the The castle Is on a giant industrial lazy Susan And to bring this to any of the um Specific doorway openings Each of the doorways had to be

Mechanically rigged so that when we come To one of the stages We can animate the doors opening or Closing and then to correct the Perspective to keep everything cute and Have a face-like quality all of the Um Set pieces are moving along with our Center Tower so that when we come to a Rest we can fully align to a stopping Position so the one challenge of stop Motion is with stop-motion you are Literally stopping and photographing Every frame so we lose the illusion of Having a shutter give motion blur and With stop motion in particular it's kind Of charming when you see Um mechanical things moving but what Ends up happening with a propeller for Instance is unless you have some kind of Visual cues to give the propellers A little bit of motion blur it can turn Into the classic car driving by and the Wheels start to look like they're going In reverse so the motion blur was a Cartoony touch that we added that it's Very subtle And not really fully noticeable to the Eye but it really adds an extra little Animation flourish because all the 2D Animation in the game has you know lots Of squash and stretch and some motion Blur frames and some really fantastic Stuff the castle set took about two

Months to build and stands as a symbol Of both studio mdhr and Screen Novelties Commitment to Quality after all this Could have just been another Overworld Map but the team had a vision to Separate the king of games from the rest Of the DLC and make it stand out and They followed through on it But let's jump back to Chad and Jared And dive into what this Castle houses The mini bosses themselves [Music] The aforementioned prototype jellyfish Boss existed but the devs didn't really Use any cut boss designs for any of the Mini bosses in the king of games every Mini boss was designed with the unique Characteristics of the chess piece in Mind along with what that chess piece Represents the battle against the pawn Is arguably one of the simplest bosses In cuphead but it's nonetheless unique In that you have to defeat all eight of Them in order to clear the battle The idea to have eight enemies was Always something the team wanted to make Work but the fight actually took a few Different forms before they arrived on The fight you see right now when we were Designing the pond fight we knew we had To have like eight Pawn pieces for some Reason it made sense so we're like how Do we get eight small enemies around the Screen and initially it was actually a

Bunch of them I think we were gonna do Stilts it didn't really have a theme or Make sense but there was like an empty Pit so once you had to jump into where All these pawns were running back and Forth then you would have to like chain Your parries across all of them but we Put it out there and there's just not Enough screen real estate vertically to To get good play between them it almost Became something that you could just Mash a button through or take a few hits So that initial one of just having a Whole bunch already on the ground uh Running around just didn't feel fun hey Bro When we started placing these characters And trying to find their their Environment that they would be in and Then ended up on Library being a Possibility for them which is just one Of the few things that we tossed out Because we're like well it could be like A bed Chambers and it's kind of like a Bunch of bunk beds where all the pawns Would sleep and then well it didn't seem Very great so once we hit the notion That we're doing a library Then we realized it would be the best to Have them just outside your reach on the Top all kind of Leaping into action one At a time Foreign [Music]

The next fight against the Knight is my Personal favorite of the bunch and it's The closest thing you ever get to a Traditional one-on-one fight against a Singular enemy without any tricks Involved in many ways it's like a Side-scrolling version of a Punch-Out Boss fight The boss having only a handful of moves Each of which require a different Response in order to dodge and Each of Which offer a short punishment window as A reward for a successful Invasion the Knight was a was a really fun one to Design visually and gameplay wise and I Think they kind of even early on as the The fight was being prototyped out it Had some pretty well laid out concept Art crudely put on top to get the idea Of you know being really precise with How that boss was working we wanted to Just hit something that was solely uh Wait until you see the action of the Boss and then react specifically to that Attack As soon as we kind of had that concept Down uh we we wanted a theme like where Would the night be and we ended up Jumping back to share my show down and Being like Charlotte's stage I believe It's Charlotte stage is like this grand Hall and then we're like the that just Seems like a perfect place is kind of do A grand hall meets Armory and keep in

