-3-'s career as a digital artist has spanned through three decades, most of that time spent working in the computer gaming industry. He helped take Interplay Productions from a ten man development team to a $100M international software publishing house, and along the way got to work with wonderful properties like Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, William Gibson's Neuromancer, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings, and Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, along with RoboCop, Terminator, and many others.
He may have been the first to introduce the isometric viewpoint to computer games when converting Wasteland from the Apple version IBM back in 1986/7. (Any computer game historians out there know what game did it first? Or was it just a case of independent parallel development?)
Aside from a bit of idle self-flattery, it doesn't really say much, does it? A little of the What, and nothing of the Who. So here's a lengthy rambling personal bio for the AliveNotDead community:
I was born in the USA, but only lived there for 2 or 3 months before moving to Asia. Not surprisingly then, my first memories are of Okinawa. Of beautiful green hills and stunningly powerful storms. Growing up in monsoon country, it was often hard not to laugh at stateside friends who had a fear of storms. What were they talking about? They didn't have to go outside to lash the car down anything like that - it's just feakin' wet out with a loud light show. No worries of a tree coming ripping out and flying through your bedroom or the damn roof deciding to take off. My brother and i used to pretend it was a war zone outside when the storms got really going, break out our G.I. Joes and toy soldier (and maybe a pack of dinosaurs to liven things up) and took advantage of the flashing and booming to liven up our play. To this day, i love loud storms and powerful winds. As a teen and younger adult, i used to climb up on top of buildings to enjoy them when i could. Looking back, i see i often embraced the frightening things of my childhood. When i was barely old enough to get outside, i manage to crawl up a board onto a wall and fell, leaving a scar on my scalp i carry still. Instead of an aversion, i developed a love of climbing and high places. When i was 3-4, in two separate incidents i accidentally burned our yard and seared my hand. So i developed a fondness for pyrotechnics and use flames for my vision focus. I had to be rescued from drowning in a pool when i was 5 or 6, and went on to be on a swim team and to train as a lifeguard. Hmph. Never saw that before. You can tell how old i'm getting by how this reminiscing is wandering about as i look back to compose this.
I'm not sure exactly when i decided i wanted to be an artist. Probably not long after i realized i was going to be too tall to be an astronaut. Art and Science always competed for my devotion, and often still do. I build my own computers to work on, and have since 1980 when i assembled my first ancient Sinclair Z80 (before Timex got in the game). And my father was a test pilot, which added an extra glamour of cool on the astronaut idea. I do know that by 8 or 9 i started spending a lot of time tracing cartoons and developing my own way of drawing characters. Bobby Mongoba and i started working out our own comics, and i never stopped drawing after that time.
One of the best things about growing up as i did was the variety of viewpoints and perceptions i was exposed to as i developed. My friends ranged from kids who lived in mud huts (and made the best sling shots in the world using carved tree branches and strips cut from inner tubes from car tires) to Imelda Marcos's nephew. (Her brother was our landlord, so they lived across the street) I overheard arguments from American officers drinking at the barbecues, and by old men and women around the mahjong tables. I heard the teachings of Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintos, Confucians, and Tribal Elders. I listened to Voice Of America and watched the Armed Services Network, and heard the gossip in the streets of the local populations and saw the local papers. I was taught the sanitized version of history in our schools, and then taken on field trips to old prisons where tour guides showed us all the ugly truths of our behaviour.
That background, more than anything, i credit for my mental flexibility and ability to think past the obvious - both of which serve my work well. And along the way i developed a quite pleasant personal relationship with the Universe. But that background also left me Alien. All too often i was unable to narrow my view enough to fit in with those around me. It didn't help that my first real exposure to America was when we moved back to Georgia. Deep South prejudices were a hard shock to someone who was used to being the minority. By jr. high school i was questioning many basic assumptions - why do we think the things we do? How much of it is just as flawed as the "Truths" i saw around me?
Before long i had decided Aristotle was wrong. A equals A only from where one is looking, and only if one doesn't watch long enough to see it change into B. By the time i was in high school, i was about ready to start trading punchlines with The Comedian. Add to my realizations the further joke of what eduction was like even then - my 9th & 10th grade English classes were teaching what i learned in 3rd & 4th grade in Asia - and my straight A grades suddenly dropped. I was generally still acing the tests, but couldn't be bothered to keep wasting my time on the homework. At that point i stopped thinking about college and started thinking about life instead. I took college courses over time, but would finish the material in 3-6 weeks and not stick around for the grade - they became meaningless to me. Only the knowledge and understanding mattered.
