July 5, 2012
by Andrea Emmes
So, I’ve known Jack Geckler for over 14 years but haven’t spoken to him in at least 11 years! We worked together at Walt Disney World at the Voyage of the Little Mermaid show (VOLM) at (then named) MGM Studios, or as it’s called now Hollywood Studios. If you have any kids near the screen, get rid of them, because I’m about to burst their bubble. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. Are they out of the room?
OKAY, I used to be Ariel at Disney World and Jack played Sebastian!! Crazy I know and it was one of my favorite jobs EVER!! We had such an amazing time working at VOLM. Actually, many of my friend and co-workers have become accomplished artists like Jack here!! Actually, that is how we were reconnected. Our friend Jason Martin, an amazing 2D artist that worked with us as my Prince Eric! He told me that Jack lived out here and worked for Dreamworks and I’m like OMG and I called Jack, we met for lunch, had a great reunion and here we are!!
Alright, enough of my blabbing, let’s hear what Jack has to say!!
1. How did you get started in the game industry?
JACK: The simplest answer is I got lucky! If you take the sheer number of kids coming out of school now a days trying to break into the gaming, film or TV business it’s in the 10’s of thousands. The longer answer is I moved to LA in 2003 and after a long couple of months spent on a couch at a friend’s house I got a break with a new game studio startup called Genuine Games located in Woodland Hills, CA. They had been working on “Fight Club” for the Xbox and PS2 for the last year when I joined them as an character animator/motion capture (mocap) specialist. Basically, I was the guy in charge of all the mocap and I handled directing the mocap shoots when we had them, as well as animating cut scenes when inventory was low. It was an amazing break and experience working with some very talented guys who I still stay in touch with today. After “Fight Club” I went onto their next IP [Intellectual Property] which was “50 Cents Bulletproof” which I worked on for about 6 months before moving onto my next adventure in film. I did, however, get to work on one more game doing some freelance facial animation for “Raw vs. Smackdown 2006″ for a studio named Hydrogen Whiskey.
2. Tell me some of the games you worked on and did that enhance your passion for gaming or was it disenchanting?
JACK: The list is above =) but as far as enhancing the passion, it was interesting for me because I went in with such high hopes having been a gamer for most of my life. There were parts that lived up to the hype and others that were a reality check…Honestly, it wasn’t my best experience in the industry, but I learned a lot and made some really great friends from it. It also helped my land my first job in the film industry animating. Regardless, I still play games today and am currently addicted to the Call of Duty Series.
3. What is the difference between animating for movies vs. games?
JACK: The line is starting to blur, in my opinion, between the two. One is the need for cycle animation for the in-game play which is still needed where obviously a film is not required per-say. The one exception would be for departments like the one I’m currently in at Dreamworks Animation, which is the “Crowds” department. We use cycle animation to populate extras in scenes to support the hero characters. When I started it was very hard for a game animator to make the jump to film as the thought was a game animator couldn’t animate at a film quality level, but that has defiantly changed were game studios and film studios are sharing the talent.
One more actual difference between the two, and this is only if you are working on in-game animation, would be a film animator will animate a character, prop, vehicle, alien, etc. to the camera that has been shot by the director and can cheat a lot if need be. A game character however doesn’t have this ability and needs to look its best from all the players perspectives. Obviously, I’m only touching on animation, but I feel the other departments. are bleeding over as well. Where as before game studios would primarily use 3DS Max and dealt with limitations of the game engine. They can now push their models to higher res[olution] allowing them to use great packages like Mudbox and Zbrush to model extremely high res characters. It’s a really exciting time for the games industry from an artist’s standpoint.
4. What about games excites you?
JACK: I think that it can take you out of your everyday life and give you something potentially relaxing to do while still using your mind. It can either be a quick fix or you can sit and let you life suck away…the choice is yours =). Another thing specifically for me is the competitive online gaming. I played sports my entire life and as I got older and found I didn’t have time to play as much of those sports I found I still needed that adrenaline rush of trying to win a game. A lot of the first person shooters give me that now. Honestly it’s become one of my addictions =)
5. Do you feel cinematics help the gaming experience?
JACK: Games like Final Fantasy or the Diablo series would be cool…but those cut scenes add such visual storytelling to the game that might have been lost otherwise.
