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Vol. 2, Issue 5
December 6, 1999
Taking Aim at Paul Steed '99

An interview by Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon

Paul Steed: the Man, the Myth, the Legend. We couldn’t let issue 2.5 pass without taking another shot at our beloved modeler/animator/writer from that little black cube down in Mesquite, home of id Software. Stephanie “Bobbi” Bergman was lucky enough to interview him last year (at QuakeCon ´98, no less), but this year was my turn. I caught him on the phone (after 8 tries on 3 different nights), and here’s how it went:

So. How’re you doing?

Good.

Tell me, what’s the strangest thing that happened to you in the last week?

Strangest thing that’s happened to me in the last week? Um.

Put you on the spot, eh?

The strangest thing, uh, would be...Oh, okay, well it’s not really a strange thing, it’s something I just had the urge to do. I was driving to work the other day, I missed my exit, so, I kept going south. I decided that I didn’t feel like hitting the next exit, or the next one. So I just kept driving for 300 miles, until I hit the golf coast. I eventually drove to the end of Texas.

300 miles!

I drove 300 miles to the end of Texas, got out of my truck, walked around on the beach, checked out the ocean. I kicked around some surf, talked to some really cute girl in a really small bikini.

Is this burnout at work?

No, no, no. It’s one of those minute crisis situations that I solved. You know when you get in that kind of mode, ‘well I don’t really feel like doing something’, like playing hooky, basically. So I drove to the coast, had a bite to eat, turned around and came to work.

300 miles that must have been –

I put 650 miles on my truck in a matter of 10 or 11 hours.

Okay, yeah, that’s pretty strange.

I guess you could qualify that as strange.

Yeah, I would. From past conversations with you, I know that you had somewhat of a troubled youth in your family, in that you jumped around about a half dozen states, and in and out of about 20 high schools.

I went to like, 22 public schools before I graduated high school.

How do you think that has affected the way you are today with people?

It’s easier for me to meet people.

So you think it’s made you more open to—

It’s made me more extraverted I guess, because, I really don’t care. I’m probably going to be gone tomorrow, so what does it matter what you think? <chuckles>

Ok. Heh. I read in a Kenneth Scott interview a little while back that he was really into plastecine modeling when he was young. He’d sit there and model, like comic book figures. What was your creative outlet when you were a kid?

I was big into comics. And I drew. I got into art and I wanted to be a comic book artist for a long time.

You wanted to go to Kubert’s School, was that it?

I was accepted to the Kubert School and I bailed on that. I wanted to be a dietician for a while, but that’s a whole other story. So, I basically did the model thing, not plastecine models because those were too expensive, but I built car models and I would build them then blow them up with firecrackers so they’d look like car wrecks.

That sounds like fun. How old were you when you applied to Kubert?

That was about 11 years ago.

So how come you didn’t go in if you were accepted?

Well I was in Germany at the time –

Oh you were in the Air Force at the time?

Yeah I was still in the Air Force right. I was going to go to Kubert School, but then I wanted to be a dietician, because I didn’t want to do art for a living. Art was one of those things that, no matter how crappy I felt about life, I figured if I did for a living and I started hating it, then I wouldn’t have that outlet. You know what I mean? So I decided I didn’t want to be an artist for a living. I wanted to be something in the medical field. I worked out, I was into bodybuilding, and I knew a lot about nutrition because I’m interested in it. So I started studying to be a dietician and I volunteered at a hospital back in Germany. And after about 3 months of volunteer work, I decided I didn’t want to be a dietician anymore, because, it sucks. There’s a reason why 90 percent of all dieticians are women. It’s because you have to have that level of patience, perseverance, understanding, compassion. And I would tell people, “Hey you’re fat. Stop eating.” And that wasn’t a very good approach as a dietician. It wasn’t very, I guess, nurturing.

I can understand that. And I’ve heard a few people say that you don’t want to make your life’s work something you really, really enjoy because you’ll end up hating it.

Right. Yeah. And the thing is, professionals; dieticians and psychologists, they become that because it’s something they’re trying to overcome with themselves, so they help understand it by studying it. So anyway, I took some classes after that. Somehow I ended up doing computer games for a living, I don’t understand how that quite worked out.



  That happens I guess. Some of us try really hard to get into computer games.

