Editor-in-Chief Alex Taylor, Deputy Editors Oscar Frost and Charlie O’Keefe, and Print & Features Editor Jess Parker interview members of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort: Kitt Byrne, Cheyenne Pualani Morrin, Joel Beardshaw, and Holly Reddaway.
BAFTA Breakthrough, supported by Netflix, is BAFTA’s flagship initiative for highlighting new talent working in film, games, and TV. This year marks BAFTA Breakthrough’s tenth anniversary, having supported over 200 people across the UK, US, and India.
Redbrick Interviews BAFTA Breakthrough 2023: Kitt Byrne
Editor-in-Chief Alex Taylor interviews Kitt Byrne, 2D artist/game designer on ‘Gibbon: Beyond the Trees’ and a part of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort.
First of all, a massive congratulations to you, this is amazing, this must feel like such a huge, well I guess like a huge breakthrough opportunity! What does it mean to you?
It’s huge really, I associate it with people in the industry who’ve really cemented their place and really proved themselves, proved that they belong there, and done something really great, so to have it then given to me, I really didn’t expect it, I’m really over the moon with it.
That’s amazing, clearly you’ve proved you belong, and have done something equally really great. How did you find out?
I just got an email. I was just working from home and the email came through, it was just a complete surprise really I wasn’t expecting it.
What is it about this industry that you love, unlike film or television, what is it about games that sets them apart for you?
Games have always appealed to me ever since I was really tiny, really. Just because the realm of possibility is huge. It’s so immersive! To not disrespect film, because obviously film is a fantastic medium you can tell stories in a way that is so immersive and unique. You can learn so much in games, you can change people’s outlook on the world, you can open their mind, you can share empathy from one kind of person to another that just feels so much stronger than any other medium.
I’ve read a little about your time in Japan, how do you feel that’s influenced your work and your career, or just your perspective as a person?
Oh yeah, massively actually. It’s one of the best thing’s I’ve ever done in my life, really. I always was interested in Japanese culture and things like that. But, being there I was very influenced by how in Japan the kind of history of Japan, and the religions they’ve had in Japan really feeds a lot into their relationship with nature and character design. From everything like Pokémon to just everything that they make like [studio] Ghibli films, I think you can just really tell a Japanese game because there’s this connection to nature and this spirituality of nature that really comes through, and that just really spoke to me and I absolutely loved it being there and I’ve definitely carried that forward into a lot of the things that I do.
That’s fantastic! Was it something you knew before that you loved, or did you discover that in Japan?
I think I knew I liked it, and then I got there and one of the funny things that happened is: I was learning Japanese while I was there and I was often asking my Japanese friends ‘what’s the word for this animal?’, or ‘What’s the word for this plant?’. Quite often actually, because Japanese is a complex language, they wouldn’t necessarily know the name of it! I realised I was the kind of person that asked a lot about animals and nature just by reflection.
And evidently a very curious person, and presumably that feeds into ideas of world-building and answering these questions. Did your experience in Japan feed into the idea of wanting to do social good?
Absolutely. So, I studied in Hiroshima University, which the world knows for being the location of the A-bomb, and that involved actually one of my modules was peace studies so that was a privilege to be able to study that and learn about that, even though my degree was unrelated; it was an arts degree. So that’s had a huge influence, I really respect one of the things we did as students was go to the annual peace ceremony in Hiroshima city where Japanese kind-of makes an international callout against war ever year which I thought was really beautiful.
Wow, that’s amazing. Going back to this idea of wanting to do a social good, social justice I guess, where do you think that comes from in your personality?
Gosh that’s a big question! Just need to think about how I’m going to answer! I think, ever since a really young age I had a lot of empathy. I told my parents I wanted to be a vegetarian from like age 7, as soon as I realised what the deal was with eating meat. And I think what I touched upon with games being really important. Entertainment’s really important, games are really important, you know we can’t all be doing really worthy things all the time, but at the same time it’s an opportunity to make the world a better place, basically.
That’s amazing, and clearly you do that in more ways than just your career, you mentioned you’re a vegetarian, and clearly this empathy has been an ongoing thing that you’ve happened to have dipped your professional side into. How do you think this has influenced your work then?
