Date: 27th January, 2012

In this latest update we bring you an interview with JJP video artist Jean-Paul de Win, take look at some of his work, and bring you some of music maestro Chris Granner's latest tracks from the game.

A few insiders already knew, but on November 4th it was officially announced that the Graphic Designer and Animator for the first Jersey Jack Pinball machine was going to be the Dutchman Jean-Paul de Win. Jean-Paul is part of a team of renowned designers from the pinball industry, such as Dennis Nordman, Greg Freres, Joe Balcer and Chris Granner, to name but a few.

Jean-Paul de Win
Jean-Paul de Win

In the latest Spinner magazine - the members' publication for the Dutch Pinball Association (NFV) - Jonathan Joosten interviewed Jean-Paul about how he got the job working with the Jersey Jack Pinball team, the challenges of working on a different continent to the other members, the possibilities and challenges of the new (to pinball) display technology, and much more.

Most NFV members have heard of Jean-Paul de Win at one time or another. Jean-Paul was responsible for the design of the Spinner magazine covers for a couple of years, and he also designed several of the NFV logos and posters, such as the one for the EPC in Zwanenburg. Jean-Paul has also donated his Rollergames pinball machine to the organisation which is still playable at the NFV Funhouse in Ederveen.

Before that, at the end of the nineties, Jean-Paul worked as a trainee at the Bally/Williams pinball division. He was going to be working on Wizard Blocks - the third Pinball 2000 machine - but his internship ended after just two weeks when WMS shut down their pinball division. Jean-Paul spent the rest of his time with the company at their Midway video games division, under supervision of Greg Freres.

After his six month internship, Jean-Paul went on designing video animations professionally. He created numerous animations for commercial TV stations as well as public broadcasting companies, many of which will be recognisable to pinball fans in The Netherlands.

Jean-Paul (JP) is originally from the south of Holland, and after having lived and worked in Amsterdam for a couple of years, he quit his job in 2010 and moved to Nijmegen in the east of the country to start a career as a freelance Designer. Working from home, he still regularly takes assignments from his former employers and also, of course, works on The Wizard of Oz.

Jonathan's interview with JP was made just before the last Pinball Expo and conducted in Dutch, but thanks to some sterling translation work by Mila Groot, we can now bring you the interview in English. And to go with it, we have some of Jean-Paul's (JP) early renderings, including a Jersey Jack Pinball logo animation.

How did the current collaboration with Jersey Jack Pinball start?

JP: During my internship at Bally / Williams / Midway, Greg Freres was my supervisor. He was the Art Director, and as such he organised everything related to pinball artwork.

After the internship I kept in touch with Greg, and in April of last year he emailed me and told me about his Whizbang project. At the end of the message, he wrote a P.S. asking me if I would be interested in maybe doing some animations for WOZ. I replied enthusiastically to that, which Greg had not really expected.

After some time I sent him an animation showing him my ideas about using a 26 inch monitor in a pinball machine, and that went down very well. I was contacted by Jack and that’s more-or-less how it all started. The fact that I play pinball myself has probably worked in my favour. At the Pinball 2000 project there were some designers who had no affinity with pinball at all, so it must help that I do.

It is unusual that you are in The Netherlands and the rest of the team is in the United States.

JP: Indeed it is. My compliments to Jack for having the guts to go into business with someone on the other side of the Ocean. We sure Skype a lot. Most of the time audio is enough but when I need to share my screen, we Skype using video. Of course there’s the time difference, so usually I see the guys come online around four o’clock in the afternoon. We make a call around five; sometimes for just fifteen minutes, sometimes an hour. And sometimes we call again at about nine, when it is about two in the afternoon for them.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Chicago and met the whole team. We had originally planned to go to Pinball Expo, but theoretically my wife could have been having our baby right at that time, so I went before that. (Baby boy Thom Kaya was born on October 29th 2011.)

And how did it go in Chicago?

JP: It was great! I went to Chicago, where the design team works in a small suburb. The actual assembly line will be in New Jersey, by the way. All week we talked about nothing else but pinball. I heard quite few funny stories.

On the day I arrived, Greg Freres got his finished playfields for Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons, which was very special. Greg was quite nervous since this was his first playfield since Revenge from Mars. It turned out very nice, with a special matte coating. I was there, the weekend before my trip back, when they assembled the playfield and played the first game. By the way, Whoa Nellie! Big Juicy Melons is the first EM pinball to have an attract mode, and the game is quite interesting too. I played the whitewood and it wasn’t very easy to get a replay.

At one point I thought to myself: look at me, I’m standing here with a couple of pinball fanatics watching them put together a game. But they’re not just any kind of fanatic, they’re professional fanatics.

You’ve probably also played the Wizard of Oz whitewood?

