Cathy Johnson interview

Cathy Johnson interview [Hosted by OddBlog]
Date: 11 October, 2004
Interviewers: Wil & Xavier
Interviewee: Cathy Johnson



Following from OddBlog’s and OddNET’s interviews with Mark Snoswell, founder and CEO of Ballistic Publishing, we felt compelled to explore the possibilities of a similar Q&A with the person who first had the idea for an Oddworld ‘art of’ book, then went on to be the ‘biggest contributor’ of material for The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994–​2004; and now we are proud to share our interview (from October 2004) with OWI’s creative services manager, Cathy Johnson.

OddBlog: Choosing which pictures to represent ten years of creativity sounds by no means an easy task. By what process did you select the images to go into The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants?

Cathy Johnson: In my mind, it didn’t seem like it would be a hard process, but it was. After the chapters were determined, it was time to gather all the images. I have hundreds of CDs that are archived by different categories; game, characters, game art, cg, marketing, logos and graphics are just a few of the categories. The criteria was that the image had to be hi resolution. That is at least 300 dpi or print ready. Game art and game screens are 72 dpi and the quality usually isn’t very good. We now have the ability to capture hi resolution game screens, a luxury we did not have with our previous games.

The second part was to go through the production sketch files located in Lorne’s office. Former production designers Steven Olds and Farzad Varahrayam were extremely organized and meticulous with their original sketches. I spent hours going through thousands of sketches.

After selecting sketches to include in the book, they were scanned at print resolution and returned to Lorne’s office.

After roughly laying out the book with images, I showed Lorne who told me to add more production art. So I did. He finally gave me his blessing on the Abe and Abe’s Oddysee chapters. I went to Sherry to show her the finished chapters. She wanted more computer graphics! I took a deep breath and went back to the drawing board. The book isn’t an Oddworld Universe book; it’s more a retrospective of the art that the company has created in the last 10 years.

The heart of Oddworld is Lorne’s artistic and story vision AND Sherry’s love for computer graphics. This combination is what makes Oddworld unique. I’m very happy that the final book shows that.


OddBlog: Mark Snoswell has told us the idea for The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants comes from you. What possessed you to think an Art of; book would be a good idea? Once the idea of creating a book was finalized, how and why were you chosen to compose it?

Cathy Johnson: Oddworld has not done any merchandising until now. Once Sherry and Lorne acquired sole ownership of Oddworld Inhabitants last December, the book became a reality and not just a dream. I don’t think I was “chosen” to do it, I think I was the only one who could do it. I’ve been here the longest and have worked on all the games. It’s also part of my job as Creative Services Manager to handle non‐game projects.

We are very fortunate to have such a wonderful partner as Ballistic Publishing. They allowed us to create the kind of book we wanted to and they made sure the quality was of the highest standards. They are also a pleasure to work with.


OddBlog: What other Inhabitants contributed to the book?

Cathy Johnson: Jenny Shaheen and Kristin Inman, my marketing cohorts first and foremost. Without them, the book would not have been finished. Kristin is an exceptional writer and Jenny is a great liaison to the outside world. We bounced ideas and concepts for the book back and forth.

Production Designers Raymond Swanland, Silvio Aebisher, Gautam Babbar and Rob Brown contributed text to some of their images. They also did portrait sketches of themselves and others. Raymond created the amazing images for the cover and chapter title pages. Lorne and Sherry wrote forewords and also answered many of my questions.

Lastly Ava Arsaga and Alexia Nielsen, our legal dept. checked it over before sending to Ballistic.

Ballistic took our layouts and turned them into a “real” book.


OddBlog: What is your favorite image/part of the book, and why? Is there anything of note you would have loved to have included, but couldn’t?

Cathy Johnson: The book is 256 pages and it could have been 500! I don’t have a ‘favorite’ but there are a lot of fun stories. There is a story about how Abe got his name.

There is a page showing the prop house for Feeco Depot. I don’t know if fans knew how we created Abe’s Exoddus. I originally wanted the prop house to be an entire spread, but it kept getting smaller and smaller as we ran out of pages.

The Inspiration chapter is composed of art that has never been seen and lastly, I had a concept to do a timeline that tied all the chapters together. The timeline consists of fun facts and photos from within the studio. You’ll see what is on Sherry’s desk and a never before seen whoopee cushion from Abe’s Oddysee. I wish I had more time to work on it.


OddBlog: How would you describe Oddworld’s artistic style, and has it changed at all over the years with the changing of production designers?

Cathy Johnson: Oddworld has won numerous awards for their unique style of art. It’s a lot of styles; dark, highly detailed, epic in feel, sometimes just simple and humorous. It’s always a little to the left of normal thinking and conveys a strong message. We always add a twist; whether it is a character you’ve never seen on earth or a satirical graphic with a bit of humor.