That semi-showdown vein of like a sword Fight the Knight is also one of those Aha moments where We start playing it and as we finalize It you really it really changes uh you Know the the base gameplay of cuphead And you kind of get into this other Little mini game that all of these king Of bosses exude While the Knight is a straight up One-on-one boss fight the next fight Against the bishop is a little less Direct here the player must first Extinguish a series of candles in order To make the floating head of the bishop Vulnerable to a Parry all while dodging A series of projectiles and the bishop Himself now earlier I had said that the King of games bosses largely didn't Include any content from Cut bosses but The bishop did actually Rise From the Ashes of a scrapped idea that Chad and Jared toyed with in the original game The bishop boss fight was actually a Pattern from the original game we were Never we'd never programmed it at that Time but there there was this idea that We were going to have a grim reaper and That if you run too long on any boss Fight then the Grim Reaper may come out To force you into a new secret Battle of Course again we were like let's cut that It's we don't have the time to just keep Adding and adding and adding cut to a

Few years later when we're designing These new king of games Perry bosses it Was like is there a way to use that Functionality that we wanted from the Grim Reaper and if you notice it also Kind of ties back to the Grim Reaper From Castlevania one which is a moving Boss that releases uh projectiles that Move towards the player In the fight against The Rook rather Than parrying the boss directly the Player must instead bounce back the Severed heads that the boss launches Towards you all while avoiding the Sparks on the ground and the skulls that Get mixed in along with the heads pretty Grim right but the concept for this boss Fight didn't always involve an Executioner and seven heads Foreign Folly bowling the heads on The Rook came On an earlier concept right here before We kind of landed on the the chess theme Yeah The Rook definitely was just the The notion of like what else can you Approach with the Perry so the the Notion of like bouncing a ball and Having to carry it over just felt like a Logical progression and it was kind of Tossed around early before we had landed On the designs of the finger games Themselves and it was even to the point Of being like maybe this is some sort of Fantasy basketball thing like not really

Basketball but you see a boss where you Gotta bounce like a bomb or something Back into the top of an opening that Funnels back down into them but there Was nothing theme wise that was like Visually interesting at that point yeah And it's it's Funny that as you're talking about The Rook Jared it actually has more Similarities than I thought to the Dynamite headies basketball bonus game In a way like carrying the basketballs Over to the right basket when you're Talking about the basketballs I'm like Wait a second maybe we subconsciously Borrowed that idea I think I actually Think that would be subconscious 100 Percent Because we were thinking of these as Kind of bonus levels and different ways To to achieve a Parry or a mini game I'm Sure Dynamite Hedy would have just snuck Into her subconscious Here we go The last fight in the king of games is Against the queen and the unique angle To this fight is the fact that the queen Herself is on a different plane than you Very much similar to the Donkey Kong Country 3 fight against Bleak players Must use their Parry to fire cannons in Order to hit the queen who's off in the Distance rapidly moving left and right All the while summoning Minions on your

Plane to try and take you out it's Visually one of the more complex battles In the king of games lineup but from a Design perspective it actually wasn't One of the more challenging ones from a Design perspective if you look at it as Just like moving red boxes it's no Different than if they're on the exact Same plane so the challenge unto itself Is actually on the planning of the art And and completing the art itself to Create that illusion with the background And with all the animations trying to Like wrap our hand heads around what we Were gonna do with that level was Definitely a An awesome Challenge and just in the end Result of these kind of Robin hood-esque Mice are the ones helping you kind of Attack the queen and she's in her after A treasure room of riches just I don't Know it warms my heart when I think back To this so that's the pawn the Knight The bishop the rook and the queen but What about the king piece well Unfortunately according to Chad and Jared while the idea to make the key of Games a boss himself was tossed around It was ultimately scrapped it's likened To the same thing as Elder Kettle in the First game we didn't go into designing Anything but we're like What if there is A way like a cursed charm or whatever That will set you so if you go back you

