/ machinima

On Hugh

A few minutes ago, I opened a terminal and typed

vim hugh-RIP.md

and it hit me, again, as it's hit me every hour or so since yesterday, that it's real. Hugh is gone. My best friend is dead, and I'll never see him again.

There's so much that I want to say - some of it I want to tell the world, so that everyone understands just how extraordinary he was. Some of it I want to tell myself, to help me to grieve and to heal.

And some of it I want to say to Hugh, because I never said it to him while he was still here.

Do you see what I just did, Hugh? A new paragraph where it doesn't belong, and a stand-alone sentence starting with 'and'? I hope you're happy. That's how much I miss you. I'm willing to adopt your writing style - one of things we used to argue joyfully about for hours - just this once.

Hugh Hancock has been my friend for the majority of my adult life. During all the worst times - and Lord knows there have been some absolute monsters - Hugh has been there. He was wise, and pragmatic, and caring. The things he's done for me over the years ... some of them are so profound and so personal that just thinking about them makes my stomach roil with emotion.

And here's the even more humbling and incredible thing - I'm not the only one. Far from it. It's already clear, from comments on social media and discussions in person, that Hugh served that very same role for many, many other people. He was gregarious and unstoppable, and he acreted friends like a magnet pulls in iron filings.


He was only 40 years old, and he had so much still to achieve in his life. What he had already achieved, though, is remarkable. Hugh was properly, old-school Internet-Famous. He was one of the fathers of Machinima (both the artform and the global uber-brand). He was a pioneering 'guerrilla filmmaker', creating both short films and epic movies on a virtually non-existant budget, mostly in his spare room. More recently, he single-handedly created Left-Hand Path, one of the most brilliantly immersive gaming experiences I've ever encountered, and a game that I'm convinced will be looked back on as a crucial lynchpin in the evolution of a whole new type of interative digital storytelling.

He never stopped. He was pathologically incapable of it. It became a running joke among those of us lucky enough to spend a lot of time with him: when Hugh announced that he was taking a week or two off work, we would inevitably reply, "Good for you, mate. What's the new project called and when's the release date?"

Hugh loved telling stories, and he refused to accept any obstacles that stood between him and the story he wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell it. He wanted to make epic big-budget movies, but he didn't want to have to bother with funding, logistics, slow rate of production or - frankly - anybody else telling him what to do. So, he took a 3D computer game engine out behind the bikesheds and gave it a good duffing up until it acted like a virtual film studio for him. He wanted to work with A-list Hollywood actors, but he didn't want to have to spend years being a Hollywood sleaze to do it. So, he hired one of the most famous and well-respected casting directors in the world and convinced her to get him Brian Blessed and Joanna Lumley and Jack Davenport. He did so purely through his charm, his enthusiasm, and his blistering undeniable competence. He encountered the modern generation of virtual reality consoles and was immediately convinced that they could be used to tell in-depth complex narratives in a way that has never been possible until now. He was right, and while most people were producing gimmicks and tech demoes for the Vive, Hugh released the longest single-player game experience for the platform to date.


He was a superb public speaker, regularly travelling all over the world to speak at conferences and meetups. Listening to Hugh talk was always a privilege, and his enthusiasm was just as infectious as his farsightedness was inspiring.

I can't even imagine what my life would be like right now if I'd never met Hugh. Certainly, most of my professional career has been a byproduct of my work with (and for) him. I first worked for him when we were making BloodSpell, a ridiculously ambitious fantasy epic made by virtual badgers. (I was so proud of our work on BloodSpell that I screened the entire thing during the reception at my wedding - one of the few times I've ever managed to see Hugh properly speechless). BloodSpell lead to working on the (then still relatively nascent) Machinima.com website. Then we were asked to write a "For Dummies" book about Machinima. Hugh and I wrote it together, and had the time of our life doing so. That, in turn, got me a gig as part of the team building Moviestorm, a dedicated Machinima-making toolkit that was definitely ahead of its time. My entire career has followed on from that, and it's all thanks to one indefatigable geek who convinced me to spend weeks of my life sat in his spare bedroom helping him tell stories in a non-existant world.


Friends, as well. So many friends that I would never have met if it weren't for Hugh. Becca, Ross, Pajh, Gordon, Amanda, Tina, Matt, Dave, Ben, the other Ben, Ian ... bloody hell, there's dozens of them. All of them are in my life because I knew Hugh. He was the fulcrum of an awful lot of social contact.


I've had some incredible times with Hugh. I've dressed up in a skin-tight gimp suit covered in ping-pong balls. I've given a keynote speech at a German media conference where I was forced to present some improvisational theatre in the character of a dragon sat on a badger, because our tech wasn't working. I've worked with Brian Blessed. I've sat in a recording studio with Joanna Lumley, discussing Shakespeare in between takes. I've made a sprout souffle while so hungover it bordered on suicide (an episode so controversial, incidentally, that I genuinely received death threats).

Fuck, but I'm going to miss him. There was nobody quite like Hugh in my life, and there never will be again. Goodbye, my friend. It's going to a long time before the ripples you made fade away.


Johnnie Ingram

A portable Geek-to-English translation unit. Atheist, pedant, undercover feminist. Stalker of stand-up comedians. Quite likes Doctor Who.

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