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Our Story Part 2 -  The Painful Learning Curve - 4Villains & The Pirates of Haven -Twitch Pixel Studios

4Villains - The pirates of Haven Deck Building Board Game -Jeff Saamanen

Read : "Our Story - Part 1 - The Early Days, Depression, Anxiety & Animation - The Birth of Twitch Pixel Studios." Here

From our humble beginnings with Worlds Beyond the Grave,  which helped us grow past some of the hardest parts of our personal traumas, to a project that was more that we could chew with The Day tripper Saga nearly breaking us once more, did little to deter us from finding the magic we had, and cultivating a new and more manageable idea. 

I meandered creatively from one thing to the next, tasting and sampling ideas, but nothing clicked. When I hit a creative drought, my anxiety tends to peak. I had yet to realize that my creativity was the cure to my anxiety. It's why I craved it, and it's why I pursued it with such conviction.

So I thought I was going crazy, every time I find something good, life finds a way to rip it away, tear it down, or just drop a hot steaming wad of problems that eat up all my time in solving. Everything I did seemed to be for someone else to prosper in their ideas, and it started weighing on me.

Natalie Harvey & Jeff Saamanen

Natalie bore the brunt of my anxiety, and without her, it would have been much worse. Time and again, she persisted through my self doubt, pushing past the insecurity and hopelessness. She could always find something for me to grab onto, like a creative life preserver in the sea of life, full of garbage expectations that really had no place in our lives in the first place.

I wish then I could have taken more care to see how it was affecting her, but I was so deep down my hole that all my wallowing and self pity blinded me. And yet she still wasn't deterred.

I was jobless, with experience in kitchens which I hated, and I knew that. So in favor of healing, versus making life worse for myself and Nat, I enrolled at Camosun College in Victoria, and began learning programming alongside taking some animation classes in... *gulp* Macromedia Flash, and *less gulp* 3D Studio Max R3, to improve and get my credentials.

Macromedia Flash and 3D Studio Max R3

To my amazement, 3 months in and I was asked to leave Camosun and teach at VSBT. My teacher had noticed that I already had experience in animation, being self taught, in something still fairly niche at the time, and needed to hire someone to teach it over at the Victoria School of Business and Technology.

It was a breath of fresh air to teach, and honestly I love educating others in a creative space. I taught for 2 years, both in classes and private tutoring, and through it I found my voice again, and I found people with the same passion as me, who I could actually communicate with.

It was liberating, I was able to get off my anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds, something I had always resented needing in the first place, and I was probably for the first time feeling like an actual adult.

I wanted to do something for Natalie, and so while I worked she took time off, and to work on new ideas with me in our free time to try and find something new.

It was a burden off both of us, and to see Natalie back as her optimistic, bright-eyed self again was motivation enough for me to tell myself, never again.

And then, I lost my job. Low intake of new students, a recession plaguing the economy, and Jeff once again without a job. A job he actually enjoyed for once. It nearly broke me. But I remembered that I said "Never Again", and I was going to stick to that with the same conviction as I pursued my love for storytelling.

Jeff Saamanen's RPG Collection and LARPing like a true nerd.

Taking to Employment Insurance for the first time, I decided to take some mental health time and relax, game, and find some time for my library of roleplaying books. I even co-founded a LARP called Medieval Chaos with another amazing human I met, and we built up a piece of land his family had as a small medieval village. (That exists to this day!)

The Pirates of Haven -Deckbuilding Board Game - PvP, PvE, Exploration, and Adventure Game!

It was all amazing for a while but I needed a project, so I first started with a new venture, a board game called The Pirates of Haven. A living board game that would grow with expansions, that features deckbuilding gameplay centered around being a Sky Captain in the fractured and dangerously magical world of Haven.

Jeff Photography - The Pirates of Haven Deck Building Board Game

It was a PvP, PvE, world exploration and adventure game, where you can battle your friends and make coin; A game I still hope to publish one day, but once again, lack of funds stops me from producing. 

No way to get eyes on the project, no way to purchase the minimum copies to meet manufacturers needs. It was another blow. Sitting on my shelf to this day is a game I love, and want to make, just waiting for the opportunity. But it also posed another problem, I was building it entirely alone.

Natalie and I were kind of on two different trajectories creatively, and we both yearned to find our way back to one another, although at the time neither of us knew it.

It wasn't until a little web series called “Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog'' that we would find a new muse in indie filmmaking that would become the springboard for our careers in visual storytelling.

We had enjoyed many web series before, 'The Guild' comes to mind (name drop foreshadowing, oooohhh!!!) But Dr. Horrible sparked a new idea in my head. What if we could make our own guild of villainy, akin to Dr. Horrible's Evil league of Evil, or more appropriately being huge Venture Brothers fans, The Guild of Calamitous Intent.

4Villains Logo - 4 Villains By Villains

From that The Crucible, and 4Villains was born.

Four different villains, all denied admittance to the official Villains League the Crucible, founding their own independent league and taking in the outliers, weirdos, and less-than-reputable villains to fill their ranks. Website

The idea was more than the show, of course. I built a website, with a social network on that worked a lot like facebook, but for people to come and be in-character as their own villains, earn points, and make their own video series as members of our indie guild of evil.

