Meeting Lorne & Sherry
Xavier and I were thrilled and privileged when Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna agreed to meet us personally while we were all staying in Nottingham for GameCity. Over lunch beforehand, we sat down and finalised all the points we’d like to raise and questions we’d like to ask. It was surprising how little came to mind. After eighteen months of silence, maybe we were uninspired? It was all good, though, because Lorne and Sherry are fantastic speakers and they knew exactly what we wanted to know. They’re also incredibly friendly and engaging, so our dialogue never fell silent for the almost three hours that we were sat there, learning some pretty interesting things.
They talked to us about Citizen Siege (without revealing any of the storyline), an idea of Lorne’s that actually pre‐dates Oddworld, and as is the case with every property of theirs, the concepts for the film and the game realisations were devised in tandem so that neither medium suffers from a loss of cohesion or spirit. For a long time they thought the only feasible way to make the film would be live action, not because of limited technology but because of a limited audience—or at least the industry’s perception that there isn’t an audience for mature CG films.
Anyone who follows CG animation to any degree can recognise the current trend of CG films to feature a cast of cartoon animals. ‘Plush toy’ reality, Lorne calls it, and it’s a rut the medium seems be stuck in. Although Lorne’s dream of directing a feature film is set to come true, he’s putting his neck on the line to do it: what was the last successful CG animated film for a mature audience you watched? Even Pixar and DreamWorks want to make grittier CG films, but no one’s willing to fund multimedia entertainment with no proven demographic. So if Citizen Siege performs well, it will pave the way for animated feature films to be as dark and realistic as Lorne’s favourite example, the videos for Warhammer: Mark of Chaos. It’s fortunate, then, that John Williams asked Lorne to present Citizen Siege to him—and yes, it happened that way round—because now Vanguard can produce a CG sci‐fi action thriller for $40 million instead of the projected $125 million of funds that would have to be found in order to make it live‐action.
But as Oddworld fans, perhaps that’s not the important thing running through your mind. We’ve waited eighteen months for news of the Oddworld film, and I really couldn’t blame you if you felt at least a little screwed around. With this new idea and new world, it might seem as though Citizen Siege is surplanting Oddworld, and certainly that was a lot of fans’ reaction back when computerandvideogames first reported on the property, back then as a videogame. But I can reassure you: Lorne and Sherry love Oddworld as much as we do; more, in fact. Their tactic is to protect the Oddworld franchise, and Sherry made sure we understood. Despite their critically‐acclaimed work in the CG animation and videogame industries, Lorne and Sherry haven’t established themselves a film makers, and to Hollywood producers, that makes a huge difference. Simply by proving they can create and release a motion picture they’ll have all the experience studios need them to have to entrust them with further work, and that’s true even if Citizen Siege doesn’t perform as well as can be hoped (a case study: Michael Bay). That’s how the creators of Oddworld get to retain creative control over it. And besides, it’s not as though Citizen Siege isn’t going to be a creative, engaging story with a meaningful subtext.
So that’s two separate worlds conceived by Lorne? Nope, there’s more. Anyone who’s perused the gallery on Silvio Aebischer’s personal site will have come across those cartoon dogs and wondered what the heck they were for; finding that out was certainly a high priority for us. The answer is that they’re for something called ‘Pound Dog’, a story Sherry describes as sweet and cute, but far from a cartoon, Lorne reassured us it was dark, intense and urban. Silvio’s graphics are simply to help visualise AI. Another distinct property is one we’re actually already somewhat familiar with. We were shocked—yet incredibly relieved—to be told that The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot is not actually set on Oddworld: To my fellow critics of Fangus’s un‐Oddworldly designs, this should make sense. Instead, the story takes place on a world where humans did not evolve from apes, but various ‘human’ races emerged from cats and dogs. Fangus’s people, comparable to the inhabitants of Afghanistan, are descended from bulldogs, but their land is invaded by forces from a country (the equivalent of Russia) whose population arose from cats. These feline maffiosi use Fangustan to build their drug factories and refineries (pumping out ‘hardcore stuff’, says Lorne) and take the titular shepherd from his flock and force him into pitfighting. In the hope that this Ballad will one day be sung, I won’t explain anything further than that, but we got to witness Lorne’s brief impersonation of a wounded cat enemy, screeching in pain.
We also talked about Xav’s ten‐hour trip to get to Nottingham and the poor voice acting on the French‐language versions of Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath, thanks to the practices of certain publishers. Although understandably reluctant to badmouth any business associates, you can bet they were upset by Stranger’s black‐and‐white manual and the lack of an Inhabitants group photograph. ‘What would you have dressed as?’ I asked. ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ Lorne replied, ‘Well, not quite Indians, but you know. And guys in chicken suits!’ he added, presumably alluding to some kind of Clakker‐based opinion I may or may not have been vocal about in the past.
Did you know that Sherry actually began working with models before getting involved in CGI? She described her joy (as she was working on The Last Starfighter, which was the first film to use computer graphics to depict real‐world objects) at the idea of being able to blow up a ship over and over without having to physically rebuild it. Lorne disputed our perception of The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants having sold poorly. It’s Ballistic Publishing’s second biggest seller outside of EXPOSÉ, and sold twice as many units as Mark Snoswell predicted. Sherry told us the story of how Oddworld’s agent at CAA walked off and made a telephone call during their presentation of Citizen Siege to him: how rude! Then when Lorne had finished, he explained he’d just called Bryan Lourd, the co‐chairman of CAA (branded a superagent) to personally hear about CS. For some reason, this tale ended with a sidebar regarding Bryan Lourd and Carrie Fisher, but there we go; that’s Hollywood.
And so it was that Xav and I met the co‐creators of Oddworld. Our meeting wound down with some obligatory game and book signing, and group photos before Sherry and Lorne had to leave, and we were left to reflect on what we’d learnt. Money and power aren’t bad things, in fact they can do wonderful things: it depends entirely on what it’s used for. Less philosophically, if you’re going to have your photo taken, don’t wear jeans with a ketchup stain on them or a jacket that shrank in the wash. And with that, here we all are (minus cowboy costumes):