For a brief time during college my focus was on digital art. I say “briefly” through no fault of my own because this turned into a train wreck. I learned quite a bit about being screwed and taken advantage of which I will divulge in another entry.
Fortunately I taught myself some useful programs on the MAC II GS system during this time. Yes. I taught myself. In college. That I was paying for. The Computer Art professor had no idea how to use these programs all the while leeching off student’s knowledge and work in his class which he took to SIGGRAPH where HE claimed to be doing revolutionary art. I have so many stories to relay about this time and just writing this gets me fired up. I don’t hold a grudge with many people in my life or actually hate…only two…and they are both professors from that college.
There were two software packages I loved: one was a painting program and the other an animation tool. The professor hated both of them which told me I was on the right track of what I wanted to do as a career computer artist.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (Indiana is a county in PA and not associated with Indiana state) in 1991 then moved to Pittsburgh that Summer. My best friend throughout grade school and college and I got an apartment for $380 a month. Through Nancy Mosser casting I got tons of Extra and Stand in work on local productions and even an occasional production assistant gig. The Pittsburgh film industry was booming at this time however to pay bills in between I had a job as a busboy at a restaurant on Penn Avenue. This was one of the worse jobs I ever had and the reason why I really don’t like eating at restaurants due to the disgusting behavior of waiters as well as the sloppy owner’s disregard for being clean. His son, the head chef was a complete douche as well. I made $1.25 an hour plus shitty tips. That place vanished long ago.
Because I was constantly seeking new employment opportunities I found a listing in the help wanted section of the paper for digital artists needed for a computer gaming company. I immediately sent out my resume. Within a few days I received a call for an interview. It kind of sucked that the job was in Jeanette which was a 30 minute drive from Pittsburgh.
The initial interview went well and they liked my portfolio which lead to a second interview where I had to do an improvised digital sketch. During this time they showed me some test footage for the game they were working on called DUSK OF THE GODS. I immediately knew everything about the game because I’ve been heavily schooled in Norse mythology and this secured my position.
My first day was an orientation and they filled me in on the company’s goal, ambitions, and fringe benefits of working there. It seemed professional and I was excited. Paid sick days, health insurance, and a raise after three months of employment. I used one sick day, health insurance was a nightmare to obtain, while asking about that raise after 5 months of employment helped get me fired.
8-bit role play computer games were an alternative to the consoles like Nintendo and were big business. They had a small bit of success with their strategy game DARKSPYRE and were planning on a sequel that I started to work on before my termination.
EVENT HORIZON SOFTWARE were three ex-employees of a company called PARAGON which was still in business. They formed the company from their dislike of Paragon’s business practices and of course creative differences. However from what they told me about Paragon and what I gathered, they were no different.
I worked in a room with another artist who was a very pleasant person and extremely helpful with teaching me DOS and informing me the specs of the art required. This was a few year before WINDOWS. I always asked why they didn’t work on MACs and it was like I brought a plague into the room.
I was in charge of creating character icons and transition animations when a boss was encountered. Due to file size constraints I was only allowed 8 colors per item. It was a challenge at first but I quickly caught on. It was rarely stressful and I did enjoy the work however the president wanted me to do sketches at home to bring in the next day to scan and draw on top of. He was very cavalier about this as if it was easy and cool to do. Mostly he made me do that because I didn’t own a computer or play games (I couldn’t afford it with what they were paying me) so this was a jab at me which he did admit to doing during my termination meeting.
Their self imposed deadline of completing the game was fast approaching so I was asked to come in on weekends…without pay…just to show “loyalty” to getting the project done I was told. I did and this is when I asked about the raise I was promised. It was never addressed and I was given a one time $100 bonus when the game was sent to press.
Upon completion of the artwork I spent weeks game testing which proved to be a challenge dealing with bugs and quirks then reporting them. Due to my lack of knowing how to really play games this came as an advantage because I found quit a bit the programmer missed.
There would be meeting of new game ideas which never came to fruition. One was called SENSELESS VIOLENCE where people started losing one of their five senses and it was up to a detective to find out what was happening. My input was asking where does the violence come in and they didn’t like that. The president mentioned his goals of conquering the film industry at one point and I asked him what kind of experience he had in that area. Again he felt this was a threat because he had none.