6. You taught at Full Sail. How was that experience and what broke you out to stop teaching and start creating?
JACK: Yes, yes I did. The experience was great and it allowed me to not only teach the subject of animation which I love but also allowed me additional years to hone my skills in many facets of the industry. I was also a student at Full Sail before I had a chance to teach and back then it was a 13 month accelerated program and by the end of it I had learned a lot but felt so rush. The additional years I got problem solving and working with others added so much to my abilities and allowed me to have other talents up my sleeve besides animation. I found early on if you want to stay working you should maybe need to know how to do more than one job. What broke me out was a two fold…I had one friend and old instructor who had moved out to LA and was managing to do it. The other and by far the biggest reason was I had a goals in life and found I wasn’t quite reaching them staying in Orlando. I got into animation to work on films. To one day have my parents go to the movie theater and see my name scroll across the screen. Trust me, living in Orlando that seemed like an impossible dream but after a long talk with my father, who honestly I thought would tell me to keep the steady job, convinced me to go and follow my dream. 17 movies, 3 games and over 10 commercials later it’s been one of the best decisions of my life!
7. What is your favorite game and why?
JACK: This is such a tough question….as much as I love RTS [Real Time Strategy] games my favorites fall into the FPS [First Person Shooter]category. As much as I want to list Golden Eye for the n64. I’ll have to go with Quake 3 and a specific mod for it called Weapons Factory Arena. It’s a squad based capture the flag mod with a class base system much like Team Fortress 1 & 2. I started playing that game with some of the instructors while I was a student. We played competitively online vs. other teams on various brackets throughout the web. Just that start allowed me to develop some great relationships with those instructors and all those guys I’m still good friends with not to mention we all work in the industry now helping each other get jobs when need be. Remember its who you know…then what you know ;).
As time went on I became super addicted the better I got and ended up playing the mod till it’s death many yrs ago. Past the friendships I made with the instructors I met many other friends from that game, one of which who is one of my best friends today. Currently though…like I said above, Call of Duty tops the list. I’ve been playing heavily since Modern Warfare 2.
8. What is game do you hate and why?
JACK: I hate MMORPGS [Massively Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games]…or MMO’s [Massively Multi-Player Online] with a passion. Besides for the suck of life that comes from those time wasters, it’s also in my opinion not very skilled based. Requiring very little hand and eye coordination but how long some has killed pigs in a field to allow them to get better armor or they have to meet up with 40 of their friends to even stand a chance. The specific game I hate is World of Warcraft. I watched it take a huge toll on the best friend I mentioned above who was a diehard FPS guy. He gained weight and eventually lost his [girlfriend] from it…maybe not a direct result but close enough. What was amazing is the day he stopped playing he turned his life around is a 100% better then even before he played. There are no single serving games in WOW [World of Warcraft–HUGELY popular MMORPG]…you either sit for hours or dream of sitting for hours. Both are poor choices.
9. Tell me about Nerdtastic 3D?
JACK: The show came about from a conversation Jason Carter and I had about wanting to potentially record conversations we typically had in the lunch room. The conversations were all over the place but after listening and researching many podcasts, it was clear we had more to offer. Between our current work experiences and our pasts, we felt people might honestly want to listen to us. Not to mention we thought it might be great to just get the guys together once a week to hang and crack each other up. We knew right up front that it would need to be the crew to make it work and knew we would need Josh LaBrot on board and then added the salt ‘n pepper of Adam McFarlane and Sean Fennell for the extra flavor. The show has grown and we keep trying to take it up a notch by taking video of the show now and getting it up on YouTube as well as inviting special guests which have been pretty amazing so far.
8. What are your goals for Nerdtastic 3D?
JACK: My goals may differ from the rest of the crew as in I’m the big dreamer in the group. I’d love to have the show on a network like G4 and offer it up as sorta of a Man Show type experience. I want to expand on the coverage we do of events like E3 and Comic-Con and grow the brand. I think this group has a lot of potential, but at the end of the day as long as we keep making each other laugh I’m going to stick around either way!
9. If you could be any game character, who would it be?
JACK: Wow this is tough but I’ll have to go with Pierce Brosnan in Golden Eye. I mean….he’s James “mutha-f@ckin Bond!
I freaking love this guy! He’s funny, intelligent and a total NERD!!! He’s done a million things that I could only dream of! It’s really rewarding to see friends succeed! Make sure to check out Nerdtastic in 3D to hear more from Jack and his friends!!