Saturday, December 1, 2007

Flea Bussy's empire: Grendel's Children, one wacky avatar at a time...

Once upon a time, there was a troll who started a business in Second Life... Fourteen months, 800 different avatars and four sims later, Flea Bussy is regarded as one of the most prolific and best-loved content creators in the metaverse.

* Rez day: 6/29/2006
* Flea is only 22 years old!
* Works an average of 20 hours a day, 7 days a week
* Was kicked out of art class
* First store opened on September 1, 2006
* Grendel's Children has produced more than 800 avatars
* Average price per avatar: $150L to $250L, with many freebies available
* Ten full time employees; 23 employees all told
* Grendel's Children now covers four sims. Teleport directly from here

Odds are, if you have even one non-human avatar in your inventory, it is from a store called Grendel's Children. I spent one of the most enjoyable evenings in recent memory with its founder and creator, Flea Bussy, and had several surprises, not to mention lots of belly laughs, along the way.

Flea Bussy: I live up in Canada, and am in Quebec! I am, indeed, able to speak French and act as the French translator for staff!
Bettina Tizzy: There is the matter of... is Flea a man or a woman? Or do you care?
Flea Bussy: You can be anything in Second Life, which is what we're devoted to do. It happens that Flea is an old character from early on who's stuck with me as the most fun to 'be,' so I tend to wear (her) as the best representation of myself. I don't really care if people think I'm a he, a she... an it. I answer to all three, and even expletives!

The sort of "official" Flea Bussy avatar

Bettina Tizzy: What were your first days in Second Life like?
Flea Bussy: The first day was like anyone's! You're alone, lost and dumbfounded by the whole world, heehee. Then I figured SL was just a pile of cube homes 'n weird stuff and was preparing to give up on it... and accidentally warped - as my last stop - into a sandbox. And thus, my adventure began.

I saw somebody's massive 3000 prim mech avatar, detailed to the brink. That's when I realized SL is only as bland as you make it to be, and started learning how to build, link, attach... all by reading what resources we have in-game, too! Within 2 days I had the (now free) Viperbug avatar, and by the next day, my (longtime) 'official' avatar "Spikey Armor."

I was just as clumsy as anyone else who tries building: the ol' box to the head, bad prims all over, terrible attempts to animate... but never ever did give up and so, just by always treating any mistake as a learning experience, it has taught me also how to improve my own outlook on RL, too. Nothing like a mistake to teach you something valuable!

Flea's "Spring Treant" is also available in Summer, Fall and Winter avatars. It has a very comprehensive HUD that enables you to emit particles, open and close eyes and mouth, and stomp around rather impressively and *loudly* - The AO is a hoot

Bettina Tizzy: You weren't doing graphic arts or anything of the kind in real life?
Flea Bussy: Naaaahhh, I failed my high school art class and never really learned 'official' ways to do things. (I'm) very much self taught. Hee, 'n you know why I got booted? Well, we're all supposed to draw, say, the bowl of fruit 'n I did, and then added alot of things...and was always told 'you're only supposed to draw what's there!' I think it was some butterfly-like creatures. Very pretty, too. Shame, he ripped it up. Point being, that's when I decided 'art schools aren't for me.' (Today) I paint all our textures by mouse, and that is one skill I would think is very useful to know! Everything is more original since you can always adjust as you draw. It gives something more life, more zip...

This photo by Luna Zolnir

Bettina Tizzy: How soon after those early days in the sandbox did you realize that this could become a full time endeavor?
Flea Bussy: August (was) the learning period, and after one month my friend Shay loaned me and my buddy Lasair a plot of land. She knew we might be able to make it, so she helped set up the space. Grendel's was born on a 2046 sq. m plot. We had a massive tree, and the original Shansu guarding the store.

The first Grendel's Children store opened on September 1, 2006

Bettina Tizzy: Were we ever at risk that you might become a house builder or clothing maker? Sounds like you knew from the getgo that avatars were what interested you.
Flea Bussy: My favorite thing is 'monsters' but, given the fact (that) I'm a 'troll' so to speak (and not from Warcraft - thanks! - I was one before they knew what a troll was!) I always liked making what felt right about 'em.
Bettina Tizzy: So you are a unique troll and not representative of your species? Not a typical ambassador?
Flea Bussy: The joke is I'm the least representative of the species, probably, and far from the most dangerous one.

