David OReilly is an artist working in the fields of design, animation and video games. Creator of the animated films Please Say Something and The External World, his film work has won numerous awards and been the subject of several retrospectives internationally. He has served as writer for the TV shows Adventure Time and South Park, and created the fictional video games in Spike Jonze’s film Her. In 2014 he released his first independent game Mountain and followed up with Everything in 2017. Everything won top prizes at A MAZE & Ars Electronica and was featured as Game of the Year by Wired, Polygon, AV Club, The New Yorker, and others. Its trailer became the first ever interactive project to qualify for an Academy Award.
Your work has crossed into a number of areas and approaches. What does your curiosity look like? How do you explore things?
Just following interests. It changes all the time along with the world and my life. I don’t have a plan or strategy.
If you’re in an elevator, and someone asks you what you “do,” what do you say?
Whatever I can to avoid talking about what I do.
Why did you decide to make your first video game? How are these games related to your film and video work, and art?
I was playing around in Unity and hit a tiny problem, so a friend connected me with Damien Quartz, who is my main collaborator in games. I liked working with him so eventually we started on making Mountain, which was my first game.
I explore very different ideas in games. It’s a totally different medium with new constraints, and I also have quite different priorities and interests than I had in my 20s.
In your game Everything , you made the animals move the way they do to keep costs low. People seem very taken by the movement; it’s aesthetically interesting. Do you find it helpful working within limitations?
It’s not only budget, it’s part of a larger equation. Visual realism is not my highest priority and by having these procedural movement systems I’m able to draw attention to other things the game is describing. Limitations are, needless to say, necessary for anything to get made. Animation taught me to be confident in using and exploiting abstraction.
Is Everything a game or is it a philosophy, or both?
It’s whatever people want to call it. It’s a game explicitly about dissolving categories, I don’t worry about how it finds itself categorized.
To you, what’s the difference between a film and a game? The Everything trailer feels like a great short movie to me.
In film, time and space are linked, in games, they are decoupled and subjectively moulded. The film, or trailer, is one slice of possibility of what Everything can do.
What’s the one art making habit that you have to fight against and how do you do it?
As long as things are being made I don’t fight anything I’m doing. Distraction and procrastination are the only enemies.
For the kind of work that you do, what are the most valuable resources?
Friends, and enough money to not have to worry about it for six months at a time.
How do you edit your own work?
Just by intuition. It really depends on what it is Im doing as editing happens everywhere in different ways.
How do you know when a project is done?
When its constituent parts can no longer be moved around.
How do you avoid burnout?
I only work on things I like and I avoid people and situations that drain my energy.
What do you do when you’re creatively stuck?
Go for a walk.
What do you consider failure and how can you find success in it?
Failure to me is lack of movement, or retreat, and wasted talent. There is no success to be found in these things, only in their avoidance.
I feel I’m both a failure and success at the same time and in varying ratios depending on the time of day, but I don’t dwell on the idea too much or see it as something to worry about.
What’s something you wish someone told you when you started making art?
Everything you’re feeling is ok.