I didn’t know people got paid to do this.

There you go. Tell me about some of the comic book artists you really liked when you were young.

I started collecting comics in ´79 or ´78, and I did it for the collecting aspect of it, because I had like 100 issue run of Incredible Hulk. So I would go to flea markets and try and find these things. This one kid on my bus one time, said, ‘hey I got this box of comics I’ll sell you’, because I always talked about comics and I was cool and I wanted to be a comic book artist, so I go ‘really’ and I’m looking through it and he had X-Men #94, and all these early X-Men issues that were worth a lot of money, so I bought that. Then I started looking at guys like John Burns. But early on, my favorite artists were John Byrne, Michael Golden. I like John Buscema, I like Barry Windsor Smith. And then I picked up one of the early Frank Miller Daredevils, and I was just completely enraptured by Frank Miller’s work. There was something just so dead-on. Something about that work that just grabbed me. And I’ve been a Frank Miller fan ever since and my comic art kind of reflects it.

Yeah he does good stuff. He worked on Spiderman, Ronin, Dark Knight...

Yeah his first work for Marvel was Spiderman, then he did a couple annuals with Dr. Strange. But then he kind of hacked out with city stuff. I like the high-contrast black and white stuff, you know the Ronin stuff was cool, the Dark Knight stuff, but my favorite thing of his was “Electra Lives”. It was a one shot graphic novel. And he did it with his girlfriend Lynn Varley. She’s a colorist and a real good artist. With the two of them together, and they did amazing work. That was kind of like the quintessential Frank Miller because that was when he made the transition from the traditional comic style to more of the Japanese – well he did it in Ronin, but here he made the whole Japanese style of dividing a page into grids and doing sequential art in the grid. He perfected that whole thing with Electra Lives. It’s a really good book. You should get it and read it.

Maybe you can lend it to me sometime.

I’ll send it in the mail tomorrow.

In your sketchbook, what comic book character do you draw the most?

I stopped drawing so much. When I did draw, it was mainly guys like Daredevil, or mostly [other characters] Frank Miller had done, I guess.

One of the sketches that really struck me is a picture of Wilson Fisk.

Wilson Fisk yes, from Daredevil.

It struck me as a really cool picture, because he’s got the cigar and he has smoke curling around his face. Which made me think, would you take a comic book character and draw him completely originally, or were you mostly into recapturing something you see?

Well in that particular instance, I was copying Miller. But what I would do too, is I’d study stuff like that and then go and do, ‘What would it look like from the other side?’ So it was more, I really tried to understand a process. I mean I was so into Miller’s work. And I was like, ‘how does he arrive at this conclusion with this panel arrangement and this particular composition?’ You know I’ve never taken any art classes, which kind of sucks because I have to learn as I go about color theory and everything else like that. So that’s why a lot of my early stuff is black and white because I just didn’t know about color.

You know I bet a lot of people are like that.

Oh yeah. I mean, the thing is, look at people who are good at what they do. A lot of them are self-taught because they’re really motivated. Me, I got really bored of college pretty fast, because nobody took me seriously. It was just a bunch of losers out there. They would look at me like, ‘what are you crazy? You’re trying.’ So it just turned me off of the whole learning thing.

I’m looking at another sketch you did here, and it’s called, “Tanya Kidnapped”. And I think of all the pictures that you sent me, that one struck me the most. If there’s a picture worth a thousand words, than there’s ten thousand coming out of this. What was that done for?

Okay. Back in ’94, I was Project Director at Origin, and they knew I was going to quit and they said, ‘look, what’s it going to take to keep you here?’ And I said, ‘get me my own project, and I’ll stay. I want a team of people to do a project like I think it should be done.’ And they go, ‘okay.’ So they gave me a bunch of guys. So basically I sat down, and I closed the door to my office and I go, alright, I’m going to write down all the things off the top of my head that I like: I like motorcycles; I like rock and roll; I like women; I like violence; I like science fiction. So I took all that and rolled it into this game I called Cyclone Alley. Which basically was a racing game like Road Rash, except you’re on these Hover Bikes and you can do 360 loops inside these tubes and you’re in this space station in outer space. That was the general premise. It’s a good storyline where you’re this hero. One of the stories was, you were racing and you’re doing really good, and the whole time you get these emails or voice mails, which is how the game system runs, and some of them are cutscenes, and one of them was your girlfriend saying, “hey meet me here.” Lo and behold you finish the race and you get to this place and she’s been kidnapped and these guys are pressuring you to race for them, or throw some races or fix some races or whatever. They’re mafia in space. So that was Guido. Guido kidnaps Tanya, and if you win the race, well there was a whole intricate story. What I wanted to convey was Guido was just this sleazy guy and you need to save her.



