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Interview with Lorraine Reyes, Bungie Studios

I decided to get my very own interview with Lorraine Reyes, who did the anime art we see in posters, ads and various other things today. I got some great responses, so check it out:

OC: Please describe your involvement in the world of anime and manga and how you came to work at Bungie.

LR: Egads! Um...uh...okay. That's almost the story of my life, but I'll *try* to make it short...

It began when I mailed in a postcard with a US address that was inserted in one of the anime art books I bought back when Robotech was at its peak popularity in the Chicagoland area, circa 1985. Through some mishaps and convoluted events, this brought me in touch with then-anime-club-president Matt Greenfield who became a pen-pal (yes folks, before e-mail was popular!!) and good friend. I sent him art. He sent me anime tapes. At the time I had been going to the American Academy of Art where I met this dude named Robert McLees (Who I recall drew lots of exploding clowns.) My friend Matt in Houston told me, in one of our many phone conversations, that he's going to be starting an anime company with this other guy named John Ledford who owned a video game store that specialized in importing Japanese games. I told him he's nuts! But Matt was serious and he said he desperately needed art for the cover of their first video release, Devil Hunter Yohko. That was my first widely-distributed published piece of work -- DHY could be found at every Blockbuster Video across the US. Several months later (by this point I've graduated from AAofA and lost track of Robt) Matt said they acquired the rights to do a Sol Bianca comic which he would like me to produce -- plus, his company was going to be needing an art director soon and would like to hire me for the position (as I had, by this time, four or so years experience in print/design/publishing as well as two years managing an art department for a publication). To do comics was my "dream job" -- or rather, to "draw for a living" was my dream job. I could not pass up the opportunity. Besides, it was anime-related! I left Chicago on October '94. What followed was the most grueling time of my life as I left family and friends behind to pursue a career with this fledgling company called A.D.Vision, Inc. which is now better known as A.D.V. Films (the guys who've done the US release of shows like Evangelion, Gunsmith Cats, Battle Angel and Gasaraki.)

I was the 6th employee, or the 4th if you didn't count the two founders. I finished the first issue of Sol Bianca in Houston, produced 2 anime fanzines called faNime, worked with Ben Nunez on the Burn Up! comic, and did some production work on a few comic titles under the SoftCel brand. Sol Bianca 2 was 75% done when the entire publishing line of ADV was canned -- With over five titles in production and only two designers on hand, it was inevitable! While at ADV, if I didn't do it myself, I directed designers on creating tons of packaging, ads, flyers, posters, what not. I also provided art for various proposals ADV was working on and apparently (I was told) I had even impressed the Nagai brothers, including the famous Go Nagai! I also proofread subtitling scripts (and sometimes helped make the wording less stilted, and my extremely limited Japanese would sometimes catch an error or two in the translation), provided graphics for title screens, designed logos, etc. (I particularly liked how the opening titles came out on Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. Hey, I had a couple lines of on-screen dialogue in that one! ^o^;) Three and a half years later though, I was burned out and tired. It was fun work -- particularly being able to get into the sound booth to do lines of dialogue or participating in various "scream and die" sessions for background and dialogue noise -- but it was extremely stressful, and worse, I was no longer drawing.

When a string of events had me sending a submission packet to Warp Graphics, I suddenly landed the opportunity to do work on Elfquest (apparently, I was the only one whose art matched closely to their style -- Wendy Pini's style, which was heavily influenced by anime and manga.) Having been a fan of EQ since I was 13 years old, I left ADV early '98 to give this chance my all, and plus, I got to work at home. Later that year, in August, among other e-mails from nice folks who've passed through my web site and decided to drop me a line, I got a message from a Robert McLees of Bungie Software. They were working on a project code named Blam and needed a 2D artist to do concepts and stuff. He remembered my work from school (I've attached a scan of the actual piece he remembered) and would like to have me go up to Chicago for an interview. And I was thinking "McLees??? Who the hell is that??" I tore through my apartment looking for the school 'yearbook' and there was his name -- under the most god-awful picture on the page (someone had to guess his outline and sketch it in -- because he was so damned pale all one could see was two beady eyes, glasses, a cap and that signature goatee). "Ah-ha! It's the guy with the exploding clowns!!" At this time I was entrenched in comics. I couldn't leave. But I was planning on moving back to Chicago *soon* -- since I was already working at home in Houston, I could be working at home in Chicago. McLees mentioned a couple of days later that he was going to Austin to visit a friend and would like to drive over to talk about Blam briefly, but more, to talk about Oni -- as they were also looking for someone to do some art for that as well as an art director for their marketing department. I was definitely interested in Oni as a freelance project, but I didn't think I could accept a full time position like the one for Blam and the Marketing dept. But things were about to change, I just didn't know it at the time.