Production designers are artists that all have a unique style of painting and sketching. They are responsible for bringing the director’s vision to paper. When I was a freelance Illustrator before coming to Oddworld, agencies would hire me for my style of art. When you are an employee of a company, all the art created by artists is property of the company. It’s problem solving at the greatest level. The artists must create images that reflect the director’s vision.


OddBlog: What kind of experience is it working at Oddworld Inhabitants?

Cathy Johnson: It’s really comfortable. We are a fairly small company with around 50 employees that share an intense passion, drive and determination to do their very best. It’s a place with very high highs and very low lows. San Luis Obispo is a very laid back sleepy town. When you step into the Oddworld studio, you may as well be in New York City or Los Angeles. You can hear the same laughs during the day as well as the same shouts of frustration. These sounds become very familiar, like living with a big extended wacky family! Oh, and the Inhabitants work hard and play hard too! : )


OddBlog: How has OWI and working there changed between the early days and today? What would you say is the biggest difference?

Cathy Johnson: I don’t think it’s changed that much. People have come and gone. We’ve all grown older, grayer, and fatter! (Except for Sherry of course.) Sherry isn’t as strict about junk food like she was in the old days. People used to sneak in soda in brown paper bags. Even though she remains very health conscious, she enjoys a good cookie or two like the rest of us!


OddBlog: What brought you to Oddworld in the first place? As you’ve been part of it since the beginning, you can’t have been drawn by its reputation.

Cathy Johnson: OK, this story could take a long time so I’ll give you the short version.

Lorne and Sherry asked me to come join Oddworld almost ten years ago. I knew Lorne from our days in New York City. Way back when he was just a student. He was a nice guy with a lot of big ideas. We kept in touch throughout the years and while he was working at Rhythm and Hues, he used to talk a lot about having his own company and he’d tell me his “stories”. He was always talking about all his stories. Sort of in the way that I’d think, “oh Lorne’s telling his stories again”. I moved to Los Angeles in 1992 and Lorne told me, “You got to get into computers!” So I took a Photoshop class but wasn’t that interested. I was an Illustrator!

One day, he called me and told me he finally started his own company and he wanted me to come up to San Luis Obispo to check it out. I thought, sure…why not. Lorne and his stories… again!

It was a very rainy day when I drove three hours north to their temporary office in Los Osos. The office was one very small room with just a handful of desks, black bookcases and two plants. Lorne, Sherry, Steve Olds, office administrator Jim Fajardo and Christophe Chaverou were the only employees. After meeting everyone, Lorne brought me to the back of the room where on the walls were the first concept sketches for Abe. I saw Lorne’s “stories” come to life. When I saw those sketches I was blown away. I was also a bit frightened. Abe and his universe were freaky!

I had a long talk with Sherry and Lorne about what they wanted to do with the company. After talking to Sherry, I realized that Lorne’s vision and stories were going to be a reality. She made a huge impact on me. There was some kind of special magic here and I wanted to be a part of it. It was a once in a lifetime experience, to be part of a start up company. Lorne’s ‘stories’ became the basis for the Oddworld Quintology.


OddBlog: What does your job at Oddworld Inhabitants entail, and how has it changed over the years?

Cathy Johnson: I began as a digital artist on Abe’s Oddysee. There were 4 CG artists and myself on a Mac!

I provided the CG artists with all the maps, textures, and graphics for the game and movies. Elum’s texture and color map is something I’m most proud of during that period. In Abe’s Exoddus I lead the “Paint dept.” The paint dept. was responsible for the final look of all 1000 game screens. At the same time I also created all the marketing images. Since marketing is my first love and I had no desire to learn 3D, I focused on PR and marketing for Munch’s Oddysee. I manage the website, work with our publisher on all marketing images, provide art to magazines around the world, manage the game manual, etc. etc. It’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I still get to work on a Mac!


OddBlog: Where do you see OWI in another 10 years?

Cathy Johnson: In ten years, I hope to see Lorne and Sherry’s dream come true, an Oddworld film. The game studio will be working on multiple IPs at the same time, a Saturday cartoon, Oddworld figurines, toys, comics, books, music CDs etc. etc. Whew, I’m tired already!


OddBlog: Finally, can you tell us anything about Oddworld Stranger?

Cathy Johnson: Hmm, so much to tell but so little time! OK listen up! It’s NOT just a western! Only the first two regions are western environments. We have beautiful forests, river valleys, caves, ice and snow levels, and massive industrial complexes too! Secondly, it’s just plain funny. Those Clakkerz crack me up. And last but not least, several female characters finally make it into the game.


A huge thank you absolutely must go to Cathy Johnson for taking the time to answer these questions for the fans, and for allowing them to be published by OddBlog; and, of course, for providing the idea and composition of The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994–​2004, the soft cover and limited editions of which is still available to order from the Ballistic Publishing website, so if you haven’t already, order your copy right away!