Episode 102 — Bay Raitt, Reflecting on the Genesis of Gollum

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Episode 103 — Forced Exile — Burning Everything to the Ground to 10X Your Growth!
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Episode 102 — Bay Raitt, Reflecting on the Genesis of Gollum

EP 102 Cover 450

 

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Episode 102 — Bay Raitt, Reflecting on the Genesis of Gollum

Hey, everyone!

Welcome to Episode 102! I’m speaking with Bay Raitt about being one of the first employees at Weta, his involvement in developing Gollum; working at Valve Software; creating VR comics and so much more! He was one of the first 30 employees at Weta.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the last few Episodes. The first solo Episode in a while will be next week. I’m going to leave it as a bit of surprise. In the meantime, I’ve been excited to put together this Episode for quite some time. Bay’s journey as an artist has been quite interesting, growing up and figuring out his goals early on, getting mentors, creating content, collaborating on a lot of amazing things.

Listening to Bay’s story is quite inspirational. I hope it inspires you to take some of his lessons and repeat them in your career. It was fun to talk about the pivotal time in the industry and his initial passion for comics. There is a lot of great stuff in here.

Let’s dive in!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST:

[-1:54:29] Something to check out: www.VFXRates.com. This is a website that I created to solve the giant mystery of what we should be charging. Most people are afraid to even talk about what we should charge as freelancers. And the worst part is when we go on job interviews and we ask for too much, we risk alienating the employer and never getting that call back. Whereas if we play it safe and ask for too little, we not only get taken advantage of but we leave a lot of money on the table.

This is a chance for you to go to this website www.VFXRates.com, put in your information — your level of experience, your discipline, your location, software and other factors — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be worth. This is built on a lot of research and a braintrust of industry leaders.

The best part is not only learning what you should be charging — but what you could be charging by:

– building a brand;

– learning to negotiate better;

– learning to approach employers better;

– building an irresistible brand;

– learning to network;

– lots of other tools!

The information is FREE! Go to www.VFXRates.com and learn what you should be charging as your hourly rate!

 

INTERVIEW WITH BAY RAITT

Bay Raitt is a designer, sculptor, character lead, animator, animation director and graphic novel creator. He was one of the first 30 employees hired at Weta Digital. As a Creature Facial Lead, he was responsible for building the facial system for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. In 2003, Bay received a VES Award for Best Character Animation in a Live Action Motion Picture, for his work on Gollum.

Bay began his career working for Steve Oliff doing color separations for Image Comics. He has also worked for Protozoa, Nichimen Graphics, Weta Workshop and Valve Corporation. His current project is Nanite Fulcrum, a first of its kind, fully immersive Virtual Reality comic, based on the screenplay by Bay.

In this Episode, Allan McKay and Bay Raitt discuss the history of CG animation, its future platforms, and how to get your dream job!

Bay Raitt on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0707247/

Bay Raitt on ArtStation: https://www.artstation.com/spiraloid

Bay Raitt on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/spiraloid

Bay Raitt on Gollum: https://spiraloid.artstation.com/projects/o693m

Bay Raitt and Spiraloid: http://spiraloid.net

Nanite Fulcrum on Oculus VR: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1370334862981714/

Weta’s Case Study of Gollum: https://www.wetafx.co.nz/films/case-studies/gollum/

Profile on Protozoa: http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/San-Francisco-s-Protozoa-Draws-on-Animation-for-2896160.php

Audioshield Online: http://audio-shield.com

Nanite Fulcrum on Business Wire: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170107005040/en/Acclaimed-Creator-Bay-Raitt-Spiraloid-Workshop

 

[-1:50:25] Bay: Hey, this is Bay. I make 3D graphic novels in VR. I used to work at Valve and Weta (Workshop and Weta Digital). I like to joke that I have every 14-year old’s dream job. I’ve worked on comics, doing early computer coloring; I’ve worked on movies. I was one of the 30 employees at Weta Digital, building a pipeline for facial animation for Gollum. I’ve worked at Weta Animation Workshop as a sculptor. I’ve worked at Valve for almost 9 years, worked on their games and cinematics. I was the 3D product manager for Nendo and Mirai. I write code, I make art. These days, I’m doing something weird.

