Now at Naughty Dog

April 14th, 2014 — 6 Comments

Since moving to Canada almost a decade ago I’ve been making games that involve hundreds of characters with hours upon hours of systemic and open-ended narrative. Now I look forward to channeling all that energy into an altogether more intimate story and cast of characters. As of late February I am now based in sunny Santa Monica, California working with the talented guys and girls at Sony’s Naughty Dog studio on the next installment of the Uncharted series for Playstation 4.

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When working at an art-centric studio such as Ubisoft Montreal I had been hard-pressed to find anywhere that takes video game animation as seriously as there, but I’ve long held Naughty Dog up as a titan in video game animation, ultimately being won over by their game-changing work on The Last of Us. It’s no understatement to say, in my opinion, that that game has set a new standard for tone and characterisation in video games.

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Animating The 3rd Assassin

February 11th, 2014 — 18 Comments

GDC 2014 is fast approaching, and the guys over at The ReAnimators Podcast have interviews with all the speakers at this year’s Animation Bootcamp. Here’s the write-up of my GDC 2013 talk, (available on the GDC Vault behind a paywall), on the approach we took in refreshing the animation of the Assassin’s Creed series for its third major outing.

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Introduction

Assassin’s Creed III was my first game after arriving at Ubisoft Montreal back in early 2010. I can’t tell you how fortunate someone like myself was to work on Assassin’s Creed as to me it has been a standard-bearer for animation since it’s initial release in 2007. Many people at the time told me that AC was the studio leader in animation, so with the position of animation director came a lot of responsibility – the pressure from above to not screw up what came before was immense.

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It’s currently tapped for several game of the year awards so now is a good time to write up my notes on David Lam’s talk from the 2013 Montreal International Game Summit on the cinematic process of The Last of Us, which he also kindly gave at our studio later the same week.

David was tasked with supervising the animation for cutscenes on The Last of Us, where he said there was even more of an emphasis on story and characters than Uncharted. In particular, there was a strong focus on the relationship between the lead characters, primarily the 180 degree transformation of Joel’s attitude towards Ellie over the course of the game. While being mindful of sensitive story elements, David jumped straight in by showing everyone present the final scene of the game – (note: there are story spoilers below also). This scene, he said, best illustrated the team’s mantra of “Grounded Realism”, with a down to earth, life-like approach to performances in order to create empathy.

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Watch_Dogs Mocap Process

January 13th, 2014 — 12 Comments

Now that the busy holiday period is over, here are my belated notes from my colleague Colin Graham’s 2013 Montreal International Games Summit presentation entitled Are We Ready For Animation On The Next Generation Of Consoles? – Lessons Learned From Developing Watch_Dogs.

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Colin started with a series of disclaimers, the first being that as the game was due to be released the week of the talk before being delayed we were getting an edited version. Still, there was much to take away despite his self-professed “controversial” approach to motion-capture pipelines, posing it as a counter-point to Brent George’s talk I attended the previous year on how we must bend mocap to our will. That said, he agreed there is no real right or wrong way to do anything, and often “counter-intuitive” thinking leads to innovation.

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I found some great rotoscoped frames from the development of the original Prince of Persia, showing creator Jordan Mechner putting younger brother David through the paces almost three decades ago. The poses and actions are so iconic I can remember them even without the accompanying video below.

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Released in 1989, the game was way ahead of it’s time for animation and certainly foreshadowed what we would later accomplish with motion capture in 3D. I especially like the excitement you can read in Mechner’s journal entry from the time as he begins to realise the potential of this breakthrough approach:
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Aaron Gilman On Iron Man 3

October 16th, 2013 — 3 Comments

The other month we were very fortunate to have Iron Man 3 animation supervisor Aaron Gilman in the Ubisoft Montreal studio to take us through some of the trials and triumphs in bringing the third Iron Man to the big screen. While his 13 years of experience contain such VFX powerhouses as The Matrix and Avatar, it was an especially interesting talk for many present as he is best known within the studio as the former animation director of one of my all-time favourite Ubisoft games, Rainbow Six Vegas.

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Project Overview

New Zealand-based Weta Digital were brought onto Iron Man 3 so late in the process that some of the other 13 VFX vendors had already finished. This left them just 3.5 months to create some of the more complicated shots on the show, for which they came up with the smart and graceful solutions he presented during the talk. Aaron was one of a handful of supervisors on a team capping out at 30 animators in full production, within a team of around 100 artists in total. Their task, to handle the 422 shots comprising two distinctive types of challenge:  Continue Reading…

Seamless Mocap Cycles Tutorial

September 11th, 2013 — 28 Comments

This tutorial was originally featured in issue 58 of 3D Artist Magazine and is kindly republished with their permission. The brief was for a 17-step tutorial to accompany an interview I gave, but the technique really only takes a few minutes once you get the hang of it, allowing you to quickly pump out mocap cycles as a starting base to work with. Importantly, these are just the first few minutes of a LOT of work required to make them final – that’s where the magic comes in.

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To achieve Assassin’s Creed’s style of animation we require a vast amount of animation cycles and transitions, bringing the Assassin to life for even the simplest ground movement before we layer on cutting-edge technology such as reactive physics and IK. This tutorial will take you through the steps required to easily make a flawlessly-cycling run cycle from motion capture using a relatively quick and simple looping technique that can be used on any kind of motion where seamless cycling is required. For this example we’re using Autodesk Motionbuilder but the same technique can be applied in any software that has the ability to blend sections of animation with each other.

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I’ve probably broken every rule laid out in my previous post on creating a game demo reel, but nowadays I don’t do as much finished animation as pre-visualisation for new gameplay features and general visual direction. I did, however, reserve the ground movement cycles of all three player characters for myself, including the Assassin at the various stages of his life. This reel also showcases sequences from our original pitch movie done at the start of the project which are now in the public domain, with the music being Pursuit by Gesaffelstein.

Shot Breakdown


All game animation direction was overseen by myself, but as ever see below for a full breakdown:

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Kandinsky As Synesthete

July 30th, 2013 — 4 Comments

Ever since my college days I’ve been interested in finding a standardised correlation between audio and visuals – easily the two strongest channels available to us as moving-image artists. This led me to pen my dissertation on the German-born artist Wassily Kandinsky’s well-documented exploration of the cross-sensory phenomenon known as Synaesthesia, (henceforth referred to in it’s more common American spelling, Synesthesia).

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I feel it’s worth updating and uploading now as I’m seeing more and more widespread use of the term to describe analogous links between different mediums without a clear understanding of what it really means to be “Synesthetic” – something I believe we all are to a various degree, perhaps most so among artists.

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The Game Anim Demo Reels vimeo group has now attracted 100 members of both students and professionals alike, with around 150 game demo reels on display. This is great start, and I intend to keep it curated as a resource for anyone looking to update their reel.

In other news, this recruitment ad appeared in the March 2013 issue of Game Developer magazine and will probably be popping up again for the foreseeable future. The shoot was a lot of fun, with me strapped to a reclining “stunt chair” and all manner of supports holding up my legs, clothes and a giant fan blowing my hair. Please overlook the homoerotic undertones – we spent so many years working together that a special bond was formed.

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