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AOU Interview with Flaptoot

Nominated by Genele for our 3rd AO Developer interview is Flaptoot! Flaptoot is an Artist and he focuses mostly on modelling, animation and concept art.

Thank you Flaptoot for taking some time out to answer some questions for us over at AO Universe. A certain little duck told us that you actually joined the AO development team without actually having played AO before hand! Did you honestly have no idea what you were letting yourself in for?
Yes, this is pretty much the truth. I'm not even sure if I'd heard about it before. During my interview Means asked me if I'd played it (we were standing in the AO office then, I was given a tour) to which I promptly answered "No." and quite enjoyed the silence afterwards. Luckily, Means wasn't Game Director back then.

How long have you now been with the AO development team?
A little over 2 years now. Is it cliché to say it feels like I started yesterday?

Once you were hired to join the AO Dev team, did you start playing the game right away? and if so how much time did you spend playing it? and do you still play?
I actually started playing a little before I was hired - that is, as soon as I got back from my interview. However, I don't think I "played" it in any way other people would consider playing. I walked around noob island and looked at the world and the assets, to get a feel for what I would be asked to make if I indeed got the job. I had to get help from an ARK just to complete the first belt mission...I believe I reached level 7 by the time I was hired. I did play, with conviction, for a while after that. Mostly starting over again and again though, so I never got far. We had a great Friday night one time at the office, where some of us played through the subway.

Did you enjoy working over in Beijing and overseeing the head model production?
Absolutely, I can't properly thank those who made it happen. The guys at the studio there are of such skill and dedication, it was truly inspiring.

We have to ask you, where did you get your name from? Uragon had some kind of theory about switching the p's and t's... I'm not quite convinced though...
Yeah, this one. I have to admit, any meaning derived from my name is quite coincidental. In fact, it stems from a friend of mine from University, who would frequently use the word "toot" as a greeting in IMs, or as subject in emails, or as the name of random files he was sending me. Actually, he would switch between "toot", "flap", "poo" and a few others. I picked up the habit, and so my first few characters on our worldbuilding servers were called Flap, Toot, Flappety, and it just so happened that at the time when I got my live GM character name, I was running around with one called Flaptoot. So I chose that. Noone told me it would also be my forum name, and noone told me everyone else had cool-sounding, well-conceived names like Macrosun or Kintaii. And most importantly, noone told me about any meanings this name might be perceived to have. Means just shrugged, said "O...k..." and submitted it. Everyone were quite amused.

Your background is in Industrial Design, I have to say that this is quite similar to my background but I ended up doing something so very different to working in computer games. How did you end up on this career path?
I was looking around on the web for sketches done by others, to inspire me. I must have lived in a cave, because it just hadn't occured to me that there were people who had to come up with the crazy things we see in fantasy/sci-fi movies and games. Not as a full time job, anyway. This was during my second year at Industrial Design. I found some sketches by Feng Zhu, read an interview with him and realised he drew spaceships for a living, picked up an "Art of Star Wars" book and pretty much switched focus right there. I did feel compelled to complete my degree though, just in case designing stuff for games turned out to be too much of a fantasy. Half a year after graduation I found myself with two job offers, one in a small Industrial Design consultancy and one on AO. Now I draw spaceships for a living.

What inspires you when it comes to concept art? Is there any place or time you think about when coming up with something new?
Real world structures and solutions are important to me. A habit from ID is that I try and give everything a purpose for being there, otherwise it's just junk. Even in a world so crazily advanced as AO, with Nanotechnology that could potentially make everything look like anything, it's important that we can relate it to something we know. Which is why you'll see rust appear on something that could be plasteel in an arid desert, and nuts and bolts where everything might as well have been superwelded(tm) or just moulded.

It has been mentioned in FWM that you have been working on the Opifex female and the Atrox models. So far we have only seen the heads and the progress with these. Is it possible for us to have a look at what you have been working on with the whole figures? (and did Means ever give you a medal for your dedication in getting it to work properly?!)
Of course we want you to see this stuff! However this has been, and continue to be, a slow and mindboggling process. The basic premise is that we keep the existing animations. We want to make the bodies smoother, so we up the polycount on them. Now, applying the new mesh to the old rig there are just _more_ polys flying nowhere in particular. The new bodies look stunning when they are all just relaxing in 3DS Max, so I could show you that - but it would be a lie since they don't behave the way I want them to in the client yet. My mom told me not to lie, so sadly you'll have to wait until a majority of the animations don't make the meshes cry. Means did award me, I went to Beijing, remember? Also, I expect him to send flowers to the nice room with padded walls I hear is being set up for me.