I guess I would say it’s been a huge influence, it’s not something that’s easy to do, you have to make a living. You can’t just go through life picking and choosing these super important topics, but my first job in games was at a company called ‘Preloaded’. Whose kind of slogan is that they make games with purpose, and I was particularly attracted to apply for that job because of that reason, they’d made a lot of educational games, games for museums, things like that. So really the trajectory of my career has been very heavily influenced by that and I would say I’ve been very privileged to choose projects, that’s one of the things I’ve been very grateful for, that I’ve managed to find projects that are very important to me.
And what is it you might look for in a project?
I guess anything to do with nature, education, or history. I suppose, maybe it’s a bit less about ‘looking for’, it’s kind of serendipity that you’re available, somebody wants your work, and that the game that they’re working on is of this kind of nature. I’ve actively avoided working on things like gambling games, and that kind of thing.
That’s great. You say about not being able to do choose every project, but you evidently have come down a path that’s led you to such a great place, and clearly you have worked very hard to be here. What kind of games do you enjoy playing?
Personally, I really love puzzle games. I really like casual games, I think they get pushed aside a little bit but I think there’s definitely a place for relaxing, kind-of puzzle games, but I really love anything that is kind of mystery-puzzle. So, things like [Return of the] Obra Dinn, I grew up playing Monkey Island, that was a really formative game for me, and probably my favourite kind-of ‘franchises’ are Zelda, because that’s like a puzzle adventure, really, and Animal Crossing I really like as well – it’s about friendship!
That’s nice! Also, animals! How do you feel your upbringing has influenced your career path and your subject matters?
Yeah, I suppose its two sides of a coin. Being from the North-East, there’s not a lot of creative industry up there. You know, you don’t really know anybody or meet anybody who works in a creative job, so there were parts of it that sort of held me back I’d say, but at the same time it gave me something to fight against – I am going to be an artist, no matter what anyone says! Then again, there’s a lot of things I’m grateful for, the college I went to was really good. I learned recently the guy that designed the LEGO Harry Potter castle for LEGO, also went to the same college as me so I feel like there must’ve been some good push there on a creative side. I suppose it’s also a bit more of a ‘nature-y’ place compared to other parts of the country. I grew up going to the seaside a lot, like Northumbria, natural parks things like that.
That’s great! Clearly you have pushed against it, and clearly you have made all the right decisions, and clearly you do have all the right bouncing-off points to be involved in the right projects, to work hard, and to earn your place. And now you’ve been cemented as someone who does that, and belongs, through this award. So just to round it off, congratulations, it’s been a pleasure!
Redbrick Interviews BAFTA Breakthrough 2023: Cheyenne Pualani Morrin
Deputy Editor Charlie O’Keefe interviews Cheyenne Pualani Morrin, a Hawaiian game writer who worked on the new Star game: Star Wars: Jedi: Survivor, and a part of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort.
Why did you pursue game writing over other mediums like film and tv?
‘I had always been really passionate about games like I was just a staple of my childhood. It’s how my family used to spend time and bond ever since SNES and N64, so it’s always been a part of I who I am and who my family is but it wasn’t until I finished BioShock Infinite that I realised that game writing was a very serious craft that is an actual profession. Growing up on Maui, there’s not a lot of game studios here in Hawaii, so that just didn’t seem like an industry that was even on my radar and then I finished BioShock Infinite, and I was so blown away by the story that I knew I needed to get into that specific craft.’
You have been noted in the past for the diversity in your writing, is this something you are
‘I think Respawn in general has a really strong DEI programme. I was leading the diversity equity, and inclusivity storytelling work streams so we have a few different branches in there. Representing diverse perspectives and stories was what our work stream did, and I think we really integrated that into the DNA of survivors. That was an element that we prioritised from the very beginning and and I’m really happy with how all of the team really rallied around trying to support that as wholeheartedly as they could and to go into uncomfortable places and really try to educate themselves so that we could deliver the most authentic version of those stories.’
What is the significance of the BAFTAs in relation to video games since some may not consider them art in the way that traditional mediums are given that acknowledgment?
‘I think it’s reaffirming the growing respect and prominence of storytelling in games. I also grew up in an era where sometimes the players in the audience or the general public would take game stories seriously and other times they’d say that it’s just a game. To be welcomed into this kind of opportunity that really elevates storytelling across all sorts of mediums adds more gravity I think to the kind of recognition and the opportunity.’
