Tuesday, March 4, 2014

GDC 2014: The Year of Animation FOR REALS


I just did a quick audit of all GDC talks related to animation. This includes, but is not limited to, animation, design, AI, character development and rigging. What did I find?

Monday is the full day Animation Bootcamp. But we knew that already.

Tuesday is nap day. We animators need our beauty-pass.

Only 11 am Wednesday is free of animation goodness. Silly 11 am, you don't know what's good for you.

The great part about this is that animators will have a true smorgasboard of talks to attend. The bad part? A few conflict with the Animation and Character Performance Roundtables. But you know what? I'm OK with that.

Animators and Jerry Lewis, separated at birth.

I'm OK with the fact that animation is finally getting proper representation at GDC. I'm OK that we finally have a GOOD problem to deal with- choice.

So what are these choices? GLAD YOU ASKED. I have listed them below. If you read this and feel that another relevant talk should be added to the list, let me know in the comments or via twitter!


Animation Bootcamp: Intro & Achieving a Believable Performance
Animation Bootcamp: Establishing an Ecology for NPCs
Animation Bootcamp: Fluid and Powerful Animation within Frame Restrictions
Animation Bootcamp: Animating the Spy Fantasy in Splinter Cell
Animation Bootcamp: Animation Prototyping for Games
Animation Bootcamp: An Indie Approach to Procedural Animation
Animation Bootcamp: Using the Power of Layered Animation to Expand Premium Content in Battlefield 4
Animation Bootcamp: Animating Cameras for Games
Animation Bootcamp: Animator's Approach to Directing an Idea


11 am:
NONE?!? Well, it's because GDC knows we like to sleep in!

2 pm:
Sucker Punch's Performance Capture for inFAMOUS: Second Son

5 pm:

11:30 am:

12 pm:

5:30 pm:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Open Call for GDC 2014 Animation Bootcamp Submissions

We are starting to plan the next GDC Animation Bootcamp and we want to open up submissions to anyone that has something to say!

In our second year, and to build off of the success of the last, we plan to make the presence of animation at GDC bigger than ever. The desire to balance deeper, animation specific talks with more cross-discipline buy-in is what we believe to be the ultimate goal, and to do that we hope to make it a two day affair.

The first day would be very similar to last year (which you can watch on the GDC vault), with a focus purely on the craft of animation, digging into topics like believability, body mechanics, facial animation, and acting.

Then on day two, we dive directly into the game abyss, armed with the creative knowledge from the day before. We bring in AI programmers, designers, writers and indie devs to show the theories and solutions people are applying the illusion of life to, either in conjunction with or in ways other than animation.

All of this is contingent on the bootcamp being accepted by the advisory board again, but based on our numbers and feedback we feel quite confident in our plan.

So what type of talks are we looking for? Well…

What is your process? What is something you do in your games that you are surprised isn’t more common? What is something that you wish you COULD do? What is a tool or tech that you couldn’t live without? What motivates you? What are your best practices when it comes to working with and influencing other disciplines?

The guidelines and schedule for talk submissions are as follows:

  • Talks can be 30 minutes or 1 hour long. It should be a talk that will be unique to the bootcamp.
  • AUGUST 23rd – Proposed submissions due date. Email a short description and takeaway to gdcanimationbootcamp@gmail.com
  • AUGUST 29th – Submission due date for the Animation Bootcamp. By this date we hope to have the bulk of the presenters already lined up to show the overall tone of what we have planned.
  • NOVEMBER – If the bootcamp is accepted, we need all specific talks along with an outline submitted around this time
  • If the specific talks are accepted, finished talks will need to be prepared sometime shortly after. (The ability to make slight revisions should persist until the conference)
We are expecting the Bootcamp to be on March 17th & 18th in San Francisco but that is just the beginning of GDC’s focus on animation. In the following days during the Main Conference there will be a daily Animation and Character Roundtable, hosted by Tim, to carry on the conversations across all game dev disciplines. Our goal is that by the end of GDC 2014, animation will continue to grow as a necessary part of the discussions at the conference and the industry as a whole.

We look forward to you not only being part of the conversation, but helping to drive it.

Mike Jungbluth
Tim Borrelli

Sunday, March 31, 2013

GDC 2013: The Year of Animation

What a GDC it was for animation this year! From the day of amazing talks at Animation Bootcamp to the three days of evolving discussion in the Animation & Character Performance Roundtables, animation was alive at GDC. All around Moscone we would run into people who attended each day’s sessions and hear how grateful they were that animation was getting such a large focus this year.

So how did it all happen?