[-1:49:12] Allan: We’ll dive into that. Actually, when Nendo and Mirai came out, there was a whole new way of modeling. I was really hoping it would take off. 

Bay: It was a fun time. You know the first url on the internet was symbolics.com and Mirai was the port for the symbolics systems; which is why I went to work for them, so I could learn how they thought.

[-1:47:51] Allan: I’d love to hear how you started. You’ve been doing this for a while. It’s not like you went to school for it. Did you always want to be an artist?

Bay: I helped write the curriculum for some of those schools — I just never went to one because they didn’t exist when I got started. I grew up in a showbiz family. We had a lot of music in my family. My grandfather was a Broadway star, my aunt was a blues star. They both have stars on the Walk of Fame. My dad played in multiple bands. My aunt won a bunch of Grammys. I had a lot of hearing problems, so I didn’t really pursue the music side. I got into drawing. I got hooked on being backstage and around crowds. When I was 14, I wrote down all the things I was interested in. I thought I should get into computers. So I borrowed a car and without my parent’s knowing drove into town from Mendocino in Northern California.

There was a cable access TV station. There was a great teacher there and he was into film theory; and he taught me how to use all the editing decks and all the cameras. I got hooked on it! I spent every night in this dingy warehouse. It was pretty cool! I had a lot of great teachers. I basically started out learning to make short movies. I had teachers who would let me do it as my homework. Back then, nobody had video cameras.

I got lucky: A friend of mine introduced me to these guys in Point Arena, California. They were doing the very first computer coloring for comic books. They were on 286’s. They basically had to type in the polygons and type in the CMYK values for those polygons and ship it to the one computer in the world. When I went there, they were working on my favorite comic book of all time. They ended up giving me a job. I got my first job coloring comics.

[-1:42:46] Allan: Just curious, on the 286, what tools were you using?

Bay: It was a program called KPT. It was basically Steve Oliff doing coloring for Akira, the comic book. They were on Issue 8 when I arrived. It was awesome! Back then, all the leading artists had quit from DC Marvel and joined with Jim Lee and formed Image Comics. Steve was their colorist. He would do those high gloss comics and airbrush the color guides and we’d color those and ship them out to print. It was the first time I worked for a pop-culture phenomenon. I was just a kid, I was 17 at the time! I remember one night this FedEx guy showed up and gave us this box of Todd McFarlane originals. I was the only guy [in the office] when Todd called. He asked me to take a Sharpie and draw the tv screen black. I was talking to my childhood hero! There was this lunatic doing cool stuff in the world, I want to go help that guy.

[-1:40:13] Allan: That’s kind of cool too. You usually get people saying how they’ve struggled a lot. For you to get a job that excites you and be around all these people, it gave you momentum from early on.

Bay: Yeah. I was really lucky to have esoteric parents [who taught me] “Do what you love and the money will follow”. At the time, when I was doing the coloring, I didn’t have money to eat. I was young, I didn’t care. I was following my passion. I would show up, “What’s the coolest thing I could do?” That feeling is important and it’s infectious. And if you’re going to do showbiz, you want to pas that enthusiasm along. You have to make sacrifices, but at the end of it, you get to draw with a burnt stick on the wall. You get to have people look at what you made and find it cool. You have to be honest about the showbiz nature of what you’re doing. And a lot of it has to do with the love of the work and the excitement aspect. 

[-1:27:54] Allan: If you’re going to do it, you have to be all in. You have to be passionate about it. If you’re not, you’re going to be scratching the surface.

