Mark Snoswell interview

Mark Snoswell interview [Hosted by OddBlog]
Date: 15 September, 2004
Interviewers: William and Xavier
Interviewee: Mark Snoswell

Source: http://oddworldlibrary.net/oddblog/specials/Mark_Snoswell_interview

Mark Snoswell, founder and director of Ballistic Publishing, who has naturally worked extensively with Oddworld Inhabitants on their anniversary book The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994–​2004, was kind enough to take the time to be interviewed (in September 2004) by OddBlog concerning the book and Ballistic itself, and allow this to be published. OddBlog is proud to be able to share this exciting interview and the wealth of information Mark has divulged.

OddBlog: Ballistic Publishing and Oddworld Inhabitants have a good track history together, what with EXPOSÉ and SIGGRAPH. How would you describe Oddworld’s artistic style and how is it distinct from other franchises?

Mark Snoswell: Awesome! Of course, it really is odd. 😉 It’s very well thought‐out with an extensive back‐story and a world that everything fits into. It’s also very organic which is something of a rarity in the games arena—​well at least to the extent and quality that is Oddworld’s trademark.

OddBlog: Besides the fans of Oddworld, who do you feel The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants is going to appeal to?

Mark Snoswell: Everyone. 😉 Well lots of people—​anyone who likes art and fantasy for a start. That’s the great thing about the Oddworld brand. It has recognition out of proportion with its user base. Nearly everyone I talk to recognizes Oddworld artwork and characters, but many of these people have never played an Oddworld game. Hey—​who knows? Maybe we will end up inspiring a whole new generation of people to actually play Oddworld games after seeing the awesome artwork in the book.

OddBlog: Who has compiled and narrated the book, and do other Inhabitants contribute towards it? Who are the editors?

Mark Snoswell: Oddworld has enough high quality material to fill a whole series of books. This first book comfortably tells the story of the history of Oddworld. The choice of what material got into the book was collaborative. Obviously it’s primarily Oddworld’s choice, but we also guided them in choosing material that works well in print. Cathy Johnson has been the biggest contributor. She has been with Oddworld forever and has done a stellar job putting the book together. Kristin Inman made a huge contribution to the text and Jenny Shaheen has kept us all talking and co‐ordinated. However, the book is full of work from the whole Oddworld Inhabitants team going right back to their start 10 years ago—​people too numerous too mention here, but they are all credited in the book. The first and final choice of what gets in is with Oddworld’s founders and current owners—​Sherry McKenna and Lorne Lanning. As for the final reasons for what got in—​whatever was best for the book. There is no single overriding reason. Some images get in because they look brilliant (lots) and some because they are historically important, and others because they have never been seen and they show how the development process works… what more can I say? Get the book and see for yourself. 😉

OddBlog: Ballistic is renowned for the high quality of their books. How is this standard maintained, especially with relation to The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants?

Mark Snoswell: Blood, sweat and tears—​and a whole lot of expertise. Ballistic Media is a young company—​just over a year old—​and making books is new for us. However, both Daniel Wade and I come from a long history of editorial and writing for the design and print industries. So this has been our chance to show everyone that we have taught over the past decade that we can do it all ourselves. More than that—​we push all the boundaries. We implement the latest screening technologies in our printing. We don’t cut any corners in the quality of materials or the number of inks. The Oddworld book will be like our EXPOS? titles in that respect—​a 6 colour process. In addition to the 4 process colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black—​CMYK), we have a separate black and an overall varnish. The separate black means that we can make sure the surrounding black is absolutely solid without affecting the images. The overall sealer means that the pages don’t mark or smudge. We have also moved to getting our books made in Hong Kong. This is to improve the quality of the binding. It’s still much better to have things like the dust jackets hand‐folded. There is also a lot to be gained in the making of the Leather Bound Collector’s Editions. These are hand‐bound in the traditional method with padding and leather. It’s rare to see leather‐bound books these days and even rarer to see traditionally bound padded leather editions. Mind you, offshore printing has meant that we have had to learn a lot about the logistics of shipping books around the world! It’s important to strive for the best quality in all areas and shipping turns out to be very important. All the books are individually shrink‐wrapped and packaged in our own branded mailer cartons. These have collapsible buffer ends to protect the books from the hazards of the world’s postal systems. We also have our own delivery system and we individually email people to notify them their book has been shipped. Even when there have been delays we get many people telling us they really appreciate all the efforts we take to keep them informed—​way more than they get from any other book supplier.

