Archive:What Is It Like to Design With Oddworld?

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  • Published: 15 February 2000
  • Host: IGN
  • Interviewer: Douglass C. Perry

This interview is still available on IGN.

The interview

Yet another interesting look at the Oddworld team, this time from Designer Farzad Varahram.

Oddworld Inhabitants is a unique bunch of folks. Hidden away in the quiet, rolling hills of San Luis Obispo, CA, Lorne Lanning and his staff "crunch" through designs and ideas endlessly until they reach the idea that works the best, whether it's backgrounds, character design, or whatever. In another self interview from the Oddworld PR team, we are delivered an interview with Farzad Varahramyan, senior production designer, who describes what it's like to be on the team.

The Oddworld production design department is a four-man team. It's responsible for visualizing the Oddworld Universe in every last detail. The team creates every creature, building, and vehicle in Munch's Oddysee. Led by Production Designer Farzad Varahramyan, the team consists of junior production designers Raymond Swanland, Silvio Aebischer, and Gautam Babbar.

IGNPS2: What does it mean to be a production designer for Oddworld Inhabitants?

Farzad Varahramyan: As a PD I'm responsible for the overall visual look of Oddworld. Being a Production Designer also means that you have to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades. For example, on Munch I have to design, illustrate, draft, paint, and even sculpt. At Oddworld a PD is essentially a problem solver. We try to predict and solve all the design challenges before they get to the more time consuming and expensive CG process.

IGNPS2: How is being a Production Designer for Oddworld different from other game companies?

Design is very important

Farzad: Being a PD at Oddworld means that you want to produce the best design work, and you have to be willing to go to great lengths and detail to ensure the best quality. We strive to create designs that show depth of story, history, irony, and especially designs that will stand the test of time. This is easier said than done. At Oddworld it's all about iterations and that is the only way we can ensure we come up with the best design. We joke about it, but if you've just finished a pile of design iterations, and if after Lorne inspects them he says, "it's a good start," the translation of that is: you are not even close, so pucker up buttercup; you haven't even scratched the surface. This is called the grind, and at Oddworld you have to be able to work through the grind in order to get to the best design.

IGNPS2: Do you like to play games?

Farzad: I honestly have to say I'm not a gamer. When I can, I prefer watching a great movie.

IGNPS2: How do you come up with the designs?

Farzad: The inspiration for the designs comes from a variety of places. We have an extensive book and video library, covering almost any topic from nature to religion. Our director and assistant director, Lorne Lanning and Chris Ulm, are tremendously imaginative and are a major source of ideas. We also have the opportunity to use our own personal experiences as inspiration, which I personally appreciate. How I approach a design has also changed since I started working with Lorne. I have learned to observe the natural world around me more carefully, and also my thinking process about creating a design has become more focused.

IGNPS2: What is the biggest challenge for a Production Designer? What is the biggest reward?

Farzad: The biggest challenge is the fact that we design the same item for two mediums. The design has to work great in the game as a game element, but it also has to work and look great in our movies. Both mediums have their own restrictions and problems, but because of our seamless transitions between the game and the movies, the designs have to look great and work in both applications. The best example is Abe. He's endearing and has the subtleties to look great in our movies, but he also has the distinguishable proportions and broad physical movements to convey his personality and be recognizable in the game, even when very tiny on screen. The biggest reward is that I'm able to contribute to the content of our stories with my images, as much as Lorne and Chris contribute with the written word.

IGNPS2: How many Production Designers work for Oddworld?

Farzad: We have me plus three very talented designers fulfilling the design requirements for our Oddworld universe. All four of us are from four very different backgrounds, different countries, different artistic training, and different ages. I think it is this diversity that brings certain richness to the design of the OW universe.

IGNPS2: What advice would you give to kids wanting to get into this field?

Farzad: If you want to be a designer, start drawing and don't stop. Open your eyes and observe the world that surrounds you, and start taking basic art classes so you can have a solid foundation of art basics. Most importantly, make sure you enjoy it-it has to be your passion.

Abe and Munch meet

IGNPS2: What is Lorne Lanning really like?

Farzad: If you like to be average, he's your worst nightmare. If you are in the pursuit of excellence, he's one of the most gifted people I know, but also one of the most down-to-earth, good people I know. On the first day I started work at OW, Lorne, a co-owner of the company, helped me move my furniture into my office. He's just that kind of person.

IGNPS2: What is the most exciting thing you can tell us about Munch's Oddysee?

Farzad: Well it's hard to explain because it is a new genre and a whole new way of thinking about a "game" experience. Lorne puts it best when he says that we are "simulating entire life cycles." I think that when you will get the game, plug it in and turn it on, it will be the equivalent of adding water to a bowl of sea monkeys and magically watching something move and come A.L.I.V.E.

IGNPS2: Who are your biggest influences?

Farzad: There are far too many great designers and filmmakers that I admire to list, but if I was to pick the single event that made me want to become a designer, it would have to be seeing Star Wars in 1977-I was nine. The visionaries besides George Lucas that made Star Wars possible were Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston, and it was their unique work that set me on my path.