Bay: There are a lot of 3D artists out there who think like bankers or accountants, something with more stability. Doesn’t matter if you’re a technician, you have to learn to sculpt or draw, or improv. There is a beating heart to this industry. A lot of people get stuck on the technical ability of learning the software. And then they find themselves with no place in the industry. Everything you learn to do will be obsolete in 3 years.

[-1:36:21] Allan: Yeah, you have to stay hungry and keep adapting. Looking at comics, in VR, that’s the corner stone: Taking something old and merging it with something new.

Bay: I’ve got this resume, and I could do a lot of jobs, but a lot of them are “been there — done that”. I look back and realize that making comics is a lot of work — but it’s also a lot of fun! The fact that it’s a small scope thing, it could be really fun to create and to consume. This idea of taking what I know and folding it back into this “bitesize of awesome”. The format doesn’t exist yet. I am pioneering a new path. (Most people are working on some giant reboot.) Everyone is always working on something big. VR needs a 10 minute experience.

[-1:34:05] Allan: I think a lot of people will blow things out of proportion. But it’s because of fear of failure. We all come in with passion. But it’s easy to make it too busy to tackle, to take those risks and go out there. These days, with crowd funding, you can get a short done. 

Bay: I think that’s a mistake. One of the things I’ve learned, short films end up costing $80K and they’re more like a fancy business card or a portfolio piece. They don’t sell back to a customer. A lot of creators of our generation are making a mistake by focusing on studios and these formats that will carry them forward. But if you focus on the audience and getting to that audience as closely as you can, you start to write your own ticket and put on your own show. You can make these bigger shows. Film is getting its butt kicked by the binge watching of Game of Thrones. And then you have an army of these people who are trying to make bigger projects. That’s a gravitational pull. 

Don’t make a big project — make a really cool small project. Don’t make a portfolio — make something that takes as much and try to make it into a show. Get your 1,000 customers and get them to become 2,000 customers by telling their friends. Then you become audience focused — and not studio focused — and you make some really different choices. One of the reasons I chose comic books, they’re like these magic books of portals. If you bundle all the things together — your portfolio that has cool art, the cube test and your story — if you remove time, you can stuff all that stuff as bonus content and come up with new content. As soon as I realized I could do that, I am making something people want to pay for, as I improve those tools. It’s a different approach than the short film as a calling card.

[-1:28:37] Allan: I agree. That’s more of a traditional medium, if you want to be a director. These days, we don’t have to worry about what the studios want to do. These days, you can go find your 1,000 true fans and get them to follow you or be your ambassadors. We have a voice if we want to do it.

Bay: I think as time goes by, more people will be in control. Once you’ have creators who are connected to their audience, suddenly you can give away the means of production to the audience. What happens with Marvel is that the fans of the franchise understand it way better. Then you get people like Jon Favreau doing awesome things like Iron Man, 50 years later. We’re in this cool place where not only a small guy can reach an audience, but you can step back and figure out what this genre is. We make entertainment minutes. Sure bank can write a check and fill it with gold, but there are a lot of things in the world that are cooler than gold and are more personal. I think there is a lot of room to build original content and ideas; and get to the audience sooner. There will be a class of these things. It’s going to have an impact on the bigger studios. If you’re just making games, you’re competing with your favorite games. Overtime, you’ll start competing with the past.

[-1:24:36] Allan: That’s a valuable lesson. You have this pre-established intellectual property that has a platform. These days, you have way more people, but that also means that there is a lot of noise. You have to find a way to stand out and be heard. 

Bay: In my mind, you and two of your friends, you probably know a game developer, a guy with the story and your know 3D. I love that stuff!

[-1:23:49] Allan: When you discovered an SGI, what was that a big aha moment?

Bay: I remember even at the cable access, they had a lightwave machine. You could load a thing and spin it, and I thought it was kind of cool. Brian De Palma, who is a great camera man, I was always fascinated by his cinematography and how you can use light and shadow. It wasn’t the SGI. It wasn’t until I got to Protozoa in San Francisco. I got to work at this company that did the first realtime motion capture performance. Brad deGraf and Michael Wahrman have done this talking head thing and it was the first blend shape system. It was the first time I saw something in computer graphics that looked like my drawings.

