>> Sunday, September 2, 2007
It's a great honor to meet the original developers of CD-i software and thankfully they were involved with the format full of love. The best thing that can happen is that they are getting excited by our website's material and start the conversation. Some of the best interviews available at the vault of The Black Moon Project started like this. So it went with some of the FunHeads, the guys behind the Philips Funhouse Studio and how they were called by their supervisor: Cliff Johnson. We have the pleasure to share some more stories of Funhouse behind the scene, featuring one of the FunHeads: Gordon Brooks.
First a little flashback of Philips Funhouse, told by founder Cliff Johnson: "I shall always love Philips for handing this Fool $4 million dollars to build a team to create and complete three lovingly hand-crafted, puzzle-driven products, the latter two were the kind of Hollywood feature-animation films I’d never made in Hollywood. It should be noted that Hanna-Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival was Philips’ most popular title — I have the royalty statements to prove it! And though Philips gave up the ghost on CD-I in 1996, it is some consolation that CD-I sold more units than 3DO, a similar machine spawned by Electronic Arts whiz, Trip Hawkins.
Hanna-Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival was the first CD-I game to take advantage of Philips’ highly touted Full Motion Video cartridge. You could play Huckleberry Hound’s Gift Emporium, The Flintstones’ Balloon Ballyhoo, Scooby Doo’s Adventure Isle, Yogi Bear’s Pic-A-Nik Place, The Jetsons’ Space Race, and Top Cat’s Top Facts to earn letters. Once you earned all 15 letters of the words CARTOON CARNIVAL, one of 60 classic cartoon clips is your reward. Merlin’s Apprentice is a challenging tale of medieval sorcery in which you aspire to become apprentice to that great wizard Merlin. Yet you must work through many enchantments and outwit a threesome of clever demons to win his favor.
Labyrinth of Crete is a challenging tale of Greek mythology in which you must appease both the King and Queen of Mt. Olympus. Yet you must conquer the treachery within the walls of the labyrinth and seek the gifts of the Gods and Goddesses who await you in their sacred temples. *FunHouse* was my production group at Philips and is best remembered by Brian Allgeier’s outrageous Christmas Cards. Our specialty was puzzle games with sumptuous hand-drawn animation and rousing musical accompaniment. We were the first stop when international visitors toured the Philips facility (which seemed almost daily).
My CD-I career as Director/Producer began when Sarina Simon approached me to do Hanna Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival, ostensibly the same concept as another product I had designed — Disney’s Cartoon Arcade. I set to work on Cartoon Carnival as a team of one, programming the concept in Hypercard in a tiny office on the second floor near the men’s room. I soon created Hypercards for Merlin’s Apprentice and Labyrinth of Crete as well and they, too, were green-lighted. Yet I’d garnered a $4,000,000 budget and had no staff whatsoever to create the projects. That’s how *FunHouse* came to be. It began as 8 determined FunHeads — Gordon Brooks, Paul Mithra, Brian Allgeier, Doran Fish, Brad Parker, Kelly Holthaus, Clayton Wishoff, and myself — and at its peak, swelled to over 30 artists, animators, and programmers."
Gordon Brooks has been featured before in Interactive Dreams with his Funhouse story. Today I'm particularly intrested in what happened to Funhouse after 1996, when Philips decided to pull the plug out of all its media divisions, including Philips Funhouse. Gordon: "We had started a little bit of development on three other titles, an original interactive story called "The Big Old House," a music disc based on the songs of children's singer-songwriter Joe Scruggs (we had even met with Joe at CES to discuss the project), and an interactive simulation of "The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy," about which I had been corresponding via email with the late Douglas Adams."
What happened to Surf City, a Philips Sidewalk production which had the longest development time of all your titles?
"When you first asked, nothing came to mind, so I pulled out an FPD I have and took a look to refresh my memory. That title is enormous! There is so much animation, and so many complicated moves, and so many things to click on, that ever with many of the games being recycled from older Sidewalk titles, it was just too much project for one small group. And I recall the Art Director, Alex (can't think of his last name as the moment) beings something of a bottleneck when I worked with him."