I moved back to Chicago at the end of September 1998 and was set to finish yet another installment of EQ. By this time, the artist position with Blam, which got unveiled as Halo, was taken by the talented Shi Kai Wang. Mid October, I contacted Max Hoberman (who McLees told me would be the contact person regarding Oni art) to let him know that I had a couple days reprieve between issues of EQ and would like to come by the office to talk about Oni and perhaps do an interview. He asked if I could come by the next day, so we could talk about it over lunch. I hustled to get my portfolio and resume updated, ignored the dress-suit and took the El downtown in clean jeans and a nice shirt. It was just as well as I was greeted by bare-foot Max who introduced me to a rumpled dude named Alex Seropian, who looked like he slept in his clothes, and a similarly-dressed guy named Jason Jones. (There was someone passed out on the floor on a futon mattress in the Blam room who I later learned was Nathan.) I was really glad I skipped the suit!! Robt McLees was looking dazed and unshaven, and there were quite a few who looked like they've been working way too hard but were too dedicated to take it easy -- or go home! (I didn't realize at the time that MythII was about to go out the door. There were even rollaways in the kitchen!) Max and Robt took me to lunch at nearby Portillos and talked about Oni and Bungie. We started talking about the first piece of art. My brain started going. I said I could sketch out some ideas as soon as I could get to the sketchbook I left at the office and go from there. Max gave me a brief story synopsis and a positioning statement for Oni. Thirty minutes later I had a couple of rough sketches of what was going to be the first piece of art. Max was impressed. He called a brief meeting with that first rumpled guy then gave me the green light to tighten up the sketch and finish it. A couple of weeks later, after what seemed like thousands of revisions, the piece was done. And at nearly every other conversation with Max, he asked if I would like to work over at Bungie and I kept saying "No, I already got a job." It became routine. "Hey, Lorraine, want a job?" "Nope!" "Hey, Lorraine, would you-?" "No." "Hey,Lorraine-" <Lorraine gives Max a gimlet stare.> <Max chuckles.>

A month later the EQ comic book schedule was thrown out. No more monthly schedule. Which meant for me, no more monthly income. So I'm like "Hey, Max, you guys need a designer?" And Max feigns disinterest "I think so. Who do you got in mind?" (Gaaah!) I actually don't remember the exact conversation. Just that mid April, just before E3, I came on board as a part time graphics designer/illustrator to do about 25 hours a week. On the first day, I worked 12 hours. No joke. There was a press kit that needed to get done immediately. I didn't leave until the piece was ready for the morning. By the end of May, there was no way I could keep doing comics even part time. EQ was personally satisfying, but no longer a viable form of income. Bungie was much more fun than ADV, and I got to draw instead of just designing ads and packaging based on pre-drawn images. Creating logos weren't enough of a creative challenge compared to creating an image and defining the look of a product. Besides, it was anime-related!

In June 99, I came on board Bungie full time as its new art director of marketing and Max moved on to do what he'd been wanting to do, take on full time responsibilities of and the Bungie web.

On a side note, I've been to two conventions as a guest and actually did autograph sessions. Once at the San Diego Comic Con '98 and another time at Anime Central '99.

And when the acquisition came up, I had a choice of becoming part of a Bungie development team or become part of MS's Action Adventure Strategy group under the Xbox creative content director, Doug Herring. It really was a hard choice to make as both jobs were equally challenging and fun. But I decided to stick with the Bungie group. I was going to be moving again, away from family. And I wasn't about to move away from friends. So here I am.

Man, I really *tried* to make that short! Sorry! ^^;;

OC: What are your current duties at Bungie?

