Oddworld Inhabitants’ Matt Scott

Oddworld Inhabitants' Matt Scott [Hosted by Animation Artist]
Date: 12 December, 2003
Interviewer: Joe Harkins
Interviewee: Matt Scott

Source: http://animationartist.com/2003/12_dec/features/scott_oddworld.htm

Matt Scott gets up everyday and goes to work in the quiet town of San Luis Obispo, CA, a small paradise halfway between LA and San Francisco. In a town square filled with trees, restaurants, and boutique stores, Matt climbs up a long white staircase and enters a world of weird creatures, strange planets, and fascinating stories. Local residents wandering below have virtually no clue that just above them is one of the most respected video game companies on earth, Oddworld Inhabitants.

Formed in 1994 by special effects and computer animation veterans Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning, Oddworld Inhabitants debuted with two video games, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee® and Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus™. They took off with a bang, selling millions of copies, winning awards, and making history for themselves. Fast forward to today, almost 10 years since the release of Abe’s Oddysee®, Oddworld’s small team of creative and technical talent is working hard on their latest project, one of the most anticipated games for the X-Box platform. I had a chance to sit down and chat with animator Matt Scott about life at Oddworld, and the challenges he faces day to day.

Joe Harkins: So Matt, if you could, just tell us a little bit about what first sparked your interest in being an animator and how you ended up here at Oddworld.

Matt Scott: Well, I always wanted to be an animator when I was a little kid. I would watch movies like The Jungle Book, The Sword in the Stone, and so many other great Disney movies over and over. I’d get so inspired that I would go make little flipbooks out of post-it-notes. They were simple little things like bouncing balls and stuff, but to a six year old, it’s awesome.

I guess the single most inspiring event that got me interested in the computer animation realm was Jurassic Park. The way ILM brought those dinosaurs to life so convincingly just blew my mind, and of course, I wanted to try my hand at it. Since I didn’t really have access to any software to animate on, I did what most kids did, played lots of video games.

As I got older, I found out about mods for games I was playing like Quake. The whole idea of adding your own content and changing the existing game was the coolest thing I had ever heard of. When I heard that some mod makers had actually gotten jobs in the games industry through mods they had made, I realized that getting a job at a game company isn’t some unreachable dream, its actually attainable AND I could be an animator like I always wanted.

So I went to school and learned many facets of computer graphics. After I graduated, I landed a freelance animation job working on a CG GI Joe commercial for ReelFX. I was really excited to be working finally but I still had the desire to get into the games industry. After my contract with ReelFX was over, I packed up my car and moved to LA to start working on Fear Effect 3 at Kronos Digital Entertainment.

Unfortunately, shortly after I started, Fear Effect was cancelled, and it left Kronos in a state where they only had a few months they could stay open unless they found a new publisher and project. I threw together a quick reel, and sent it to a friend who sent it to a friend at Oddworld and a few days later I got a phone call asking if I could come up for an interview.

Harkins: And now you’re here! What is it like working at Oddworld?

Scott: Working at Oddworld is a great experience. I get to work with some of the best people in the game industry. It’s a lot of hard work, and very long nights, but it’s all worth it.

Harkins: It sounds like Oddworld has a very dedicated team, can you tell us what a typical day for you is like at work?

Scott: Well, lately, I’ve been working on a lot of pre-rendered cinematic work, so my days are a little different than when I was doing animation for real time. Usually I’ll get in, and immediately fire off playblasts from the previous night’s work. After I review that and make and necessary changes, I’ll start planning for my next shot, reviewing the animatic and making thumbnails and notes of how I want to approach the shot.

After that, it’s almost lunch time, so I go out with the real time team for lunch usually. After lunch, I work on my shot and get it ready to show at dailies in the evening with the other animators, and the directors of the sequence. After the dailies are over, I usually go straight back to my desk and incorporate as many fixes and suggestions as I can to finish off my shots.

That’s pretty much a typical day for me, unless we’re crunching, where I’d grab some dinner after daillies and work on my shots till who knows what hour.

Harkins: Wow, you keep pretty busy! What kind of challenges have you come across as an animator?

Scott: One of the main challenges that I’ve come across is trying not to get too bogged down in the technical aspects of computer animation to the point where you lose the focus of the animation. Animation is animation, and many times people will focus on the technical details to the point where they don’t touch on the acting and movements enough.

Harkins: Do you have any special tips or techniques you’ve developed that help you do your job better?