From 2010 to 2012, I was fortunate enough to host the Tech Animation Roundtable with great success. However, as each year rolled around, I found the audience and the topics were shifting more towards character performance. As I started re-evaluating what the roundtable should be after GDC 2012, Mike Jungbluth proposed the idea of the Animation Bootcamp to a few of us. Since I had already been planning to change the Tech Animation Roundtable to something more animation driven, this aligned amazingly well. After many email discussions, we had formulated the perfect storm of animation for GDC 2013: An Animation Bootcamp at the start of the week to get animators excited about discussing animation, and an Animation Roundtable for the rest of the week to get multiple disciplines discussing how to push animation further in games. Hence the Animation Bootcamp and Animation & Character Performance Roundtables were born.

The Bootcamp

The Animation Bootcamp on Monday was amazing. If you were unable to attend, it will be available on the GDC Vault, so check it out if you can!

The hard work that all the speakers put into their talks was apparent, and we all learned so much from each other. Jalil Sadool’s talk on observation and ownership of a character kicked off the festivities. Amy Drobek’s talk on creature animation gave us incredible insights on how to break down a creature’s anatomy for rigging and animation, and gave me many ideas to take back to work this week.

Simon Unger’s talk on the actual nuts & bolts of planning, shooting and implementing motion capture was a refreshingly detailed and useful view of the technology as a productivity tool. Animating the 3rd Assassin, the talk given by Jonathan Cooper, was eye opening in its examples of how to use previs to sell an idea to your own team, how to develop a unique animation style in an existing franchise, and outlined the sheer amount of work that goes into an animation-heavy title.

Ryan Duffin’s talk on Giving Purpose to First Person Animation gave an amazing view of how the principles of animation, especially staging, can be used to create a believable first person performance (while also giving us a great lesson on how the golden ratio can be implemented to increase the aesthetics of a first person view).

Finally, Mike Jungbluth and Ed Hooks gave the most thought-provoking talk on Designing a Performance, asking us to think about how we can create an empathic connection between player and character.

The Roundtables

After the bootcamp, we got a ton of positive feedback as we walked around Moscone. So much, in fact, that on Day 1 of the Animation and Character Performance Roundtable (henceforth referred to as “the roundtable”) was filled to capacity and people had to be turned away. Each subsequent day saw the room fill to capacity, and each day the hour flew by. Overall I feel that the roundtable was a huge success (though we’ll have to wait and see what the evaluations say!), and I am excited to continue hosting it for years to come.

Since the roundtables are not recorded for the vault, I did my best to take notes immediately following each session. Today I will provide bulleted notes, and I will attempt to write up each day in full over the next few days/weeks as I recall the conversations and ask a few of the folks there to pass along their mental notes as well.

Day 1 Notes

  1. Started by asking “Who are we?” (We are animators, game developers, collaborators) 
    1. Note to self, never do this again. Thankfully the room forgave me and we got past it quick with better topics! 
  2. Design and animation collaboration 
  3. Implementing animation (who does it, how long) 
  4. Does creating networks take away from animation time 
    1. Spend less time on the finer details. Get good blocking/posing/timing and get it into the animation network/engine 
  5. Moving disciplines together 
  6. Communication (marked as topic for next day- in person or offsite?) 
  7. What do students need to learn? What are students learning? (specialize? broad knowledge?) 
  8. Animation principles (marked as topic for next day) 
  9. Don’t be a jerk 
  10. Be good at your craft, the tools are just that- tools to learn 

Day 2 Notes

  1. Today was almost entirely filled with “Applying the Principles of Animation” 
  2. Anticipation in animation as well as gameplay (building up to a moment with audio, or building an attack combo, or just the mental anticipation a player has before they hit the button) 
  3. Staging with state transitions, an contextual environmental cues 
  4. Timing. Blend times, avoiding the “Scale slider” 
  5. Squash and stretch in poses. 
  6. Arcs in mocap. 
  7. Getting rough blockouts to design who can scale them till it feels right, then we finish 
  8. Design communication/docs (marked as topic for tomorrow) 
  9. Back to implementation and communication. Where we sit, how we communicate (marked as topic for tomorrow) 
  10. Empathy- how? Idles could be taken too far. Where is the balance of believable motion to believable character? 
  11. Seeing stuff in game with zero iteration time 
  12. Sorry Josh Scherr for skipping you at the end please don't kill me