JP: Of course! I must admit, it immediately gave me the familiar pinball feeling from the Williams machines of the nineties. It felt good right away, not cheap like other pinballs sometimes feel.

There had been some changes to the left outlane already. The targets around the pop bumper had been moved from where they were on the first version of the whitewood. That first arrangement of targets wasn’t working as expected but it does now. I even got the ball back onto the playfield after it hit the pop bumper. One standup target has been removed, so a new word will have to be associated with the targets because KANSAS no longer fits.

And now what? You’re here in The Netherlands, the rest of the team is in Chicago making rules and modes, and you must make sure there’s something to go with them on the monitor.

JP: I have the original movie here and I’ve been watching it. Greg has indicated which scenes we can use and I am now working out how to use them.

For some I see the possibility to make a kind of loop, so the animation continues as long as the mode lasts. We are still figuring out how to best use the monitor so that is interesting for the player as well as for anyone watching the game. The player will only occasionally look at the screen because the action and the focus is on the playfield. So we are thinking of making specific animations for those times when the player has a few seconds to look at the monitor, for instance at the start of multiball, or when you get an extra ball.

Compared with dot matrix displays, the possibilities seem endless.

JP: There are certainly more possibilities, but because it is all so new, we are still discovering new things ourselves. But when I showed JJP what I had in mind, they were very enthusiastic indeed.

To make things easier, I got myself an extra LCD monitor of exactly the same size as the one in the pinball machine. That way, I can see if things turn out in the right proportions and if the text is readable.

JP in his office
JP in his office

In Spain, a manufacturer has taken a design from the eighties and upgraded it with LED lighting and a big flatscreen monitor in the backbox.

JP: New Canasta, you mean? You can look them up on YouTube and you will see it is all a bit boring. Rest assured that The Wizard of Oz will blow you away!

What’s your take on The Wizard of Oz theme?

JP: In the United States, The Wizard of Oz is a classic. The movie on which the pinball is based was made in 1939 and it is one of the most viewed movies of all times. There’s also more to it than just the story. The Wizard of Oz was a technical masterpiece because it used Technicolor; a technique using both colour and black-and-white. This movie was also the first box office success after a period of recession. So we hope that WOZ will also become a technical masterpiece and the start of a new period in the history of pinball.

Have other uses been suggested for the flatscreen?

JP: There is one suggestion, of which I’m not a big fan, and that is to display local advertisements in attract mode. We would then supply the specifications of the screen so that the owners of the bar or amusement arcade can display their own advertisements on it.

JP creating the JJP logo animation
JP creating the JJP logo animation

Jerry Vandersteldt designed the artwork for the cabinet, as well as the backglass which has the monitor in it. Will the backglass be backlit?

JP: That’s a good question; I’m not sure actually. I think it will be, because it also has the logo on it. Personally I’d go for static lighting, not flashing.

Your name was kept quiet by Jersey Jack Pinball for a long time.

JP: That’s right. Even I was wondering why it was taking so long. Jack is in general not secretive about the progression and the developments of The Wizard of Oz, but he has clearly become more cautious.

Stern announced at Pinball Expo that they were going to replace the dot matrix displays with something else and perhaps Jack wanted to keep my name a secret for as long as possible. I have quite a number of animations on my website as examples of my previous work, and if Stern knew I would be doing the animation, they might realize what they were up against.

Another possibility is simply that not many people would know who I am. In the end, the information was leaked by a rather bizarre accident. I had told one of my neighbours that I was working on the animations for a pinball machine. He turned out to be an active member of the Visual PinMAME forum and he immediately posted this news, including a link to my site. We discussed it with Jack and he then announced my involvement.

Jack at his desk with the JJP animation
Jack at his desk with the JJP animation

Are you going back to the States?

JP: I hope to go back when the production line in New Jersey is up and running. Most of the work in Chicago will be done by then, unless they are onto the next project.

And what are your plans for the future?

JP: For now, I’m busy with The Wizard of Oz, but they have asked me between the lines if I might be interested in doing a second pinball as well. The main focus now is to make a game that inspires other graphic artists to create something in their style for a future pinball. They’ll have to, because I can’t do it all by myself, especially if the next one is not a licensed theme. If there are no basics whatsoever, you have to design everything from scratch.

How do you like the work so far?

JP: As a freelance project it is great. It is a long and diverse project. Most of my projects for the Dutch television and internet companies last only for a couple of days, or a week at most. That’s fine when it’s just about making an animation, but this is also about figuring out the best layout and thinking about how the player will experience the game.

You said you might not be able to do it all by yourself. Does that mean there are opportunities for creative readers who also like to make animations?

JP: For future projects I’m certainly thinking of working with other people. Some things are much easier, or go quicker, when you have a sparring partner over here instead of someone in the US. That also gives me more time to focus on certain things, and other people can focus on other things too. And like when they hired me, it will be an advantage to have a Graphic Designer with an interest in pinball. But I’m going to have to be careful, because in the end we have an actual product to deliver.