I draw really well and I always wanted to make my drawings move. Jurassic Park had just come out and even that was a little funky. When I saw the Protozoa, I had an aha moment. I basically designed Gollum’s facial system in that split second. As soon as I understood how blend shapes worked, I thought how could I make that. Then I had to go make the tools. I had that flash thing! I could become a new kind of sculptor frame to frame. You could build a combination space. Everyone thought I was crazy, but the first time we had Gollum up on the screen, it was the first time I saw my system work. It was a total high point professionally and creatively!

[-1:20:02] Allan: Talking about that resistance. Unless you innovate, a lot of people stick to what they know.

Bay: I had a heck of time at Weta. Everyone there was based on: The sculptors will sculpt the characters, then we trace NURBS onto them and then we render them in Renderman. And I was saying, “No, you can build them from a cube and there is this thing called subdiv surfaces.” That was part of the reason I started the Spiraloid Digital Sculpting Forum. There are people who don’t want to be just technicians and I needed to find that backup. All these lead digital modelers were in this one Forum. There was about 3,000 of us. I basically built it so I could stretch my limbs while I was working on Gollum because I was so neck deep in it and I needed a way to talk about what I was doing. It was really cool to realize I wasn’t crazy. And some people would actually build the code and I would show it at Weta. Back then, I was trying to convince people. I look at computer graphics now, there is a class of things that have never been done. And people make it happen. As we were starting out with this stuff, there were untried things in every direction. And VR is very much like that right now. It will be a while until the public will get into it.

[-1:15:50] Allan: I’m actually speaking to Facebook about it. I was obsessed with VR. I can’t wait to see where we are 3 years from now! I love that there is a new playground to explore. 

Bay: I like that it’s more experiential too. It’s really clear that VR is headed toward sunglasses. There is a coolness factor. There is this moment when people put on VR and they think it could go somewhere — but they just don’t know what that is yet. You see something someone else has done. Dylan Fitterer and I collaborated on a book called Audioshield and he had made the game, and I did some art for it. It was cool because you could punch your music. I thought, “This is kind of rock ‘n’ rock”. And I think there is an element of that in VR and AR.

[-1:13:19] Allan: I remember when I bought Vive. I spent more on the games. I am paying for an experience and I like that. 

Bay: It’s like paying to go on a rollercoaster. There is this technical novelty feature. Now, the spectacle has become an experience. The fact that 3D scanners and printers are about to go mainstream, it’s terrifying for a lot of 3D artists. But what field isn’t going through that?

[-1:11:38] Allan: That’s right! “Disruptive innovation.” 

Bay: We live in times of gamification. When you have 3D scanners on cellphones, you’re going to have this competition in showbiz between robotics and VR. The two interlap. What an interesting time to be alive! That’s time for real robots, bring a pizza to your house / take your job robots! We have the controls in our hands.

[-1:09:30] Allan: I can’t wait to see where it all goes. I feel that every day. Where is that next big jump? You’ve mentioned Giovanni Napkil. Back then we were all starting out. Gio was amazing at what he was knocking out back then.

Bay: Have you seen what Gio has been doing in Oculus Medium? We do a lot of sculpting in VR now. He just knocks out VR sculptures for fun at night. I really want him to connect to his own crowd. It’s like watching a really cool rock band form, but it’s really slow. It’s about to happen. Creatively, I’m getting ready for that: When that stuff takes off, I want to have an instrument in my hand.

[-1:07:13] Allan: Do you know Goro Fujita? I’ll have him on the Podcast soon too. I’m his biggest fan since he’s shown me his own visual style and storytelling. 