What does the BAFTA breakthrough award mean to you are your career?
‘I think it will very much change or alter the course of my career in a really great way. For a couple of reasons I mean Bafta has worked really hard in elevating and discovering new across the world and so being able to interface with emerging talent is an incredible opportunity but they also have a collective of veteran talent and industry experts who have gone through the ringer and they have experiences to share and they have a pathway that you can follow or make slight deviations from. The opportunity to interface with that is really exciting. Second, being the first breakthrough from Hawaii, I hope it signals to the broader industry that there is undiscovered talent that comes from strange, maybe overlooked pockets of the world. I’m hoping that this opportunity also inspires other people from my state to understand how valuable their perspective and their stories are and that if they are persistent and they continue pursuing what they’re passionate about, storytelling, that it’s really only going to enrich the final audience experience as well as the team.’
What advice would you give to those interested in getting into game design, particularly from minority backgrounds?
‘I would tell them to not doubt their perspective and their experiences because as I mentioned earlier it really only enriches and creates a more dynamic and multifaceted player experience at the end but it also tell them to lean on their communities and the broader game industry network and to find mentors who can help them navigate some of the challenges of the industry and finally collaborate as much as possible that was something that was really important in my early career was finding folks who were equally passionate maybe not on a professional level but they had that kind of passion and that drive to create great experiences. That collaborative skill is so key when you finally get into the industry being able to compromise with an respect each others opinions even when there may be some friction because the friction is great it means that it’s going to produce something that is a really high quality experience at the end.’
What are your plans moving forward in the gaming industry?
‘I think I really just want to keep learning how to make the most compelling and diverse stories and that can come from techniques and approaches from other mediums in the entertainment industry. I’m really grateful that our cohort is so diverse in the types of creators who are a part of. Even just one of the first meetings that I’ve had with them, I sat down with a director, an actor, and a composer and we all had things to share about each other’s divergent traits. Being able to import that into the game medium is really exciting. The other aspect is DEI is a really big part of both Respawn but also my career trajectory and I’m really hoping to meet more people who have helped or who have navigated challenging space. I think a lot of folks are intimidated about how to best authentically represent some of these stories and so being able to meet people who have gone through that process and can share some of their learnings and help me navigate that would be awesome.’
Redbrick Interviews BAFTA Breakthrough 2023: Joel Beardshaw
Deputy Editor Oscar Frost interviews Joel Beardshaw, lead designer on ‘Desta: The Memories Between’ and a part of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort.
So Joel, my first question to you was, what do you think made yourself stand out to be part of the BAFTA breakthrough cohort?
Well, I wasn’t expecting this question. Yeah, I think for me, there are so many people, especially in games, doing amazing things. I think some of these things are the projects that I got to work on, like Desta, which is a project that’s really close to my heart and the team’s heart, with that diverse look at Northern England through a tactical, light kind of gameplay. I’ve worked in games for a very long time in some ways, but I’ve been working here since 2007, so a fair while. But this was the first project that I’d seen from prototyping all the way through to release. On my previous projects, I’d always joined a bit after the concepting phase, but this, along with other people on the team, was something that I got to see through right from the start to the end, but I think it kind of, especially on the game design side shows a lot of my interest and sensibilities.
So I mean, you mentioned Desta, and, you know, congratulations on winning an award at develop for Desta. Was this the proudest work in your career so far, is there another sort of project that really sticks out to you is your favourite?
On the whole, it probably is the proudest for those reasons that I’ve spoken about before. It’s something that like I’d seen from start to finish. And being with that same team, a lot of the same team worked on Assemble with Care, especially the lead team on that. So, it was Danny Grey, who was the same game director, Chris Cox, who was the same artist. I really enjoyed working with both on Assemble with Care, and then getting start a new project with them, and push it through. It was a really special game to be able to take it through from start to finish. I think, also, it was a game that has this ensemble cast of characters who kind of came from a lot of our own experiences, so there are bits of all of us in different characters. Drawing on different relationships we’ve had with friends and family members and getting to see them reflected in parts of the game was really special, especially characters like Miss Kay, who is the art teacher who appears in the third chapter. A lot of that is based on my own experiences. My parents were both teachers, and that kind of relationship living with and growing up with someone who is invested in your education in that he can’t lie to them about what’s going on. You can’t get them over in the way that maybe some other people can. But also that thorough encouragement stuff, which definitely felt like it came from a place of me, even though I wasn’t on the writing team. We pulled a lot of those characters from various members of the team.
