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Interview: Scapino

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#1 Noah Fentz

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Posted 11 June 2009 - 07:47 PM

It's interview time once again, and this time I finally had an opportunity to chat with Scapino, author and innovator of Visual Pinball table designs using TrueSpace.

Here is a list of his tables available on this site.

Noah Fentz: Thank you, Scapino, for taking time for this interview. It's certainly is nice to be able to chat with you finally.

Noah Fentz: Could you tell us a little about yourself and what you do?

Scapino: I am the Technical Director, for the Lakewood Theatre Company, in Oregon. I supervise the loading in of sets, and I often design the lighting for the shows we put on. We do shows year around, and the one we are doing now, "Into the Woods" is closing this Sunday. Then we will be opening "The Producers" in 4 weeks time.

In my spare time, I make VP Tables...... smile.gif

Noah Fentz: That sounds like a fun job. Is that what you've always wanted to do?

Scapino: I was raised in a theatrical family. Both my Mom and Dad were great actors in there time, though they are retired now. I grew up in Hawaii (1967 to 1983), and both my folks did many episodes of Hawaii Five-0.

Noah Fentz: Would we recognize their names?

Scapino: My Dad is a somewhat famous playwright... George Herman. His main great play is "A Company of Wayward Saints", which has about 60 productions a year. My mom is Patricia Herman. She did 16 Hawaii Five-0s and a couple of Magnum PIs. Dad was in 19 episodes of Five-0.

Noah Fentz: That's really cool! It'll be an interesting search on IMDB smile.gif


Noah Fentz: Have you always been a fan of pinball?

Scapino: I got into pinball when I was 22 years old. I was an Aviation Electronics Tech in the Navy

Scapino: from 1976 to 1980, and when I got out, I got a job at a vending machine company in Honolulu. It was great. The company had just been bought by a larger company, and had to get rid of all their old stock. I was greeted by a warehouse full of dusty old pinballs, and video games. It was my job to repair them all into a sellable state, for an auction. The newest pinball I worked on at that time was a FirePower. I also repaired some old videos, mainly "Space Invaders", "Lunar Wars" and the like. Pretty much first gen video games. Then my company moved into a new building, and we got the contract to put video games in all the 7-11s in Honolulu. This was in 82-83 or so, so I saw a LOT of Pacmans, and Ms. Pacmans.

Noah Fentz: You have a lot of pinball time in, then!

Noah Fentz: What was the first pinball you recall playing?

Scapino: I think it was a Joker Poker.

Noah Fentz: What's you all-time favorite machine?

Scapino: I like Cirqus Voltaire a lot. So much to do!

Noah Fentz: Indeed.

Scapino: I owned a Close Encounters machine that my boss at the vending company sold to me. My brother has it now.

Noah Fentz: You must have kept it in good repair, seeing as you have a little experience in that area. Do you own any machines now?

Scapino: Unfortunately, I don't have any room for a pinball machine where I live now. And I just know if I made room for one machine, I'd have to get another and another. Its like eating chips..... smile.gif


Noah Fentz: Now, I ask everyone this ... How did you find Visual Pinball?

Scapino: I don't recall exactly. It was a long time ago. I think it was somewhere on the web, and I heard about the VERY early PinMame, and tried it out. I then downloaded the first VP, and haven't looked back. I think it was around 2001 or so.

Noah Fentz: What encouraged you to start building tables?

Scapino: It is the beauty of the Visual Pinball program. I had had some Assembly and Basic programming experience from my Apple II days, and being able to program in Visual Basic in VP was a great experience, switching from in-line spaghetti code to more of the object oriented, timer based style was really liberating. My first table was SuperSonic, and I don't know what drove me to do that one first.

Noah Fentz: Is SuperSonic still available?

Scapino: Yes it is. Its on my site (although its the newer, VPM based machine).

Noah Fentz: I mean the first version, sorry.

Scapino:I still have my old original VP tables on a CD ROM somewhere.

Noah Fentz: I think I can speak for everyone in that we'd love to see your first table as it was then...think you can find it for us?

Scapino: Sure. I know where it is. Where would you like me to send it?

Noah Fentz: Awesome!

Noah Fentz: You can PM it to me, and I'll attach it to the interview. (see below)

Scapino: Great! I think people will get a kick seeing how far I have come as an author.

Noah Fentz: I'm sure we'll see a huge difference in style since then, which brings me to my next question.

