Oddworld's Inhabitants: Chris Ulm, Assistant Director / Writer [Hosted by Oddworld.com] Date: April 1, 2001 Interviewer: Oddworld.com Interviewee: Chris Ulm
This month’s interview is with Chris Ulm, the best damn Ass. Director in the business. A fecund father of three, Chris was Editor-in-Chief of Malibu Comics before joining Oddworld as a game designer during Abe’s Exoddus. After bewildering us with a blizzard of slate screens and a level design sensibility that would drive Rube Goldberg to put a bullet in his brain, the Ulm bootstrapped himself out of game design and into a role that none of us really understand. Maybe Chris will shed some light on just what the hell it is he does around here every day in this exclusive profile.
Oddworld’s Inhabitants are as diverse as the world they’ve worked together to create. Here’s where you’ll find interviews and other informative articles spotlighting the many creative folk that work at Oddworld Inhabitants. Be they headline players or behind-the-scenes heroes, the Inhabitants profiled here all share Oddworld’s ceaseless dedication to bringing you the best worlds and games that you’ve ever experienced.
Q: What’s your background(education, jobs)?
Chris Ulm: In my youth, I somehow managed to procure a degree in history, which in no way prepared me for a career move into the wild and wooly world of comic book publishing. As co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of Malibu Comics, I developed a wide number of titles including Men In Black and the Ultraverse universe of super-hero characters. Malibu catapulted to fame and some small degree of fortune, eventually becoming acquired by Marvel Entertainment (the X-Men guys). I stayed at Marvel for about a year then started MainBrain Productions with some other talented ex-Malibuites. At MainBrain, I worked with Universal Cartoon Studios, Klasky-Csupo, Marvel, Dark Horse and a bunch of other clients. A behind-the-scenes admirer of Oddworld, I joined the company shortly before Abe’s Oddysee came out — and just in time to jump on the Abe’s Exoddus team where I did conceptual and level design and co-wrote the CG movies. For the last 100 years (or so it seems!) I’ve been working on Munch’s Oddysee in the capacity of Assistant Director.
Q: Who are your biggest influences? Why?
Chris Ulm: Basically, I’m a geek. I’m a fanatical reader and have a wide range of pop culture influences: comic books, fantasy and science fiction novels, movies of every stripe, board games, role-playing games, miniatures, fiction, mythology, history, business strategy, technology, etc. There are a creative ton of people who have influenced me over the years, but lately I’ve been stuck on directors: John P. Lasseter, Ang Lee and Cameron Crowe are three that I really, really admire. In terms of game design, I have to give the nod to Sid Meier. But the biggest impact on me personally and creatively has definitely been Lorne Lanning (you know where to send the check, Lorne).
Q: As one of the first Inhabitants, do you have any stories from the early days of Oddworld you could share?
Chris Ulm: I’m actually one of the first “second wave” Inhabitants, so I don’t have any really early stories of the gang sleeping on the streets or panhandling for spare change to keep the electricity on.
Q: What kind of a place is the Oddworld Studio?
Chris Ulm: A nice environment with fresh coffee. It’s ordered enough to feel neat yet there’s room to have your own individuality and a nice desk to put your coffee cup. The company supplies free coffee, fruit, bagels and the internal management and tech staff are terrific. And did I mention fresh, delicious, caffeine-soaked coffee?
Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
Chris Ulm: When’s that? Actually, I’ve somehow managed to acquire three daughters in the last three years, so when I’m not working, I’m searching desperately for a quiet place to sleep.
Q: List your top 5 favorite films and/or books?
Chris Ulm: Oh jeez. Okay, there’s a fantasy series out now by George E.E. Martin called “A Song Of Ice And Fire” that I’ve already read twice. Terrific storytelling and a lot of fun. Other than that, I’ve been knee deep in reading business biographies and economic case studies (who you callin’ boring?) Top Five Books: Catch-22, Dune, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers, The Hobbit. Top Five Films: Toy Story, Braveheart, Almost Famous, The Graduate, Aliens.
Q: Where do you see Oddworld in 10 years?
Chris Ulm: Striding the earth like a Colossus.
Q: What do you like best about coming to work? What’s the worst part?
Chris Ulm: The best part is working with talented people and solving problems. The worst part is working with talented people who cause problems!
Q: Is it true you can’t eat junk food and still be an Inhabitant?
Chris Ulm: I deny all knowledge.
Q: If you could change jobs with one of the other Inhabitants who would it be and why?
Chris Ulm: I’d trade places with our resident image monger and Senior Production Designer Farzad Varahramyan. But, as I have trouble drawing a straight line, I don’t think it’s going to happen. The great thing about production design is that pencils don’t run out of memory and paper doesn’t crash (by the way, I stole this line from Jeff Brown, our Lead Designer).
Q: What is the longest “day” you’ve ever spent at Oddworld?
Chris Ulm: Yesterday.
Q: How do you feel about Munch’s move to the Xbox?
Chris Ulm: Great…I have to say that Microsoft has been very supportive and I’m excited about the machine. It’s a very smart design and an excellent platform to develop for.
Q: What at Oddworld are you most proud of?
Chris Ulm: Lately, I’ve been most proud of the CG movies that Farzad and I have been working on under Lorne’s direction. They’re a blast.
Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be an Assistant Director?
Chris Ulm: Check your ego in at the door and prepare to be overwhelmed.
Q: Who is your favorite Oddworld character and why?
Chris Ulm: Munch. He’s tragically funny and a blast to write for and to play in the game.