Bay: I look at Goro and Gio as perfect examples of what I hope my graphic novels will become. In VR, if you could figure out to bundle all this stuff together — and someone to write the story and some developer to give you something to do — put all of that into a magic book / app, I think the general public will come to you the same way it’s coming to Warner Bros. I’m really excited about that! I see a lot of people like Goro, Gio, you and me, we’re all creators who are isolated from the actual audience. What is the Beatles moment? Back in the 90s, when you saw all of these luminary creators, it was so exciting. One of the things I loved at Image Comics was these creative owners. They were controlling their stories and selling them directly to the public.

[-1:03:38] Allan: I love hearing people talk about this. I’ve always been an advocate for it, just on the sidelines.

Bay: I don’t think it’s centered in VR though. VR is cool, but if you take off the headset and remove the virtual reality aspect of it, the computer that runs these VR machines is a beast! You have an entire render wall in a gaming PC?! It’s the first time we have these machines that are these fast and are under $1,000. These are the fastest computers ever produced and they’re made at a consumer level because of VR. What a time to be a 3D artist! Talk about a playground: What couldn’t you build with that stuff?

[-1:01:46] Allan: Now has super computers in our iPhones.

Bay: But you also have a generation that understands 3D at a basic level. It’s very public knowledge. I have people’s grandmothers who know how to 3D scan on their iPads. There is this ubiquitousness [happening]: We’re all losing our edge, but it’s also a new art form. There is still an art aspect to it. You didn’t really kill cinematography by inventing a iPhone. You still have to be a good photographer.

[-1:00:25] Allan: Let’s talk Weta. For a lot of us, they were a major innovator. A lot of the stuff you were doing in the late 90s that everyone got to see what you, guys, were doing. How did you originally get contacted?

Bay: Oh, yeah, that’s a funny story. I had been working in Los Angeles on Mirai. I made a deal that I would be there only for a year as their project manager for their software and help improve it. I ended up staying there for 2 years. I remember being on the lookout for the cool lunatic I could work for next. I basically went down there to work for Larry Malone who invented the Free Form Deformation (FFD) lighters. He’s the guy we owe our careers to. I worked for him a bunch, but I wanted to use this stuff. I saw The Frighteners and my friends at Weta had made a few special effects for it [and] I thought they were fantastic. There is a ghost dog and a Grim Reaper. I remember seeing that and I remember thinking it wasn’t ILM, it was something new and interesting.

[-58:24] Allan: And it was 500 shots. 

Bay: I knew who Peter Jackson was. My former roommates were into Dead Alive (or Brain Dead). I thought these guys were so cool. And I found out Peter Jackson had made the movie on his credit card. This guy is a lunatic! I found out what Weta was and I’d visit their website. I happened to visit it one day and they had a job opening for Lord of the Rings. I knew how to use all the software they’d listed. So, I just checked all the boxed and listed some links. John Sheils and Charlie McClellan got in touch with me the next day and told me to come down.

Six months later the movie was green lit and I was moving to New Zealand. I got there and was employee number 30. Jason Schleifer who is the product manager at Maya and me showed up on the same day. They put us in the same office and told us to figure out how to build 3D muppets, and Jason and I basically geeked out and became best buds. It was awesome! Back then, Lord of the Rings had bankrupted a couple of movies studios because it was so ambitious and had so many special effect shots. John and Charlie had put together a VFX reel just to recruit people. They had one massive crowd scene, one scene cave troll stomping around that they used this laser scan for meatpacking quality assurance. John took a chance of me. He had this lunatic guy who knew how to make movies with a lot less money. He was really smart.

[-53:10] Allan: The fact that they had to convince you to come out. Those days there was Los Angeles and New York. I remember reading an interview with Jason Schleifer on his decision to go to New Zealand. For you, guys, to go there — which was unheard of — it was a big deal.