DARKSPYRE 2 was quickly put into play without any discussion. This would be a bigger game requiring more computer space so I was given a bigger pallet of colors to work with. I recall scanning a piece of shale and having a gargoyle face emerging from it as well as creating gameplay pieces of a green knight, a floating hand with an eyeball on the palm, a venus fly trap vine creature as well as numerous character generator creations. All of which they used when the game’s name was changed to THE SUMMONING and they did not give me any credit.
During one lunch run to a local food court at the mall with two other employees a group of their friends noisily approached our table. They were former co-workers at PARAGON and they were just gloating how they were all fired. I sensed my time was about done because they all had similar personalities and mine just didn’t fit in. I was a very moody punk heavily into industrial music at this time. I never had an ego but I was definitely a smart ass. Never a gaming nerd.
Pittsburgh in the early 90’s was a haven for the Industrial scene. Nine Inch Nails played clubs there during this time while industrial acts sold out every show. I got to hang out with and become friends with SKINNY PUPPY and many others in the local club life. It was incredible. There will NEVER be a club like METROPOL in the Strip District. It was the embodiment of industrial. I miss it terribly as I write this. More on that some other time…
Their friend’s being fired was news of the workplace for weeks and I became very disgruntled. They were asking for more free work and I wasn’t having it. Both of my grandparents died within a few weeks of each other and I was in a shitty mood constantly so I had my very close friend Greg Funk shave my head for the first time which made me feel better for some reason.
Within a few weeks I was called into the President’s office with the three owners where they were giving me my termination meeting. I was a smart ass because it was pretty fucking funny and I knew it was coming. They handed me a laundry list of reasons for my termination (I know I saved this somewhere but it is buried among my storage) and I laughed at each one because they were only excuses with no grounds for validity nor were ANY of their gripes addressed during my employment. As a matter of fact they were pretty fucking happy with my abilities.
One reason they gave was I talked about movies too much and not enough about computer games. I retorted “how do you expect me to own a computer on the salary you were paying me and I find it funny that you fire me when I ask for the raise that was promised.” I also mentioned it was funny how it happens that all their friends are now looking for employment. They were silent on that one too.
I asked if it was ok if I gathered my things and left now. They shook my hand and that was that. I drove to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh where Greg Funk and Jerry Gergely were teaching. As I walked into his class Greg looked at me and laughed stating, “so you finally got fired.” I laughed he knew me that well.
This time off allowed me to finish two scripts and do some work with Tom Savini in his shop and house. I had to convince him not to throw away a box of EXTREMELY RARE DAWN OF THE DEAD magazine posters and he hit me with the sledge hammer that was used in the movie. I’ll write about that sometime.
This time during unemployed also brought about quite a few surprise jobs in makeup effects as well as getting my SAG card. Soon I kicked my ass into a higher gear and moved to Los Angeles.
In all honesty I didn’t harbor any hard feelings towards these guys. I knew what was coming, they took advantage of me, and I wasn’t happy. They were young and a new company with grande ideas. Tacky ideas but big nonetheless. The company didn’t hold together and from my googling I saw they formed a new company called ‘Dream Forge Entertainment” wait…I’m sorry…Dream Forge INTERTAINMENT…see what I mean about tacky ideas?
DUSK OF THE GODS was released by Interstel. I received credit but never a copy of it. Of course not. That cost them money. Doesn’t matter now because you can play it free online and there are walkthroughs on YouTube
I still get an occasional email from someone asking about the experience during that time. It was an experience but that was about it. I did learn that sitting behind a computer all day was just not for me and learned this even more when I took classes at GNOMON and UCLA because I believed CGI was going to take over the industry. Makeup effects has really evolved and I’ve been proud to be a part of it whereas CGI hasn’t ignited anything in me since the first JURASSIC PARK.
I haven’t done much professional digital art but the most notable has been Alec Gillis’s book WORLDS which was a lot of fun to work on and I’m incredibly happy with the work I did.