Nowadays, the store section of Grendel's Children is in the sky above the Avaria sims, which provide a natural habitat for avatars of every sort to explore

Bettina Tizzy: Now you have a four sim business... and how many employees?
Flea Bussy: The count is... 23 or so, and roughly 10 do actual building and are here everyday. Many of the other staff aren't active (life has stolen them away!) but out of honor to them, they stay part of the group. They are free to do as they please, as all are staff! I don't shackle them to the build box, if anyone's shackled it's me! lol The main staffers (who are) on everyday 'n hammering out the delicious things you all enjoy, are numerous and all loveable! Piper Zuhal, Barney Boomslang, Ryan Snook, Rris Greenfield, RaptonX Zorger, Heiko Decatur, Chroma kolache, Psyra Extrodinaire, Memnoch Matzerath, Max Hatfield, Risa Mosuke, Constantine Riel, Sililos Backbite, Lasair Griffis... The others on staff are generally on/off 'n mostly support, hee...

The Snow Leopard, photographed here by Luna Zolnir, was co-created by Flea Bussy and Memnoch Matzerath

Bettina Tizzy: Do you have some sort of group ritual before you make an avatar, or does everyone just go and make something and come back and say "look!"
Flea Bussy: If you count throwing insults and ideas around a ritual... We're extremely close knit. Say I start doodling an idea (and) we're all on voice chattering. Soon we're throwing ideas off each other and often, one avatar grows into many, many things. For example, I did a Shadowcrawler, and it's AO (animation overider) inspired a good dozen other avs both done and being meddled with still. Hee, well, Shadowcrawlers were good, and the AO was then edited to form Kobolds, and added flight to the ao, and it caused gargoyles, fused scavengers, etc...

This photo by Jaid Marsi

Bettina Tizzy: How do you share your doodles, via email?
Flea Bussy: Doodle? Nahh, we build in SL, straight away, and being so used to how we speak, ideas (tend to) flow very fluidly in designs. Our build box is just nuts to be in. Stuff gets painted, thrown together... we do nothing but build n' work, often forgetting to eat/sleep.

This photo by Stephen Venkman

Bettina Tizzy: So, 17 months of very little sleep... were you always like this? Even before SL? Is this your nature, or did SL bring it out?
Flea Bussy: I'm one of those people who's bread and butter is imagination. I always wanted to make, say, 'stuff for video games,' a very common dream of teens 'n such, 'n then you grow up realizing it's not easy, and not like you'll just get scooped up by some game company 'n be all hailed. And, over a bit of time, I realized I'd hate (it) if all the things I invented existed as they do in 90%of games: 'just kill it.'

Flea Bussy: Always was heavily interested in interactions, ecologies, biology, all that sorta 'ecological/sociological' thing going on. When we do things, we also try to make them as...hmm, whats the word... 'not typical' for one... Like the Sirens! Everybody loves em, and they're a play on mermaids.
Bettina Tizzy: unusual even if it is a known species or something we think we know? I adore your sirens, btw...
Flea Bussy: ...and I adore deep sea fish, and thought 'why can't we make one like that?' and hoo boy, did that one ever explode.

Flea Bussy: Hee, well, when it's something we know folks will go nuts (over) for realism, we will bust our chops trying to make it right. Real animals tend to fit into that category, but it's saddening... because even when you do the best SL allows, there's always a horde willing to complain it's 'not right'... the same horde that refuses to take the time to learn to build to see what difficulties they face trying to make something 'real.'

One of many types of goldfish by Flea, shown here in front of Douglas Story's new and soon-to-be-unveiled art installation. Photo by Douglas Story

Bettina Tizzy: I know people who must easily own over 100 avatars of yours. How many people do you know of like that?
Flea Bussy: Uhh well, we do know the Grendel's Wanderer group (for updates/notices) is over 950 people, and a good...maybe..three quarters of 'em probably own more then a dozen avs of ours (a piece).