Noah Fentz: You have a very unique approach to building VP tables in that you use TrueSpace, a 3D rendering program. Can you tell us how that came to be?

Scapino: It all started when the version of VP was released that had EMReel support. I saw a table the had an animated elevator on the back glass, and something clicked in my head. I had been using TrueSpace for many years prior, to simulate my lighting plots for my stage work. I was looking for a way to make the pop bumpers more realistic, and it occurred to me to model them in TS, and use them as animated EMReels on the play field. It worked so well, that I also started longing for better lighting on the tables, so I expanded my use of EMReels to almost the entire table, to give realistic GI lighting and shadows, and also more contrast for the playfield lights.

Noah Fentz: Well, the results certainly speak for themselves!


Noah Fentz: Your technique seems complicated, to me, at least, will we see more of those great video tutorials from you?

Scapino: Eventually. Its really hard to work on a table, and try to document how I do it at the same time. I have got my technique down to a science now. I render my table at 2000x1500, which is just exactly 2x the VP backglass size. I render an all lights off image, and an all lights on image. I import both into a single Photoshop image, with different layers. I duplicate the on layer 4 times to make 4 different levels of intensity for the playfield lights (so they have that "fading effect"). I also render layers that have drop targets down, and the pop rings, and the plunger.

Scapino: With that multi-layer Photoshop document done, I set the grid to 8 pixels, and turn on snapping. I then mark out all the EMReels I'm going to cut using the slice feature of Photoshop. All the edges snap right to an 8 pixel boundary, so all the EMReels Images will be even powers of 8. Using the slice to allows me to adjust the sizes of various reels, until I have it just right.

Scapino: If you double click on a slice, it gives you the x,y position on screen, and also the height and width. I enter all these into a spreed sheet that automatically divides by 2, and I get the exact screen coordinates for the reel in VP, and the exact height and width to make the reel. Using this method, I can place all the reels at once, and its right the first time. No back and forth needed.

"Here I have double clicked on the slice for the right ramp arrow light.
I transfer the X,Y and width and height numbers to the spreadsheet below"

"Then use the crop tool to select just the slice/EMReel"

"Here the image is cropped, and now I want to adjust the canvas size so I can spread out each of the layer/frames for the emreel image.
Since I have an off image and 4 on images (4 levels of light intensity), I expand the canvas by 500%."

"Here is the expanded canvas, and now I dragged the first layer to its new postition on the canvas.
The snap function is on, so its real easy to place. I'll repeat the procedure for the next 3 layers."

"All the frames of the animation are in there propper place. I save this image as a jpg."

"Here you can see I've created an emreel, and set its x, y and width and height to the second set of number on the spreadsheet, which is the original number divided by 2.
The original image was 2000x1500, exactly 2x the 1000x750 of the VP backglass.
The reel is in exactly the right position, no muss, no fuss! "

Noah Fentz: Wow, that's very clever.

Noah Fentz: You'll have to show me that some time wink.gif

Scapino: I'll see what I can do!


Noah Fentz: Now, you mentioned you found VP back in 2001. That makes you one of the pioneers, really. Was there anyone that inspired you or worked with you on discovering new techniques?

Scapino: Not really. I did help some of the early guys when they asked, and of course it was always good to get feedback from people who played the real table, to make my stuff better. It still is.

Noah Fentz: How does the VP scene now compare to way back then?

Scapino: Its MUCH larger, and there is a lot more talent in it now. The audience for the tables has matured as well. The players are more demanding now.... smile.gif

Noah Fentz: I can't argue with that...too demanding, at times. Does it ever bother you that your work is in such demand that some members get impatient and seemingly expect too much?

Scapino: Not really. It is just a hobby for me, like building models. My real life keeps me pretty busy, and doing VP tables is my main creative outlet. I know my limitations, and I know I do the best I can when I make a table. If people like it, great! If they don't, it doesn't really matter. I do what I do.... smile.gif But it is always great to get solid, constructive criticism. That is like finding gold, because you know it will help make your stuff better.

Noah Fentz: You have been pretty quiet on the forum lately, does that mean you're busy building your next release?

Scapino: Yep! I have Flash Gordon all EMReeled up, and I'm in the coding phase to get all the reels animating as they should. I'm pretty quiet in general. I lurk a LOT! I only speak up when I have something to say.

Noah Fentz: We would love to hear more from you, Kurt. I personally, find your work fascinating. When will we see a VP 9 Scapino Production?

