Copyright 2011

[ September 28th 2011 ]

In November 2001, the BBC commissioned animation studio Strange Company to produce a parody of Tomb Raider called Tum Raider. Tomb Raider Chronicles recently caught up with Artistic Director Hugh Hancock ten years on to discuss what is today one of the most talked about Lara Croft shorts.


How did you become involved with the project?

It was a while ago now, so I'm slightly fuzzy on the details! As I recall, we already knew the guys involved in it from a Machinima perspective. I think I'd lectured somewhere and they'd seen us there, or possibly had read about us - anyway, we'd had meetings before and knew we wanted to do something together.

A couple of projects had been thrown around and for one reason or another hadn't happened, but we were still chatting. So, when they realised they needed a skit based on Tomb Raider, their thoughts went to Machinima as a fast, cheap production method, and from there they went to us!

From my perspective, I got a call one day asking if I'd be interested in the idea of doing a parody of Tomb Raider, but with the polar opposite of Lara in the main role - a fat, beardy, unfit guy. I love working with the Beeb in general, and it sounded like a lot of fun, so my response was pretty much "hell, yeah".

Had you played the games prior to being approached by the BBC?

I'd played the first Tomb Raider game when I was a teenager, but not all the way through. I love the background and the character they've created, but platform / shooter games are not really my thing other than that - I'm more of an RPG / MMO guy with occasional forays into hardcore FPS.

What software was used to create the film?

The main piece of software we used was actually the Half-Life engine. Whilst we would have loved to use the Tomb Raider engine, it wasn't moddable at the time, so we used a Tomb Raider texture pack to create a few custom levels.

From there, we modelled the main character in 3DS Max as I recall, hand-animated him, captured the entire thing using a TV capture card (this being somewhat before the days of FRAPS), and edited it as a normal movie in Adobe Premiere.

The overlays were done in Adobe After Effects, and the wonderful foley and character noises were entirely created by Gordon McDonald, my co-director at Strange Company, in one decidedly worrying-sounding session in his audio office. Seriously, we thought he was having some kind of attack in there.

What other projects have you been involved with?

That's a pretty long list! Obviously, I founded, which I'm pleased to say is still going stunningly well under the direction of Philip DeBevoise. My best-known movie is probably the feature-length BloodSpell, a punk fantasy epic, which got well over 100k viewers (pretty good for something 90 minutes long), and was featured in the Guardian, on the BBC, USA Today's website, and various other cool places.

I've directed a lot of other films too, both indie and for other people, which can mostly be found on the official Strange Company site.

Currently, I'm directing our highest-profile film yet, Death Knight Love Story. I'm also growing The MMO Melting Pot, which is a pretty unique idea - basically, we're trying to fix the problem that a lot of brilliant games bloggers, particularly MMO bloggers, don't get the exposure they deserve. So, we spend our days seeking out the hidden gems of games blogging and then we tell people about them!

What do you make of the Tomb Raider brand today?

It's the elder statesman of video games, basically. Lara Croft has to be the best-known and most-recognised game character of all time - more so even than Mario, Link or Sonic. The fact that the brand has managed to keep going all this time says that it's tapping into something pretty deep in the human psyche - not just that it's got a pretty girl on the cover.

I believe the games themselves have gone up and down in popularity, but basically we're talking about the video game equivalent of James Bond here. The films may go through good phases, bad phases, and silly phases, but at the end of the day, Bond's still Bond. And Tomb Raider is still Tomb Raider. The central idea and the character are never going to be less than awesome.

More On: Strange Company

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