Q&A: Steve Oedekerk talks pushing media
The director of the <i>Thumb</i> parodies, <i>Kung Pow</i>, and <i>Jimmy Neutron</i> is at the helm of <i>Barnyard</i>, which THQ is farming into a game.
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Steve Oedekerk is old-school multimedia. While he's best known for his work scripting comedic films like Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, The Nutty Professor, and Bruce Almighty, Oedekerk has always toyed with new media and new technologies in the pursuit of entertainment.
For the 2002 comedy Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (starring, written by, and directed by Oedekerk), he digitally inserted himself and other actors into a recut version of an old kung fu film, turning a straight-faced tale of vengeance into a surreal experiment in non-sequitur humor. His 1997 TV special The O Show was among the first computer-graphics-driven network television efforts. Another of his CG projects, the Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius feature film, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 for Best Animated Feature.
And then there's the Thumb series of film parodies (including Thumb Wars, Thumbtanic, and The Blair Thumb Project), which re-create their subjects using thumbs as the main characters. The thumbs are brought to life in oft-disturbing fashion by the voice actors' eyes and mouths transposed on them in a more high-tech version of the Clutch Cargo technique.
GameSpot News caught up with Oedekerk to discuss his latest film, Barnyard, his participation in THQ's game adaptation, and the ever-converging world of entertainment.
GameSpot: Could you tell me a little bit about your involvement in the game?
Steve Oedekerk: Yeah. It's a great team, you know. They came in really early before they started, and then I think we met a couple times during [development]. So we always check builds as they were going along. And it's tricky when you have a new movie in early production and [you] have to think about a final look and all this. So, as much as we can during production, we would slide across the models we had, what textures we knew of. It's just trying to keep really close communication on the look so that ultimately the players could feel like, "Oh, I get to watch a movie and I'm sort of in the movie."
GS: Did you have any input in the "game" side of it?
SO: Yeah, like especially early on when we were first building like what kind of games and--I mean there's this chicken launch game that came from a really short shot in the movie when there's mayhem in the barnyard, and there's a goat shooting a chicken out of a slingshot, you know. And then that ended up in the game. So, there was a really neat interactive process of pulling elements in the game and the movie. But then the game ultimately gets to go further because there's just more--there's really more play time than there is screen time in the film.
GS: Jimmy Neutron has been made into a number of games before, right?
GS: What have you learned since the first time you worked on a game?
SO: Honestly, the closer the movie team can work with the game team, the better. Because there are big advantages. It's hard for me to spot any real weak links in that. And I think all too often, it's a little too split apart. We had some [games] on Jimmy where we were tight with the companies and others where we didn't see anything. And there's a big correlation to how fun and how similar it is to the characters especially. A lot of times there will be two sets of characters--even though they look the same, their behaviors might be different.
GS: Have you learned anything about the way you tell a story through an interactive meeting as opposed to a movie?
SO: Yeah, that's a big thing with me. I still have it on my plate in the future--I like the whole interactive entertainment arena. I still think it's waiting to be fully discovered. I think gaming is like a great step toward it. In Barnyard there's a narrative element where you're working your way through the movie, which I love. But I think the ceiling hasn't been met yet on that in terms of tracking through a narrative story while you're making choices, which I think is really cool. It's a great area.
GS: You've always kind of pushed technology on projects like Kung Pow and steveoedekerk.com. Is there a manual as to what works and what doesn't when it comes to pushing the envelope?
SO: Fifty percent of the things we do don't work because they're so new. We're the marauders of, "Hey, that looks cool. Yeah, but it doesn't work." I love sort of chasing what's coming up next.
GS: Why do you keep doing it despite having half the things that you do not work?
SO: Because it's cool. You know what I mean? It's just me. I'm pretty convinced one day there won't be 2D movies anymore. I think there'll be a point where everything will be in 3D, but a lot of times you're waiting on technology breakthroughs. I mean, I think the weak link right now is glasses, you know. So, there needs to be like a major technical breakthrough, which will happen where there's 3D without glasses. And you can see people dabbling in it. It's much further now than it was 20 years ago. But you're dealing with these 10-year blocks of time. So you look at it from the other angle. What--30 years ago, there weren't computers? There really are these gigantic technology leaps that happen in a pretty short period of time. And nobody knows when that next two-year leap is going to happen, you know. So you could only be 48 months away from something amazing.
So that's why. If you're not looking for it and testing broken stuff, or chasing some dead ends, you're not going to happen across the cool one early enough, either. So, to me it's just fun. I'm still chasing holograms, and that's not ready yet. Virtual Reality--the concept of it is phenomenal but it's not--the technology just isn't there to where it's going to be that major cool experience yet.
GS: With the games and also with computer-animated movies, it seems like there's unlimited potential, but for the most part, all people want to do with them is very specific types of games, very specific types of movies with certain types of audiences in mind. How long do you think it will be before that really branches out on either end of those?
