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You’ll never feel the same about video games again after you watch this duo.
Ganondorf, the heinous villain in the Legend of Zelda video game universe, tends to be an unlikeable character. But portray him with a lively piano backup, a cheerful song to sing, and enviable tap-dancing skills—and the fiend is downright lovable.
Random Encounters is a YouTube channel dedicated to portraying video gaming’s most memorable characters in the style of classically-trained musical actors. If video games are fine art (as the Smithsonian Institute has deemed), then this is the genre’s Gilbert and Sullivan.
Whether through elaborate costume, hand-puppetry, animation, or Claymation, the group shares characters’ offbeat laments—think the Angry Birds ranting about green pigs or Pac-Man trying not to be eaten—along with upbeat piano accompaniment straight out of a formal musical.
Not surprisingly, both members of the Random Encounters duo are trained in musical theater.
Peter Srinivasan, who got his start composing scores for his high school marching band, is a professional filmmaker and sound designer for video games like Capsized.
The Lancaster, California performer said the first instrument he learned was the French horn, one of the most difficult instruments to master. He also plays piano. AJ Pinkerton, a writer-director and freelance editor, has skills that dovetail perfectly with his friend’s.
The two met in film school while working on a school musical, but quickly branched into developing their own creations. Srinivasan would film and add lighting and special effects, and Pinkerton would provide the music, lyrics and direction.
No genre was out of the question.
“I met Peter in college and we started our first co-musical second semester,” Pinkerton told the Daily Dot. “That was our only musical together in college, but we still found ways in our other films to work in Latin choir, pirate chanties, and the most irritating doo-wop song in existence.”
Following college, Srinivasan moved to Los Angeles and lost touch with Pinkerton for awhile. That is, until he got a surprising phone call, he told the Daily Dot.
“After graduating college and moving to L.A., I got a call from AJ. He needed help on a musical number about Sonic the Hedgehog. I was skeptical but joined anyway. I’m really glad I did.”
As it turned out, Pinkerton was working on a contest entry. Sega, the company that created Sonic the Hedgehog back in 1991, was looking for a video to commemorate the character’s 20th birthday.
Together, Pinkerton and Srinivasan created Needlemouse, a catchy, jokey portrayal of Sega’s most prickly video game stars. It netted more than 20,000 views overnight—pretty good for an unknown YouTube channel’s first upload. And—it won the contest.
“We won the grand prize. And we got an invite to perform Needlemouse live at Sega’s E3 2011 afterparty, Sonic Boom,” said Srinivasan. “Sega put us on the Nokia Live stage in front of a thousand rabid Sonic fans.
“We figured we found our niche and decided to take it a step further.”
That niche? Combining classic games from the 90’s (and earlier) with even more classic voice and piano music (Srinivasan names composer Hans Zimmer as a musical inspiration.) Their most successful productions, like Ganondorf’s tuneful performance, are inspired by older video games.
“We’re finding that nostalgia is quite important to our fans, so keeping a schedule of classics is a priority,” said Pinkerton.
Since the duo’s average musical usually takes around four weeks to write, compose, film, and edit, sticking to that schedule isn’t always easy. They shoot for a new musical every month. Srinivasan said the Ganondorf musical took a month overall, and the two built all the props and costumes from scratch. Srinivasan said:
“As you can tell, we do everything on our own. We’ll have a crew of me, AJ, and sometimes one other person to shoot everything with. It’s really barebones.”
And that’s just live action filming. While the two, who are also roommates, were filming Pac-Man, they couldn’t eat at the kitchen table for almost a month.
“Our kitchen table was essentially hijacked with Pac-Man figures for most of the month of September,” said Pinkerton. “We left it set up every day and I’d grab shots any time I had a few minutes free.”
Their hard work has paid off. After their Pac-Man musical got thousands of views, two competing video game YouTube channels offered them contracts. The pair left the choice up to their fans, each of whom they try to respond to. Srinivasan said:
“We’ve had some really big fans and we try to respond to everyone. For now. Until we have a million comments a day.”
While successful, quitting his day job. “Currently, we see no income except for winning masquerades, small kickstarters, and the occasional gift,” Srinivasan said. “The only other thing we can say is that there is some amount of credit we’ve been accruing.”
But this may be just the beginning. The two have lofty goals.
Pinkerton said: “I think we have the chops for movies and television, if we can just get the right series to work on,” he said.
Photo by Random Encounters
Lauren Rae Orsini is a web culture reporter who specializes in anime and the business of fandom. Her work has been published by Forbes and Business Insider.