  And Tanya is just gorgeous in that picture.

Thanks. I like Tanya. It was one of my favorite pictures. You know what I like about that picture is the hands. You always try to improve certain things in your drawing.

You know what else that really comes out in your pictures is eyes and lips. You can really tell –

I spend a lot of time on that.

I think the first picture I saw of yours, you know what, was one of your pictures for your tattoo. I had to look at the face three times because I thought it was a photo picture and I thought, ‘holy god that’s really good.’ And that comes out in all your pictures. Because they’re all really cool that way. And you’ve done a lot of sketches from Playboy too.

Oh yeah. Yeah yeah yeah. I like the newstand editions.

A lot of different sketches, a lot of different poses.

There’s a difference. I don’t like Hustler kind of stuff. Back when they started strip clubs, I wouldn’t go to all nude places because it was kind of like somebody pointing a flashlight in your face. You know I mean? Don’t point that thing at me. It takes away the whole mystery of the thing. I think of women too much as like an art form. In today’s society they use the female form for everything. There’s a reason for that, because it’s just so appealing. On a really basic level, the female form is a provocative thing.

And it’s beautiful.

It’s beautiful.

Beautiful thing.

I know you’re a fellow philogyner so you know what I mean.

You know you kind remind me of that guy from the movie Skin Deep with John Ritter.

Oh yeah yeah. The glowing condoms in the dark.

Yeah exactly. He had a big problem with women.

Well I don’t really have a problem.

In his case it was a problem.

He had that whole sex-addiction thing, which I’ve never understood. Because everyone is addicted to sex. Jesus. It’s a problem. Why is it a problem?

Yeah this guy’s normal. What’s the movie about? Anyway let’s move on here or we’ll never get through. You first gaming job was at Origin. How humbling was it when you first got there and you saw the talent that was around you.

Jesus Christ I was depressed for days. Weeks. I was just devastated because I was so sure of myself, and so full of myself in the way I drew and the things I drew, and the things I thought about were so unique. I thought, geez, because I never met anybody who enjoyed those kinds of things, I guess. And man I go there, and man, it was like everyone there just completely kicked my ass. It was very humbling. But it was cool too. Because I love to be challenged.

And you got to work with these guys.

I didn’t start as an artist, I started as a gopher there. And basically, I became an artist by going in and trying to learn this stuff. And I tried to learn 3D first, and what I realized is that there weren't very many people that learned to do 3D. So it was kind of like, why isn’t anyone learning 3D? It was just a little studying and stuff. Evidently it was pretty intimidating.

And soon you were in a field by yourself.

Well there were other guys there that did 3D, but they did all the high-poly cinematic stuff. What I ended up specializing in, for no other reason than no one else wanted to do it, was the low-poly stuff. This was back in ’92. I did all the planes and stuff in Strike Commander. So, I just got in there and showed them my drawings and stuff, and came the big day and I wanted to apply to the art department. I brought my stuff in and the guys were cool and stuff, and I had already talked to them because they saw me coming in there at night and they asked me, ‘why you going in the art room’ and I said, ‘I want to learn, I’d like to do this too’ and they’re like ‘ok you go ahead kid.’ So, I applied. I finally got my stuff together. I got my 3D stuff, my 2D stuff, I did like some ePaint drawings. And they looked at them and everything and I was pretty proud of them. It wasn’t as good as they did and they knew it, but they saw something there so they go, ‘yeah you know, your stuff is pretty good. But are you cool?’ And I said, ‘what do you mean?’ And then they proceed to ask me all these questions about like what movies I liked and what artists I liked, and a little bit about my background –

And what’s your inspiration.

Right. What’s my motivation and everything else. And I was really impressed by that. Because it was like, ‘you got the ability but that’s not really what’s important. What’s important are you going to fit in with the rest of us?’ And I think that’s something that’s lost in the industry today. People don’t focus on the team mechanics enough. They just focus on the corporate aspect of it.

