Date: Unknown Author: Mark Ramshaw Sources: https://images3.imagebam.com/06/d6/d5/efc4a1213450341.jpg https://images3.imagebam.com/6e/38/5a/58e1c4213450364.jpg
The president and creative director of hugely successful and thoroughly idiosyncratic Oddworld Inhabitants discusses life with Abe, Munch, and other unlikely videogame heroes
While so many working in the videogames field look to their colleagues in the broadcast and movie effects industries for artistic and technological inspiration, Oddworld Inhabitants’ approach is a little different. In fact, its two founders, Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna were previously at highly respected studio Rhythm & Hues before making the leap to video gaming in 1994.
But then everything about Oddworld sets it apart from the norm. While every other games developer spent the ninenties churning out its own 3D shoot-em-up in the Doom/Quake mould, Oddworld heralded its arrival with Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, a game relying on intelligence, depth, humour, and — most shockingly of all — old school 2D sprite graphics (albeit sprites animated to perfection).
“We definitely started out with an agenda to be different,” says Lorne. “We knew we had to cut through the clutter, and we also had to create things that we were interested in. I can’t ever imagine creating ‘me too’ work, and I don’t think either of us are capable. I know Sherry would never have even considered starting Oddworld unless it was going to be high quality and creative.”
Lorne recalls entering the computer graphics industry at its most turbulent time: “There was a writers’ strike going on, and all of the big CG companies — Robert Abel & Associates, Digital Productions, and Omnibus — had just gone out of business due to some funny money shady business deals. And people would talk about CG as if it were some passing fad, like the hula hoop.”
Undaunted, Lorne secured a technical director post at TRW Aerospace, working on visualisations for the Strategic Defence Initiative (Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ program) using SGIs running Wavefront Software.
“I called it ‘commercials for five people’,” Lorne recalls. “We would use CG to show how this crazy technology would work and then a room full of Pentagon types would decide whether it was worth a billion-dollar contract.”
Drawn to commercially oriented CG, Lorne eventually made the switch to Rhythm & Hues. Working on commercials, movie effects, and motion-based attractions (for the likes of Euro Disney, MCA/Universal and the World’s Fair), he continued to switch creative gears, moving from technical director, to art director, to creative director, to visual effects supervisor, before getting Sherry, then Vice President Special Projects at the studio (and winner of more than 40 Clio awards), to join him in a new venture.
“I convinced her that this was the smartest path to creating successful IPs,” says Lorne. “We would birth them as videogames and eventually see them through to become animated CG motion pictures.”
Building on their vast knowledge of commercial computer animation, Lorne and Sherry set about creating the first piece of software rooted in the unique and uniquely detailed Oddworld milieu. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was released to critical acclaim in 1997.
Eschewing motion capture, and relying on very little rotoscoping, the visuals instead hark back to traditional cel character animation. “We took the principles of cel animation, but tried to think of characters as living beings rather than squash-and-stretch characters.”
While the second release from the studio, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus retained the signature 2D cross-section view, taking the character design and animation up a notch, the studio’s most recent is a very different beast. Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee retains the organic look and feel and high-quality animation, but is technologically all-new, with gameplay shifting to real-time 3D.
“The 3D leap for us was a major headache. It wasn’t difficult for us to conceive what to do, or even to make the art in 3D. All the headaches were in the technology. We had been doing 3D CG forever. We thought in 3D and had zillions of 3D tricks in our back pockets. The headaches were in the engine and the people who were writing it, but it’s a long a story and one that will probably never be told.”
Although Lorne won’t be drawn on what we can expect next from the studio, it’s known that Abe’s Odyssee and Munch’s Odyssee were planned as the first two installments of a quintology, each featuring a new central character, but also offering the ability to switch control to all the previous heroes.
Each will no doubt paint an ever more graphically ambitious picture of the Oddworld universe, but though Lorne fully embraces the visual innovations that are helping video gaming to evolve, he feels the real need is for creative breakthroughs.
“We need something that jars our current way of thinking about games,” he says. “The established audience gets excited about the latest and greatest shooter, but nobody else. When a game like The Sims comes along, a much broader audience takes notice.”
Lorne Lanning began his art training before really having a firm idea of what sort of career he was after. It was only a year into an art school course that he decided exactly what kind of commercial artist he wanted to be, switching over to New York’s School Of Visual Arts to focus on photorealistic illustration. He then got the chance to work for renowned international artist Jack Goldstein, running his studio, and so left that course, too.
Deciding to make another switch, he packed his bags and moved to Los Angeles. Going back to school at the California Institue of the Arts, he began focusing on computer animation, cinematic visual effects, and traditional animation.
Learning the ins and outs of CG at a small visual effects house in Los Angeles, and going to work for the Visualisation Lab of TRW Aerospace, Lorne graduated from Cal Arts in 1989. From there he moved on to Rhythm & Hues, staying five years before departing with fellow R&H veteran Sherry McKenna to form Oddworld Inhabitants Inc. Since then he has masterminded the creation of three brilliantly bizarre titles, his level of involvement even extending to providing the voice acting for the various alien creatures in the games.
NAME Lorne Lanning
JOB TITLE President/Creative Director
COMPANY Oddworld Inhabitants Inc
BASED San Luis Obispo, California
WEB SITE http://www.oddworld.com
CREDITS Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee (1997)
Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus (1998)
Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee (2001)
Oddworld remains tight-lipped about its future projects, but chances are at least another two Oddworld games are in the pipeline
Game Revolution Best PSX Adventure of 1998, PC Player 1998 Best Action/Adventure Award for Abe’s Oddysee; Games 1998 Electronic Game Of The Year for Abe’s Oddysee; Official US Playstation 1998 Best Character Design for Abe’s Oddysee; VideoGameSpot Best Platform Game Of ’97 for Abe’s Oddysee; Adrenaline 1997 Vault Reviewer’s Choice Award for Abe’s Oddysee; PC User Best Puzzle Game ’99 for Abe’s Exoddus; Game.EXE 1998 Best Arcade Game for Abe’s Exoddus; Game Revolution Best XBox Action Game of 2001 for Munch’s Odyssee; Electronic Gaming Monthly 2001 Editor’s Choice XBox Game Of The Year for Munch’s Odyssee
The studio uses spectacular 3D pre-rendered cut-scenes to deliver key plot points in the games
Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus retaine the familiar 2D viewpoint, but employed more impressive art
Lorne says the inspirations for Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee were Prince of Persia, Myst, and Flashback
Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee was designed for the PlayStation 2, but the machine’s technology proved too restrictive