So how much of your personality do you get to sort of intertwine into your games?
Especially as a designer, I got to find ways to put parts of my personality into every game I’ve worked on. But maybe earlier in my career it was much more superficial. I worked on kart racing games and micro machines games and things that have previously and the amount of yourself you can put in there are normally just things you like, rather than anything else. So yeah, that move into that space of like more narrative games, especially game set in the real world like Assemble and like Desta, you get to include those human relationships. You get that chance to reflect on yourself and what those relationships mean to you and maybe how they affected you. And I think Desta was definitely part of that, I think, to a lesser extent Assemble with Care. Maybe less in the the secondary characters, but especially in the the tone of that game.
You’ve talked a little bit about how long you’ve been in the gaming business, so I was wondering how the world of games has evolved during your career and how you kept up with those changes?
Yeah, so I’ve been gaming since 2007. I lived and worked in Birmingham for nine years actually, I know you’re based in Birmingham as well. I lived around kind of King’s Heath Stirchley way, that was where I was based. And worked at Swordfish and Codemasters, which are famous for racing games. Codemasters were very famous for their racing game theories and had a really great time there. I think games is always changing. There have been some phase shifts, I think, especially in the last year or so we’ve seen a lot of contraction, a lot of layoffs, and also in that people may be playing a bit safer as well. But, I feel like it’s a mode that the games industry goes through in the long term. I think it’s a thing that a lot of entertainment industries go through, they kind of contract a little bit, and then they find a new rhythm and they expand again. I do think we’re in that unfortunate time of contraction, I think we should be working to kind of push out of it and find new ways to be creative and tell personal stories rather than just play bankable stories. And so, I’m really pleased that, myself and a studio like UsTwo, but also the other the other games candidates, games breakthroughs, both this year and in previous years, have often been people telling personal stories, small stories, off the beaten track stories.
So do you think that sort of personal approach is the way forward then for games?
I don’t think it’s ever, ever, ever gonna be. I don’t think games is ever going to not have that blockbuster element to it as well. I think it’s like theatre. It’s like TV. It’s like film in that as the medium grows, we find new words for things and we find new audiences, and it kind of it slowly but surely grows, the breadth of what mainstream success can be. And part of that is, very personal games. We’ve seen the rise of that kind of like, cosy, wholesome game stuff that it’s kind of risen up in the last few years, that wasn’t a label that I would have applied to UsTwo games previously. But maybe we fit into it in retrospect. It’s not something we’ve been aiming for. But we’ve been trying to make the kind of games we’ve been trying to make for many years. And we kind of fall into that gap in the sensibilities of those through that space. I do think I enjoy a big, like amazing blockbuster. I’m really enjoying Baldur’s Gate 3, like I wouldn’t want to live in a world without those kinds of things. But I also wouldn’t want to live in a world without platforms where you can find, personal games made by single people on their own, creating things that tell little stories or playing with, like a cool little mechanic that that is expressing something about themselves.
I used to play international cricket 2010 which was by Codemasters, so I was wondering if there if there was a particular game that inspired you while you’re growing up that sort of led you into career in game design?
Yeah, I think for me, there are two different games. A game growing up was Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on the Gameboy. I was always just totally sucked into this tiny little world. There was this island you can explore which had like this kind of weird dream feeling about it. Link is dreaming, and he’s trying to wake up. But then while I was at university, I encountered a game called The Endless Forest, which is by Tale of Tales Games, which is really hard to describe. You open up the game, and it only opens up as a screensaver, so you have to leave your, your PC idle for a little bit. And when it boots up, you are a deer in a forest and you wander around. You sing songs with other deer and there’s a lot of nonverbal communication: lots of emotes, and lots of finding things. But then you can only give them to other people, you can’t use them on yourselves. And with this kind of strange, ethereal multiplayer experience where you meet strangers that you could never interact with again, and never know who they were again. But it really opened my mind up to that games can be little experiences and strange and ethereal, but also have like this great sense of place and identity. I think all those things really inspired me and that game was really pivotable pivotal in my university days.
