Illustrator Sylvain Tegroeg created thousands of intricate line drawings for the mobile game Hidden Folks

Hidden Folks is a creative, interactive app that's like Where’s Wally with wonderfully detailed, black-and-white line art. Here's how its worlds were drawn and created.

Hidden Folks is a game for smartphones or desktops, in which players are presented with an impressively large amount of miniature animated scenes. In the scenes players must find the hidden characters, animals and objects. Each scene takes on an individual theme – Forest, Dry Lands, City and now Factory – and each object (there are thousands) within the theme has been individually hand drawn by Sylvain. 

Players can unfurl tent flaps, cut through bushes, slam doors and poke crocodiles to try and find the hidden characters.

Hidden Folks has garnered a decent following, even recognition from Apple’s Tim Cook, since its release on Steam in February. But within the last month it’s rolled out a new update, introducing a factory theme for the first time.

You can purchase Hidden Folks from the iTunes App Store for US$3.99 or from Steam for £5.99. It’s currently only for iOS and Steam, but it’s expected to be available for Android soon.

Following the new update, Sylvain tells us what it’s like to take on such a giant illustration project, where he finds inspiration and how his individual hand drawings develop from paper to a fully interactive game.

Miriam Harris: Tell us a bit about yourself.

Sylvain Tegroeg: "I’m a multi-disciplinary creative and designer. Most of my education procures focused on product design, but I developed illustrations skills over the years. I started my professional career in Amsterdam as an illustrator for various local magazines during my studies, then I graduated and started as a freelancer." 

MH: How did you develop your style?

ST: "It started simply as a challenging assignment from one of my art teacher when I began my studies in Applied Arts: start a sketchbook that will gather ideas, notes, add more important sketches in order to improve our skills. That was just a simple one-time assignment, but I kept the habit and this is how I worked on my style. It was really difficult at first, finding an identity on paper, it took me months. I am still developing my style even now as I become more confident."

Advertisement. Article continues below

MH: How did the idea for Hidden Folks come about? 

ST: "I think it all started at my graduation exhibition from the Rietveld Academie in 2014 (seen here). I had realised a collection of sculptures in globes with a serial of hand drawn illustration posters. Each of them was depicting the storytelling and message behind the globes, and it picked up the interest of Adriaan De Jongh, which passed by and instantly imagined those illustrations being alive. We joked about meeting and thinking about making a game out of the style. We started to work on a concept months later, and the idea of Hidden Folks came upon many researches and attempts."

MH: What’s new in the Factory update?

ST: "The factory theme is maybe one of the first we developed in the process of the game. But the system of interaction and elements sorting were too complex at the time, and we didn’t have the right tools. In the meantime I had drawn many other element, which were a base for the later city and forest themes. We have included a lot of new interactions, stories and sounds."

MH: Talk me through your creative process.

ST: "I always start on paper. I draw many elements and start building coherence within the elements while also thinking about the in-game compatibility. Will the elements be modules? In which cases, will they be animated or interactive?

"It’s back and forth from analog to digital. Once I have my elements, I want to scan and import them to the software. Then I will start testing out my elements together in the software by making little scenes. I’ll think about these elements: do we still have a feeling of pattern? Is each composed elements unique? This helps me to figure out how I can vary the moments in the levels, and how far I can do this without the player got a feeling of deja vu.

"Once the level setup is made, I review with Adriaan and start thinking about the mechanic of the theme: Are the interactions visible enough to the player through illustration? How will they hide the targets? Is it fun enough? And when we have most of that, I can “finally” start the design of a whole new level."

Advertisement. Article continues below

MH: How long does it roughly take to complete one theme?

ST: "This is a tough question, it can take a few days to a few weeks to develop and complete a theme. Once I have completed part of the level design by composing and assembling elements, Adriaan and I do an extra round to add interactions, check at targets, and for Martin to add the sounds. 

"Adding to that; the amazing support of the community which does the localisation and translations of the game. Once most of that is done, we do another check-up, running trough the game checking for errors, sorting and other layering problems. Small scenes can be done in one day, but for the record, the Desert level took more than a week to assemble and complete. Factory is at the moment around two weeks work for one level."

MH: Where did you draw inspiration for the different themes and objects? 

ST: "I have been drawing a lot in miniature style, and since my education of product design, I just loved drawing tiny objects in my books. I found there is so much variety and we decided to exploit that when we looked at the direction of the game with Adriaan. This often comes naturally on paper, and later goes through selection when developing the levels. Often I will add new objects and things when working on a level, to give consistence to a moment or to a target’s story-telling."

MH: What is the method to your compositions?

ST: "It might look somehow chaotic, but yes, there is a method. All the elements, such as the objects, volumes, interactions are all placed manually into the game, one by one. To that we can add the characters, which are composed of regular folks and the most important: targets. We make the regular characters random (each scene has a particular set of parts, but also animations that we can choose to trigger or not), while the targets are all customised one by one. We attribute each of them parts, but also extra behaviours such as walking and looking around."

Advertisement. Article continues below

MH: Looking ahead, what’s on the horizon for you?

ST: "In the nearby future, I will keep on working on the game, and new updates. I see so much potential in the game, so I hope this will last for a few years at least. And I want to definitely keep making illustrations; I’d love to make an other game maybe. 

"I have plans for few personal projects such as cartoons, animation, and maybe simply colouring books. While in the meantime, the exposure of the game has brought a lot of new projects and new opportunities."