journey to the void
It was 1995 and Paul Metcalfe was traveling the world on cruise ships. As the house photographer for Premiere, Royal Caribbean, and Holland American Line, he’d seen a lot, including the Panama Canal, Athens, and Kenya to name a few.
At each port, Paul would get off with the passengers to explore the sites and get a taste of the culture. But his stop in Puerto Rico was different. After leaving the boat, he headed to the movie theater to see “Toy Story.” During the film, he was deeply impressed and knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life telling stories through animation.
After the movie, he went straight to the closest bookstore and bought a book on how to become an animator. Several stops later, he left the ship to buy a computer and basic animation software. He spent his free time learning how to animate on his tiny computer and keyboard.
After 7 years on cruise ships, Paul headed to California to learn Lightwave, the latest animation software. It was a natural shift in focus, as he’d spent hours as a child writing code for games and held a bachelor’s in art & design from Exeter College. Paul then took his first job at Midway Games, where he worked on Gauntlet Legends, an arcade game that was adapted for the Nintendo 64.
“I got to work with Ed Log, the original designer, and programmer for Asteroids and Centipede; both games I used to play back in England as a boy in the local fish and chip shops,” says Paul Metcalfe, animation director at THE VOID.
After 5 years at Midway, he joined Electronic Arts to work on The Sims. Paul was looking forward to working on a game with longer animation sequences. It also involved more than one character at a time and the detailed animation of social situations.
“It was all hand keyed, that was the fun part. We’d get a design brief, and go off to shoot for reference. Say the interaction was a pillow fighting scene. I’d bring in pillows and we’d fight and have fun with it and shoot a lot of video for reference. We always wanted to have charm in the game so there were a lot of little things we tried to instill in The Sims to make them feel more believable and not so mechanical,” says Paul.
A scene from The Sims
Paul also worked on Dante’s Inferno and The Simpsons. He eventually relocated to Salt Lake City to work on The Sims 3 and was happy to get back to working on a game that “brought little people’s relationships to life.”
Metcalfe also became interested in virtual reality and got his hands on an Oculus DK2.
“I was so excited about virtual reality. When I put my VR goggles on and played Minecraft, I was on a hill and the sun was setting and there was a cow mooing next to me! And I thought, all that I need is a fan on the table to feel the breeze.”
Soon after this realization, a former coworker invited him to demo THE VOID. When Paul learned that the company was doing more than VR — a combination of digital and physical spaces, sensory effects, and proprietary technology — he was sold.
I was blown away. As soon as I came to The Void, I wanted to be a part of it.
working at the void
Paul’s day to day work revolves around creating believable characters in hyper-reality. He runs weekly tests to understand how to create non-playable characters (NPCs) that don’t fall into the uncanny valley.
“A lot of it is about understanding humans and how they move. Anatomy is wild and trying to replicate even how the cheeks on our face move and all of the muscles involved is a challenge.”
Paul played an intricate part in designing the NPCs in Ghostbusters: Dimension. He says it was not an easy task animating Gertrude to not only look similar to how she appears in the most recent film but also how she reacts to player’s movements during a particular scene.
“The most fun I had was creating the big blob coming out of the toilet and looking at you while reading the paper. I acted out a lot of his facial expressions and then used them as a reference while animating him.”
Paul is one of the most talented and funny guys I know. Plus he has an English accent, how great is that? He once bought us pipes so we could ponder The Void like proper gentlemen.
curtis hickman, chief creative officer
a little more about paul
WHAT GAMES DO YOU LIKE TO PLAY?
Fibbage, Exploding Kittens, and Red Dead Redemption
WHAT MUSIC GETS YOU IN A CREATIVE MINDSET?
The Gladiator and Tron: Legacy soundtracks, Yo-Yo Ma
WHAT INVENTION CAN YOU NOT LIVE WITHOUT?
A good pair of running shoes
WHAT I.P. DO YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE VOID?
HOW ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE HYPER-REALITY USED?
Educational opportunities for students like job simulators and internships
HOW DO YOU DE-STRESS?
Getting outdoors to mountain bike, run or swim
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST PET PEEVE?
People with regrets who don’t realize they are in control of their lives
What other questions do you have for Paul about being an Animation Director? Ask him in the comments below!