Thomas (Tom) Van Velkinburgh

Biography


Rise of the Dragon was Tom's first project and introduction to making games. His first job was converting 8bit art assets down to 4bit EGA 16 fixed color palette images. The first conversion step was handled via command line followed by hand dithering and cleanup in Dpaint. His machine specs: 12.5mhz 286 pc with 128k of ram. His second task was to convert the same art for the 32 color Amiga version of RotD. The Amiga could take advantage of unique color palettes per image with two color slots held in reserve. Working with 30 colors felt luxurious after exploring the limits of EGA.

Heart of China was the second game he worked on at Dynamix. He was responsible for scanning and organizing background art paintings, tracking asset progress and converting VGA images to EGA and Amiga formats. He was able to mass convert most of the game art in to Macintosh format by myself using a tool he had early access to called Debablizer. Hundreds of frames of animation and still images were scanned, organized, and wrangled in to the Dynamix tool set. Many gradients were dithered by hand, a challenging process with only 16 fixed colors available. Adobe invited him to a demo of a soon to be released tool called Photoshop. He immediately introduced Photoshop in to the art conversion process making significant advances in turn around time and quality of the resulting artwork.

As lead artist on Willy Beamish he was responsible for scanning, organizing and managing the flow of several thousand hand drawn animation cells and painted background plates. He also handled mass asset conversions and hand tuned the results for various versions of this game. Tom studied under the great Rene Garcia on this project. Learning from an animation master was an amazing opportunity which has influenced his entire career.

As lead artist on Front Page Sports Football he helped bring American football to life in the first Front Page Sports game. They auditioned many local athletes and found a great cast of subjects for their game. They shot video on the lawn of Dynamix to gather the source needed to create our team vision. Tom reviewed footage and picked the best takes that matched across the various angles that the athletes performed. Each frame was grabbed, rotoscoped, organized and named. Files and tracking documentation were distributed for production. The art team did a great job taking the raw footage and turning it in to fluid animation. Some moves, tackles for example, were combinations of opposing team members. This required meticulous attention to detail as each team was assigned a group of colors that would eventually be swapped for team colors. Tom designed several offensive plays designed to take advantage of specific AI deficiencies. These plays were added to the playbooks and were powerful weapons that turned the tide of many games. ICBM and IFUDARE were both deadly plays in the right situation. Computer Gaming World called the graphics and rotoscoped animation "very impressive". It named Front Page Sports: Football as one of the top product releases of 1992 and the 1993 Sports Game of the Year.

In Aces of the Pacific, Tom helped develop decal textures applied to the aircraft as he learned the basics of the Aces engine (3-Space).

Tom worked on the early stages of Betrayal At Krondor, helping the art team ramp up for the production of this adventure game. He assisted with production design and principal photography as the game was brought to life. Their photographer shot hundreds of carefully organized pictures on 35mm film. He had mastered the tools library while working on other Dynamix games. He shared my knowledge and ideas as art went in to full production. Betrayal At Krondor was probably the first 3d open world role playing game ever published. Tom loves a good adventure and traveling the virtual world of Krondor spins a great tale.

For Sierra Soccer: World Challenge Edition, Tom worked with a programmer/designer in England and one local producer as art director on this European exclusive Amiga game. They made a lot happen in a short time with very limited resources. He hand animated hundreds of frames of synchronized animation in 8 angles to create the entire set of possible actions. Each frame was carefully palletized to allow for color customization. Referees and stretcher bearers were another set of animations to draw one pixel at a time.

For Command: Aces of the Deep, Tom's main task was to create various explosion and smoke effects in Dpaint Anim, a colorful addition to a rather monochromatic experience. He studied every submarine movie he could find on VHS. Das Boot, Run Silent Run Deep, Destination Tokyo and other classic submarine adventure movies inspired the effects. With very limited allowance the effects had to be efficient and effective.

As lead artist on Front Page Sports Baseball '94, Tom helped lead the charge on production design, player talent acquisition, scheduling and creating game art covering all aspects of this award winning game.

As lead artist on the Front Page Sports Baseball: Stadiums and Legends expansion, Tom helped organize art tasks, gathered reference media and helped bring more ball parks to life. "Reports have been received from all around the country of games matching legendary teams of the past with those of the present. Officials are saying it's true. What's behind this miracle? Baseball '94 Legends & Stadiums. Now any Baseball '94 team owner can get rosters and stats for 48 of the greatest teams that played the game. In addition, the disk adds 16 more big league ballparks."

