Dev Diary: The Man Behind New 'n' Tasty's Cut-Scenes
Welcome, Inhabitants, to another in our series of developer diaries. This time we’ve been speaking to Mauricio Hoffman, the man behind Monkey Brain Studios who have been working on New ‘n’ Tasty’s nostalgialicious cut-scenes.
So, over to you Mauricio!
Hi, my name is Mauricio Hoffman, or Mo as most of my friends call me these days. I grew up in Mexico City but have been living in California since the summer of 2000 – and although Mexican food is pretty good up here, nothing beats going back home and eating the real deal and sipping some tequila.
Artistically speaking, I’ve been drawing ever since I could hold a crayon in my hand and grew up watching cartoons so I have always been very drawn [Ha! – Alf] to animation and design, especially characters. After a college degree in Graphic Design and a rigorous course on Animation and 3D production I found myself doing what I love most: giving awesome characters the gift of life on screen, something I have been doing for the past 14 years.
After working for some of the best video-game studios as an animator and technical director, I founded my company Monkey Brain Studios in 2010. We have been providing art services to a wide array of industries including games, education, promotional materials and even children’s editorials, as well as working on some projects of our own.
What do you do, and what have you been doing for the game Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty?
I am an animator and I love to tell stories. While in film school I used to watch the Abe’s Oddysee and Exoddus animations over and over, so you can imagine how I felt when Lorne asked me if I would be interested in leading the Cinematic Animation Team for New ‘n’ Tasty. It was a dream come true: the chance to revisit and animate the very animations that inspired me back when I was learning my craft.
So what does a Lead Cinematic Animator do? Well, I was in charge of building a small team of highly talented and self motivated animators, work very closely with our rigger to get some nice controls and time-saving tools, review storyboards, manage the team, supervise the animations as they are completed and coordinate deliverables… oh and sometimes I got to animate as well.
Have you worked for OWI in the past?
Yes, my connection with Oddworld runs deep. I first worked for OWI in 2000 as a junior Technical Director in the cinematic department. Not only was this my first gig in the video-game industry, it was also my very first gig in the United States. After about a few months working as a 3d generalist I got my first break as an animator after working on a shot for Munch’s Oddysee. Lorne and Sherry liked the shot so much I was promoted to Animator.
How long have you been in the industry?
I have been doing art my whole life, but I entered the video-game industry in July 2000, so almost 14 years.
How long has Monkey Brain Studios been active for?
Monkey Brain has been an experiment that started in September 2010 without much direction but with a very clear vision: to produce great art and to provide great service at an affordable price. Since then we have worked on about a dozen projects, New ‘n’ Tasty being one of the biggest ones in scope.
How many other members of staff do you have working for you?
Monkey Brain Studios operates through a big network of contractors and freelancers. This gives us the freedom to expand and contract our teams when needed and save our clients some money. For New ‘n’ Tasty the team consisted of 3 Animators, one Senior Animator, one rigger and myself as the Lead.
How did you first get into the games industry?
It’s a really cool story. So in May 2000, right after I graduated from Film School in Vancouver, a couple of friends and me decided to go try our luck at getting a job at E3. I was very impressed by many of the games being shown but I was so stoked when I saw that OW was making a new game: Munch’s Oddysee. OW’s booth was small, it had a big screen playing Munch videos and a cardboard Abe next to it holding a box for people to drop their resume and VHS reel… remember, this is 2000.
So, after I gain composure over my excitement, I reached for my resume and reel to drop them off, when this random guy comes over, grabs my reel and resume and starts looking them. Since I was a graphic design major I made sure that the video cover looked cool and that my resume also showed some of my portfolio pieces, so this guy was obviously interested in those. After a few minutes talking about my art I asked him to give me my video and resume back as I was going to drop them on “Abe’s Box”. He chuckled as he handed me his business card… he was Mike Reifers, Oddworld’s head of HR and Administration. A few weeks after I had the job and we have been good friends since then.
What sort of tools and bits of technology do you use to accomplish your tasks?
The team used Maya for animation, Photoshop for anything 2D, Skype to communicate within the team and Excel and Project for production spreadsheets. Fun stuff… except for the spreadsheets.
What’s been different about this project in comparison to previous projects you’ve worked on (OWI or otherwise)?
Working on remakes is really tough, especially remakes that have a big following like this one. I mean, fans LOVE the original game and will obviously compare the new cut-scenes with the old, so we had to make sure we paid homage to the greatness that is the original Abe’s Oddysee while also adding some flare and epic feel as if to tell them “yes, it’s the Abe you know and love, just a lot more grand”.
How much have the new cut-scenes been influenced by the old?
A lot, we want this to still be recognized as Abe’s Oddysee, we wanted to keep its essence since we all love the original game. So we had to balance out where we stay close to the original, like the RuptureFarms opening; and where we can come in and improve drastically, like at the Shrykul transformation. Other shots like Paramonia and Scrabania, both the area and the temple introductions, are new scenes that just give us a chance to see Abe getting into trouble as he progresses through the game.
What’s been the biggest change, and the biggest challenge, when creating the new material?
The biggest change is the technology that we have at our fingertips today. So much different than what we had back when I was animating Abe and Munch in 2000. Remember those $80k+ SGI machines? Of course you don’t!
What’s next for Monkey Brain Studios, and for you?
Well, we are always looking for compelling projects to take on. We have been very happy working again with Abe and we would love the chance to work with him in the future. We know it was a huge responsibility to animate our beloved Abe, it has been both a pleasure and an honor. We hope the fans really like what we have done.