Tom Fry Interview: Using Videogames to Remake Skatevideos

If you’re a real skate nerd, you’ve probably come across these YouTube videos of famous video parts remade using the video game “EA Skate” – they’re often done with incredible accuracy, taking into account the look of the spot, the skateboarder’s outfit in each clip, and even the filming angles. Tom Fry is a 22 year old skateboarder from Illinois who is responsible for creating some of the most accurate remakes out there, including parts from many Arizona skaters like Josh Hawkins, Ryan Lay, and Jon Pierce.

Tom Fry Crop

Tom Fry at home doing what he does in Skokie, Illinois. Photo: His Grandma

Why are so many of your Skate 3 remakes from Arizona videos and skateboarders?
Most of my favorite parts just happen to come out of AZ. Josh Hawkins is my favorite skateboarder and I started out remaking his first “A Happy Medium” part. Also I always thought the spots out there were distinctive and would look cool remade in the game.

These remakes are so detailed that it looks like they would take way too long to create. Too long for most people’s attention spans at least. How long does it actually take to make them?
They take anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months each. I usually work on them 4-5 days a week, spending 1-4 hours on them per day. Each trick takes roughly an hour including building the spot, doing the trick, filming, and editing.

Okay, I’ve got a whole bunch of questions about how you do this stuff, because I don’t play the game at all and when I watch the remade parts they seem insanely realistic. To start, how do you make the spots in the game  just like the real spots?
The game has a program called “create-a-park” where you’re given an empty background, building pieces, and a handful of worldly items like traffic lights, bent pole jams, trees, and foliage. You can merge these items however you like, where things are kind of sunk into each other. For example, if you want a bush in the ground, you can sink a tree into the ground until just the leaves stick out.

In Ryan Lay’s Thrasher part, there’s a clip in between his tricks that shows him giving a thumbs up for just a second. I loved how you even remade that tiny clip. How did you make Ryan in the game actually look so much like Ryan in real life?
The game allows quite the range of customization, from body shape, facial structure, even getting specific like the length and curvature of the nose. Also, there’s a variety of clothes to choose from. Probably the same amount that you’d see in your local shop, including hats, tee shirts, buttoned shirts, jackets, pants, socks, and shoes.
ryan game boy
How do you make it look like the tricks in the game are filmed from the same angles as they are in the original part?
There’s a section in the start menu called the “replay editor” where it shows you the tricks you did and allows you to “film” the clip however you want by setting key frames and positioning the camera however you want with each frame. The view will then move from one key frame to the next so getting the filming to look smooth can be challenging.

A little taste of how I film clips for Skate remakes. @josh_hawkins wallride from #ahm3 @busteroshea @hunteroshea @skateaz

A video posted by Tom Fry (@fledgling_) on

I’ve noticed that sometimes you actually seem to remake the trick with the same style as the original skateboarder. Is that just trial and error until you get lucky or what?
Well sometimes you can get lucky and the animation just happens to look like the real thing. Other times you gotta improvise. For example, for people with a really nice kickflip, where there is emphasis on the flick of the ankle, I’ll borrow the animation from Mike Carroll’s kickflip using a little glitch I found in the game.

How does this glitch work?
So in Skate 3, let’s say you’re playing with your custom character but you want to “borrow” another character’s style. You select a character whose style you’d want to use for the particular trick you’re remaking. In this case Mike Carroll. Unlike the majority of the characters, Mike Carroll was motion captured for the game so his kickflip is more unique than the rest. I like to use his kickflip for people with that style of kickflips. So you do the trick with Mike Carroll, press start, choose free play, pick your custom character again, and then the “glitch” is that when you go back to the replay editor, the game thinks you did the trick with your character instead of with Mike Carroll. So your character skates exactly like Carroll but it’ll be your custom character with his animations.
carroll image ea skate
Are you the only one out there making these parts or is there a Skate 3 community, like some kind of subculture of gamers who are into making these parts? 
Oh yeah, there’s a pretty big community. They lurk mostly on the forum Since Skate 1, people have been making original parts, or what they call “solos.” There’s a really sick Skate 2 full length of realistic skating called “ABD.” But only a handful of people, myself included, make remakes.

