Jeff Gomez is possibly the most influential guy you’ve never heard of. Without him, there might not be the superhero and fantasy worlds on the Nintendo and PlayStation gaming systems. There might not be adventure games like Halo, nor the sweeping world of Pandora in the film “Avatar.” The “Transformers” might not have come to life, nor would “The Pirates of the Caribbean.”
As a consultant and the world’s foremost pioneer of transmedia — storytelling through various platforms — Gomez is a literal creator of worlds who helps filmmakers, video game designers, fiction creators, and even corporations develop entire fantasy “realities” down to the finest nuance. If you are about to enter an elaborate fictional universe, odds are that Jeff Gomez had a hand in building it.
Gomez, president of Starlight Runner Entertainment in New York, will be the keynote speaker at the 37th annual Trenton Computer Festival on Saturday, March 10. The festival runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the College of New Jersey.
Gomez will present “From the Inner City To Pandora: The Power Of Story In a Tech-Driven World” at 2:35 p.m. Cost: $10, which covers entry to the festival and Gomez’s talk. There will be dozens of other workshops and speakers, plus a flea market throughout the day. For a schedule and to register, visit www.tcf-nj.org.
Gomez’s talk will be his oft-told story of how he developed his ability to create elaborate fantasy worlds in part to help him cope with the hard realities of his life on the Lower East Side on New York. Born on Staten Island in 1963 to a 15-year-old mother, Gomez was given over to foster care because his mother was too poor to raise him on her own.
Until about age 4 he lived with a foster family in upstate New York, “with a white picket fence, brothers and sisters, and a dog,” Gomez said in a presentation for TEDx in 2010.
Gomez’s mother (and the father, who had returned to her life) came and got him from the foster family and brought him back to the Lower East Side before age 5.
Removed from a familiar feeling of “warmth and unconditional love,” Gomez was thrust into an urban environment with strangers (he did not really know his parents yet), drug users, violence, and chaos. To cope, Gomez immersed himself in fairy tales and fantastical worlds, taking a particular shine to the iconic Japanese monster Godzilla, who was indestructible and also lived in a city.
Then his mother, close to homeless and wanting to escape New York, figured “if we’re going to be poor, we might as well be poor in Hawaii — 6,000 miles closer to Godzilla, by the way,” he says.
The Hawaii of the 1970s was greatly influenced by Japanese culture, which led to Gomez finding a Japanese manga — a comic book that reads from back cover to front — that followed the exploits of Kikaider.
Kikaider was a robot who thought he was human and sought to find his soul by ridding the world of unrighteous monsters. But to Gomez’s surprise, the comic series ended — something American comics series rarely do. The friend who had introduced him to Kikaider told him the story would continue on television, which it did — for only 42 episodes.
“And at the end, everybody died,” Gomez says. “And the bad guy got away.” But then his friend told him that all questions would be resolved in a movie. “I was hooked, hooked, hooked,” Gomez says. He bought every toy, every magazine, every everything that was connected with Kikaider — and was introduced to the idea of a fictional story being told on multiple platforms, through many different media.
In the late 1970s Gomez returned to New York with his mother. Re-immersed into the dangerous world of the Lower East Side, he became obsessed with fearful, often violent images, which led him to haunt the horror and exploitation cinema of the grindhouses in Times Square. “This wasn’t a safe place for a 14-year-old,” he says. “I’m not sure why they even let me in there.”
Gomez eventually started writing in an effort to purge his demons, but he had no narrative stories and ended up destroying the work that he grew to be ashamed of. “It led me to a bad place and poor decisions,” he says. “I literally found myself on the floor in a bad location and expected this would be the end for me.”
In this personal quagmire, the teenage Gomez began talking to the character of Kikaider, whom Gomez felt was chiding him for not being righteous — and for not protecting the children, which was something Kikaider took very seriously.
What Gomez took seriously was the totality of this fantasy world. The act of creating this fantasy in the context of the real world, he says, helped him untangle the fragmented jumble of thoughts and fears and images stuck in his head. To help himself through, Gomez “took the geek way out” and started playing Dungeons & Dragons, creating a vivid, multi-faceted storyline that he eventually developed into “Magic: The Gathering” a fantasy game sold through Wizards of the Coast.
Gomez earned his bachelor’s in film studies from CUNY in 1985, then became the publisher of Gateways Magazine, covering adventure and fantasy games. In 1992 he became a writer for Valiant Comics, and in 1994 the editor of Acclaim Comics, for which he later became a writer and producer for acclaim’s video games. Gomez is the main creator of Turok, a blockbuster video fantasy game, published by Acclaim.
In 2000 Gomez opened Starlight Runner, a film and animation studio that helps develop the intricate universes of fictional characters and series. His method of using multiple platforms to tell stories and create worlds, from comics to the Internet, led Hollywood and corporate America to his doorstep.