But before those college classes, before i finished high school even, i married and started thinking about family. Shortly after i turned 18, we married legally and the following year my eldest son was born. His brother followed just 51 weeks later - poor Linda was pregnant for the better part of two years. This led to endless teasing about the gestation period of an elephant being roughly the same - but given the large size of our mutants, maybe it wasn't too far off. I've got a couple inches over six feet, and i have to crick my neck to look up at them.
Linda and i went our separate ways long ago, and we're all spread out over three or four states these days. That's typical for my family - my brother, sister, father and i all live in different states. My mother lives on a different plane, so i guess she's got the edge there.
Before beginning my art career in earnest, i did a little of a lot - fast food and restaurant work, working in the county jail, electronic tech servicing video & cyberamic (animatronic) systems, arcade managing... I scarcely remember what all now looking back. Though i had done some work with t-shirts, buttons and the like, and private commissions, it wasn't until the mid-80s that i really began my art career as a freelancer working with Interplay. Computer graphics was in its infancy at that point. We were thrilling to the glories of CGA color, with its splendid choices of TWO hideous 4-color palettes. The art software was so primitive at that stage that work on my first project was done with a modified spreadsheet program that took input from a joystick. Just try to draw a circle freehand with a joystick!
Not just the technology - the market was only formative at that point, too. Until that point, what "art" there was in computer games was simple pixel shapes drawn by the programmers. There was no such thing as computer graphics classes in schools or colleges. Those of us working in digital art in those days were figuring out how things work, developing what they teach in school now. And we had to pack it all down to fit on a 5 1/4" floppy disk holding a whole 350K of data. It was a challenging time - we were trying to develop new and better ways to create graphics on the screen, but fighting a desperate battle against the limitations of what we could deliver to the end viewer. That forced creativity was one great aspect of the art and animation of the time. Another was the small scale. The primary work on a game in those days was usually done by two or three people - only one of which was the artist. So the entire visuals look and feel was entirely yours in those days. On something like Neuromancer, i handled all the art and animation for every version of the game on all platforms. That kind of artistic satisfaction is almost unknown among today's game creators. And a part of what was missing when i decided to leave the industry.
But then, i can be persnickety. I wound up leaving my staff position at Interplay to go independent when they got to the point that they wanted me wearing shoes around the office. ^_^
That loss of satisfaction was only a part of why i left, though. There was also the sense of having accomplished everything i had wanted to do after achieving my Galactic Villain status, being allowed to kill off Kirk & crew and destroy the Enterprise. As the old saying goes - "Many are called to play in the Great Bird's Galaxy, but few are the chosen destroyers." To an old Trek geek (see the ad in our high school yearbook) there was little to do after that. About then, my mother's radiation poisoning caught up to her and she died, i divorced from a bad marriage, doctors were telling me bad things - it was just time to get out. I no longer even cared to where, only that i was gone.
The next three years were spent - away. Out of society completely - no banking, no ID, nothing. Time spent in isolation, rediscovering the joy and pleasure of art and exploring new media and techniques to allow myself to grow again. Perhaps i should think about setting up a small gallery here of some of the works from that period?
After the turn of the century, i returned to work far away from the stress of Hollywood, finally going back to what i had wanted to do when i first started doing artwork - comics. Eventually there are some tales i want to tell - some Chinese supernatural adventures, some Judge Dee (Ti Jen-chieh) mysteries and an alternate history tale of the Dynasty that arose after the Rebellion of the Righteous Fists of Harmony. But whether as comics or illustrated novels or even animated cartoons? I'm not sure. Right now, i'm learning everything i can again, gaining the knowledge and understanding i'll need to tell the tales i want to tell.
In many respects, it's left me with the feeling of my first half century this time out marking one life, and another having begun in my second half century. I reached a point long ago when i felt i had had a full and satisfying life - everything now is just bonus time. Nice to have the pressure off like that, eh? So now to sit back and enjoy whatever comes.
Favorite star: Lam Ching-Ying (Just needed saying)
|Member Since||January 6, 2009|