The Dream Job

As a child, I was obsessed by two things; making stuff out of junk and video games. Twenty years later both came in handy. I joined Media Molecule, at the time a small start-up set up by a group of friends working in the games industry. The ambition was to make an industry-changing title with a small, but highly dedicated team. A few years on and we released LittleBigPlanet to huge critical and commercial success and with it, one of Sony Playstation’s best-loved franchises was born.

It was a fairy tale in the making. I remember first walking into the sweaty, cramped studio above a bathroom shop, with concept art covering the walls. I had a hunch they were onto something big and jumped straight in. Within a few months of starting, Sony boss Phil Harrison chose to show our demo at the Games Developers Conference Keynote and from then on, it was a meteoric rise into the spotlight.

I look back at those whirlwind times and wonder how it even came to be. In retrospect, I think it was like catching an enormous wave at exactly the right moment. Sony were in dire need of something fresh to launch their new console and in the wider world, there was a growing social movement towards personalisation, creative self-expression and social connectivity. These were at the heart of the project; it was not just a game, but a creative tool kit that enabled users to make their own games, or anything else for that matter.

This deeply excited me. As a child I had tried to make games, but became very quickly bogged down in the complicated code. LittleBigPlanet on the other hand, offered a tactile toolbox of cardboard, wood, stickers, bolts and electric switches to bang together a homemade adventure of our own. This, I had already mastered as a child and I gleefully built implausible contraptions and mystical worlds. I couldn’t believe this was my job.

When designing the tools, the main challenge was to keep things simple, whilst at the same time making sure they had enough depth. There were plenty of very powerful creative packages out there, but were often offputtingly technical. And there were many fun, simple tools but were too limited in scope. We were constantly walking that balance and found the only way to hit that perfect spot would be to use them ourselves to make a full game.

This was tasked to the Level Design Department. It was the place where all parts of the game came together and I could not resist getting involved. It was a hotbed of creativity, building worlds, requesting new tools and features to build yet more. We were rapid prototyping; quickly trying things out and iterating the design. I was keen for as much cross fertilisation as possible, collating the prototypes and making them visible to inspire the team to find unexpected uses and combinations. It was a primordial soup of ideas.

The game we made was collaborative to make and collaborative to play. Whilst it was fun to push the competitive edge, we built sections where players would have to work together to complete a task, sometimes four players at a time. But at its core, the real purpose of the game was to inspire. To give a taste of what is possible to a global community of creators linked online through Craftworld. I remember the day the game launched and was put into the hands of the public. We had a Playstation set up in the studio and watched as people’s creations were published. They were popping up in Spain, Japan, even Antarctica. It was astonishing what people made, using the tools in ways we could never have imagined. This was by far the best part of the project so far, a community of millions across the globe playing, creating and sharing together.

Yoga Noga Reyoga

In my mind, I had an image of two monks fighting it out to be the most enlightened. I chuckled at the irony and reminded me of my childhood competitiveness with my brother. It became the idea behind my first film.

I had the dream of entering either the film or games industry but knew I lacked the skills and portfolio to stand a chance. I decided to learn the software in my free time, but rather than go through one tutorial after another, use the opportunity to make a project to contextualise my learning. I was also conscious not to end up with a solely technical showreel, partly to stand out and partly since there would be a lot of fun to be had in creating atmosphere and telling a story. 

The competing monks idea was chosen largely for practical reasons. I imagined the monks would be seated meditating for the most part and thus would not move very much. I had hoped that this would make it easier for a novice animator, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The lack of grand movements shifted the focus to the subtleties, which proved exceptionally difficult as a first project.

The film took about three months to make in the end which included learning compositing and sound design too. It was painful, but hugely satisfying to have done all aspects of animated film production. Now I had both the technical skills and the overview of how it all fitted together.

Amazingly, it went on to win “Best Animation” at The Byron Bay and The European Spiritual Film Festival, and I got the perfect job in the games industry in the end.