They got no heart.

Yeah exactly. That’s what it is. It’s heart. And the guys at Origin had lots of heart.



  Whose artwork did you admire the most there?

Oh there were plenty of people. The main guy was this guy named Dennis Loubet He was the first artist hired at Origin, basically. The guy was just one of those really gifted artists who didn’t shy away from the technical. Because at Origin there was a clear division between 2D and 3D artists. It was like this elitism. I come to find out that the 3D artists are all that, because they were doing 3D and they were doing the cinematics and everything else, and the 2D guys are like, they’re just 2D guys. We can do both, they can only do one. So Dennis Loubet was the first guy I saw that was really a nice mix of both.

Is there like a lot of this segregation between different art groups?

Yeah there is, because you have to understand that it’s really competitive. It even happens now. I take for granted sometimes. That’s why I like teaching this stuff, because I want to break down the walls of this thing being intimidating. It’s just a computer program. You have to conquer it like you have to conquer everything else. You have to set your mind to it. It’s really how dedicated you are to making it work.

Ok let’s move on here. How did you get your job at id?

I was working at a company called Virgin. And a head hunter called me and said, ‘hey. There’s a little company in Texas that needs an artist and I was wondering if you’re interested.’ I said, ‘what’s the name of the company?’ Because I was an art director there and I kind of had it made. Anyways, he goes, ‘ It’s a company called, id,” and I hung up on the guy. So he called me back and said, ‘I’m serious’ and I thought yeah right. Who would ever leave id? Why would id need somebody? Anyway we got to talking, and I only had my original demo tape that I had made all my copies from and I didn’t have a copy, and I said, ‘screw this, the only company I’d leave for is id and I was a big fan.’ So I sent it to him and the guy called me back the next day and said, ‘you know they got the tape but they never really looked at it because they made this other guy an offer.’ And I thought, oh shit there goes my tape.

Doh.

And so I figured I gambled and lost, whatever. And the guy goes, ‘don’t get too discouraged because the guy might turn them down. And I’m like, what fucking moron is going to turn id down? And sure enough he calls me back the next day and says ‘hey they want you to do a phone interview with Kevin Cloud because the other guy turned them down.’ And I thought you’re bullshitting me.

Do you know who it was?

No, they won’t tell me. Because I want to buy him a Volkswagen or something. I want to give him something to show my appreciation. So anyway the guy turned them down for the dumbest reason. He should be kicking himself every day for the rest of his life.

Do you know what the reason was?

No. Well yeah I know what the reason is. I think, a little bit of money, a little bit of fear that his creative input wouldn’t be appreciated or some crap like that. But anyways he messed up. But I think the reason why I was selected was since I was the last applicant, my thing was on top of the stack. And Kevin was so desperate to get somebody in for Quake II, he was like, ‘God we just gotta get somebody. Ok this Steed guy, ok let’s give him a call.’ So I talked to them and the phone interview went pretty well. They flew me down and pretty much made me an offer on the spot.

What’s your daily routine like?

I get up.

About noonish?

I usually try to get up about 9:00 or 10:00. In to work before noon. I don’t try to get in early like some of the others that get in by 8:00. I work out about 3:00. Do some dinner. Come back to work and usually get home around midnight or 1:00am.

How about your favorite websites?

I haven’t really been hitting any lately. I do the usual. I go surfing across the usual. I do Blue’s, PlanetQuake, Redwood’s, the typical stuff. I just don’t have time. I haven’t hit a website in a long time. If I’m in a mood to be pissed off, I go to sCary’s msgboard and get my dose of frustration over the really insightful things I read up there.

Yeah he really needs to implement some kind of password authentication.

You know what, he does. I’m not really for the whole censorship issue, but in some situations I think it’s okay. Which is a contradiction of course, but I won’t tell anyone.

Who’s the funniest guy at id?

The funniest guy at id is Adrian Carmack.

Get out. Really?

He is, without a doubt, no question, the funniest guy at id. He’s fucking hilarious.

He seems so introverted.

Get a few drinks in him, and he’s like Chris Fucking Rock, the guy will just have you rolling. It’s amazing. It’s shocking. He could do stand-up.



  That’s cool. Why were the hip hop and ballet animations created? Was that an experiment?