Scott: Aside from customizing hotkeys, I haven’ t developed anything special personally. I’d say the most invaluable technique I use is planning just about everything before I even touch the scene. Making notes and sketching thumbnails so I can better visualize what I’m going to animate before I animate is such a time saver for me.

Harkins: Walk us through the steps you take when animating How do you begin, and when do you feel like you’re finished?

Scott: As I said before, when I begin a shot, I usually plan out exactly what I intend to do. I’m not the best traditional artist, but my thumbnails are enough to help me visualize what I intend to do. If the thumbails aren’t visually conveying everything I want to get across, I’ll jot down notes about things like emotions and stuff like that.

After I’ve planned, I’ll block out the poses, get the timing right, and then show it to the other animators and the directors to make sure I’m going in the right direction. Since I planned everything out before hand, this stage is usually very quick and it’s super easy to make fixes should the need arise. After I get approval on the blocked animation, I’ll go through and make breakdown poses, and refine it from there making sure overlapping is taking place, and making sure the acting is coming through.

I’ll usually ask people for feedback along the way and after I get the animation to a point I like, I go through and start the lip synch. Usually after another pass or two, it’s time to move on to the next shot. Since our schedule is so tight here, I don’t really have time to linger on any particular shot agonizing over how I don’t feel it’s done.

Once the guys in dailies say it’s done, thats when I have to let go. There’s always going to be something that I want to go back and fix or tweak a little more; unfortunately, there’s never time for that. The good part is that the shot has to reach a pretty high level of quality before they’ll make us move on.

Harkins: Since you work in the video game industry, you must play a lot of games. What are your some of your favorites?

Scott: I used to play games non-stop. Now that I’ve been working a lot, I don’t have as much time as I’d like to play games. One of my favorites at the moment are Battlefield 1942 and the Desert Combat mod for it. When we weren’t crunching, we used to LAN it up at Oddworld every night and play for a few matches. Other than that, I was addicted to Tony Hawk Underground for a while as well as the new Prince of Persia game.

Harkins: Can you tell us anything about the project you’re working on now?

Scott: Sadly, no. I will however point you to our website, oddworld.com, where Lorne just interviewed with Alf, and answered a few burning questions about what we’re cooking up.

Harkins: Oddworld has a very dedicated fan base — do you worry about your work living up to their expectations?

Scott: Yes, Oddworld fans can be very dedicated, but I don’t really worry about my work living up to their expectations. Its really a team effort here, and like I said before, I work with some amazing people and they do amazing work. I’m just honored to be a part of that team.

Harkins: What kind of artists and animators do you look up to?

Scott: I’m inspired by the artists and animators that have insane amounts of energy. One animator I recently had the oppurtunity to meet, Bobby Beck [from Pixar], just has ungodly amounts of energy and motivation. Hanging out with Bobby for a few hours was almost tiring because he’s so intense!

It’s impossible not to get inspired from people like that. They’re generally the type of people who don’t just get content with where they are or what they’re doing. They’ve gotta keep pushing and furthering themselves and their craft. Those are the type of people that really inspire me. Oddworld is full of those people, I love it!

Harkins: What do you like to do in your free time, when you’re not at work?

Scott: Free time? What’s that?! Usually I’ll either hang out with the guys from work, or I’ll drive down to LA or up to San Francisco to see shows. I was lucky enough to catch The Network in LA a couple weekends ago, and the following weekend, the Alkaline Trio show in San Francisco. Shows are a great place to just unwind after work.

Harkins: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in being an animator and wants to work in the video game industry?

Scott: Watch as many animated movies as you can. Go to an art school and get a strong grasp on the fundamentals. Pixar has a good list of schools on their website, so I’d say check that page out. Animation takes dedication and lots of self motivation. Go insane, and animate animate animate.

The games industry is tough, and you’re not going to make it unless you’re extremely motivated and you love what you do. Games get cancelled all the time, and studios go under way too often. You can’t let that crush your spirit, you’ve really gotta love what you’re doing if you’re going to make it here.

Also, keep current with animation news, forums and all that stuff. The Cg-Char.com forums can be a treasure trove of animation knowledge. Some really great people hang out there from studios ranging from Pixar to Blur, and everyone is so willing to share information.

Harkins: Do you have any plans for the future? What are your goals?

Scott: Well, I love what I’m doing right now, I feel like I’ve got my foot in film and games. I’d like to do my own short, but I don’t think I’ll really have time for that for a while. Other than that, I just want to keep on animating!