Redbrick Interviews BAFTA Breakthrough 2023: Holly Reddaway
Print & Features Editor Jess Parker interviews Holly Reddaway, the voice and performance director for Baldur’s Gate 3, and a part of 2023’s UK BAFTA Breakthrough cohort.
Hi Holly, how are you feeling today?
I’m good, I’m feeling really excited. It’s nice to get talking about Breakthrough after sitting on this secret for a month or so.
The big question – how do you feel to be a part of this year’s BAFTA Breakthrough cohort?
Really thrilled. I think its really wonderful to have an organisation as prestigious and as inspiring as BAFTA name you as someone whose work they’re excited by and to recognise your work in this program. I think it’s very difficult to forge a career in the creative industry, especially as a freelancer, and I know that I certainly never take any time to reflect on any of the work that I’ve done; I’m always thinking about the next job and the next project, and what I can be doing to make this a sustainable career. So to have the opportunity to pause for a moment and take a moment to celebrate the journey up to now has been amazing. When I sat down to think about applying for Breakthrough I realised that I have 11 titles coming out this year, which I think until I’d done that, this would have just gone completely over my head. So to think about what’s to come and to feel grateful and to celebrate the journey that’s come before.
What drew you to freelance work? Did you ever consider that it might be too unstable, or were you always after this kind of career?
I was always very determined to give it a go and try to make it work. Firstly I wanted to be a theatre director because that was the only work that when I was younger I was aware that directors did. I did a drama degree and then I went to LAMDA to train as a director. While I was at LAMDA I had some brilliant advice from the actor Alistair Petrie. He was an ex-graduate, and he came in and said that you’ve just got to stick at it. He said that from his year at LAMDA, there were maybe five of them who were still acting, but the ones that were acting were doing very well. His career has really taken off. He’s had a really great career, but with the releases of Sex Education and The Night Manager, the past five or so years have been incredibly exciting for him. His advice to us was just ‘don’t give up, it will be shitty at times but just stick with it’. Although I haven’t been working as long as he has, that’s really stuck in my brain.
Following the MA Directing program, what first drew you to directing games, immersive, and animation?
Lots of different things really. I grew up playing games. I loved playing games but I stopped playing them when I went to University because I didn’t own my own console and didn’t have the money to buy one. I was directing as much as I could at University, and by the time I got to my third year I got very bored of making theatre work in the black box university spaces, so I started to do a lot of interactive and site-specific work. I did some shows in car parks, libraries, nightclubs, and observatories; I just tried to make my work as interactive as possible, so that was something I’ve always been interested in. When I graduated from LAMDA I was working in theatre. I had lots of friends who were talking about work they’d done as actors in games, and that was a sort of light bulb moment. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, someone must be directing that’, and it really has enabled me to make the interactive work that I was drawn to.
Stemming from this move from theatre to the interactive, how do you think theatre has influenced your current work?
In absolutely everything that I do. Fundamentally, when working with actors, knowing how to note actors, and knowing the language that actors know to use. Thinking about working with motion capture, I often use Laban from theatre training. The thing that is very different from theatre to games is that in theatre you have a whole rehearsal process to find what the answers might be and to make discoveries as a director trying to get actors to create something that is different every night, and to build a process that enables them to play in the room. But with games, you just have to get one take that is the right take, but much quicker. All of that language of intentions, objectives, and actions really helps me work in an efficient way. All of your script prep is still the same: where are we, what do they want, what’s happened between this scene and the last scene. I use all of the work that I did in theatre to prepare by script but the answers that I’m looking for are slightly different in games, but much of the process I’ve borrowed and adapted. I certainly think that my background in theatre is what makes me strong in my work today, and so much of that is working with actors and understanding the ways in which actors like to work. Every actor is different, so being able to create tailored notes for each actor really enables them to do their best work. It absolutely is all theatre.
How did you find transitioning from purpose-built, fully staged sets to more imagined virtual spaces?