He has helped shape the universes of films such as “Tron: Legacy” and to extend product lines into storylines for companies such as Hasbro, the maker of “Transformers,” and Mattel, maker of Hot Wheels. These extended product lines have translated into animated series and other actual storylines for what once were inanimate objects.
Gomez says he has been able to make a living in fantasy because he takes the worlds inherent to them very seriously. However, he cautions against the potential misuse of transmedia universes.
“Transmedia can be used to convey pseudo-facts,” Gomez says. It can be made to craft realities that draw people in, but not offer them anything beyond an agenda or a sexual fetish.
In his TEDx talk, Gomez cites one such transmedia phenomenon called moe (pronounced MOW-ay), a Japanese anime offering that fetishizes young girls. “Transmedia,” he says, “can play to the base nature of people and can stir up highly convincing movements that can be very destructive. It can be used to mislead, and people can become isolated and lost in the endless everyday.”
The role of transmedia storytellers in the future, then, will be to teach people to question fantasy and reality. Particularly reality. Had he not known the love and warmth of that family in upstate New York, Gomez says, he would have bought into the harsh reality of the Lower East Side as the way the whole world works. But since had experienced otherwise, he knew there was more out there: that the “real world” only goes so far as your ability to question it.
The annual IT Professionals Conference, takes place on Friday, March 9, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost: $150.
Keynote speakers are Suzanne Deffree, UBM Electronics, on “The Engineering Crisis: Five Things We Should and Can All Be Doing to Inspire STEM”; Naomi Eigner Price, of UBM, on “The Importance of Mentoring in STEM”; and H. Vincent Poor, Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Princeton University, on “Bridging the Disciplines in Teaching and Research.”
TCF’s other presentations and workshops, all held in Armstrong Hall on Saturday, March 10, include:
A Gentle Introduction to the Cloud Workshop, Room 156, 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Arduino Workshop, Room 106, 10:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Automated Functional Testing, Room 124, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Color Spaces, Human Vision, and Computers, Room 128, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Getting Started with Microcomputers, the Internet, and Digital Photography, Room 144, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
GPS Secrets, Room 154, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Introducing iPad 2 — The Perfect Learning Companion, Room 148, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Online Education: Transitioning a Traditional Lab—Based Course To An Online Environment, Room 114, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Lexical Macros in C/C++, Room 137, 10:15 a.m. to 11:10 a.m.
Apple and Accessibility — Making Technology Available to All Learners, Room 148, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Creating the Universe In Your Home, Room 187, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
No Snoring Allowed: Creating Better Electronic Presentations, Room 144, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Latest, Updated Guide to the Absolutely Best Websites and Search Engines, Room 114, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Minsky on MusicSaturday Room 128, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Supercomputing on your Desktop Via CUDA, Room 124, 11:20 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Web Site Accessibility Workshop, Room 137, 11:20 a.m. to 1:20 p.m.
Controlling the World with PIC Microcontrollers, Room 154, 12:25 to 1:20 p.m.
Introducing OS X Lion!, Room 148, 12:25 to 1:20 p.m.
Internet Job$$$, Room 156, 12:25 to 1:20 p.m.
Lego Mindstorms Robotics, Room 144, 12:25 to 1:20 p.m.
Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights, Oh My!, Room 114, 12:25 to 1:30 p.m.
Product Development Methodologies for Success, Room 124, 12:25 to 1:20 p.m.
Video to DVD, Room 128, 12:25 p.m. to 1:20 p.m.
Coming Soon Windows 8, Room 156, 1:30 p.m. to 2:25 p.m.
Do—It—Yourself (DIY) Radiation Sensor Project, Room 154, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
iLife ’11 — Do more with photos, movies, and music on your Mac!, Room 148, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
The incredible history of computers in New Jersey , Room 114, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
Introduction to the Digital Radio Modes, Room 137, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
Robotics! Room 144, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
Safe Computing Using Disposable Virtual Machines, Room 124, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
Video Games — 2012, Room 128, 1:30 to 2:25 p.m.
Connected Medical Devices, Room 114, 3:30 to 4:45 p.m.
RF Safety — How Safe are Radio Waves?, Room 137, 3:30 to 4:45 p.m.
TCF: Present and Future, Room 144, 3:30 to 4:25 p.m.
Developing Applications for Android Phones and Tablets, Room 156, 3:40 to 4:35 p.m.
Finding Homes for Technology Donations, Room 128, 3:40 to 4:35 p.m.
iWork — Impressive Documents, Presentations, and Spreadsheets , Room 148, 3:40 to 4:35 p.m.
Power System Analysis and Computation, Room 154, 3:40 to 4:35 p.m.
Project Management, Room 124, 3:40 to 4:35 p.m.