LR: I am one of the texture artists/character designers for the Phoenix team.

OC: What do you think about Konoko, as a character and as a person?

LR: Well, really, she's not a real person! :) heh.

When Max introduced to me the character of Konoko, I felt she was going to be really cool. She wasn't flighty and didn't seem superficial. She wasn't going to be the damsel in distress or the sex object like other female star characters of some game I've seen ;) She was someone I felt I could relate to. It's like she "could" exist. She's a determined, little bit angst-ridden, and completely capable of taking care of herself type of person -- yet at the same time vulnerable like any human being. She can be mortally wounded but she would fight on. Overwhelmed, she would fight to her last dying breath. I'm proud of it technically, but I wish I'd never drawn that cheesecake picture of her all torn up with three guns on her, wrapped in bullets -- it's not the way I wanted to see Konoko portrayed. But it seems to be popular...-_-;

OC: What are your thoughts on Amanda Winn-Lee "being" Konoko?

LR: I actually have not seen the whole game. The couple of the cut scenes I've seen and the bits of dialogue Marty let me listen to have been real good (and not just Amanda's takes.) Back when discussion came around about getting together some voices for Oni, the folks in the marketing department were pumping me for information of how to promote Oni into the anime community. One of the things I suggested was to look into auditioning voice actresses who's prominent in the anime industry. The first person I thought of was Amanda Winn-Lee, followed by the lady who did Ghost in the shell and then a few others who've done several series like Lisa Ortiz and Rachel Lillis (both of whom have also ended up doing some Pokemon work.) But I felt that Amanda would be great as Konoko, having heard her work many times and knowing her personally. It was merely by chance, really, that Amanda and her husband, Jason Lee, were coming to Chicago to visit one of her husband's dear friends and was wanting to get together (and to also drop off the demo tape she'd promised to send me) when Marty was still putting together sound clips to send to Bungie West so they can pick the voice cast. We went to Total Audio before dinner and Marty had her record some lines under his direction. (Amanda read some lines for Shinatama as well that was real good.) And it was Amanda's take on Konoko that the Bungie West guys ended up liking (there were literally dozens of voices to choose from!)

OC: Will we be seeing any more of your work in Oni?

LR: Heh, It's kinda funny. I didn't know that there was sort of a standing order for the new owners of Oni to not ask me to do any more Oni work until I was done with my part of the game, that it was declared that I was absolutely NOT available. O.O; Hehe. Alas, it was true. You can't imagine how busy I was when there shouldn't have been any work for me. But now, yeah. I hope to provide some continuity with the little bit of time I do have to freelance at home. In fact, I've just finished a project for Rockstar two weeks ago...

OC: Do you think the Oni comic will turn a few heads in the manga community (i.e. those who have no knowledge of Oni - shame on them! :)?

LR: Hmm. That's kinda hard to say. I haven't really been following the comic industry enough to gauge Sunny Lee's popularity. Phil Amara, the Dark Horse editor in charge of the comic, and I were in regular contact regarding Sunny Lee's work earlier on. There were some things about his style that worked and didn't work. But the last couple bits of art that I saw from Sunny aesthetically looked promising. However, doing pin-ups is a different matter to doing pages upon pages of sequential art. But! I'm hypercritical about how Konoko is drawn (and how females are drawn in comics in general) and how some artists incorporate "anime" into their style just by drawing big eyes and doing exaggerated expressions, so my thoughts on it may be a bit harsher than it should be. If the writing is good (and not obviously pandering) and the art is consistent (and that Konoko is not drawn like a guy with large breasts) then the comic will be a blast.

OC: If AIC (of BubbleGum Crisis fame) didn't do the anime in Oni, who would you like to have seen doing it?

LR: Sunrise, the folks behind Cowboy Bebop and Escaflowne. Or, just for a different feel... Studio Ghibli! =)

OC: What's next for Lorraine Reyes? :)

LR: Plan my wedding, read some books, take Japanese language classes, actually update my website with some new art....Man, I gotta get to work! :)

OC: Alrighty, thanks Lorraine!

LR: Your welcome!

Image by Lorraine
An early piece of Art by Lorraine
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