Would engage in a fight against Elder Kettle but we couldn't thematically make Anything make sense and we didn't have Time to do it and then the same thing Occurred here where we're like it Wouldn't make sense that when you Complete all these bosses you come back And you're thinking about getting your Rewards for the coin but there's Actually one last fight with the the King himself But we're like we've already established Sort of his functionality and we already Established the scope of the game so Let's not just tack on another Four months of work to to figure out how We could make that work it's not just The mechanics and the look of these Bosses that make this section quite Literally single [Music] Cuphead's music is well known for Pairing its 1930s cartoony art style With big band numbers featuring lots of Percussion catchy bass lines and roaring Trumpets but as with everything else in The king of games the team wanted to go In a different direction to make the Mini bosses and the floating island feel Distinct from everything down below Chris Madigan the composer on both Cuphead and the DLC said that he Actually got less Direction on the DLC Than on the original game and had a lot

Of freedom and Trust to try some things That he didn't in the main game The main theme throughout the game games Entitled Blu-ray on the board epitomizes This new approach I would say the king of game section Overall not just that tune but I wanted To actually do something I wanted to differentiate that from the Rest of the game and that one definitely In my opinion has a bit more classic Old King Cole cartoon kind of sound I I Wanted that to really stand on its own And so I was pretty influenced in in all Of that stuff by more cartoon music than The rest of the game arguably but also More tunes from the uh Baroque Era and Pretty classical music era a beret is A French dance which kind of has the Same Rhythm that we used in that tune But it's it's pretty loose it was just Kind of trying to mash up Baroque Sensibilities and Still kind of like the Jazz of the game It was a challenge to me to kind of try And make something Which worked in the game and it was Quirky but wasn't super Fee and bad sounding in a sense what's Really cool about the implementation of This song throughout the king of games Is that each battle uses a variation of The same song but there's a Different Instrumental solo for each fight

[Music] Foreign [Music] Has the most dramatically different Rendition and even has its own name in The soundtrack the Queen's ragua Dawn I wanted a different version for the Queen just because it was kind of you Know she was the final boss of that that Area so it made sense to me to have Something that was different And all all four of those Tunes In theory have the same Um Melody with these like Prelude and Proclamation sets everything up in King Of games Castle has the same Melody that Rory on the board has has the same Melody of the ambience Castle Rococo has Which is the same Melody that Queen's Rigidon has and so I kind of wanted to Keep all of that within you know I Wanted to have thematic continuity there Madigan explained that he also includes A bit of a tribute to classic video Games in the form of the classic Flat 6 Flat 7 1 progression Foreign Which ends those Tunes starts those Tunes uh happens in the middle of some Of them Is a super classic flat six flat seven One progression it's what you hear uh uh Final Fantasy you win When Mario hits the uh flagpole it's the

Same progression there [Music] So it's kind of like it was a tribute to Uh video games Just using that progression in the first Place Madigan's works in the delicious Last course truly puts a bow on the Entire experience of cuphead an Experience that has been such a huge Part of his life for the better part of A decade or so I asked Madigan to sum up What it feels like to finally be at the Finish line of the project that has not Only meant so much for him in his career But also one that he's gotten to work on With his friends still a little surreal That it's Done it's kind of been this even when I Wasn't working on it over the past nine Nine-ish years it's always this thing That's you know nagging there like oh You should be Some writing or something so um It's it's nice to be finished I think That the best thing though is that we Spent a long time making this thing and It's got such a great response from People and it has resonated with people And I think that the game really loses a Lot of love and personality It's maybe a little weird that it's over But it's also uh The response is very uh humbling and Gratified

[Music] A very special thanks to Chad Jared Sheamus Kelly Chris and everyone else Who we worked with to help give us this Access into the development process for The delicious last course and of course Thank you for watching For more art of the level make sure to Check out our videos on rebuilding the Blades of chaos and God of War and how Eternals derelict Citadel twists the Idea of cycles and as always for Everything else keep it here on IGN [Music] [Applause] [Music]

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