Ben: The first 100 employees of the company defined the company. I remember thinking this is totally insane, this is an adventure! We worked on the movie but it’s because we loved Lord of the Rings. Every person who’d helped build that empire poured their blood, sweat and tears into it. It wasn’t just Richard Taylor and Peter Jackson. It was all of us, the entire crew. I remember Barrie Osborne, the Producer, told us he’d written check to 39,000 people. Nine shooting crews! All of New Zealand banded together to not let these movies fail. And there were so many times when things were failing, but people would dig deep and make it happen because the loved the books. For Jason and I, we were really lucky. We were really young and hot shot CG guys, but we hadn’t proven anything. John and Charlie took a chance on us. When Charlie and John got replaced with Joe Letteri, it needed to happen: The company had grown.

When you’re the first people, you’re the crazy guys taking a chance. When I first started, we had about a hundred resumes to look through and most of the [candidates] weren’t qualified. By the end, it was tens of thousands of resumes. There were students who had read our articles and books and were getting degrees with them, turning them into reels and sending those to us. You ended up with these passionate people, the best of the best. I imagine guys who’d gone to the moon felt the same way when they were putting people on the rockets.

[-48:03] Allan: It’s like with VR, you’re breaking a new ground.

Bay: I feel like the VR team is so localized. The stakes are lower in a sense. When you first got to the States, didn’t walk around saying, “Man, the moon is upside down!”

[-47:26] Allan: Being Australian, everyone got absorbed by Weta at some point. I worked with Richard Barker, who was the line producer. He had a lot of stories. No one paid attention which direction you were shooting. 

Bay: With 9 shooting crews, you’d get crews they’d get forgotten. Rushes would just show up. We’d see the work and then thinking, how to do you get these together. Some of the plate you’d get back would be blue screen. “Why are we matchmoving a blue screen shot?” There was a lot of process that had to be invented. Now, you can get a degree in VFX cinematography. But back then, man, it was chaos! They were location shooting and they had to jump start a helicopter. Which means that the pilot turns the helicopter upside down and falls for a few feet, while the wind from the fall starts the propeller. VR space is still cool though. Have you seen any cool VR experiences that have blown your mind yet?

[-44:10] Allan: Not yet, not yet. I have a few friends who are really involved in effects (www.allanmckay.com/90).

Bay: I have moments when I really hate it or I love it. I’m in love with things I’m making. I have this recurring image of people playing Pokemon in the dark where VR lets you see in the dark. I feel like there is a fuze that’s been lit. At some point, it has to deliver on it. If it goes for too long, your enthusiasm will be gone. The more people experiment in it, the more likely someone will come up with something that will blow people’s minds.

[-41:53] Allan: I’m sure you’ve worked with David Clayton. 

Bay: He joined right when I was leaving. At the end of the last movie, I went to work with Weta Workshop, doing concept sculpting. David came on to work on King Kong, I believe. I’ve met him the first time.

[-40:55] Allan: I was thinking that because you mentioned the original Weta website. He wanted to apply but the website listed 4 years of feature film experience. At the time, I’ve never seen that! For me, that’s just a filter.

Bay: It’s also the visa. If you were bringing people from other countries, you had to jump through some hoops.

[-39:43] Allan: What were some of the big challenges tackling that film?

Bay: You know, all of us have a love / hate relationship. We poured our lives into it. Jason and I were both jack of all trades guys. They’d call on us to help out different teams. The balrog fire wasn’t working with the simulation stuff that had been built. Millions of dollars had been put into the system and it still looked like a little tiny candle burning. I was on both teams: while the simulations were running, because I had worked on games, I would do compositing. I would go through and do fire and smokes sprites. They would hook up smoke tests. It was stressful: People spent a lot of money on that system and not have it work! OpenGL video game style was the way that we went. It was pretty intense! There were a lot of passionate people working on this project. Even though you were putting the best work, at the end it could be cut. That was the hardest part of it: the ambient level stress. But the people I’d gotten to work with, it was an honor to work with them! Building that place was an adventure onto itself.

