Wednesday, May 11, 2011


editor's (my) note: Mike Carr's post beat me to the punch, but I still wanted to share my experience because I already wrote this :)

Over the course of my career, I have interviewed a lot of animators. Phone interviews, on-site, at schools. Some wanted to just animate. Some wanted to be managers right out of school. Some were more cinematically inclined and shied away from in-game motions, and some were the opposite. One guy claimed to have run over 300 motion capture shoots in a four year period! (we later found out he counted each day as a full shoot) It's safe to say year over year I had thought I'd seen it all, and year after year I was wrong.

Case in point- over a one to two year period, I saw an influx of animation applicants who all fancied themselves as designers. When asked what their goals as an animator were, without fail they expressed a desire to move into design. This is a valid desire (the current lead designer on Saints Row 3 started at Volition as an animator), as we're all in the games industry because we want to make games. In reality, to some extent we have input to the design of the areas we work in. In this case, however, the sheer number of animators wanting to be designers became a topic of conversation enough for one of the animators to deem them "designimators."

These animators felt that animation WAS design (ed. note: here I am referring to the interviewees, not any of the animators. Sorry if that isn't clear). Since they made the characters move and hence had an impact on how a character (quite literally) moved forward in the game, that they were designers. Some had respectable and honorable intentions, but some flat out thought that they had actually designed the last game they worked on and felt that they could immediately be in senior design positions. True or not, it was fairly mind-boggling to hear such claims be made at an interview for a completely different position.

Obviously, I feel differently.

As an animator, I recognize the impact that animation has on gameplay. I've long felt that animation is equal parts design and art in regards to video game development, possibly moreso than other disciplines (I admit I am biased and I'm sure my friends and colleagues in other artistic disciplines will beg to differ, and I welcome that). However, I do not fancy myself a designer nor do I feel that I can do a better job than a designer. My job is to make the animation look as good as possible within the design requirements of the game.

Quite often, the easiest way to satisfy those design requirements is to make sacrifices to the principles of animation. In my opinion, this is the wrong approach. While I have cut frames to "make it feel better" in game, that is only the first step. My goal is to get our timing, blending and "feel" right, before we create final animation that still works within the gameplay design yet follows the principles of animation. During this process, design is king. Animation gives input, but the goal of both disciplines is to make the game fun to play.

I have been fortunate (past and present) to work with talented designers/creative directors. These people have been tolerant of my desire to try to solve their requests and challenges by experimenting with animation solutions that still employ the principles of animation. These experiments have ranged from simple previz animations to full blendtree/state machines in-game that take time, but more often than not yield positive gameplay results without sacrificing animation quality.

As animators, we got into this discipline because we are passionate about breathing life into a character. In games, the "character" isn't just the muscle-bound hero, the large-breasted babe, the Italian Plumber, or the generic soldier. The whole world is the character- the environments, the effects, the writing, the code that runs it all. EVERYTHING. But I never hear of an animator calling themselves a modeler, or a writer, or an effects artist, or a programmer. Animators are not designers. We serve the vision of the game. We animate for design- only in that sense are we "designimators."


  1. Good read. Quite surprised to know that its not only the programmers, even artists look to become designers. I think the only game animators could be designers in a way for is "Spy party" :)

  2. I think many people in the industry want to "design" games. I mean, we are all a part of the process. But it's like someone saying they want to animate and thinking they just need to draw some pictures in succession and they are an animator! There's a lot that goes into it that is far from glamorous, for both animation and design.