Wow—​that was a long answer. I got carried away. There is so much more than people realise to getting a good quality book designed, prepared, proofed, printed, bound, packaged and delivered!

OddBlog: What is the history of Ballistic, how was it formed and how has it grown? […] Could you tell us anything about the company now? For instance, how many people in how many countries work for Ballistic now?

Mark Snoswell: We named our company after the speed at which we work—​Ballistic. It was less than 90 days from having the idea for the company and sending our first book off to press! We really are doing things at ballistic speed! We joke that slogans like Nike’s “just do it” aren’t energetic enough—​our slogan is “We just did it!”.

I don’t know whether everyone realises that we also run and own http://www.CGTalk.com (www.cgtalk.com) and http://www.CGNetworks.com (www.cgnetworks.com). We have the world’s largest group of digital artists with over 600,000 unique people visiting our web sites every month. We are also involved in film 3D and effects work with cgCharacter (www.cgcharacter.com) and in running events like 3Dfestival (www.3dfestival.com) and awards with 3Dawards (www.3dawards.com).

Ballistic Media is just 18 months old. In our first year, we released 5 titles in 9 editions. We have more titles lined up than you can poke a stick at—​and more than even we can do. We started with just 3 people and have grown to 10 now. That doesn’t include agents we have in several countries.

Our head office is in Adelaide, Australia, on 4 acres of bushland just 20 min out of Adelaide. Our publishing office is in Melbourne. Leigh, who administers our forums, is located in Cape Town, South Africa. I am personally in USA about every 8 weeks, usually in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

OddBlog: Why are your books not available in stores or on Amazon.com?

Mark Snoswell: It’s just too expensive to supply Amazon or go through general distribution at present. Most people don’t realize that Amazon is really only set up to accept products from US suppliers. We ship books globally with 60% of orders going to places outside the North American continent. Right now, we would have to incur a huge cost to set up warehousing and office in the US to supply Amazon. Then users would see a net price rise and a drop in quality of packaging for shipping. The situation is even worse for traditional book distribution into shops like Borders or Barnes and Noble. The publisher has to pay for everything and discount books by 70% to supply distributors. And you don’t get paid for 4 months or more! Even then the books stores won’t promote new books—​it’s up to the publisher to pay for all the promotions. We are looking at every distribution channel, but we won’t compromise quality just to sell more books. Right now, we can put a lot of effort (and cost) into producing the highest quality books ever made by supplying them directly to readers all over the world. As we grow and our volumes get bigger we will start to distribute our books through more traditional channels. Some books, like the Limited Editions, are collector’s items and will only ever be sold directly. We even sell the Limited Edition books by individual number! EXPOSÉ 1 limited editions sold for about US$120 (including shipping). A month after the special editions sold out we auctioned the first 10 numbered copies which sold for up to US$350 each. We are looking at expanding the range of very high quality collectable items. It seems that there is a strong demand for quality which is refreshing in today’s throwaway consumer society.

OddBlog: How much of the book’s content is production art and how much CG art? Will there be any photographs of the artists, studios or other Oddworld Inhabitants? […] Besides the artwork, is there anything of any other nature that fans can look forward to, such as the history of Oddworld Inhabitants or even trivia relating to the Oddworld universe?

Mark Snoswell: You can see the whole book in proof sheet format at our web site (www.BallisticPublishing.com). The book will be the biggest one we have made—​approaching the limit of what we can efficiently ship around the world—​256 pages. It’s chock full of images and interesting information. For fans, there are lots of images and concept art that have never been seen anywhere else—​this will be a world first! The book really does live up to its title and will take the reader through the history of Oddworld from its inception right up to a sneak preview from the upcoming game Stranger.

OddBlog: In what ways does The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants differ from other ‘Art of’ books?

Mark Snoswell: This is a celebration of the 10‐year history of both the company and the series of games released. It really represents the whole Oddworld Inhabitants universe at a time when you can still (just) do this in a single (big) book. There is an extraordinary integration of character, story and theme behind the Oddworld Inhabitants franchise. I think this, more than anything else, comes over in the book. Readers will feel they really know the inside story after reading the book.

