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ON CHUCK JONES, ART SUPPLIES, AND PARENTING

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Chuck Jones: Memories of Childhood
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Some notes doodled while watching the Chuck Jones documentary, Memories of Childhood.

* * *

I asked my mother, what should I teach my kids? She said don’t teach them anything, just give them lots of supplies.

Cartoonist Tony Millionaire

I have been thinking about art supplies and parenting.

Chuck Jones spoke fondly of his wonderful mother, and quoted Gertrude Stein, “Artists don’t need criticism, they need love.” Jones’ father was physically abusive, and yet “he served a purpose,” as Jones recounted in his autobiography, Chuck Amuck!:

But—now listen—every time Father started a new business, he did three things: 1. He bought a new suit. 2. He bought acres of the finest Hammermill bond stationery, complete with the company’s letterhead. 3. He bought hundreds of boxes of pencils, also complete with the company name.

EVERY TIME FATHER’S
BUSINESS FAILED, HIS CHILDREN INHERITED
A FRESH LEGACY OF THE FINEST DRAWING
MATERIALS IMAGINABLE.

[…]

NOT ONLY THAT!

We were forbidden—actually forbidden—to draw on both sides of the paper. Because, of course, Father wanted to get rid of the stationery from a defunct business as soon as possible, and he brought logic to bear in sustaining his viewpoint: “You never know when you’re going to make a good drawing,” he said.

[…]

We also had perhaps the most vital environmental rule of all: parents who gave us the opportunity to draw, free from excessive criticism, and free from excessive praise—Mother, because she felt that children in the exploration of life could do no wrong, and Father…because he only wanted to get rid of that paper as soon as possible.

Turns out, access to art supplies is a big factor in the life of a young artist. Here’s the cartoonist Lynda Barry:

My mother was actually upset by me reading, and she hated for me to use up paper. I got screamed at a lot for using up paper. The only blank paper in the house was hers, and if she found out I touched it she’d go crazy. I sometimes stole paper from school and even that made her mad. I think it’s why I hoard paper to this day. I have so much blank paper everywhere, in every drawer, on every shelf, and still when I need a sheet I look in the garbage first. I agonize over using a “good” sheet of paper for anything. I have good drawing paper I’ve been dragging around for twenty years because I’m not good enough to use it yet. Yes, I know this is insane.

There’s also a “good cop/bad cop” parenting element that seems to pop up. Here’s Milton Glaser:

In my parents I had the perfect combination—a resistant father and an encouraging mother. My mother convinced me I could do anything. And my father said, “Prove it.” He didn’t think I could make a living. Resistance produces muscularity. And it was the perfect combination because I could use my mother’s belief to overcome my father’s resistance. My father was a kind of a metaphor for the world, because if you can’t overcome a father’s resistance you’re never going to be able to overcome the world’s resistance. It’s much better than having completely supportive parents or completely resistant parents.

Ample supplies, a resistant father, and an encouraging mother. Sure, it’s Freudian, but I like it.

And God help the aspiring artists with perfect childhoods!

Alex Gregory for the New Yorker:

Dear Mom and Dad: Thanks for the happy childhood. You’ve destroyed any chance I had of becoming a writer

THINGS ARE LOOKING GRIM!

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

Original trailer for Grim Fandango.

REVEALING MY INNER GEEK

Tuesday, February 7th, 2006

grim fandango.jpgMy inner geek let himself out this week, and I downloaded GRIM FANDANGO, one of the few LucasArts adventure games that I missed, and a truly beautiful piece of art. (No kidding.) The world is the Day of the Dead festival meets 1930s art deco meets a Raymond Chandler novel. You play Manny Callavera, a Grim Reaper/Travel Agent who uncovers a nasty plot of corruption and murder in the Aztec Underworld.

As a kid, one of my dream jobs was a computer game designer for LucasArts. Don’t know what ever happened to that dream (I think maybe I discovered rock and roll and girls), but it all makes sense to me now why they appealed to me so much. The games are little worlds that you drop into: the art is fantastic, the stories are all smart and funny, the music kicks ass, and the greatest part is that they’re fun to play (LucasArts’ philosophy was that the player should never die, and never reach a complete dead end).

With DOOM and the massive success of the 3-D first-person shooter, LucasArts decided that dinky little 2-D adventure games with great storylines and characters were undesirable, and switched their efforts instead to lamo Star Wars games. Despite all that, there’s still a huge cult following on the net for the old games: check out the LucasArts museum, Grimfandango.net and Mixnmojo.com.

WORLDBUILDING WITH TIM SCHAFER

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

Over at Gamestudies.org, there’s a fantastic 2003 interview with Tim Schafer, creator of some of my all-time favorite LucasArts adventure games. Schafer studied computer programming at UC Berkeley, got bored with computer programming and thought about becoming a writer, then landed a job with LucasArts right out of college. He worked on Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, and then opened up his new production company, Double Fine Productions, which last year put out the game, The Psychonauts, which, though it didn’t sell well, ended up on tons of top-10 lists.

In the interview, Schafer talks about worlds being the initial inspiration for his games, and characters being the motivational force to keep players playing. “The goal,” he says, “is really to create this total immersive fantasy experience, where you’re sucked into a strange world, where you are the character, and you’re having all this fun, and you get to do anything you want.”

CP: I’m curious when you’re starting a new game and inventing a new world, what’s your process? How do you go about creating a world?

TS: Well, often, the world is the initial inspiration for the game. One day I was listening to someone tell me their stories of spending the summer in Alaska. They had hung around this one biker bar, with these people with names like Smilin’ Rick and Big Phil. And I thought, “Wow, what a crazy world that is.” It’s so apart from everybody’s life, and yet it’s right there, it’s so mundane in a way. And that’s where Full Throttle came from. The world was the starting point. And Grim Fandango, also, seeing the Day of the Dead art, that was the starting point too. So it wasn’t so a game idea, and then “let’s make a world to fit it.” You sort of stumble upon some world, and thing – that’s something that’s never been brought to life before. Let’s bring it to life. Wouldn’t it be fun to run around in that world?

I found all his thoughts about making games to be easily transferrable to the crafting of fiction or comics. Eventually, I want to teach the old LucasArts adventure games right beside novels and comics in creative writing classes. Problem is, it’s hard to get some of them to work on new computers (I never have been able to get Grim Fandango to work). Some clever fellows have created engines to help out: check out SCUMMVM and QUICK AND EASY.

UPDATE (3 days later): Since some Studio 360 intern reads my blog and steals my ideas, here’s Kurt Anderson interviewing Schafer about the Psychonauts.



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