Front Page Sports Football Pro '95: As the Front Page Sports Football titles were officially licensed by the NFL one feature had to be added to every single frame of player animation: Sock stripes. Tom added thousands of meticulously color coded sock stripes by hand in the DPaint Anim tool, easily the most glamorous part of the job. The NFL is very serious about sock stripes, each frame was reviewed for accuracy and readability. Tom gave control icons an updated look to fine tune the play-ability of the arcade portion of this multiple Sports Game of the Year winning product.

Front Page Sports Baseball Pro '96: Motion capture comes to the big leagues in FPS: Baseball '96. A combination of motion capture and hand animation brought a classic baseball moment to life. Tom created a series of fireworks in Wavefront for the big finale, an early example of particles used in cinematics.

Front Page Sports: Football Pro '96: The spark of innovation fueled by research and development in 1995 led the drive to introduce motion capture driven character art to the world of sport video games. Their small team went for the win and once more won multiple Sports Game of the Year awards. Character art was created using Wavefront software on SGI Indigo 2 hardware. By the end of this production the entire set of animations could be generated in several hours by a master script that automated rendering, post production and naming of all assets. As lead artist on this title Tom helped pioneer the leading edge of what is possible in video game graphics technology.

Having pioneered motion capture techniques at Dynamix, Tom was asked to help on the production of Front Page Sports: Golf. He helped organize the motion capture sessions, consulted with the production staff during pre-pro, and was on site to assist with the shoot. He spent many hours wrangling the captured data fixing markers by hand and exporting the results.

Early designs of the Drivers Education '98 driving simulator included pedestrians. Tom lobbied for a number of 'pedestrian jumps out of the way' motions but those ideas were quickly vetoed. Pets and animals were out of the question with the hardware of the times. Tom worked towards proof of concept that proved pedestrians would be a huge hit to game performance. Pedestrians were dropped, drawing vehicles and street scene objects was the top priority. The 3d engine was cutting edge in 1998.

Tom rendered and organized the animations for the corporate fighting robots in Cyberstorm 2: Corporate Wars. He worked with the lead programmer to create the combat and other effects in the game. The lights on the robots were rendered in a 2nd pass and combined real time allowing flickers and blinks from all angles and frames.

As Art Director on Front Page Sports Baseball '98, Tom continued to push the graphical boundaries of sports gaming.

Tom considers himself to be fortunate to work with an amazing team of Dynamix veterans and Youngbloods on Starsiege: Tribes. Everyone gave their all to this game, the studio was electric as Tribes started coming together. Tribes received an AIAS Academy Award for online action strategy game of the year and won the hearts, minds and trigger fingers of gamers across the world. BSP builds took hours as the bases became more complex making iteration a serious challenge. The Scarabrae base with its launching bay pushed the game and the tools to the limit. Tom built, textured and lit bases in a quirky editor called Zed. Starsiege: Tribes, released in 1998 has a die hard fan base, people still play competitively today. This is one of those special projects that influenced modern gaming and stands the test of time. Tom is grateful that he had the chance to work on this legacy product.

Tom was invited to join the Dynamix Ultra team to work on Train Town, a fun family puzzle game. He created 3d icons used in this game and worked on some of the buildings. This game was easy to learn but the hardest puzzles were very challenging. 3D Ultra Lionel Traintown won the 2000 Family Game of the Year award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences.

Tom worked as lead artist on Tribes 2. He created and worked on many of the buildings that were used across the wild Starsiege universe. He worked in the game editor creating worlds and experimenting with game play scenarios. He designed and built the jungle planet base. He designed and built the Pantheon world for a Tribes 2 expansion pack. The central ruins feature what may be the first capturable spawn point in a video game. He scripted the pivotal point and thew in a random yeti scream for good measure. Tribes 2 was the final game released by Dynamix.


After Dynamix

After Dynamix, Thomas was hired to work on games including:
- James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing
- James Bond 007: From Russia With Love
- X-Men: The Official Movie Game
- Enemy Territory: Quake Wars
- Guitar Hero: Van Halen
- VIE: Virtual Island of Entertainment
- Marvel Super Hero Squad Online
- Call of Duty III: Black Ops


Credits

3-D Ultra Lionel Traintown (1999-08-01)

3D Artists
Cyberstorm 2: Corporate Wars (1998-04-14)

3D Artists
Front Page Sports: Baseball Pro '98 (1997-01-01)

Art Direction
Front Page Sports: Football Pro '95 (1995-01-01)

Lead Production Artist