Yeah it was just me tweaking stuff. That was mo-cap. Motion capture data. Just a way to fit our characters. During [my seminar at] QuakeCon, I dropped my computer, it was hosed. So that whole last minute solution of switching out computers with Paul Jacquays threw me off. And I forgot my glasses so I couldn’t even see the thing they had set up. It was basically a desperation move. Get some humor in there, because when I give talks I always try to get people laughing a little bit and loosen them up, and then they’re more tolerant of you if you don’t really deliver on something educational.

Either that or you serve booze.

Well yeah, booze helps too. I give out free stuff.

So you did that all with motion capture. You did that yourself right? You put on the ping pong balls and stuff.

For that particular, for the ballet and that, no I didn’t. But just recently I did and I got some movies of that. It was pretty cool because it’s what I used to choose my powers. The first time I did it I went to this place and I was watching this guy do it. And I was thinking, I can do that. It’s not too bad. I’m in pretty good shape. I thought, screw this, next time I’ll do it myself. So I did. Then I did it again but you know what, next time, if I do it again, I’ll definitely pay somebody. It’s just not worth the pain. Because it gets pretty painful sometimes. And you’re so conscious of your time, because the longer it takes in the studio, that’s pretty expensive stuff. In the end I think it’s worth it. I just got some data back from Locomotion, the guys who did it, the stuff turned out really good.

It’s either really expensive to pay somebody to do it or you build your own studio.

Well yeah, you build your own studio but you still have to pay somebody to maintain it. The good thing about me doing my own motions, is the fact that I’m the animator and I know exactly what I want. Because you’re always trying to pantomime your stuff to the guy.

How much sketch work do you in preparation for modeling a character?

It depends, if I’m going off my own sketch than it’s usually pretty rough. Like that one sketch I sent you, the Barbara-Fett, that’s pretty detailed for me these days. Normally I just scribble stuff down for sets of mass, or what I’ll do is I’ll sketch it out to the point to where I can scan it in – I normally build from a front view and a side view. If it’s not too complex, like just a normal – I just built a PMS model, built it yesterday, I just did that from tweaking models that I already built. But I really don’t do that much. I like to build other people’s sketches, to be honest. Because it gives me new ideas. I feel like I’ve tapped myself out sometimes for original ideas because I’ve done it so many times. I like taking Adrian’s or Kenneth’s sketch, scan it in. Because they’re really good artists. Real artists. Their sketches just amaze me with the skill.

How about the Mynx model? Actually, here’s a question that Mynx (the original Dear Mynx) gave me: What will the gestures be for the Mynx model?

We can’t really do the taunts like in Quake II. But I’ll do something special for her. I’ve got the whole little special animation. When I went to the House of Moves, I got some motion capture for it, I hired this girl to do some stuff for me, and one of the things she did was she did this kiss thing that I’m going to use for my logo model that I built. Basically I’m going to have Mynx making out with one of the other characters as part of the Bloopers. Because I’m doing a blooper thing for the credits. And I did all these blooper – when I did my first mo-cap, I wanted to get this blooper mo-cap for the characters. You’ll like it, I’m basically going to display the credits that way.

Are you going to be doing the cinematics again?

I’ve storyboarded out and art directed the cinematics with Digital Anvil as we speak. There will be cinematics, it won’t be as story-driven as Quake II was, but it will be better quality and it will be higher res, and it will have true-color high-res versions as well as the standard knockdown version. But Graeme Devine did 7th Guest, with full-motion, he’s done a lot of work with compression so it’ll look a lot better than Quake II looked. Plus the fact I’m not doing it on the weekends. Let somebody else do it.

I heard you did a lot of the Quake II cinematics on a 486.

Yep, it was 486/66 with 64 megs of ram.

One more question. What’s after Quake III Arena?

Good question. I have no idea. I’m going to go to Australia for a while. I want to go to surf school in Hawaii. I want to pick up snowboarding. Yeah I like to go skiing. But I got rid of the skis this year for snowboarding because they have much cooler clothes. And I was a big skateboarder. I want to learn how to surf, I want to go skydiving, you know, the whole mid-life crisis thing I guess.

Very cool. Thanks Paul Steed.

- Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon is currently exhausting all his free time researching Beer Goggles.

 

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