Can you hazard a guess as to how many more hours you’ll be spending on The Wizard of Oz?

JP: No, in all honesty I don’t know. Jack has indicated that production will start on March 13th 2012, so all I know is that it will all have to be finished by then.

How long does it take you to make an animation?

JP: It depends on whether I can use material from the film or not. When I can’t, it might take me three or four days including the rework, and don’t forget I have to start from scratch then. If I can use existing scenes from the film, I can have a rough draft ready in about a day. Then I’ll need some time for fine-tuning, and that also takes about a day’s work. So it all takes a fair bit of time.

Chris Granner composed the music for WOZ.  How does the design process go here? Is the music there first and you make the animation to go with it? Or is it the other way around?

JP: That wasn’t so clear to us either, at first. In the television industry it is done both ways around. For The Wizard of Oz I made an animation without music and Chris arranged the music to go with it, which actually started a bit before my animation started, so I had to add a couple of more animations at the start. So it usually goes back and forth a bit.

Do you need inspiration?

JP: No, not really. Of course there is a long list of animations that need to be made, so if I happen to be stuck with something that I don’t feel like doing right then, I can always pick something else to work on. Or I just go do something else altogether and continue later on. Working from home allows for such flexibility, which is nice.

Is this a dream come true?

JP: In a way it is. I like pinball and I like making animations, too. I’ll be in the Internet Pinball Database. I was talking to Greg the other day about signing stuff. He gets many backglasses sent to him asking him to sign them. He takes them in to work so that all the guys can sign them, too, and then sends them back. But I’m not sure how that would work in my case: I can hardly go about signing flatscreen monitors, can I?

Jersey Jack Pinball recently released a couple of animations created by JP several months ago. They are purely indicative of the types of animations which might be found in the game, so the typeface used and the size/position of the text is not how it will appear in the final game. Both animations are available in a higher resolution by clicking on the frame icon at the bottom right.

The first clip shows some animation JP added to Jerry Vandersteldt's backbox monitor image.

Backbox monitor animation

The second animation is that Jersey Jack Pinball logo shown in the pictures above. Here it is in all its fluid glory.

Backbox monitor animation

JP also mentioned about working with composer Chris Granner to synchronise his animations with Chris's music. Well, today two new music tracks from the game were released by Jersey Jack Pinball.

Chris describes how the two tracks were created.

The Merry Old Land of Oz arrangement started life in my mind as the main 'Emerald City Multiball' background track (more on all the rules at some much later point), and the 'show' that starts multiball calls for a big fanfare opening (which you hear in this arrangement).

The thing I thought it needed to make it "go fast enough" for multiball was;
1) about 24 beats per minute FASTER than they take it in the movie, and
2) a collection of 'inner voices', accompanying textures if you will, that had a little more energy than the 'oom-pah' style of the original.

Fun, right?! So, I get this together and send it off to Keith, who responds (paraphrase here) "I like it a lot...but it's too happy for multiball." Doh! I went back & read the rule set again. Double Doh! CLEARLY this play state requires something darker.

JEEZ! where o WHERE will I find DARK in this soundtrack!?

Although that question has at least two dozen answers, there wasn't much competition in my mind: enter
Night on Bald Mountain obviously!

In the movie, the 'fanfare' opening of this arrangement is a REALLY scary gesture in the brass - which is used throughout that scene for something VERY specific which has its very own place ELSEWHERE in the rules - so I couldn't use it here.

Bottom line: the fanfare for the opening to multiball is still to be revealed, but this tune has this super-intense texture to open, that leads right into that incredible brass anthem refrain, and just NEVER lets up - PERFECT for multiball!

The crazy thing about this is: Night on Bald Mountain was written by the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky and is a wonderful example of the late-romantic harmonic and orchestral style advanced by him and his contemporaries.

But I'll tell you one thing for sure: they NEVER played it like the Hollywood orchestra did for The Wizard of Oz! The version from the movie is half-again as fast, tempo-wise; in fact, MY version is at exactly the same tempo as the movie soundtrack's version, and no kidding, in order to 'perform' the parts (on my keyboard), I literally had to slow the tempo down by a factor of three in some cases. JUST insane - really gave me new respect for just how virtuosic those Hollywood orchestra cats were! (If you want to hear the piece performed more as Mussorgsky imagined it, just YouTube 'Fantasia Bald Mountain'. Remember? And does that mountain top look like a Balrog or WHAT!?)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy these two numbers, at least a third as much as I enjoyed putting them together!  To be continued....."

Chris's two new tracks add to the Follow The Yellow Brick Road and the Off To See The Wizard tracks which had previously been released.

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