Watch Level 20-Something, a Hilarious Cartoon About Videogame Character Temps (Featuring Keiko Takamura!)
Level 20-Something is a pretty damn funny animated web cartoon with a great premise: What if characters from your favorite videogames were really just twentysomething temp workers trying to make a living, and hung out in bars when their shift was over? Watch:
"Let's make some pancakes" indeed. This episode has a special surprise for NWN readers: a kung fu cameo with voice acting by Keiko Takamura, a famed live music performer in SL, and a star of an MTV feature on the topic. Here in Level 20-Something, her 3D avatar becomes an 8 bit bartender who wants to quit her day job and become a cutscene actress.
"Character-wise, Keiko was added to the story because I needed a 'fish-out-of-water' character," series creator Michael A. Szymanski tells me. "The reason I chose Keiko for the role was because I know she digs video games (and virtual worlds a la Second Life) and I knew she would not be microphone-shy, as she's a musician/performer." While her real name is Amy English, Szymanski uses her SL name for the series "because for the first 5-6 months that I knew her, I always called her that." (Yes, another case where someone is about as well known by their avatar name, as their real one.)
As for the series, Symanski told me more on what inspired it, and how he brings it to life:
"I liked the idea of characters filling in for established enemy characters in video games, I just needed a reason for them to do it (and I wanted the stakes to be lower than they were in, say, Reboot or The Matrix, as the show is primarily a comedy,)" he says. "Sometime around episode 4, the main characters start their own business venture, which is another inspiration because that's essentially what I've done producing the show. I want to encourage more entrepreneurs, especially now in the Internet age."
Here's how he actually makes the animation, which seems pretty complicated:
"Before I begin principal animation (in Adobe Flash), I make what's called an animatic. It's basically storyboard drawings of each scene set to the audio. This lets me get my angles right, as well as lets me know what background and prop elements I need to generate. This also helps with setting up a scene, when characters enter and exit and from where. I get a better sense of timing for camera movement this way. I then generate the characters, props and backgrounds in Photoshop, making them at the smallest possible size to maintain that pixel-perfect look. I copy those elements into Flash and bitmap trace them so I can enlarge/edit them."
Lip syncing is the most taxing part of the production: "I do what I can to make the characters more expressive when speaking as a way to make the scene more interesting to produce and, later, to watch." But that's time well-invested, especially when Keiko and friends are voicing the characters.
See the whole series here. Last I saw her, Keiko mentioned she and Mike will be showing the show at an anime con. I have a feeling Level 20-Something destined to level up from there.