Struggling [to be] a[n] artist

{5 April 2012}   Some questions to an Animator

I was in the beginning of a “What do I really want to do and Can I actually do it” phase, and then I realized, I work at a game company. I can go ask one of the animators about what they do, what they are expected to do, etc. I’ve removed names of people and companies for NDA reasons. This seems like it’s all pretty standard, but does not reflect every company in the industry, and where you land may change drastically. I just happen to work for a really awesome company. So here is the transcript, including me being a dork. (PS this was done over a chat messenger)

Me: What does your job actually involve? All animation all the time, types of animations (game specific vs cut-scene)

Me: Pretty newbie question, but I realized the other day, a lot of game companies may not have all their animations done in house

Animator: most of the time, yeah it’s all animation all the time, and all game specific anims for real-time creature and player movement

Me: okay

Animator: we also did the 4 intro movies here, *coworker1* and I animated and did camera work, *coworker2* did the lighting, and *coworker3* did the VFX

Animator: but the CG intro movie was done out of house

Me: did the number of animators fluctuate with the project or was it pretty much the same through it all

Animator: it grew over the course of the project

Animator: I’d say for the entire last year or so we had our max number of animators

Me: Is that a common thing (in house animators doing it all) or a sometimes type thing?

Animator: last year before ship, that is

Animator: for most big games, I don’t think that’s common

Animator: there is usually a professional cinematic company doing any sort of video movies

Animator: but the in-game rendered cut-scenes are usually done in the same house

Animator: due to the extremely technical nature

Me: yeah videos, I meant the game animations

Animator: whereas a pre-rendered movie can be done anywhere for the right $$

Animator: yeah, usually for games this size, all animations are done in house

Me: okay

Me: So besides just animation, you need cinematography as well, right?

Animator: hmm, it helps to have some knowledge of camera angles, shot composition, and lenses if you’re making in game cutscenes

Animator: but if you’re doing animation for characters in a game where the player has control over the camera, then I’d focus more on making the animation read well from all angles… which is purely a good grasp on character motion and timing

Animator: the timing thing gets hard when it all has to play based on the user input… things like an anticipation before a big jump are just not possible when the player wants to be able to jump instantly with the space bar

 Animator: so it helps to be a fan of many types of games to see what different styles look and feel like

Me: right, I felt some of that doing some other animations

Me: do you ever do any type of modeling? Or do you know of other places (besides tiny teams) where animators are also modelers or texture artists?

 Animator: hmm

 Animator: I knew of them

Me: do you think it’s a common thing?

 Animator: but I can’t think of many big houses which have the modeler/texture/animator all in one roles anymore

Me: okay

 Animator: with big teams, the specializing is more common I’d say

 Animator: a lot more like an assembly line, now more than ever

 Animator: are you interested in getting into animation?

Me: yeah

 Animator: right on 🙂

Me: I’ve done some, but haven’t been practicing lately, so I’m trying to sit myself right

Me: (wow that sentence made no sense)

 Animator: hehe

Me: I’m on the boarder of an “OH GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ” for a career panic

Me: and thinking “I have no idea what/how things are done in a game company more than 3 people”

Me: then I realized I could just ASK someone since I have that access much easier now

 Animator: haha

 Animator: yeah, so I’m just speaking from what I know, and that’s from 4 years at [rival company 2] prior to [company], and some other buddies I have on teams at some [Rival company 3] companies and [rival company 1]

Me: right

Animator: [rival company 1] used to do the whole model/texture/animate thing back in the days of [big product 1] and [big product 2]

Me: it’s still better than me wondering and not knowing

Animator: cool, let me know if I can help answer anything else

Me: I will, but so far, I think I can do this. I was going to panic if I had to do modeling or something

Me: my topology and unwrapping are terrible

 Animator: that’s a tough thing, yeah.  Mine isn’t all that great either

 Animator: I haven’t really done that stuff since I went to school, heh

Me: oh rigging! Do you do rigging?

Me: how often do animators end up doing the rigging~

Me: omg

 Animator: I know a bit of rigging.  Here at [company], hardly any animators rig.  I’ve skinned some props like walls of bricks crumbling… all rigged bodies, no soft skinning

 Animator: and I haven’t made any rigs other than parenting bones to nodes I can key

Me: is that a common thing?

 Animator: so, hardly any rigging is done by non-TDs

Me: TD?

 Animator: yeah, the TDs usually handle all the complex rigging at most every company I know of

 Animator: Technical Director

Me: ahh

Animator: or technical artist

Me: okay

Me: soo good to know

 Animator: they typically know some scripting/coding

Me: shoulders are so hard

Animator: all our rigs on *game* are built with some fairly complex scripts

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