When Abe first introduced himself to PlayStation owners around the world in 1997, the lovably grotesque Mudokon became a beacon for originality and humor in an increasingly stale market of subpar shooters, die-hard racing games and 3D platformers. The side-scrolling epic ingeniously expanded upon the paradigms of classic side-scrollers, with each screen a puzzling masterpiece unto itself, injected with moral and ethical conflicts rarely seen in games at the time or since. Unbeknownst to the unlikely hero, Abe was a part of something larger; something so grand it would actually never be fully realized. He was just one of several cogs in the Oddworld machine, and Lorne Lanning was the puppet master pulling his strings.
Lanning was a computer arts veteran who worked his way through the ranks of Academey Award-winning visual effects studio Rhythm & Hues before pursuing an outlet through interactive mediums. But he was also a creative mind, and as a million hasty iPhone developers are quickly learning, the creative side and the business side of entertainment are two wholly different beasts. He had the intuition to know he needed a strong business backbone, but also the wisdom to know that he should not be the one to handle it.
He found this in longtime business and romantic partner, Sherry McKenna, who has been the Leia to his Solo since the formation of Oddworld Inhabitants. “It’s more of a classic entertainment relationship,” explains Lanning, “rather than a classic Silicon Valley relationship. Infinity Ward would be more than two programmers or three programmers and a designer, people with specific hands-on skills starting to build a company. The entertainment business is more like producer-director teams. Sherry’s a lifelong producer, and when we talk about how Oddworld’s a co-creation, we can split it up like this: Content is largely my creation. The company and the culture is largely Sherry’s creation. When you look at producing and directing in the entertainment business, that’s a marriage. The best directors and the best producers, they all have the people that they like working with the most at that marriage level. I always saw that the smartest creatives got really strong producers around them. Because we tend to be flaky, we tend to be more artistic in nature. Whereas good producing tends to be more absolutely on top of things, every T is crossed. So I think in our relationship, it started off as a producer-director class relationship that naturally evolved into a production company.”
“And then for our personal relationship,” adds McKenna, “I had been married. And if you’re in the entertainment industry or the game industry, it’s called, ‘How many hours do you work 24/7?’ And I just found it’s almost easier to be with someone who understood why I had to break a very important engagement at the last moment. If you’re married to someone who doesn’t get that at all, they’re very offended, and they’re not happy; they don’t understand why you have to be gone every weekend. So it just evolved into a natural thing where we were working 24/7 together anyway, and like I said, after my experience of being married, I realized, ‘Wow, this is the only way it can work.’ So for the last 15 years, it’s been working really well.”
Like all other lifeforms born and raised in Los Angeles, Sherry McKenna became involved in the entertainment industry early on. After working on commercials and collecting numerous awards for her efforts, she helped produce the visual effects for films throughout the Eighties, including The Last Starfighter (which ironically uses a videogame as part of the plot to scout real-life space pilots), 2010, and Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and then U.S. theme park Universal Studios’ Back to the Future: The Ride in 1991. After being introduced by a mutual colleague, Lanning made a lasting impression