Interview: Andy Salvo – Cinematic Lead, ‘Spyro: Reignited Trilogy’ (Exclusive)
Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy is now available on Switch and PC – and I’m (clearly) still geeking out, though it’s not purely because of the releases. I got the chance to ask Andy Salvo – Cinematics Lead for Spyro: The Reignited Trilogy – some questions about the development process and what he’d expand on if he ever got to make his own Spyro game. Seeing as it was over email, I wasn’t expecting much as there wouldn’t be any real chances for fluid follow-up questions. As it turns out, I didn’t need them!
In what are quite possibly the most thorough answers I’ve ever received in an interview, Andy gave me a massive look behind the scenes at some of the biggest triumphs and difficulties he and the Toys For Bob (TFB) team faced when updating this 20+-year-old franchise. What follows is that full interview:
1. Which level – and/or enemy – was your favorite to redesign? Which was the hardest and why?
Andy Salvo: My favorite redesign was the work we did on the intro to Spyro 1. Those cutscenes had the longest journey to feel modern. While we kept the script the same as the original, I really wanted to reimagine the spaces the characters existed in to help give Gnasty Gnorc a bit more context. Gnasty’s man-cave was something we wanted to build out knowing that Gnasty’s screen time in the first game is exceptionally short for a villain. The goal was for his scenes to communicate much more than the dialogue or even animation would convey.
This also turned out to be our most challenging sequence to execute and render given the technical difficulties creating the TV screen in Gnasty’s room. The tech level of the Spyro universe was always a bit nebulous, but I figured if they had a news crew, cameras, and boom mics, they must also have ways to watch the news. As an homage to the originals, I worked with art to design a television set that would remind people of the TVs we had our consoles hooked up to in the late ’90s. This included shooting all the TV news footage in fullscreen (4:3) aspect ratio.
The plan was to play pre-rendered frames on the TV via a media texture while Rendering the Gnasty Gnorc side of the cinematic. Unfortunately, this led to post-processing hitting the TV frames twice, which blew out the light and color and didn’t look great. Rendering without post-processing, however, broke the look of the VFX necessary for the scene. So, in the end, what you’re seeing in the final cutscene is a very delicate dance between post-processed, non-post processed, and match moving pre-rendered assets, which was significantly more complicated than I had planned. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out though!
2. The team subtly – but effectively – expanded on the intro/outro scenes in the Ripto’s Rage portion of the trilogy. How did that come about? Did you originally just want to go shot for shot or did you know from the start that you wanted to add more context to the scenes?
Andy Salvo: Thank you, it’s nice to hear the work was appreciated. The biggest question for the TFB Cinematics Team going into the trilogy was what to do with the Ripto’s Rage level intros and outros. Some were funny, some were sad, some were rather disturbing (looking at you Magma Cone Fauns), and more than a few divided the team on what even happened during the scene. At first, we questioned their necessity as they were inconsistent at providing context for the level you were about to play.
They were also a significant amount of work on top of the already dramatically increased narrative cinematic load in Spyro 2 (significantly more runtime than Spyro 1). Once we decided to approach each intro and outro as an opportunity to punch up and polish a short sequence, we began to appreciate their value to the whole. Few if any of the sequences are shot for shot the same as the originals, though some necessitated more of an overhaul than others.
Many of the original cutscenes were shot in very flat camera compositions much like classic hand-drawn cartoons. We attempted to update and rework the compositions, animation, and acting, to best serve what we felt was the original thrust of the cutscene. In some cases that meant providing more context for what the viewer would see. The intro to Colossus is a good example of a cinematic we had to watch numerous times before we figured out what was going on. Remaking it, we focused on providing additional context and clarifying shot compositions and camera direction to make a cinematic that is hopefully much easier to follow.
Magma Cone outro was another that proved difficult. It was even a challenge within the cinematics team to reach a consensus for what was happening in the scene. Was it an accident? A missed high five? A murder? Magma Cone outro quickly became the shorthand for introducing animators rolling onto the project to the challenges they’d be facing. Oh, and we eventually settled on accident and switched it to a chest bump to make the intentions and weight a little clearer.
3. Whether for design or personality, who’s your favorite non-Spyro Character and why? (Whether main characters or subtle level NPCs like Foreman Bob)
Andy Salvo: Perhaps it’s that I’ve always had a soft spot for villains, but I’d say Gnasty Gnorc was my favorite character to work with after Spyro. We spend so little time with Gnasty in Spyro 1 that I couldn’t help but feel rather bad for him during my playthroughs of the original. I think that sympathy came through in my animation of Gnasty reacting to Lindar calling him ugly, which was the first pose I did with the Gnasty rig to ensure that he could look hurt enough to really sell the line. Seeing the other animators connect to Gnasty’s emotional reaction in dailies was a sign I was getting somewhere with that scene. After all, Lindar, if he’s no threat, maybe we don’t need to rub it in and call him simple and ugly? Just saying.
Honorable mention goes to Ripto and Moneybags. You’ve got to love proper villains. Also, asking me to pick my favorite Elder Dragon would be like asking me to pick my favorite child. Revilo, Trondo, Bubba, Alvar, Conan, Gavin, Sadiki, Cyprin, Nestor, Gunnar, Halvor, … Impossible.
4. If you could make your own Spyro game, which element(s) in particular would you like to bring back: ie: freeing dragons, egg thieves, intro/outro cutscenes, alternate playable characters, etc
Andy Salvo: Freeing Dragons. I’d love an excuse to animate them some more and expand on the lore of the dragon realms. Their designs were so meticulously planned and arted that I feel like they could be excellent playable characters as well.
It’s fitting that two of the things I gushed about in last week’s Spyro article – attention given to Gnasty’s emotions and the Colossus intro – were both things that Andy felt strongly about as well. If choices like those stuck out with the design team, it’s no wonder they stuck out with us (the players) as well. I always felt like this was a game made with love, and this interview – especially the depth of those answers – proved it to me!
I would love for the lore of the dragon realms to be expanded upon!
I would LOVE to have a full-grown dragon as a playable character!
I don’t know if Toys For Bob has plans for future Spyro games, but the mere fact that ideas such as these even cross Andy’s mind shows that Toys For Bob would be committed to doing it right! These aren’t the ideas of someone who simply wants to ‘make more of the same’; but rather of someone who wants to deepen the story. Andy and the Toys For Bob team have proven that they can get the feel of the original down – and I would love to see where they can take it next!