Can you briefly tell our readers what your background is in the games industry, what path have to taken to get you to where you are today?
Well I started animating professionally back in the late 1980’s. CGI was still very young then and I worked a great deal in the film industry, in Traditional animation; back in Great Britain. I got into CG when I joined a T.V company in the West End of London and continued to work in CGI and Traditional animation since then. The first Interactive company I joined was Argonaut Software (a great place with great people) and then I went back to the Film Industry to work for Manga Entertainment and then back into the Interactive animation field. And have since worked for companies such as Psygnosis, Clockwork games and of course Shiny Entertainment. I now work for a company called Tremor Entertainment.
What was the big break that got you into the business? Did it require specific qualifications?
Actually, the animation Boom years of the 80’s and early nineties came to an abrupt end and I, among many of my peers were struggling to make a living with animation for film and television. All the projects had dried up or been canned. I was in WHSmiths ( a newspaper store ) and had just signed on the dole and was scanning through industry magazines for animation work when I came across a magazine called the Edge. The cover showed a fully rendered robot from the game Rise of the Robots. I picked up the magazine and flicked through it. It had never crossed my mind to animate in the games industry until I saw Adds’ in the back for animators. I applied and was hired. Hence. My newfound knowledge of games, and a new Industry for me to work in.
If I wanted to be an animator in the games industry but had no real previous industry experience, how would I go about it? I haven’t heard of any degrees in Game animation – should I look harder or is 3D animation really just the same thing?
To be an animator in the games industry takes the same skill as to be in the film industry, the two Industries’ are separated (for the moment) but animation is its own Industry and is applied to the former two. The best way to get into animation is to go to art school and look for colleges that have a specialized animation class in Traditional animation. Once you have the basic knowledge in Traditional animation then that knowledge should be applied to CGI.
When I start applying for animation positions, how do I show my potential employers that I have the required skills to do the job? What should I have in my portfolio/showcase? What should I avoid like the plague?
Avoid showing Employers copies of other work. For example: The drawings of Disney Characters, and Anime characters. Show your Original work. Something that says you have the ability to draw and Design. Next show a sketch book of your personal studies in human and animal forms and studies and notes in animation.
Your Reel should contain work, which shows you can. Animate characters and give them personality: Humans, creatures. The ability to tell a story is also highly valued. The ability to lip sync and animate convincingly to dialogue is very important.
What are the fundamental skills and abilities that a successful professional video game animator should have in general? How can I learn or improve these skills?
In game animation the characters we animate have to sustain the Interest of the player for the duration of the gaming experience. Our characters have to breath and be alive on their screens. I found that stance and Idle animations have to add a lot of personality to characters, when animating these the animator should really bring out the attitude of the creature or human. Runs and walks are also an Important way to show mood, and personality and the animator has to remember that all things move and act differently. This is where a lot of game animators fall flat.
Would you advise animators from traditional backgrounds (2D cell animation/stop-frame animation etc..) to make the move into the 3D dominated computer games industry? Will their skills still apply or will they have to learn completely new techniques?
Absolutely!!! The skill these animators have will translate perfectly into CGI animation. Now we just need some user friendly software that an animator from another field can pick up quickly and easily.
What about animators from film and special effects industries? Some of the computer animation in games is on par with the effects and animation in films and TV. Could a special effects animator make the move into the games industry – Do they need any other skills or knowledge that are advantageous in the games industry? What are the typical limitations that they would come across?
The biggest draw back for any FX animator practicing in the Film Industry is the limitation of the game console and the PC CDROM. The lack of freedom and being confined to limitations is off putting to a lot of FX animators.
When animating the characters and objects in a computer game, what software and machine set-ups do you use? Is there any good software I can buy that does not come with an ILM price tag?
There’s a lot of affordable software on the market. Animation Master is something I would recommend. I have seen the work people are producing with it and its very impressive. And next 3dstudio Max or light wave. I do not know the price tag for these but it’s a lot dearer than Animation Master. I think Animation master retails between 100 to 200 dollars.
Many games nowadays seem to be utilizing motion-capture instead of animating characters by hand. Do you see this as a problem; does it mean there will be fewer companies wanting animators? What are the limitations of motion capture? What are the limitations of hand animation?
Motion capture allows a lot of motion to be captured over a short period of time. Unfortunately, that motion still needs someone to apply it to a skeletal hierarchy and check if it works. Animators still play an important role in Motion capture because it needs an animator to adjust. Massage and tweek the movement until its functional for game play. So I think no. Animators will just start to expand there work into more technical fields and more technical software for motion capture.
Some of our readers that have started experimenting with computer animation will probably have tried character animation – Is character animation the hardest part of games animation? How do you breathe life into your characters?
Breathing life into a character is exactly that. The motivation and personalities have to be discussed before the animation can start. Then it’s a case of showing the emotions the character is feeling: in its walk, stance and personality idles. Even when a character punches then he/she needs to punch in his/she own style.
In the games industry many of the roles are diverging (i.e. an artist can mean many things from texture artist, background artist, conceptual artist etc…), does the same apply for animators? If so, what would you say are the names of the different animation jobs that the video game will be needing over the next 5 years?
I guess animators will come up with the needed names. Like performance animator is for motion capture. CGI character animator for key frame animator and FX animator for special effects and there are probably more that are being devised right now that I have no knowledge about.
How much would you suggest that a good 3D animator should expect to earn in the games industry? (Junior, Intermediate, Senior & Director?) Do animators get royalties?
I guess the salary also depends on whom you work for. Some companies pay more than others. A GOOD animator is paid well. So my guess is between 55 and 115K a year. This is depending on experience and the type of projects and also your ability. A animation director is the core to the characters personalities and getting the work completed on time so I guess he/she should be paid very, very well (hint, hint).
In your opinion what games have inspired you or stuck out in your mind as having really amazing animation?
I guess I really don’t notice the animation nowadays unless it’s really bad. I play games generally for fun and a fun game usually has quality animation. So if its bad it sticks out.
Do you know of any really informative books, magazines or websites on animation that I could take a look at? What websites do you visit often? Which search engines do you use?
There is a plentitude of information on animation for beginners and professionals available at all good book stores. You just need to ask the helpful staff. The Preston Blair books are good. Tony White’s Animator’s Handbook to name a couple.