Flea's Ankylosaurus roams the grid looking quite realistic. This photo by Mylena Aquitane

Flea Bussy: People like when we do real animals, but all Grendel staff's best stuff is probably when we let our minds run free on a form...from Psyra's pheonixes to Rapton's dragons, Mem's mammals or Ryan's beasties...when you stop thinking why you 'have' to do things when the more demanding customers complain, har har - we just like making something up. Like dragons. Nobody can tell you what's right or wrong about em, and it's amusing to see folks try to fit in sometimes what we do into 'what they've thought was the only way to do it.'

This photo by Luna Zolnir

Bettina Tizzy: What programs are you guys working with for your sculpties?
Flea Bussy: Sculpties are fun! Anyone who doesn't like them is missing out, because they can really give something a look you really wanted
Bettina Tizzy: That is the first time I have ever heard them referred to as "fun"!
Flea Bussy: Well, how can't a sculpty be fun? Sure, anyone's first sculpts look like rhino turds or something, but take time 'n patience, and you'll learn what you like best to do.

Flea Bussy: We use Maya, Blender, and I forget the other program... We're very basic program users (or I am anyway), barring Maya.
Bettina Tizzy: Flea, people are going to school these days for three years to learn these tools... you just picked them up ... boom, like that?
Flea Bussy: be honest it's not exactly rocket science.

Bettina Tizzy: Care to hint at your age?
Flea Bussy: I'm only 22!
Bettina Tizzy: 22???? You are so articulate. Big reader in the past?
Flea Bussy: What, there's this misconception I'm some 46 year old creepy guy who has a PhD? No way.

This photo by Luna Zolnir

Flea Bussy: Yeah, before SL I used to read tons. Sl's a bit time consuming though now. I get my books read to me over voice! ;) The best thing in life is a story, a good one. Some folks like to rock out 'n build, some like to listen to movies or stuff, but possibly best times, I've found, is when we staffers trade stories, 'n conversations, often deep ones. and out of it come feelings often grafted into avatars... perhaps (it is the) secret of why the things we do have such vibrancy. We do what we do not for money, but for the joy of building.

Flea Bussy: I do my best to try and make those tired brains get up and want to be here, to do things, to start seeing things differently. Why does anyone give up, I always wonder, when there's so much you can do. Even if SL, tommorrow, became land owned by some corporation and we (were) all just stuck in wee sandboxes to build, I'd be there, building. No platform I have ever seen before allows a person to do whatever they dream. You just cannot let your imagination rot.

Bettina Tizzy: Your family... are they fascinated?
Flea Bussy: Hee, mostly I tell folks I just stay at home n do "stuff." "What kinda stuff?" "Oh, you know, 3D 'n all that." They snicker 'n say I'm wasting my time. Heh, I don't argue. Maybe when I'm old I can point 'n laugh! 'Who wasted their time? Whassat? I can't hear you over my GazTank's Engine!'

Flea Bussy: Something every content creator should remember, what also drives us to fits of rage... I've had some waltz in here, drag me down from helping customers or working on something very delicate (you know when you've got that prim inside something juuuust right), and proceed to tell me a.) how I should run Grendels and b.) Why I need them badly to be on staff to put their overpriced stuff up on the walls because otherwise I will c.) go out of business, being a cheapy factory... It makes me very sad to see content creators all over let their 'success' go to their heads. I can go on for hours (with) the horror stories customers have told me about the terrible things other content creators have done to them: snobism, elitism, overpricing, you name it... It should never be for money, it should be for the joy.

The lights really are on 24/7 at Grendel's. Here you can see which employees are online and IM them directly

Bettina Tizzy: How much of your day is devoted to customer service?
Flea Bussy: All the time? Been doing it while we talked. Folks like to talk to us... we actually answer. If we don't, we're either afk or your IM got capped. Like 3 seconds ago a person was asking for an update. We do those free. Why charge for an update? People know all staff here work 24/7. Grendel's never sleeps... always some staff on, passing the torch 'n working.

