Want To Make Video Games? Hear From Animators This Weekend

Jun 2, 2014

A scene from the game Lilly Looking Through
Credit Geeta Games

Many kids, and some adults, dream of making video games for a living. But very few of us know what it takes to create these little worlds.

On Saturday, the Kalamazoo Valley Museum will host a Gaming and Animation Festival where anyone can be an animator for a day.

Kids and young adults can try their hand at stop motion animation and comic strips, and hear from artists working in games, movies, and TV. 

Two of those animators will be husband and wife duo Steve and Jessica Hoogendyk of the game Lilly Looking Through. It's a point and click adventure game where a little girl named Lilly is trying to rescue her little brother Roe, who was snatched away by an enchanted scarf.

Before they created Geeta Games, the Hoogendyks were movie animators in Los Angeles. They worked on films like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Barnyard, Bolt, and even the Harry Potter franchise.

The logo for Lilly Looking Through
Credit Geeta Games

Jessica Hoogendyk says they moved back to Kalamazoo to spend more time with their two daughters, Hannah and Holly.

In fact, when they started the game in 2010, two-year-old Holly was the inspiration for Lilly’s character.

“And at that point, she would wear a different kind of hat almost all the time. And so this week she was wearing swimming goggles," says Jessica Hoogendyk.

"And I snapped a picture of her with these swimming goggles on top of her head and [Steve] thought ‘Oh, what a great character right there!’”

Lilly uses her magic goggles to flip between the past and the present.

Jessica Hoogendyk says the game is probably best for kids eight to ten, but it’s marketed to all ages. And if you play level two, you’ll see why. Hoogendyk says some of these puzzles are hard.

“A lot of people get stuck on the bubble puzzle and yeah, you have to figure out the mechanics of the levers and you can solve it,” she says.

Hoogendyk says 80 to 90 percent of games are never finished. Animators either run out of money or take on more work than they can handle. She says if she and Steve hadn’t hired help, Lilly Looking Through would have died too.

Even with a seven person team, the game still took about three years to make. Hoogendyk says that’s why the process is so important. Every single level is sketched out on paper first.

“And at that time, it’s really easy to say, ‘This is going to be too hard. Let’s take it out,’" she says. "And it’s easy to make changes to things because you aren’t just starting to create on your computer and then saying ‘Oh, we’ve worked on this for months, now we have to change it.’ So everything starts with a pencil.”

Hoogendyk says when she was in high school she wanted to become an actress and, in a way, video game animation is kind of like that.

“When I’m animating, it’s like puppetry," she says. "You get to express emotion through movement through another character, through another medium.”

Jessica and Steve Hoogendyk of Geeta Games will give a presentation during the Gaming and Animation Festival Saturday at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. Lead creative artist for The Simpsons, Erik Tran, will also be there.