[-34:23] Allan: When you finally decided to resurface in the U.S., you went to Valve. I haven’t mentioned this, but the first big project I ever did was Team Fortress 2. That was in 1996 or ‘97. I was 14 at the time. 

Bay: It’s a bit of their story to tell. It’s cool that we both have the TF side. I love Team Fortress!

[-32:04] Allan: Personally, I love Valve! It’s pretty amazing what they’ve managed to achieve. What was your experience like?

Bay: I moved to Seattle because I had this idea about building a movie production pipeline. People pointed me to Valve. It was myself and Steve Upstill who wrote the Renderman Companion, we started a company to do movie production inside of a video game. We came to Valve and they said it was a great idea. I brought my employees with me. A year later, we just folded our company into Valve. It was totally awesome! It was like being part of a bio computer. I have to say, some of the friendships I have there, those guys are amazing. The decisions we made there were pretty profound!

When I parted ways with them, I was interested not just the hardcore PC gaming market. What I’m doing now is more of an off-shoot of me thinking about what I want to put my heartbeats to. When I left Valve I got married and we drove around the country for 35,000 miles. I had a lot of time to think about it. It’s part of the reason I wrote these stories and came up with a bunch of IP. And a lot of it came from working at Valve: Being connected to your audience and letting your audience have a hobby along with the movie. The audience can push out the boundaries of that world. When you’re making a game or a movie, it’s a big ask. But when you’re making a graphic novel, that’s small enough to get done. That was a eureka moment. I could totally grow my own franchises. If I get something the audience responds to, it can readily explode. I’m that weird guy that works on everything. Because I’m cycling between these two disciplines, I don’t go in as deep as someone who goes into it a 100 percent.

[-27:00] Allan: You have that bird’s-eye view.

Bay: Yeah, by having that bird’s-eye view, I’m spinning between different axises. People who are specialized don’t get to do that. I’m really enjoying the fact that I can switch dimensions and work on different things:

– writing the script;

– building the pipeline;

– sculpting the characters;

– lighting the scenes;

– doing the business.

I find that really rewarded. Every job I’ve had, I had to make-up my titles. In the last year, I wrote the code for a lot of these VR comics. I feel like I’ve eaten the magic mushrooms. I wouldn’t have taken that leap had I not been at Valve.

[-24:56] Allan: So, Nanite Fulcrum is what you’re working on, right?

Bay: Yes, the first issue was a prologue. The story is done, it’s a full 90-page script. When Dylan and I finished Audioshield, he became a guest contributor. When you get to the finale, Dylan has built this defender game and this giant vortex. You’re in the scenes you’ve just read with these characters. We’re following our excitement. I’m going back to my roots.

[-23:12] Allan: I love that whole 360. Where you find your passion originally, you finally realize that’s what has a huge impact of who you are.

Bay: I feel like Nanite Fulcrum is a love letter to drone racing and video games. The story I have could make people pretty excited.

[-21:58] Allan: Where are you in the timeline? How close are you to releasing it?

Bay: We’re working on Issue 2. My plan to do it incrementally, to gauge people’s responses. At the moment, we’re tuning up the tools. One of the piece of data that we got back was that people loved this product. As a format, people and creators want more. Enabling people to do that is really interesting. Having more of these issues could become a storefront. It will be hidden in the pages of one of the issue.

When a bunch of people start telling you the same thing independently of each other, it’s something to pay attention to. People want to see regular comics and new comics in this format. Comics are still hand drawn and tied to the printing press. Maybe we should think about what kind of formats we can take advantage of. I think this is a really fun way to explore new IP. You’re connected to the audience and they can give you feedback. It’s so easy to make, all that artwork can be packaged into consumables. You want to listen to your audience and when they tell you things — you have to be ready to act on it.

[-17:51] Allan: I like that! Being in traditional comics, it’s very linear. In VR comics, your audience is a part of it. 