Bettina Tizzy: Your prices are very low compared to most.
Flea Bussy: Ayup, because if you figure it out...aside from anything you upload...SL is free. The prims don't cost anything, the scripts are written in here. The L they pay us goes to fuel the sims tier and upload fees.
Bettina Tizzy: You are making a living this way, are you not?
Flea Bussy: Ayup, but I'm very very very low cost. Ask staff, I eat stuff that isn't really consumeable!
Flea Bussy: Ryan, do we EVER waste ANYTHING?
Ryan Snook: Yeah, Flea eats the moths attracted to the light or something.

I spoke with at least a dozen people who avidly collect avatars from Grendel's, and all wanted to show me their latest ones and send their best wishes to Flea and the staff. It is easy to engage a Grendel's avatar collector in conversation!
Bettina Tizzy: So, how long have you been collecting?
Trip Messmer: Probably about 6 months
Bettina Tizzy: Have you ever had occasion to contact Flea or the team for customer service?
Trip Messmer: Sure, they are there all the time. Flea often gives out free avatars when she brings out a new one. For the record, the crew at Grendel's are some of the most creative builders in SL barr none. The imagination and hard work, and also the attention to detail, are probably what makes them so popular.

In spite of the fact that this has turned into the longest blog post ever here, I didn't even touch on Grendel's Children's amazing Draklets eggs, the Avaria sims below the store where you can roam, or all the awesome freebies you can pick up. Need a lampshade to wear on your head? Grendel's. A particle Christmas tree? Grendel's. Fact is, even if you aren't looking for an avatar, there is so much to see and do at Grendel's. We will have to do another story sometime soon on the Draklets, which have hundreds of people in a perfect tizzy (hah!)

Finally, dear Reader, forgive me the vanity, but I must share with you that I am completely gaga over three Grendel avatars. Dunno if I will ever take on a human shape again! There's the Canyon Cactus Dryad for those prickly days...

and the Hybridized Reptile

I like her a lot!

A LOT a lot!!

She will be on the market soon, and there will be a "he," too. Flea tells me they are still going to add wings. Personally, I subscribe to Coco Chanel’s timeless maxim “Always take off one accessory before leaving the house,” so I'm happy to do without the wings :P

But this Paralegal Imp is just too sublime to ignore. Her legal briefs portfolio! Her firey words as she types!

That's me and Douglas Story in the background... heh, another sneak peek at his upcoming show

A special shout-out to Flickr NPIRLers Luna Zolnir, Stephen Venkman, Mylena Aquitane and Jaid Marsi, for allowing us to illustrate our story with their extraordinary photographs. It seems we are all fans of Grendel's Children.

P.S. I had so much fun taking the pics for this post, that I created a NEW NPIRL Flickr group called "Avatars - Not Possible in Real Life." Please join in the fun!


Anonymous said...

Great blog Bettina! I for one am very thankful for Flea, her nutty colleagues and Grendel's for giving so much to SL and asking so little in return.

Grendel avis have given a new breath of life to my SL and I enjoy trying them out in all sorts of situation!

Anyone who hasn't tried stomping or flying through a SIM in non human for doesn't know what they're missing.

In my opinion, Grendel's exemplifies one of the best things SL can offer all of us... unboundled creativity.

Keep on building Flea and co... we'll keep on flying/swimming/stomping with your creation to our heart's delight!

Anonymous said...

Nice blog post! Flea and Psyra (the two I know from Grendel's Children) are wonderfully creative and it is great to see you highlight their work. You always know you will be impressed and amazed. - Forseti

Bettina Tizzy said...

Mylena: Your gorgeous pic of the Ankylosaurus (geez, I hope I spelled that right... weeee!) really helped to dress up the blog piece, so *thank you* once again! It was a joy to work with and learn more about Flea, who also happens to be a delightful person.

Forseti: It thrills me to know that you make time to read the blog, in spite of your intense schedule. Thank you for your kind words <3

Anonymous said...

It is almost impossible for anyone to land at Grendel's and not be impressed by something within seconds. I can't claim to be a collector but certainly have my share of avatars after watching a friend turn into a horse and offering rides to others some time ago.

I believe Grendel's captures the real essence of SL by letting anyone be whatever they wish to be.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I've always wondered about Grendle's Children and the people behind it, so thanks for shining a light into the darkness of my ignorance (or sommat like that).

I *really* have to revisit the store - I feel a need to add to my modest collection...