Randy Littlejohn


Long Strange Trip


In the days before personal computers and smart phones, I spent rainy days at the kitchen table with my mother practicing with pastels or ink pens and watercolor. On sunny weekends, I'd wander nearby hills with my dog. I had an intuition that much was hidden beyond the mundane world, and some strange experiences that seemed to back this up, so I was always on the lookout for more evidence of a grand mystery.


My mother was a musician and I loved watching her play the family piano. She encouraged me to take piano lessons early on, and later I picked up the trumpet and guitar. I did not become a great musician, but I did gain a lifelong appreciation of music that has enriched my life immeasurably.


When I was 16, I traveled down Highway 101 to Los Angeles from my home town, Santa Maria, with an older buddy in his 1956 Ford. The Stone's "Satisfaction" playing loud as we drove through Santa Barbara. We were on our way to visit my mother's childhood friend at Paramount studios, where she was a regular on the Old West TV series Bonanza. With studio passes in hand signed by Lorne Greene, who played the patriarch of the fictional family, my friend and I had free rein to wander the backlot exterior sets unescorted. After exploring in awe for a while, I found an unlocked metal door on the side of one of the sound stages and we snuck in. Inside, we found the ranch house exterior and interior sets for the show. Strangely, though production was ongoing, cast and crew all around, no one paid any attention to us. We watched the crew shoot a scene for an upcoming episode, and then snuck back out. That experience stuck with me and I'm sure played a part in what I eventually chose to do with my life.


After serving in the United States Coast Guard as a radioman after high school, I entered college to study the performing arts. I studied music, theatre, and filmmaking at Allen Hancock Community College (home of the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts) in Santa Maria, then transferred to California State University Chico, first to study television production, and then to study theatre production, graduating with a BA in Speech and Drama.


I tried to pursue graduate studies at Humboldt State University, but ran out of money and nearly ended up on the street. I found a job managing two old movie theaters in Arcata, California. The owners also produced 16mm regional commercials, and before long I was lighting for their production company. The company hired a camera operator from a local television station who turned out to be the station production manager. He offered me a producer-director job at KIEM-TV3 in Eureka, and suddenly I had my first real job.


Five years later, I left the Pacific Northwest in search of opportunities to grow. There's the plan, and then there's what happens. I spent a couple of years stumbling around, working various odd jobs - until I discovered that videogame company Sierra On-Line was experimenting with the idea of a live-action (full motion video) adventure game. I lobbied for months for a job and finally got on as a video specialist on my birthday. I helped to finish a blue-screen production studio and we started production. The game was Phantasmagoria in which the player controls a real actor in an impressionistic computer-generated 3D story world. The game featured several professional actors. I became the Lighting-Cameraman, working under a director of photography.


When Phantasmagoria wrapped, I became the Director of Photography for Sierra's second live-action video game, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery designed and written by Jane Jensen.  This was a much larger project with a cast sixty strong. It was the equivalent of shooting three blue-screen feature films back-to-back and was to be the pinnacle of my video production work.


Sierra decided to move away from live-action games and I had to hustle to find something else to do at the company. Fortunately, my music background paid off and I became one of two sound designers for the adventure game Lighthouse. A year later, with the support of my managers, I began working on several games in a position that didn't have a title at the time, but would later be called "narrative designer".


While working on a space combat simulator based on the television show Babylon 5, I met my wife to be, the successful writer, Christy Marx. Not long after, Sierra On-Line imploded and the Babylon 5 space combat sim was canceled after several years of development. The studio was closed, and it was time to scramble for a job again.


For the next seven years, Christy and I worked as freelance animation writers, videogame writers, and book authors. I shot, edited, and DVD-authored the shoestring budget production, Operation Nightscream, about an expedition led by researcher John Freitas to find and record proof of Bigfoot.


In 2007, we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and became the story department for John Romero's MMOG start-up at Slipgate Ironworks, which grew to become developer and publisher Gazillion Entertainment. The project was canceled after three years of development, and it was time to scramble again.


I went back to freelancing and worked on several videogames as a writer, and as designer for one game. Christy landed a job at videogame company Zynga. We turned back to television as well, developing a live-action show and an animated show for a branding-entertainment company in Los Angeles. We also penned a pitch bible and script for our own live action show.


I call myself "semi-retired" these days, continue to work on screenplays and plans for a novel from my office nestled in the forested buttes of Northern California, and I'm still looking for a peek through the veil of the mundane world.