Taking place inside Claude Monet’s irises to help him finish paintings as his vision deteriorates, “The Master’s Pupil” challenges players to solve mind-bending puzzles in visually stunning levels meticulously hand-painted by graphic designer Pat Naoum.
Close-ups of eyes may strike some as a cliché photography trope, but the transfixing work of Suren Manvelyan immediately got painter-turned-graphic-designer Pat Naoum thinking about how to translate the inner workings of irises into a video game set inside them. “I started to wonder whose eye it could be, and how the game could span their lifetime,” he says. He tinkered with his own fictional characters at first, but soon Claude Monet sprung to mind. The French artist’s idyllic paintings would make for memorable scenery, and later in life he developed cataracts that caused his right eye to go blind.
Such forms the premise of The Master’s Pupil, a newly released puzzle-adventure video game on Steam and the Nintendo Switch. Players wander through the intricacies of Monet’s iris rendered as painterly, multi-layered platform worlds, solving mesmerizing puzzles by rolling balls and color mixing in order to help the artist complete his own paintings, which are uncovered as backdrops throughout. Unlike recent video games that rely on high-fidelity 3D animations to immerse players inside, most of The Master’s Pupil’s realism stems from each level’s rich textures that evoke Monet’s brushstrokes rendered inside the screen.
That’s because Naoum spent seven years painstakingly painting each element of the game by hand. “There’s this messiness that you can achieve with hand-painted textures that you can’t get with AI or digital painting,” Naoum says. To create each level, he sketched individual elements using pencil, tested his ideas on game engine Unity, and painted over the sketches with acrylic paint. He then scanned them with a high-resolution film negative scanner—to capture more detail than a camera—that he manipulated in Photoshop.
The results radiate the essence of Monet’s style with remarkable precision, whether putting the finishing touches on his Water Lilies or solving a more abstract canvas he completed after his cataracts set in. “I’d love for people to experience Monet’s artwork in a different way,” Naoum says. “It’s one thing to look at his images on a screen or reprinted on an umbrella, but to run through them, to help build some of them, and to look at them in a unique way is wonderful.”