SO: It's a great question. I would love the answer to be three to five years. I would hope that that's possible, but what's cool about it is it ultimately ends up being driven by innovation. Everything is always correct in terms of what the general public wants. They want what's the most fun, what's in their consciousness. So to break out of that, there always needs to be--this is the cool part--one property, one new game, one new direction. And that's all it takes, and then people will flood to it, and then everybody else jumps on and does the copy game. So, I think the people that have the most fun and do the best are the ones that are looking, really searching out what is that next thing. But it's always hard to draw a timeline on it because it isn't necessarily technical. It's more innovation-borne.
GS: What is it about Barnyard that might be working toward that as a movie and then also as a game?
SO: Well, I think that's what's fun about it, because this was driven by THQ. There's definitely a lot of individual games you can jump to, but the successful attempt at putting together a path through the film--I would just say it's right on track with looking down the road as to, "Where is this all going? Is there a higher bar of entertainment within the games?" So I think it is a cool step.
GS: Have you ever been tempted to get further into the game development side of things, to get more hands-on?
SO: We are. I just don't have time. [We] will sit there in a room alone and talk about things that are impossible. We do it all the time. And we have a slate of properties that will start the best as games, even in their entertainment quotient. But then it's like, "Look at the clock," you know? I've got to have like three horrible bombs as films so my career goes away and I can spend more time properly on innovation. So right now I'm too busy with my day job. But we are definitely in development on what I would call hybrid projects.
GS: Are there any games that you look at that you think have really taken those steps toward expanding the genres and moving them forward?
SO: A lot of the online gaming is really, really interesting, and that's definitely taking on its own life where somebody goes back home and 10 friends get on the phone together and then they're playing as their virtual selves as a pack. I think that's a really interesting area…because it's just a different way of socializing. It's really interesting. And I think the more we can all not move and just sit down and get really fat, the better. And I think that's really a good thing. [laughs] But no, I think it's an interesting area. And a lot of it has to do with time. I really haven't had as much time as I'd like to be able to check out all the current games. That's what's fun about going to E3--it sort of catches me up in a way. I'm more directly involved in the things I'm doing rather than everything in the marketplace.
GS: Now, your body of work is kind of eclectic, between Patch Adams, Kung Pow, Bruce Almighty... How do you determine what your audience is?
SO: The brain is like a very full thing. I don't have a genre where I can really do a similar project over and over or get noted for an exact genre. And I guess maybe years ago, I really saw a lot of things I thought would merge, you know, before anybody knew what CG was. It just seemed like a very natural merge with live action, which didn't happen until years later. And I guess I'm globally interested in so many different types of technology but the one thing--the only thing--that grounds it for me, because there is a core base to it, is entertainment. That even steps out of film. I like live venue entertainment. So, I guess the only common ground with me is the word "entertainment." Then you give me different tools and it's really fun to think about, "What would be cool with those tools?"
I love walking the floor here and seeing the booths. At the N-Gage booth, they got the video projected on the steam coming down--I'm all in. I immediately start going, "Oh, that's pretty cool." I just like things that are fun to look at and entertaining. And then beyond that, I go heavy right brain and I dabble in left brain sometimes. We have a new property called Dirk Derby Wonder Jockey, which is probably the quintessential merging of just various [media]. It's like anime with photos and the insanity of a Kung Pow. It's just really crazy. And we're going to release that directly to digital handheld media. It's coming out in the summer. And that's just because I want to see what happens. There's no model. We have no model to follow. It's original programming for handheld media devices, which hasn't been done yet. And they're full half hours. It's basically a comedy series.
GS: So, do your aspirations kind of end with entertaining people? I mean, you were nominated for an Oscar, right?
SO: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That was kind of funny.
GS: Do you strive for any kind of legitimacy?
SO: No, I don't. [laughs] I'm not really good in anything else. I'm really not. You know what I mean? Yesterday I was recording Kevin James for Barnyard, and we stopped to reflect upon the fact that he was making silly noises. And I was actually commenting on the silly noises. And we were together dialing up the perfect silly noise. And I thought, "Well, this is just not a normal job, is it?" It was like, "Yes, that is the one. We'll definitely go with that gibberish."
GS: Any chance that you would return to the Thumb series or Kung Pow?
SO: Oh, yeah, with the Thumb thing--the big, big Thumb plan. That one has gotten into the watch. It's just finding time and squeezing it in. For the remainder of 2006 and 2007, we have three different Thumb properties that we're going to launch.
GS: And Kung Pow?
SO: Evidently, if you look at the Internet, I've been in production on the sequel for three years now. And it's in production and it's coming. I mean the only weak link is I haven't started it.
GS: Do you have a source movie in mind even?
SO: It was so fun to do, and that's the problem. I could do five of those in a row but then I went into Barnyard and was doing that. And when you're directing, you get kind of shut down. We were able to do Dirk Derby while I was directing Barnyard. But you're still talking like a 36-month directing [obligation]. So that's just finishing up now. And after July, I get to go into the next round. So that's why we're sort of excited, because there's a few properties lined up. We have another Kung Pow-like property that we're going into next, too. It seems like I only like to actually be on camera when it's absolutely insane and I don't know what that's about, but it seems to be true.
GS: Great. Thank you very much for your time.