July 11th 2013
On last week’s Wingman’s Hangar, you met the man behind the camera, Michael Morlan. Michael will be shooting and streaming an all new episode this week, airing tomorrow… and until then, here’s his in-depth interview. The Hangar will be all-new tomorrow, with Chris Roberts answering your forum feedback questions!
I backed into game development. Heck, I backed into a 3D animation and video production career quite by mistake as well. Well, perhaps not entirely by mistake.
One of the chain of experiences that lead me towards game development was a 1982 college course in hand drafting – yep – pencil, straight edges, French curves, and paper. That led me, later, to latch onto a casually-acquired copy of AutoCAD – back when it was 2D – and later 2.5D.
In the late 80’s, I was working as a programmer/analyst for CRSS, a large architecture and engineering firm in Houston and, on the side, playing with the crude 3D animation tools that came through the IT department. I’d create spinning logos and play with materials and lighting. Apparently, that personal exploration didn’t go unnoticed.
One day in 1990, as I was wrapping up a pre-Internet, phone-line-networked, Macintosh-based sales forecasting system, my director of IT handed me a folder and told me to read it. It turned out to be a description of the Texas A&M School of Architecture’s Advanced Visualization master’s program. And, CRSS was teaming with the school as a corporate partner. They were creating a sister visualization lab and I was being asked to lead it.
Within a couple weeks I was arms deep in Wavefront Advanced Visualizer training and helping specify a variety of Silicon Graphics workstations and a full video editing suite. Those were heady times – $100K hardware and $50K animation software. The job of the visualization team was to help architects and engineers examine and communicate their designs to our clients. We were trying everything – photo composites, sunlight studies, massing studies, and fully-detailed fly-throughs of finished designs.
In 1992, when the construction market shifted from new construction to re-use projects, CRSS got caught cash short and went down hard. Since our department was essentially an R&D and non-revenue effort, I was laid off. It was quite the shock.
So, I set out on my own as a freelance animator. I bought an SGI Indigo and Macintosh IIe, scored a gratis copy of Wavefront, and started spinning logos for money.
In 1995, I was reconsidering my direction when I ran across a want-ad for this company, Origin Systems. Apparently, they were a game developer seeking animators. I overnighted my VHS demo reel and was called to interview the following afternoon. I did the usual round of interviews – called the “beauty parade” by interviewing experts – and talked shop with a variety of people from Chris Roberts’ and Warren Spector’s teams. But, it was the lunch-time chat with Richard Garriott and art director, Beverly Garland, that led to an offer that afternoon.
On Febuary 25, 1995, I began my career in the game industry.
I worked for Origin Systems from ’95 to ’01. I didn’t have the opportunity to work for Chris but helped out on a number of games. While I was brought on, ostensibly, for Ultima 9, my first real contribution was the writing, animating (with the excellent Denis Loubet) and editing of the Crusader: No Remorse intro flic and interstitial flics. That was an interesting challenge because the team had already created a gunfight between a menacing mech and some armored humans for that year’s E3 and were committed to using the shots for the finished intro. So, I actually had to write around that existing scene and the current limits of 3DStudio R4. Nine drafts later, I had a working script and set to recording voice-overs, building a dope sheet, and parsing out shots with Denis.
That was my intro do the game industry. In the ensuing six years, I was fortunate to have a credit on a number of games including a little project called Ultima Online:
After CRSS went poof, I joined my long-time friend, Eric Peterson, at Fever Pitch. We suffered through a number of studio/publisher contracts, got bought out twice – Warthog, Gizmondo – before it all imploded in 2006. Fortunately, I had been working on the side as a freelance cinematographer and had a fairly strong demo reel so I hung out my shingle and made moving pictures my full-time profession.
Six years later, Eric was working with Chris on a fund-raiser for this game called Star Citizen… or Squadron 42. I wasn’t sure. Anyway, I made the mistake of congratulating Eric when they raise of six-million bucks and his immediate response was, “Dude! I need you!”
I hired on, ostensibly, to be a project manager and help Eric with this little web show called “Wingman’s Hangar.” Apparently, it had evolved from a shtick he had done during the fund-raiser where he set up a web camera in the hallway away from the main conference room and did his own comedy bits. One of the promises of the fund-raiser was a weekly webcast about the ongoing game development, and the Hanger was born.
Since there wasn’t much to do in the first few months of building the team and ramping up design and production, I spent all my time improving the quality of the show, taking it from two dorks in front of a web-cam with barely a couple chairs and a file cabinet between them to a fully-produced talk-show format with motion graphics, music, interviews, news, and the most favorite segment, F-F-F-Forum Feedback! And, producing “Wingman’s Hangar” became my full-time job. I also write all the scripted elements, and direct, shoot, and edit everything. Finally, I stream the show most Friday mornings.
I am a huge fan of space novels and short stories –stories writ large over the span of the universe and eons of time. Some of my favorite works include Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Sequence and Manifold trilogy, and Poul Anderson’s Harvest of Stars series. I watched Star Trek TOS voraciously as a kid. Although I was never captured by the later Star Trek series – they were too sterile to become emotionally attached – I fell in love with Firefly. I love the familial struggle of those characters. And it is that about which I’m most thrilled for Star Citizen – the chance to connect with my own friends and build a family… IN SPACE!
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