>> Monday, October 9, 2006
My favourite Philips Games Studio was definately Funhouse. I was highly impressed with the animation techniques they filled their CD-i games with. With only three games put to the market, Philips Funhouse was led by Cliff Johnson and inspired by puzzles, puzzles and more puzzles. We paid a visit to one of the "FunHeads": Gordon Brooks. Enjoy his extensive look on the history of Philips Funhouse and find the hints of the hidden games!
"I started out with the Kidspace group when my friend Rusty Mills, the first animator at Kidspace, asked me to come in because he knew that I had a background in both music and animation, and they needed someone to translate the musical beat timings for the songs in Cartoon Jukebox onto exposure sheets, the frame-by-frame time maps that animators use to keep everything synchronized to the sound track.
But it was my computer background that landed me a permanent job at Philips (then American Interactive Media). We were using a tool for compositing animation onto backgrounds that was not yet on the market--Autodesk Animator. Steve Segal, the animation director, and Rusty had been sent to classes to learn how to use Animator, but they were still unable to get it to do one of the most important functions they needed. You see, the coloring function of Cartoon Jukebox required that certain color masses on the screen be assigned to certain positions in the color look-up table (CLUT). But every time Steve would composite animation with a background, the CLUT would get squeezed to its smallest possible size, and colors would get mapped to the wrong place.
I stayed up very late one night with the animation files, a copy of Animator, and the draft manual that Autodesk had sent. By morning I had solved the problem, and I was immediately hired to manage the post-production. That was what it was like in the early days. Nobody really knew how this was going to work, so anyone who could show an ability to solve problems and learn new things was given the chance to do so, and we got a lot of amazing things accomplished that way. I eventually became Post-Production Supervisor, which involved not only preparing the actual files for delivery to the engineers, but also organizing the work that the artists did so that we could easily find things when they were needed, and being the go-between between the creative staff and the engineers (being the only one there with a strong background from both sides). This often came down to the directors asking for something that the engineers would swear was impossible, followed by a long discussion between me and the engineers, followed by the engineers finding a way to make it work anyway.
Even when I started taking on other tasks, I continued being involved in Post on all of my titles through Hanna-Barbera's Cartoon Carnival. But more about that later. As I recall, the Kidspace titles were Cartoon Jukebox, Sandy's Circus Adventure, the two Richard Scarry discs, and the two Mother Goose discs. Kidspace was transformed into Sidewalk Studios after Frank Huttinger left as executive producer, to be replaced by Rebecca Newman, with Gary Drucker continuing as Creative Director, and pretty much all of the rest of the crew intact, although both Rusty and Steve Segal had by that time moved on to other projects. The Sidewalk titles included The Berenstain Bears On Their Own, the two Aesop discs, Miniature Golf, Surf City, and Crayon Factory. As time went on I had less and less to do with the Sidewalk titles, as I was developing Merlin's Apprentice, at first for Sidewalk. I started training a new Post-Production Supervisor for Berenstain Bears. My work for Aesop and Mini-Golf was mainly advisory, and by the time Surf City rolled around I was in the process of moving over to the Funhouse group and volunteered to edit the music because the animation for many of the songs was going way over budget and regular editor didn't have to musical background to cut the songs down without changing the beat or making obvious noises at the cuts. I had no involvement whatsoever in Crayon Factory.
As I said, Merlin's Apprentice was originally going to be a Sidewalk production, and it was an original idea of mine. It was based on the old text adventure games where you go around to different places, solve puzzles, gather objects, and eventually solve the game as a whole. (As you can see by the finished project, the idea was thoroughly transformed into something else by the time Cliff Johnson and I got through with it.) But Sarina Simon decided that Merlin didn't fit in with the Sidwalk titles. At that time, Cliff Johnson was working on Hanna-Barbera's Cartoon Carnival, pretty much on his own. Cliff was the award-winning author of a few wonderful puzzle games for the Macintosh: The Fool's Errand, At the Carnival, and 3 in Three.
So Merlin and I moved over to Funhouse, where it was transformed into a classic Cliff Johnson puzzler (what Cliff liked to refer to as "Challenging Tales of Adventure"). I was co-writer and animation director for Merlin, and I brought in some of my contacts from the animation industry who were between pictures (and background artist Doran Fish from Sidewalk, who had done many of the concept sketches for my version of Merlin) to give Merlin it's rich look and surprisingly fluid animation (which can be attributed especially to character designer/animator Susan Zytka and animator Brad Forbush). Another thing that made Merlin so rich was the use of two-plane animation, which had been used at Sidewalk, but never to full advantage. At Funhouse we squeezed every byte of bandwidth out the the realtime stream to deliver the most detailed backgrounds we could fit in.
Now, while I was working on the story and animation for Merlin, we were still working on Cartoon Carnival, and naturally Cliff needed someone to do Post, and I just happened to have some experience in that area, so I did Post on that title at the same time, and also edited all of the sound effects (Cliff was going to hire the effects editor from Sandy's Circus Adventure, but I didn't like her work--and neither did she, preferring mix engineering to editing--and talked him into letting me give it a go. I was very busy). Eventually I hired an assistant for Cartoon Carnival, and she moved up to Post-Production Supervisor so I could concentrate on directing the animation and editing the sound track for Merlin as well.
Production schedules overlapped greatly at Funhouse, so we would be finishing Cartoon Carnival, producing Merlin, and doing pre-production writing, art, and game design for Labyrinth of Crete. We were also developing a lot of game ideas that never happened. Among the ones I remember were a CDi adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods" (Cliff is a personal friend of Sondheim, who is a devoted puzzle fan), and a CDi version of 3 in Three. Also on the drawing board at Funhouse was a title called Treasures of Oz. Oz was supposed to another one of Cliff's "Challenging Tales of Adventure," but things started to get a bit complicated at Funhouse.
It was pretty crazy. I was developing games and a story for Oz, while still fulfilling my commitment to finish the sound track for Merlin. There were three of us to start with: me, art director Teri Farrell-Gittens, and engineer Susan Rosenberg. Eventually Merlin got finished, production of Oz got underway, and we came very, very close to finishing the title (within two months, I would guess) before we all got laid off and the projects that hadn't been released were cancelled."
Thanks to Gordon, we will continue with the story later with an extensive look at one of Funhouse's unreleased project: Treasures of Oz. There's even another story behind the eventual production group: Philips Kaleidoscope, which is also fascinating to hear. Keep in touch and visit the forum for any questions you might have.
1991 - 1995