Our company had a huge, gray cinderblock wall in our otherwise well-decorated advertising agency. I saw an opportunity for a gigantic 8-bit Mega Man battle scene. The design is based on the Mega Man game from 1987.
The 8-bit characters in the mural were created with 4’ x 4’ ceramic tiles for the “pixels”. While this was a large-scale project, this general idea can be scaled down for smaller rooms or walls. Ceramic tile is available in an endless selection of colors and they are pretty affordable.
Step 1: Planning the Wall Layout
Several things made this mural complicated (besides that I had never done anything like this before). First, the 20’ x 80’ wall had multiple doorways on two levels adding “holes” in the mural. Secondly, there really wasn’t a full “view” of the entire wall. It was part of an entrance hall that opened up into a larger public gathering space. My design would need to allow for multiple views and let the viewer “discover” the mural as they walked through the space.
To get my arms around the wall dimensions, I needed a scale drawing of the wall. I measured the wall and all the doorway locations and redrew the wall in Adobe Illustrator. This allowed me to consider how the characters might use the various doorways in interesting ways. It also allowed me to understand how big each character would be when made from the 4 x 4” tiles.
Step 2: The Background
The background would remain the cinderblock – no way I’m tiling the whole thing. But we painted it to simulate an 8-bit game background. I didn’t model it after any particular background from the Mega Man game, but rather used two shades of red that looked good with the decor of the space and allowed the characters to stand out. The block's lines added a cool digital feel to the whole wall.
Step 3: Setting the Scene
You can use Google’s image search to find a ton of great reference for vintage 8-bit characters. And, you can also use these images to plan how many “pixels” or tiles will make up each character.
I used Adobe Illustrator to redraw all the characters right in my background masterplan. This allowed me to understand how large each character would be and figure out what the characters would be doing.
In the scene, I have our hero Mega Man shown in three phases of a running leap over a doorway, blasting his arm cannon at two evil “bosses” on the far end of the wall. I used the various doorways as obstacles or platforms for the characters to stand on – or leap over. The long action scene filled the wall and created interesting views throughout the space. I even lined up one of the bosses to be visible from an upstairs office window.
If you don’t have a program like Illustrator, you could easily plot and layout each figure with graph paper and colored pencils.
Step 4: Materials
With the master plan complete I could get an accurate count of the number of 4" x 4" tiles I would need in each color. I thought I could find these colors at Home Depot. But because of the bold colors I was using I needed to go to a tile store where they special ordered everything for me. The brand they sold me was American Olean.
The five characters (and various fireballs) required 8 different colors. With characters this large, the tiles add up fast. There was about 2,400 tiles I needed to order.
375 Saphire Sky (Dark Blue)
250 Glacier (Light Blue)
55 Marshmallow (Fleshtone)
120 Ice White
800 Gloss Black
350 Mandarine Orange
250 Green Apple
200 Lemon Zest (Yellow)
Step 5: Edge-painting the Tiles
The ceramic tiles were glossy, glazed tiles but they had un-glazed, rough white edges that would look harsh in the final mural. Each tile would have to have the edges painted to match the glazed face of the tile. I took each tile to the paint store and had a quart of semi-gloss paint mixed to match each of the 8 colors.
To paint them quickly, I set a large stack of tiles on end with their white edges facing up. Then I used a smooth roller to roll paint across the entire stack of tile edges at once. Once one side was dry, I rotated them and did the other 3 sides. This took some time over a few days but it created clean, colored edges for each tile.
Step 6: Installation
To install the ceramic tiles on the wall I used Loctite’s Power Grab construction adhesive. I chose the “Instant Grab” because I needed to be able to stick a tile on the wall and move on without holding it in place while it dried. And I couldn’t have the tiles sliding down the wall because the adhesive didn’t hold it exactly where I put it. This adhesive allowed me to move quickly.
A word of caution: This will create an essentially permanent installation. If you do this on drywall, you won’t get the tiles off without tearing the wall board.
Each of the five characters was installed one at a time, starting with a bottom row of tiles. Then I moved my way up, horizontally row-by-row. Each tile gets a small, but generoud dab of adhesive and pressed in place. The tiles are butted against each other with no.
For the "airborne" characters I used some scaffolding to move my way up the wall.
The cinderblocks gave me a fairly reliable grid line to keep the tiles straight. If you are not doing this on a cinderblock wall, I recommend using a level to mark some reference lines to keep things level.
As I built each character, I used a printout of each character and a Sharpie to check-off each “pixel” as I applied it to the wall. Because you are so close up to the wall, it’s easy to lose your perspective of where you are in the character. And once a tile is attached, it’s attached.
Step 7: Final Wall
The end result is pretty great. The matte finish of the wall paint lets the glossy tiles pop nicely. As guests inter the hallway, the large boss towers over them. As they walk, they encounter the characters one by one until they step into the larger room to see the entire scene.