Bay: When you choose a level of game you want to play, you’re looking at a thumbnail with text under it. When you’re looking at a comic book, you’re looking at a thumbnail with text under it. What if you flipped it over and used the comic book as the outer frame of the franchise? It’s the menu! It looks like a comic book, but if you want to go into a particular experience, the portal that you enter — is through a bonus panel.

[-16:45] Allan: That’s so cool! You can enjoy the narrative but then experience it first hand.

Bay: And then, if you come up with an idea that this story should be different, you can hit this button and you can make your own branching narrative. It teases you to come back backstage. It’s a theme park disguised as a comic. Going from backstage to the audience — the thing I experienced as a kid — that’s the idea. If I can make a magic book that had no constraints of reality, as soon as I thought of that, I thought, “That’s the art form for me”. That’s what gets my heart going. It uses everything I’ve done before.

[-13:41] Allan: One of my buddies Dan Roarty (www.allanmckay.com/30/) is a Lead at Unity Labs. I’m excited to see what he does. All he does is these photo real character. What are the types tools to you typically use for development?

Bay: 

– For 3D modeling, I use 3D Coat which is a voxel modeling software.

– I learned to script in AngelScript. I actually built a pipeline that allows me to work with voxel layers and PBR shaders on them. It automatically makes it into a low-res model. So I can make a model in 10 seconds.

– I still use Zbrush. If I really want to go to town with 3D modeling, I’ll use 3D code or ZBrush.

– I got addicted to Gravity Sketch and Oculus Medium for blocking things out in VR. I do all my sizing and proportion in VR now.

– And on the modeling side, some animation tools inside Unity. These days I’m pretty deep into Unity. If you have basic TD skills, you can code your way through. The community in Unity is amazing! I’m in the space with the thing that I’m making.

– I use Maya when everything breaks. I like to use Studio Library in character posing. We use a lot of HIK for character stuff.

– I also use SFM for some stuff. I love it, I’m sort of hooked on it.

A lot of people who are TD should think about the choices they’re making. “I’m learning Maya to a job at a big studio. And there is Bay walking in a different direction.” It takes the same set of skills. Just don’t write yet another character rig for the animation department — write a character rig that is really fun for the audience. There is room for a lot of us to build our own carnival tents.

[-06:31] Allan: That’s a really good question: Why? I’ve got mixed feelings about schools these days. Who are the people who are teaching? If you look at what’s available now vs. what was available 2 years ago, there have been so many innovations! Even VR now has depth. When Goro showed me the new stuff he’s developed — a frozen moment in time — everything we’re doing is changing so rapidly. 

Bay: Goro’s thing is a great example. He’s headed toward this thing: If you apply some game design and narrative aspect, it’s really interesting and makable by me and a few of my mates. Suddenly, that is profound and compelling! It’s opening the door for so many creative things. That’s really cool! You look at Goro’s paintings, put 30-40 of those together — those are graphic novels with really cool art, like Frank Miller’s. For me, graphic novels are about diving into moments that you love. They aren’t made by some giant corporation but one person. That’s totally why the path I’m headed to — the ground zero to pop hits of tomorrow. I want to look at things that excite me and that I want to help make happen. I look at my contemporaries: All of us are pushing a platform that doesn’t resonate anymore. Maybe there is another platform.

[-02:08] Allan: It’s the people who take risks and go after what they’re passionate about.

Bay: I’m really lucky that I have a wife who rented our house and was willing to travel with me for three years while I dreamt about this stuff. It’s about the people who support you in your life.

[-01:24] Allan: Where would people go to learn more about Nanite Fulcrum and you?

Bay: You can go to www.spiraloid.net. It’s on the Oculus VR store too: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1370334862981714/. When you look at it, it’s only the prototype.

 

I want to thank Bay for taking the time for doing this Episode. I hope you can apply this to your career. Please leave a review on iTunes.

I will be doing my first solo Episode for 103. I’ll leave it as a bit of a surprise for now.

Until then: Rock on!

 

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