Oddworld’s Inhabitants: Raymond Swanland, Production Designer

Oddworld's Inhabitants: Raymond Swanland, Production Designer [Hosted by Oddworld.com]

Date: December 2003

Interviewer: Oddworld.com

Interviewee: Raymond Swanland

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.

Raymond Swanland, Production Designer raymond swanland

Q: What’s your background?

Raymond Swanland: Haling from the smog infested lowlands of southern California, I had the good fortune to move to San Luis Obispo (The current home of Oddworld Inhabitants) at the age of twelve. Upon my graduation from the local high school, my dreams of working in motion pictures left me destined to return to the overpopulated filmmaking metropolis from which I came. Without a plan to break into Hollywood, nor the desire to swim with the sharks, I bided my time at the local universities and polished my portfolio for my inevitable attempt at feature film success. Through my haze of my celluloid dreams, I nearly missed a small start-up video game company with no exploits but a lot of potential, right here in my hometown. By a once-in-a-lifetime stroke of luck, I found myself within the halls of Oddworld Inhabitants with a trembling portfolio under my arm. More than six years later, my history with Oddworld is still being written.

Q: Who are your biggest influences? Why?

Raymond Swanland: Artistically, I’ve always looked to fantasy illustrators for inspiration. In the works of Dave McKean, Ralph Mcquarrie, Michael Whelan, H. R. Giger, and countless others, I found combinations of style and subject matter that inspired me in a way the classics never could. Yet, the influence of other mediums has been just as profound. Whether it’s Star Wars (the original trilogy, mind you!) and Lord of the Rings playing over my shoulder as I sketch, or the music of Beethoven and Nine Inch Nails in my ears as I paint, nearly any art with passion and intensity is a profound influence of mine.

Q: Why did you decide to go into the video game industry? Why Oddworld?

Raymond Swanland: I ended up in video games quite out of luck and happenstance. Before I ever heard of Oddworld, I always perceived video games as narrow-minded and shallow as far as the art was concerned. I thought that animated and feature films were the most diverse and impactful mediums for modern commercial art. Yet, when I first laid eyes on the halls of Oddworld, covered with myriad sketches and paintings, it was obvious that complexity and conceptual depth were as present in this industry as any other, maybe more so. My creative compass told me I needed to look no further.

Q: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

Raymond Swanland: I’ve always enjoyed hiking, mountain biking, sliding down the occasional snow covered hill, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I go home most nights and do the same things I do at work every day; drawing, painting and writing. Though I try to balance the digital behind-a-desk art of my workday with welding torch and metal shop, it’s pretty much all digital art around the clock for this bohemian.

Q: What CD are you currently listening to? What books are you reading?

Raymond Swanland: My current distraction of choice is Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief, but just in case that made me sound too cool and edgy, I’m pining for Dave Matthews new solo album. When I crave words over melodies, I’ve been touring the classics one by one. I just finished Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which really struck a chord with me, it’s definitely among my favorites. Now, I’ve finally worked up the courage to dive into Melville’s Moby Dick and I can understand why it is so famous … and so infamous.

Q: What kind of a place is Oddworld?

Raymond Swanland: Despite how much it’s grown since I’ve been in residence, Oddworld is still a small company that feels like a second family, complete with mutual respect as well as endearing dysfunction. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

Raymond Swanland: In my many years as an Inhabitant, whether I deserve it or not, I’ve gained a certain degree of autonomy that allows me to look at the tasks in front of me and attack them at my discretion. In the course of a typical day, I shift between many jobs, from sketching designs for game levels to art direction in the CG department to retouching characters for the Marketing department. I come to work each day with a long-term schedule, but allow the day to come together fluidly, based on other people’s needs and my own changing inspiration. A job with this much freedom is a real gift.

Q: If you could change jobs with one of the other Inhabitants who would it be and why?

Raymond Swanland: Truthfully, if I were to change jobs with anyone at Oddworld, it would be Michael Bross, the composer and sound designer. Music and sound are such a completely different discipline than the type of art I do everyday, but certainly no less creative. I would find the different medium endlessly exciting and challenging.

Q: What at Oddworld are you most proud of?

Raymond Swanland: I’ve long been something of a self-taught lone wolf when it comes to my art. Years of working in a production environment at Oddworld have brought me to realize that some of the best work can come from collaboration. I can’t express how proud I am to work alongside those who have taught that lesson to me and learned it with me.

Q: Many fans are still upset with Oddworld’s decision to develop for the Xbox exclusively. Any comments?

Raymond Swanland: A strength and a handicap Oddworld has always had is its insistence on the highest quality. Xbox is the superior console on the market at this time. Though we sacrifice the quantity of exposure compared to the PS2, we gain the opportunity to continue developing imagery at the highest standard of the console market. Can’t say it wouldn’t be cool if the Xbox sold a few more units though.

Q: What advice would you give someone trying to break into games? What type of education does someone need to do your job?

Raymond Swanland: An effective production designer needs a well-rounded background in all the basics of two-dimension art. A disciplined knowledge of lighting, color and perspective are absolutely essential in visualizing ideas at the conceptual stage. On top of that, a knowledge of three-dimensional sculpture or modeling can greatly enhance a sense of shape and form. Schools that focus on design (such as Art Center in Pasadena, CA) offer great curriculums with an overview of these basics as well as an environment in which you can learn from people that have worked in the industry. Yet, teaching yourself these fundamentals and practicing them in the work place (as was my road) can also lead to a similar result if you learn better under the pressure of a commercial deadline. In the end, the most important discipline for a production designer is to truly be observant of the world around us. No matter how strange or whimsical a design challenge may seem, nature and human civilization have most likely created things far stranger. The more we hone our ability to process the world we live in, the easier it becomes to play God on paper.

Q: Who is your favorite Oddworld character? Why?

Raymond Swanland: Abe is certainly my favorite character to come out of Oddworld. Abe embodies true innocence and kind-heartedness without being a hallmark card. His dark history has done nothing to dampen his childlike unconditional generosity. In fact, the terrible things Abe has seen have caused him to appreciate the simple gifts of life like freedom and friendship all the more. Abe says that brew glass is half full and I believe him.

Q: Can you tell us anything about the new game or what you are working on right now?

Raymond Swanland: As a production designer, my job shifts constantly through the course of the game. With most of the character designs and basic environmental motifs well established up to this point, the design process becomes much more interactive with the game designers. Now is the time to create very specific details within each level of gameplay, from entire fortresses all the way down to mailboxes. Also, the time has come to create refined illustrations of characters and environments in preparation for magazines and other press. Yet, my favorite chores, by far, are those I do for the cinematics. The ways in which the story is coming together in the movies and in gameplay blows my mind. Just wait and see.