With the upcoming new engine and the revamped faces and bodies that will be available to players, has there been any discussion regarding an update to mob textures/bodies to be more realistic to match the changes to our avatars?
Yes, lots of discussion. I hope and expect a trickle of texture updates, at least, both for and after the engine launch.

Nine months or so ago, we saw the opening of The Grind. After putting in time to make it look so fantastic, how do you feel that the community has taken to the new venue? Is it getting its fair share of use?
I'm very very pleased. I was never expecting it to be used _all the time_, if people party it up there and enjoy it, it makes it worthwhile for me.

What has been your favourite piece of work that has gone to live servers in AO so far?
That's hard to answer as very little is just "my work" - Mstrbstrd usually gets his hands on everything so it ends up being "our" work. I'm a big fan of both The Grind and the underground bar in Borealis, but those were combined efforts. I guess the Pumpkin hoverchair - it was hilarious to do.

What concept art for places/items have you done which made it ingame which were notable besides The Grind and the avatar changes that people might not even realise you were involved in?
Well, since there's only two of us here I have to do my fair share of the tedious work. Skinning characters, making umpteen icons for Kintaii's evil tradeskill schemes, hauling down flying trees..I say I draw spaceships for a living now, but it's not on a regular basis. There are things that Mstrbstrd and I can just sit down and do based on a few circles and squiggles on one of Lindelu's seven notepads. So we do that. But big things, some important things, and difficult things - these I usually sketch out in one form or another, for myself or for Mstrbstrd. Of course, this rarely gets shown as Lindelu promptly loses her notepad or, in the case of a napkin sketch - I have to clean up some spilled coffee.

How free are you in regards to concept art creation? Have you ever sketched anything that you haven't found possible to realise as a 3D render? Have you ever submitted anything that you really wanted to be taken to live that the team didn't approve?
I'd say I'm very free. That is why I love doing this. Restrictions are usually time-based (imposed by Means), story-based (imposed by Kintaii), game-play based (Genele and Lindelu) and style based (imposed by myself and Mstrbstrd), in that order. But since I do make some of the things myself, I have developed an idea of what works and what doesn't by now, so I keep that in mind while designing. It was worse at first, when I didn't really know how the game worked.

Genele claims to have reached her duck quota. Do you have some room for development on a rubber duck hand gun that's shooting lasers from its eyes and a sharp beak that can be used as a bayonet when in close range.. or perhaps even some duck pie?
Yes, sure, I'll get right on it. The character revamp and the heads can wait. I will make duck gun, and shoot you with it for suggesting duck pie. Duck pie!?! *Goes to comfort Mr. Squeaky*. Seriously though, that wouldn't quite top some of the weird stuff in this game just yet, so it might happen. It needs to be run through the aforementioned loop of approval, though.

Kintaii appears to be trying to claim forum domination with Fates and the hats.. how do you feel about your heads wearing said hats? Have you perhaps been lucky enough for one of your new heads to
wear one of these so very special hats?

...I am gone on vacation for one week, and this is what happens.
I don't mind the new heads being adorned with Kintaii's awesome headwear - in fact, perhaps we should put a hat on each head in-game by default. Might have to not tell Means about this until it's too late, though.

Trgeorge would really like to have one of your T-Shirts. He didn't specifiy whether he meant an ingame shirt or the one off your back.. but can you make it possible?
Hm. I will see what I can make happen.

Thank you again, Flaptoot. I enjoyed reading your responses and getting to know a bit better what you are involved with in your work on the team. I suppose.. reluctantly, we will put our hopes and dreams on hold for the duck paraphernalia. Next month we are hoping to spend some time asking Mstrbstrd some questions, though so far the AOU team seem quite obsessed about how his name didn't get flagged up for being a Default1234 name!!

Last updated on 12.07.2011 by Khuri
Article written by Ukblizzard
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