When I have a look at the release schedule I notice Labyrinth Of Crete was released in 1997, but the copyright was from 1995. What happened in those years?
"Philips Media folded in 1996, so that 1997 release was probably the CD-ROM version. I think the CDi version was probably released just as we were all leaving Philips, but the copyright would have been dated when the title was finished rather that when it was released."
"I am very interested to find out more about your project and its purpose, and I would be glad to tell you anything else I can remember. Are you more interested in the people, the technology, the production techniques, or something else? Please contact me whenever you wish. Although CDi was a commercial failure, I recognize much of our groundwork in the interactive titles being done today, and I'm proud to have been a part of it."
Actually, we're fully dedicated to Philips CD-i and every story, anecdote and trivia related to CD-i we all highly appreciate (regarding the visitor stats!). Today, we're trying to share more information about one of the Funhouse prototype software titles: Treasures of Oz. Gordon:
"David McElhatten was the ultimate CDi insider, at least in the California studio. I don't thin much of anything went on there that he didn't know about. There shouldn't be a problem using any of the "Treasures of Oz" visuals; as far as I know, they belong to Philips, unless those rights were assigned to PMPro later, and even then I think it falls under the category of Fair Use. If you have any occasion to use any portion of the soundtrack, however, I'm not clear what the situation would be with the Diana Ross voice-overs; safest I think just to skip over those.
You'll learn a lot more about Oz just by playing it, although I realized when you asked the question that you might not be familiar with the origins of the story other than the MGM musical. Treasures of Oz is based on L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the first of 14 books he wrote about the magical land. The series was very popular in the US, and generated some interesting imitators in Russia, but never seems to have caught on in Europe. If you are interested in reading the book, you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg (the Oz books are in the public domain).
To answer the rest of your questions, Oz does not require a DV cartridge, and a diagonal pan is a scene where the camera seems to move in a diagonal direction. Easy to do in live action or traditional animation, but a difficult feat in CDi. Treasure of Oz is the only CD-i title that features diagonal scrolling, something that seemed impossible in the first years of CD-i."
A flashback through the Philips Media employee list brings back memories: "One name I wanted to mention, though, was DR, head of POV. I don't know how to contact him, although some time spent with Google might be fruitful. If anyone would have anything of Voyeur 2, it would be him.
And I'm sure he has some good stories to tell. I also remembered that RN has a website where she promotes her art career, and oddly makes no mention of CDi at all in her biography. She can give you the entire history of Kidspace and Sidewalk Studios. I also have a suggestion concerning SS. She has authored several books on education and child development. Last I heard of SS she was with Leap Frog, the education toy company, although I don't think she's there now."
Can you share some details about the 'lost' Philips Studio: Philips Kaleidoscope?
"Actually, Kaleidoscope started in 1994, overlapping my work on Merlin and Labyrinth for Funhouse. I managed to form my own group in order to continue doing children's titles for Sarina Simon after Cliff Johnson announced that he would no longer be doing children's titles. It started and, unfortunately, ended with Oz, although we had done a couple of concept write-up s for other discs. There were actually three buildings at the time Kaleidoscope was formed, all on Santa Monica Boulevard. We had several executive offices in one (that was where Gordon Stuhlberg, and Bernie Kaufman were), and we comepletely leased out one, and had the entire third floor of the other for production space.
We all moved around a lot among those buildings until the executives finally decided to put us all in one building. There was talk of a warehouse in Santa Monica, which pleased those of us who understood that warehouse space is versatile, just what you need for the ever- changing demands of production. But we ended up spending the last one and a half years of our existence in a very fancy, very expensive office building on Wilshire Boulevard. I don't have pictures, but the building was nothing special. And it did serious damage to everyone's overhead budgets.
There was also a studio in Thousand Oaks, which is where Dave Riordan's group was, and another Philips-run studio in Washington, DC. So, I co-directed Merlin, and directed the character animation on Labyrinth. As a filmmaker and animation director, there are a few things I wince at, although only someone with lots of exposure to the animation business would notice most of it (I've been hanging around with animators for about 25 years; I even married one)."
Many thanks to Gordon Brooks, Cliff Johnson and another anonymous FunHead ;) More to come!