Scapino: Well, I did make the Cab version of Mata Hari for VP9. I plan on making a Cab version of Flash Gordon as well.

Noah Fentz: No 4:3 versions for us poor saps without cabs?!

Scapino: I'll see what I can do about that. That will make 3 versions of each table! I do try to make sure the 4:3 version I make will work in both versions.

Noah Fentz: That would be ideal, but I know it can be difficult without overlapping reel support.

Scapino: The only table I've made so far with real overlapping reels is Johnny Mnemonic. All the others, the reels just meet up on each other edges.

Noah Fentz: I see, so there is only the matter of physics for your upcoming releases. So, they should run fine in both....

Scapino: Yes, I think. I'll have to play around with it some more to confirm. Some of my earlier EMReel tables do have sever overlaps on some reels. I wasn't as "neat" then.


Noah Fentz: We have a lot of members aspiring to create and recreate tables now. What advice would you like to give them?

Scapino: Just to pick a table they want to play, even if someone has already done it, and dive in. Take great pains to lay the table out as closely to the real one as possible. Any accuracy in the game play will be directly attributed to how accurately you build it. Even slight variations can make a huge difference. Collect and study all the images of the table in question you can.

Scapino: If possible, find a video of the game in play. This will help get the feel of the table right

Noah Fentz: Thank you, Kurt. I've taken a good deal of your time, and I really appreciate the insight you've shared here today. Is there anything you'd like to add?

Scapino: Only that you are doing a GREAT job with the ORG! Keep it up!

Noah Fentz: Thanks, Kurt! Looking forward to your upcoming Flash Gordon release!

Scapino: You are welcome. I'll send the old table to you presently....Bye!


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#2 Murdock123



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Posted 11 June 2009 - 09:33 PM

Awesome Interview...Cannot wait for the ultimate as always...
Thanks Noah and Scapino for the interview
Mad Matt Murdock

#3 bolt


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Posted 11 June 2009 - 10:03 PM

Thanks for the interview Noah and Scapino
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#4 ynneBBenny



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Posted 11 June 2009 - 11:49 PM

Another great interview there guys.

So Kurt comes from a thespian family ! smile.gif

Yeh Scapino tables always have a great lighting about them. Just as if you were playing the machine in a dark and dingy pinball parlour. It creates a great ambience. You can almost smell the smoke in the air.

EDIT: That gives me an idea, I'd love to see a cigarette placed on the left rail, lit end hanging over the edge, on a table design.

#5 Bob5453


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Posted 11 June 2009 - 11:53 PM

Scapino is the Pinball Wizard. He is, most often, the first favorite author of newbies. His tables are visual masterpieces. He was my favorite author in the beginning too, until I started noticing the differences between Reel tables and VP object tables, it is almost impossible to get reel based tables to play as nice as a VP object made table, but that is a story for another thread. Scapino's tables WERE ALWAYS the tables you showed your friends when you wanted them to be impressed with VP. I couldn't even estimate how many hours I've spent playing Swinger, Eight Ball Champ, Countdown, Close Encounters, SuperSonic, Round Up.... Absolutely amazing! Thank you, Scapino!

Oh, he's also one of the nicest guys who ever made a table.... good.gif

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#6 kruge99


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Posted 12 June 2009 - 01:36 AM

Brilliant interview! Some amazing insight into the Man behind some of the most obscenly beautifully lighted and rendered pinball tables!
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#7 lio



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Posted 12 June 2009 - 01:14 PM

nice read, thanks smile.gif
also thanks a lot for all of your nice tables, kurt smile.gif

#8 Shooby Doo

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Posted 12 June 2009 - 03:52 PM

Great interview! As someone who has only been following this scene for a year and a half or so, these interviews give great insight into the hard work, talent, and time behind VP and why it continues to evolve. Thanks Scapino & Noah!

#9 panootz



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Posted 12 June 2009 - 09:56 PM

I just read that interview and i think you two did an awsome job. Paul keep those interviews coming they are great. Scapino your tables are probably some of the best just like JpSalas, Groni, Tab, Destruk, Jamin and many more, also by the way where is that Pacdude man i hope someday he shows up and makes more tables his were also very good. But getting back to Kurt i just wanted to say your tables seem so real i have to look for the coin slot. Thanks for all the hard work guys. Dave P.