We grew a small cult audience of passionate creators, actors, and nerds who all wanted to become their own evil villains in our strange and absurd world. 

Dr. Don't 4Villains Over the shoulder Production Shot.

This was the first idea Natalie and I created that we really wanted to build a community around. A community that would create content that would fill out our world, give our fans a voice in it, and shape lore and a universe together. Something that has followed through all our projects since, leading us of course to now with Unicorn Dick Investigations, but more on that later.

4 Villains Behind The Scenes BTS Shot

So we set about making our first fully produced show, with a small army of friends and family, all donating their time over the four years it took to produce. Natalie and I sunk all of our finances into it. We moved all our things into a single room and built a villain's lair set in our upper level suite, and suddenly we were literally living, breathing, eating and sleeping 4 Villains.

4Villaisn behind the Scenes BTS Production Shot

We recorded a bunch of trailers and shorts, we released our first 2-part pilot, and even made a side-series about our henchmen playing Dungeons and Dragons called Hench’d20! All which you can still watch (embarrassingly) on Youtube!

We traveled all around going to cons, promoting our stuff, I even got a shoutout from Optimus Prime himself Gary Chalk, Hercules and Xena Star Kevin Sorbo, and had my first encounter with the insanely talented and all around amazing human Mr. David Hayter (Holy Crap that's Solid Snake! More on him later!) 

Solid Snake and ShadowSnake, Double Snake Action! (Yes, That's me as a Ninja...)

Serenity Joins our Family! yeah we know, we are nerds!

Natalie and I even brought a new member into our family, our loving and adorable puppy Serenity (yes, yes we know, we are nerds, we own it) Our little Col-triever (Border Collie Retriever cross) who has to this day been through some of the best parts of our lives with us.

Comic Con 4Villains

So 4Villains was more than just a project for us, it was us. We put our heart and souls into 4Villains, grew our family, traveled, and learned, but again without money, without connections, and without some Hollywood bigwig backing us, 4Viallins had to come to an end. Four years of work and all the cash we could bootstrap and we had to close up shop.

Budgeting for lighting, equipment, and peoples time, paying for locations, gas, and costuming, props, covering legal, and contracts, web development, promotion, marketing, we learned it all. And although it may have drained us financially, it empowered us creatively, and not a single cent spent felt not worth the experience.

4Villains Strike a Pose

Our team parted ways, 4Villains fell back into obscurity, and our home became an apartment once more. It was an entire era of our lives ending. It was somewhat depressing, but also relieving. We worked ourselves ragged, and filled so many roles trying to keep over 30 unpaid people on track in executing a kick ass project.

4Villains in the Flesh!

Every damn one of those people deserves huge kudos too, they came, they showed up, they committed, and It was amazing. (You know you you are *Wink*) It was our new family by the end.

Plus we got this image of me out of the deal...

Millennium Jeff in 12 Parsecs

Natalie and I had both matured a lot through the experience, but we wanted something new, and we had always wanted to do animation. In fact that what this was all for, we needed to learn the ropes, we needed to understand filmmaking, and now we needed to merge that with our artistic skills.

For the first time we had a bit of clout, and had some power to pursue more large scale projects, and again we began to reach out to the industry, making contacts, showing off 4Villains, and hoping to get the worlds eyes on us, and again we were faced with the entertainment overlords. 

The Gatekeepers, whose disdain for indies was palatable, and who cared only for things that would guarantee their profits and full control, and that turned us off entirely.

And again I became depressed. Defeated even, I would go as far to say that I utterly and completely Lost Hope.

And that became the theme of our next 2 years, hopelessness that drove creativity, and helped us find our true creative home in animation.

But that next step will have to wait for our next article: Our Story Part 3 - Lost Hope

Lost Hope - Twitch Pixel Studios

Thanks for reading about our journey so far. Those who would like to help create our next chapter, come support by joining our discord community, support on Patreon, or even snag one of our NFT Collectibles, becoming a supporter of our studio and our worlds!

For more find us on:

Twitch Pixel Studios presents - Unicorn Dick: Investigations, NFT Powered, Community Driven Animated Universe!

Where to find Us & our Project:

Unicorn Dick: Investigations NFT Campaign Page

UDA Website:

Twitch Pixel Studios:






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Twitch Pixel
Twitch Pixel

Twitch Pixel Studios is an indie animation studio, founded by myself and my wife in 2017. We focus on community interaction to drive our stories to the next level!

Twitch Pixel Studios - Animation, Gaming, NFT, Art
Twitch Pixel Studios - Animation, Gaming, NFT, Art

We are an up & coming indie animation studios trying to build a different way to use animation, engaging WITH fans, and growing and animated universe together through NFTs! We will do this through gamification, community events, and an expanded universe of animated shorts filled by fully animated versions of our NFT characters! These shorts will fill out our world and lore around our first main series Unicorn Dick: Investigations. for More information on our NFTs and show.

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