OddBlog: What is your personal favourite picture in the book?

Mark Snoswell: Ha. I don’t think I can really choose a single favourite. In their own way there are so many way cool images. I like the whole book 🙂

OddBlog: Do you have any plans for further collaborative efforts with Oddworld Inhabitants?

Mark Snoswell: We get on very well with everyone at Oddworld. Both our companies have very similar ideals and values. We need to get the current book out into the hands of readers to see how well it all goes. After that we are looking at anything we could do together—​but I really can’t comment as the future really is wide open without any firm commitments.

OddBlog: Lorne Lanning has said before that Oddworld will only associate themselves with companies that have no ‘outstanding labour or environmental issues.’ What stance does Ballistic have on such issues, and how do these affect your business methods? What kind of paper do you use in your books—​is it environmentally friendly? Why are the books printed in China?

Mark Snoswell: I am really impressed with the game philosophy behind the Oddworld games. I have spent a heap of time with Lorne Lanning over the last 6 months and had an opportunity to talk about gaming and his goals with Oddworld. Lorne told me that he strives to make games that reward the player for empathy. This is unique and completely opposite to a great number of games that reward the player for violence and aggression—​which only serves to numb people to the world around them (my opinion there). Lorne also has strong feeling about current corporate and environmental issues—​it comes down to living a quality life. That pertains to everything you do: at home, at work… everything. Our philosophy is the same. We really could do anything we want. It’s our choice to be in the CG (computer graphics) industry. We could make average books and pump them into the bulk distribution channels. We could work in average crap offices in town&hellip but we don’t do any of that. We choose to work in the nicest environment we can (we built our own studios on our 4 acre bush land property—​all open plan with polished wood floors, floor to ceiling windows all around and all the computers in cabinets to keep them quiet), employing local people, supporting the local community, making the best quality products we can. Our company goal is “to enhance the global arts community”. As for the specifics of paper and where we make books: Quality is all‐important. However, I would never use materials or contract companies that exploited the environment or its workforce. We print in China because of the quality of work we get—​and the savings in costs go back into making even high[er] quality books, not into making more money. So the printer is thrilled with us, and we support the local community there with quality work. I was thrilled when the head of our printing company told me that he used our books to show off their work at the recent Chinese book fair. Uh—​as you might guess, I could go on at length on this topic. But, to answer your question: Lorne and I could not hold more similar views and are both thrilled that we have an opportunity to help each other.

OddBlog: What response has the email sign‐up on your website elicited? Are you pleased with the interest that has been shown in the book?


Mark Snoswell: The interest has been great, especially for such an early announcement. I have a feeling that this book will go ballistic as soon as we launch it!

OddBlog: When can we expect pre‐ordering to commence, and how will customers go about this?

Mark Snoswell: Pre‐orders are up now! People can place orders now and should get books by Christmas. No one will be charged until their book actually ships. I expect the Limited Editions will sell out very quickly—​they will never be re‐printed and will go up in value quickly. The other editions will be re‐printed as long as there is demand, but people will have to rush to get pre‐Christmas orders in as there are only so many that we can handle prior to Christmas.

OddBlog: Having worked with Oddworld Inhabitants whilst Oddworld Stranger is in production, is there anything you can tell us about Oddworld’s new game?

Mark Snoswell: No… other than it looks absolutely awesome!

OddBlog: Finally, fans are eager to show their support for Oddworld; how can they help in promoting the book?

Mark Snoswell: Buy one… buy lots. Show them to everyone: to bookshops; to schools; their work mates… everywhere. There are significant bulk discounts available to anyone ordering 10 or more books. We have lots of companies who buy books for all their employees—​so try to get your boss to buy books for you and everyone else. 😉

Show everyone and get them to go online and order their own. That’s the best help anyone could give.

A huge thank you must go to Mark Snoswell for answering these questions, and for allowing their publication on OddBlog. The soft cover and limited editions of The Art of Oddworld Inhabitants: The First Ten Years 1994–​2004 are still available to order from the Ballistic Publishing website, so if you haven’t already, order your copy right away!