How many people would you guess make remakes? Are you one of the best?
About 6-7. And not to toot my own horn but I’d definitely say I’m the most accurate. Plus no one’s really been making them in the past few years so I probably get the title by default anyway.

Do you do it for the satisfaction of getting YouTube views and being the guy who makes the best ones? Or do you just love playing the game and paying homage to your favorite parts? Why do you invest so much of your time into creating these remakes?
Haha I honestly don’t know. I’d say because it’s the only thing that I can make and that I’ve progressed at so much aside from my actual skating. That and whenever I see a part I really like and I start remaking, I just feel like it needs to exist. In this day and age, where technology’s at, it just makes sense that they would be a thing that somebody’s doing. They’re sort of my way of complimenting my favorite skateboarders and emphasizing my appreciation of their skating and the video part. And honestly the views do give me the motivation. I wouldn’t make them if I knew that no one would watch them. I’m glad that people have been watching them and I hope that it’s something that people enjoy seeing or want to continue seeing.
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So after putting so much work into creating the spots, designing the characters, choosing their outfits, and all of that, how much of the whole process is actually playing the game and trying to do the trick?
Oh, that’s the fun part, and at times absolutely frustrating. It can take anywhere from 2 minutes to as long as it took to build the spot. The most important part about building the spot is to make sure the trick works there and I’m really picky with how I want the tricks done. I pay close attention to the crouch, how far the knees bend during the landing, as well as where they pop and land.

And then after all that, you basically download each trick to your computer and edit the part in final cut or premiere? Matching up the whole thing to the original?
Actually, I have a capture device that’s hooked up to my TV, Xbox, and my computer. It let’s me record whatever’s on the TV. The thing cost me 200 dollars but it was worth it. Super easy to use and the quality is amazing. Then I edit it all in Sony Vegas.

So during all of the time you’ve spent progressing at this strange hobby, have you had any good reactions from any of the skateboarders whose parts you remade?
Oh definitely. I actually got to meet Jordan Hoffart and Josh Hawkins in San Diego 4 years ago because of remakes I’ve made for both of them.

Tom Fry Cali Crop

Tom’s friend Peter, Tom, Jordan Hoffart, and Josh Hawkins in San Diego

So somehow remaking their parts in a video game and then putting them online lead you to actually meeting them in person?
Yeah. When I started 5 or 6 years ago, my first few remakes were of Josh Hawkins on Skate 2. A year or so later, Powell Peralta’s team manager messaged me requesting that I remake Jordan’s part in Powell’s video “FUN.” Once I finished, Jordan messaged me a personal thank you, offered to send me a box, and said to let him know if I wanted to ask for anything else. I asked if he would be down to meet me if I flew out to San Diego for vacation. He agreed and I got to hang out with him, Josh, and the rest of the Powell Peralta team.

What do your friends think of your bizarre hobby?
Haha I definitely got shit for it when I first started but once I started getting recognition and free stuff they shut right up. Now they think it’s pretty tight, although I’m sure to some degree it still looks ridiculous. Even I think it’s the weirdest skateboarding related thing you can do.

Do you know if they’re working on the next game? Is it going to get way more realistic or do you think these skateboarding games are just a fad that’s dying out?
I know that EA doesn’t really have a plan for the next game yet, but there is a smaller group called Creature Studios and last year they announced that they were working on a game called “Project Sessions” with nearly identical controls to EA Skate. They’ve only posted a little bit of footage of their progress so far. They just need more exposure and funding but if they get it, this could be something special. From the little footy we have of it, it looks a lot more realistic already. Honestly I’m hoping that my remakes spark something as a way of saying “we need a new game.” What I do is literally showing people, possibly game producers, just how realistic the game is but also noting the things that need adjustments.

*** You read the whole thing? Now that you understand how much work goes into these videos, take 5 minutes to watch Tom’s newest remake of Brett Woodward and Eric Thomas from “A Happy Medium 2″***