I love it. The thing I love most about games is that it feels like such a pure form of acting because it’s all in the imagination, you might have some stand-in props to work with but you haven’t got any naturalistic sets to work with. Often actors won’t have any other actors with them so they’ll be working in isolation, so it really is sort of the most stripped-back medium. Equally, I often find you’re working in the most elaborate and fantastical worlds, so it requires a lot of imaginative thinking. O find that really liberating as I think, for actors, something that games really offer is the idea that if you can become it you can do it, so actors aren’t bound to the same casting types that they might have for screen and theatre. So if you can be a goblin, and if you can be a seven-year-old boy and a sixty year-old witch, and you can do all of those things, then you can come and be it. For actors it is very liberating and as a director that brings me so much joy in this job because you get such a wide array of characters. I think for my friends who are actors, what they have found an almost disappointing factor is that they want to become an actor because they want to transform, yet when they leave drama school they realise that they’re always being cast as the teenage girl or they’re always only doing period drama; they never get to do those fun characters that they imagine themselves being, and I think games can give actors a playground for that.
And finally, what kind of games are you enjoying at the moment?
I’ve been replaying Unpacking because that’s my comfort game, I absolutely love it and I think the music is gorgeous. I often find that because I spend my days working on projects like Alan Wake II and Baldur’s Gate IIII like more chilled games to unwind with. A game that I’m really excited to play soon is the new Spider-Man (Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, 2023). I’m really looking forward to having a bit more time and getting to hang out in that world!
UK Breakthroughs 2023
- Adjani Salmon, writer/performer/exec producer – Dreaming Whilst Black
- Bella Ramsey, performer – The Last of Us
- Cash Carraway, creator/writer/exec producer – Rain Dogs
- Charlotte Reganm, writer/director – Scrapper
- Cynthia De La Rosa, hair & makeup artist – Everyone Else Burns
- Ella Glendining, director – Is There Anybody Out There?
- Funmi Olutoye, lead producer – ‘Black History Makers’ (Good Morning Britain)
- Georgia Oakley, writer/director – Blue Jean
- Holly Reddaway, voice and performance director – Baldur’s Gate 3
- Joel Beardshaw, lead designer – Desta: The Memories Between
- Kat Morgan, hair & makeup designer – Blue Jean
- Kathryn Ferguson, writer/director – Nothing Compares
- Kitt (Fiona) Byrne, 2D artist/game designer – Gibbon: Beyond the Trees
- Michael Anderson, producer – Desta: The Memories Between
- Pete Jackson, writer/creator – Somewhere Boy
- Raine Allen-Miller, director – Rye Lane
- Rosy McEwen, performer – Blue Jean
- Samantha Béart, performer – The Excavation of Hob’s Barrow
- Talisha ‘Tee Cee’ Johnson, writer/director/presenter – Too Autistic for Black
- Vivian Oparah, performer – Rye Lane
- Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys
US Breakthroughs 2023
- Amanda Kim, documentary director – Nam June Paik: Moon Is The Oldest TV
- Aminah Nieves, performer – 1923 and Blueberry (Film/TV)
- Apoorva Charan, producer – Joyland
- Cheyenne Morrin, senior games writer – Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
- Edward Buckles Jr. documentary director – Katrina Babies
- Gary Gunn, composer – A Thousand and One
- Jingyi Shao, writer & director – Chang Can Dunk
- Maria Altamirano, producer – All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt
- Santiago Gonzalez, cinematographer – Shortcomings
- Shelly Yo, writer & director – Smoking Tigers
- Sing J Lee, writer & director – The Accidental Getaway Driver
- Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, writer & director – Mutt
India Breakthroughs 2023
- Abhay Koranne, writer – Rocket Boys
- Abhinav Tyagi, editor – An Insignificant Man
- Don Chacko Palathara, director/writer – Joyful Mystery
- Kislay, director – Soni
- Lipika Singh Darai, director/writer – Some Stories Around Witches
- Miriam Chandy Mencherry, producer – From the Shadows and The Leopard’s Tribe
- Pooja Rajkumar Rathod, cinematographer – Secrets of the Elephants
- Sanal George, sound editor/mixer/designer – Gangubai Kathiawadi
- Satya Rai Nagpaul, cinematographer – Ghoomketu
- Shardul Bhardwaj, performer – Eeb Allay Ooo!
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