CGSociety Special Feature – Lorne Lanning [2007]

CGSociety Special Feature - Lorne Lanning [Hosted by CGSociety]

Date: 05/09/2007


Lorne Lanning talks about ‘Citizen Siege,’
EXPOSÉ 5 and the importance of staying creative

Lorne Lanning, Co-Founder,
President and Creative
Director of game and film franchise Oddworld Inhabitants, is also one of the longest serving advisory board members with Ballistic Publishing. Following up on Ballistic Publishing’s EXPOSÉ 5 release, CGSociety asked him about his own projects up to now and into the future.

Since finishing ‘Stranger’s Wrath’ in 2005, Oddworld’s move from creating games; to producing film, TV as well as games actually caused quite a stir at the time. Lanning is circumspect about the timing, though admits jovially that, “it would have been nice to move long before we actually did.”

Since then, Oddworld has secured its first all-CG film deal – ‘Citizen Siege.’ “We’ll soon be starting on the actual production of the online game that ties in with the film, ‘Wage Wars,’” reveals Lanning.

“We’ve been doing some pretty cool machinima tests for a very strange HD episodic television series, which has been a lot of fun and enabled us to work with some really great talents with similar interests.

And we’ve been testing the remote management model for subcontracting and outsourcing to see how well we can extend our new pipeline model across many studios.”

The big difference for Lanning with the move from interactive storytelling to film, is that he’s finally able to focus on those things that he enjoys and to not be distracted with running a self-contained production studio.

“It’s also allowed us the opportunity to engage an amazing range of incredible people from a variety of industries,” he adds. “Throughout Oddworld’s life on the central coast we were restricted by the capacity of our internal production abilities.

While that condition is empowering in some ways, it can be handicapping in others.” Oddworld Inhabitants moving forward is closer to a Jerry Bruckheimer model.

In his case its above-the-line Creative and Producing talent that is the company.

For below-the-line production needs they subcontract to the services that can provide the best solutions.

“We’re structuring similarly,” explains Lanning, “and we’re dealing in fully CG IP’s with specific production demands that require the ability to fluidly pass databases across film, television and game pipelines.

We’re adding a third component to the above-the-line home team, and that’s Technology. Creative, Producing, and Technology.”

While Lanning could not discuss the story or characters, he wanted to mention the great partnership with John Williams and his team at Vanguard Films.

“They saw our vision for the project and they got fully behind it. This blew us away because ‘Citizen Siege’ is not your typical fare animation for the family.”

“This is some pretty intense stuff,” he continues.

“The theme, the imagery, the language, the level of action and violence – the relevance to our current time. It just isn’t quite what the studios are used to when it comes to animated films.

So having a partner that not only shares our vision for the film, but also produced the most successful CG franchise in history, and goes a long way toward ensuring that this picture actually gets completed and into theaters.”

Great games are all about gameplay. Of course, the gaming audience prefers if there is a tolerable story, but Lanning believes the audience will accept something a little cheesy so long as the gameplay is great.

“So when you begin the preliminary work required to make a game you must start with gameplay and then try your best to synergize a decent story around it. It’s a difficult dance to do well, but in the end you compromise story and character before you compromise gameplay. That’s the nature and priority of the gaming medium.”

“Great films are all about engaging stories being delivered by interesting and compelling characters. Story is the single most significant part that you’ve got to have right at the beginning of the process. The best visual effects or new whiz bang whatever isn’t going to save a story that fails to engage the audience.”

“The goal is to ensure the audience experience of each medium maximizes the uniqueness in what makes an IP special, atop of what makes each medium special. Each delivery medium should be shining brightest in the areas that make one or the other medium unique and special.”

For ‘Citizen Siege’, Lanning not only created the universe, but also designed the gaming experiences and worked closely with the writer for the film. “I’m directing the film as well as the game experience and so we’re enabled some opportunities that typically aren’t afforded to IP’s when they cross mediums,” says Lanning.

“We’re aligning game technology at the front of the film pipeline,” says Lanning, “to take advantage of the incredible gains that have emerged recently in game technology. Gains that are getting greater performance with less time and money so that we can see more of the budget up on the screen. Indirectly, it also gets us prime data for development of the games.”

Lanning believes that any intelligently synergized CG IP should be designed for both mediums at its inception and can add up to substantial amortization and quality gains for each medium while at the same time reducing costs.

“But you have to do it right or your just opening a huge can of worms and a mountain of headache,” he adds.

“Great synergy isn’t going to happen because a studio executive mandates it to his team or a film director says he wants it or a game publisher says its part of their business model moving forward.

We hear a lot of that buzz and it does make for nice headlines, but this shit is seriously complicated and much easier to talk about than to implement.”

Lanning wants people to realize the most powerful and the most efficient character animation tools in the world are currently in the game industry.

“Very few people know it yet and even fewer are capable of linking these tools into a pipeline that will stand up to film standards at output. The chasm between the two mediums is closing but its still pretty fast,” he says.

Lanning and his crew have spent a lot of time and put a full package together for the Oddworld all-CG motion picture. They’re excited about it, and determined to make it, but its not going to be the first IP to lead them into film and television. That will be ‘Citizen Siege.’

They are also working on a test for another very strange and unique property for a machinima HD TV. “The partners involved were proving the technology was already the next critical piece to ‘the full digital slate,’” explains Lanning.

”This includes games, film, TV and mobile. It uses the same tool sets and a similar pipeline. It’s really cool stuff, both technologically and in content. I hope we’ll be able to talk about it shortly.”

As an art director, artist and long time Ballistic Publishing Advisory Board member, Lorne Lanning has always believed that the medium of one’s artistry is irrelevant. In his eyes, it’s the ideas and the execution that matters. “It’s all about communicating ideas and experiences and getting that out to others,” he continues.

“So, I’m stoked to see how the world of digital artists is connecting and I’m really amazed at the impact that the CGSociety and the EXPOSÉ series has done to facilitate not only a connection between cultures and ideas but between similar souls that wouldn’t have connected otherwise.

I’m always amazed at the represented countries that continue to emerge into the community.”

“Artists ‘connecting,’ is something that I believe our world needs. I can’t express how important I believe this is for our future. Artists have a different agenda from business and politics.

The spirit of the artist comes the power to change the world so long as the individual is passionate enough and empowered to go for it. Sappy as it may sound, witnessing this thriving community gives me hope and inspiration on many levels.”