#10 TedB


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Posted 12 June 2009 - 10:24 PM

Thanks Noah, I like these interviews. Very entertaining and informative. Scapino/Kurt is indeed one of the best authors and a great guy. His sharp graphics and his lightning are superb.

Edited by TedB, 12 June 2009 - 10:24 PM.

#11 neoblood



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Posted 12 June 2009 - 11:25 PM

Bookem' Dano.. laugh.gif I used to watch that show! Back then the shows were simpler. Bad guys good guys and guns. Perfect combo.

QUOTE (WWW @ Jun 11 2009, 07:49 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
EDIT: That gives me an idea, I'd love to see a cigarette placed on the left rail, lit end hanging over the edge, on a table design.


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#12 hushdrops



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Posted 16 June 2009 - 02:01 AM

Thanks not only for the tables Scapino - but also for maintaining your own web site - I know that keeping your site up and running takes a bit of time in addition to your table creations, so many of us really appreciate it, thanks agian!

#13 faralos


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Posted 16 June 2009 - 02:29 PM

actually, back in the days when I smoked, when I left a ciggie on a pin I used to let the burning end sit directly on the metal lockbar at the footrail so as to keep the sides (where my fingers were!) clear of burning cigarette so it would have to be rotated 90 degrees and shifted down to the footrail...hmmm I think I can do that in photobie (I use this instead of photoshop as it's free) (heck i maybe able to get a beer bottle resting at the lower edge of the glass too, like we used to do in bars). I am unsure of how to get smoke to curl off it (emreels?) but the end could glow (fading lights?) biggrin.gif hell even a couple of quarters on the glass above the lockbar would do much to make it look more realistic
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#14 johnstevens



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Posted 23 June 2009 - 03:56 AM

This blogs have lots of imfomation
and thay all imfomation is very important for me.

#15 Mattstryker25



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Posted 24 June 2009 - 05:14 AM

QUOTE (johnstevens @ Jun 23 2009, 11:56 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>

This blogs have lots of imfomation
and thay all imfomation is very important for me.

Thanks for the interview guys.......great to learn a bit more about Kurt and
his fantastic table making, keep it up wink.gif

Matt smile.gif

#16 kristian



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Posted 25 June 2009 - 02:53 AM

Scapino is amazing... he was the first one who made totally unreal work with VP. I mean... back in 2001 when the first version of SuperSonic and Close Encounters came out it was just something unreal...!!

It took other authors 5 years to even get into the same parking lot...!!

Keep the masterpieces coming my friend...!!

PS: Great interview...!!

#17 rdeejay



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Posted 10 May 2010 - 02:14 PM

I only just came across this, but i must say i wouldn't be where i am today with VP design if it wasn't for Kurt. Yes i might of chosen to take a harder way in design(first time) but i like a challenge but i just loved the way the tables looked i just had to give it a go. Perhaps one day when i have a bit more experience myself and Kurt can team up and we can produce the most awesome realistic table ever!!

#18 scapino



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Posted 10 May 2010 - 04:03 PM

Thanks for the kind words.....

I just wish I had more time to work on tables. I feel like I have retired from VP without really wanting to! sad.gif

Maybe sometime I'll be able to get back to it....

My re-creations are...

Visual Pinball: RoundUp, Swinger.

Visual PinMAME: Mata Hari, Star Trek, Close Encounters, CountDown, Fireball Classic, CFTBL, Eight Ball, Twilight Zone, Xenon, Cirqus Voltaire, Playboy,Operation Thunder, Fathom, Strikes & Spares, Evel Knievel, Flash Gordon, Future Spa, SuperSonic and Eight Ball Champ.

Future Pinball: Close Encounters, Eight Ball Champ.

Get them at...
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#19 bleepytoys



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Posted 11 May 2010 - 02:11 PM

We all hope so! good.gif

#20 Hansaplast



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Posted 11 May 2010 - 03:23 PM

Kurts isnt just recreating pinball machines into the virtuality of computer graphics.
With his astonishing right feel for colors, contrast, brightness
(and sizing/placing of the 2D-background parts of the backglass around and on the borders of the playfield)
i would call it glorifying pinball.

What i like most on his releases:
No matter which table he had in a wip-thread, people just bomb him with request for other tables,
but he always made the table he want to do and up to 100% it was not the one you expected.
I love nice surprises so every single release was a gift to me,
i knew even if he would do the ugly Bally Hardbody it would shine as gold.