Oddworld's Inhabitants: Christophe Chaverou, Sr. Technical Director [Hosted by Oddworld.com] Date: October 2000 Interviewer: Oddworld.com Interviewee: Christophe Chaverou
Oddworld’s Inhabitants are as diverse as the world they’ve worked together to create. Here’s where you’ll find interviews and other informative articles spotlighting the many creative folk that work at Oddworld Inhabitants. Be they headline players or behind-the-scenes heroes, the Inhabitants profiled here all share Oddworld’s ceaseless dedication to bringing you the best worlds and games that you’ve ever experienced.
Christophe Chaverou, Sr. Technical Director
Q: Where were you working / what did you do before you came to work here?
Christophe Chaverou: I started to be interested in computer graphics toward the end of my degree at my University. After an internship in an advertising agency in Paris as a copywriter, I got my first job where I was doing some 2D animation and slides, using a PC to illustrate internal communication messages. Until I had to do the army in France…. I used my previous experience to get a position in the film and video branch of the Army. That’s when I got involved with 3D animation. After that, I worked for a post production studio (Duran in Paris) where I learned “Softimage” and got familiar with other video tools that are used to create special effects. Then I worked for Buf -this was my 3D school-. I learned more tools but overall, a way to approach and solve special effects problems. A couple years later, I came to California for a Siggraph convention and got hired by Rhythm & Hues. That’s where I had the chance to work with Sherry and Lorne on a couple of projects. One year later they founded OW. They called me up and offered me a position at OW.
Q: What kind of technical training (i.e. college or self taught) do you have?
Christophe Chaverou: You know, it might seem funny today, but back then, it was the beginning of Computer Graphics. Most people did not even know what it was . . .it was science fiction! At that time, they were no schools for it. I did a BA in advertising. I taught myself the basics of computers, while in university, on a Macintosh. Then my first contact with the 3D graphics tools was during my service in the French Army, where the only way to put my finger on it was at night and during the week end. It was such a special and expensive tool that they didn’t want anybody to touch it!
Q: Did Oddworld seek you out or did you find them?
Christophe Chaverou: Shortly after Sherry and Lorne departed from R & H, Lorne gave me a call. Soon after, I came to visit them in San Luis Obispo. I had a long lunch with Lorne, during which he explained his vision of the game industry, as well as describe the kind of game he wanted to build. Then we went to the office, and he showed me the first drawing of Abe, the Slig, a couple sketches of the future game screen… Finally we went to dinner with Sherry: They went: “Follow me.” I replied: “Ok!”
Q: What does it mean to be a Technical Director at Oddworld?
Christophe Chaverou: Being a TD at OW means first that you care about what you are doing. Because you work with some of the best production design material in the industry. Our first job is to re-create those drawing in CG. Not to easy to match nor enhance the details of those sketches … But it is also what makes our job interesting because every object has been thought out before it comes into our hands. So as you get into it unfolds the story behind the design. That’s how you get addicted to OW. We are often described as a “Doctor Frankenstein” here at OW: once we are able to match the precision of the production design with fidelity, then the main part for us is to breathe life into those models to make them alive, believable.
The standards are pretty high at OW, that means you have to be prepared to give your best work. Be prepared to do things and redo things over and over until we are satisfied with it. The funny thing is that, as you redo things, you realize how much you could make them even better, but then you run out of time so you have to live with it. Someone said, “you never finish an animation, you abandon it.”
Q: You are one of the original Inhabitants. How have you seen the company change & grow?
Christophe Chaverou: I was hired in March 1995, at the time we were five in the company and had everything to do: no one knew what Oddworld was about. One and a half years later we were about 20, this would be the team that would make Abe’s Oddysee. Back then, we had build about three screens that showed the basic mechanic of the game (it was the first three screens of the forest level in Abe’s Oddysee with Abe, one slig and Elum, Abe had to go past the slig to ring the Elum bell), and every day some company from the game industry would show up, and we had to seduce and welcome them into our Odd world… the work we showed them spoke for itself: every time they were blown away! Needless to say that the buzz was going about us in the industry. So we found a publisher. One year later we released Abe’s Oddysee and it was a success. Then we did a sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, which was a success too. Today, we are about 60, and about to show the world a new kind of gaming experience with Munch’s Oddysee.
Q: Had you ever worked in the games industry before?
Christophe Chaverou: Before OW, I was doing some high end special effects for commercial and feature film. I remember that doing games seem to be going backward for me in my career, so I wasn’t too interested in making graphics for game. Until Lorne, who came from a similar background, finally convinced me that we could deliver almost movie quality graphics for game with the arrival of the 32-bit console on the market. So I made the jump.
Q: What’s your favorite game? (aside from your own)
Christophe Chaverou: Pictionary! draw an idea …
Q: Are there any particularly funny stories that come to mind when you think of the “early” days at Oddworld Inhabitants?
Christophe Chaverou: At first we worked day and night, weekends too. It was a non-stop process. Sometimes, we would take a break in the middle of the day and go surfing! No, no, not on the internet, in the ocean with real waves! Then we would go back to work… back then we would get away with it!
Q: Did you have the ideas for your Oddworld creations floating in your head before you came here, or did Lorne’s ideas spark some hitherto unseen creative fires in you?
Christophe Chaverou: Lorne’s endless imagination and surgical art direction will take anyone beyond their limits. The people, the art that surrounds you when you work at Oddworld are very inspiring. I think that’s what tickles your creativity. Now, OW is Lorne’ s idea, vision and concept. The thing is, he is pretty open about it. So it’s up to you to develop new ideas, he will by them as long as they are in line with the original concept. This is one part I really enjoy at OW.
Q: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned since coming to work here?
Christophe Chaverou: Human relationships, mainly I have learned to Shut up and Listen.
Q: Is there anything in particular you learned prior to working at Oddworld that – in your view – was vital to getting you into your current job (aside, of course, from purely technical skills…)
Christophe Chaverou: One thing that’s vital to have at OW is PASSION. You have to be passionate about what you are doing, but also about OW itself. Otherwise you won’t last very long.
Q: Did you have any doubts about the company’s ability to succeed when you came aboard?
Christophe Chaverou: Let’s put it this way, I never had doubts about the company’s ability to succeed. But when I first came aboard, we didn’t have much to show . . . no game, no publisher . . . I think that’s what got me excited. We were going to show the world of what we were capable of! Plus I had faith in the idea of Oddworld, and absolute confidence in the fact that Lorne and Sherry would convince anyone to follow them in this adventure.
Q: Who are your biggest influences?
Christophe Chaverou: I found influences everywhere, in nature, in books, in museum, in fashion, in theater. The main thing is to keep yourself alert, observe what’s around you. Now for the 3D medium, I have two mentors: Pierre Buffin (president of Buf inc.) Lorne Lanning (president of OW).
Q: What advice would you give kids wanting to get into this field?
Christophe Chaverou: No one is hired because of a diploma in our field, So you have to take as many jobs as you can, even for free in order to learn new software and create your own reel. Today there are many good school to learn CG, one of them is call Vancouver Film School, VFS in Canada. Also Art Center College of Design in California.
Q: Any comments you’d like to add about Oddworld Inhabitants?
Christophe Chaverou: It’s a pleasure to work here with such a inspiring environment and with such great people. In 5 years, we have built a huge database, a whole world with difference species, difference environments, architectural style. We are just beginning to have fun with it.
Lorne and Chris Ulm are writing amazing new stories, Farzad and his team are coming up with the coolest designs. CG is getting better at breathing life into this world. So get ready for the second chapter, because it’s only going to get better!