Day 3 Notes

  1. Empathy, the whole time. Amazing. 
  2. Doh, forgot to do roll call for disciplines today.
  3. Papo & Yo 
  4. Walking Dead: Clementine= physical conscience 
  5. Metal Gear Solid 4. Kojima is apparently the staging and empathy king 
  6. No camera cuts in Splinter Cell for reals? 
  7. Does anyone but animators care about the subtle changes, or do we need to paint broader strokes for the broader audience? 
  8. Uncharted injured walk creates some distance for empathy 
  9. Enslaved, Tomb Raider as examples of how character’s animation changes as they evolve 
    1. No credit to Andy Serkis! :) 
  10. Cinematics is a bad word now. Why? 
  11. Figure out how to flow game camera into cinematics without feeling disruptive 
  12. Also no load times! That breaks the emotional connection from gameplay to cinematics 
  13. Difference between games and cinema- one opinion that too many cinematics means we watch, not play 
  14. Didn't keep participants flowing towards the end. Sorry people I had to skip!
  15. Not enough time to discuss how the use of camera lenses, angles, methodologies can create an empathic connection with the player 

Stay tuned over the next few days (or weeks) as I expand upon each days topics. To those who participated at GDC this week, thank you, keep in touch, and watch out for next year!

Friday, March 8, 2013


GDC 2013 is only 2 weeks away! This year, animators attending will find a buffet of animation offerings! Tasty morsels of information and conversation! How else can I get this to sound like food!


There we go.

Animation Bootcamp

Leading off the week will be the first annual Animation Bootcamp! We have a ton of great speakers and topics during this full-day event.

Here's a link to the bootcamp on the GDC website:


And the currently planned schedule:

Monday, March 25
10 - 10:15 - Intro - Mike Jungbluth, Tim Borrelli and Nate Walpole
10:15 - Making an Audience Believe - Jalil Sadool (Dreamworks)
11:15 - It's Alive! Developing Animal/Creature Movement - Amy Drobeck (WB Games)
12:15 - 1:30 - Lunch
1:30 - How to Get the Most Out of Your Mocap - Simon Unger (IO Interactive)
2:30 - Animating the 3rd Assassin - Jonathan Cooper (Ubisoft)
3:30 - Giving Purpose to 1st Person Animation - Ryan Duffin (Danger Close)
4:30 - Break
4:45 - Designing A Performance - Ed Hooks & Mike Jungbluth
5:45 - 6:15 - Q & A Roundtable - Tim Borrelli (5th Cell)

In addition to Ed Hooks' talk at the Animation Bootcamp, he'll be giving another during the main conference:


It's on Wednesday, at 3:30 PM.

But that's not all!

Animation and Character Performance Roundtable

This year will be the inaugural year of the Animation and Character Performance Roundtable! After three years of hosting the Tech Animation Roundtable, I noticed that more and more of the conversations involved discussing how game development teams can work better, and facilitate meaningful dialogue with designers, animators, modelers, writers, and AI programmers. Unfortunately, many of those people were not in the room! The Animation and Character Performance Roundtable aims to correct this. This roundtable will focus on the entire process of a character's performance in-game, including the initial design spec, concept phase, modeling for animation, rigging, creation of animations for proper player input or AI controls, use of motion performance capture, creation of state machines and blend trees, voice recording, implementation in the game engine, and finally, the end-user experience.

Here are the links to the roundtable sessions on the GDC website:


And the currently planned schedule:

Wednesday 2:00 PM
Thursday 10:00 AM
Friday 4:00 PM (last session of GDC! Last year I had a great turnout, so let's beat that this time guys and gals!)

If you are an animator, character artist, concept artist, designer, writer, AI or animation programmer, or just interested in animation and characters in games, come by! Get involved in the discussion on everything that goes into character performance- from concept, to model, to rigging, to animation, and into game.

So spread the word! And be sure to come and participate in what are bound to be lively discussions!

See you all at the buffet table in two weeks!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

VFX Today: Why Game Devs Should Pay Attention

I had this whole long response to a co-worker regarding the plight of VFX artists, but it was TL;DR. So instead, I tried to put it in terms that game devs can relate to. Here's what I came up with:

Imagine if your studio's only money came from milestone payments, that were determined by a signed contract. Then imagine that the publisher was unwilling to pay the current milestone because they asked you to change something in the delivery after it was delivered, _even_ if you matched the delivery requirements of the signed contract 100%.

Now, imagine that this happens over multiple milestones. Imagine that if your studio fought back on that refusal of payment, they would be cut off by the publisher, who would tell other publishers to never work with your studio. Imagine that they then take the game elsewhere.

Given that possibility, imagine that your studio makes the game under those circumstances, with a team who hasn't even been paid base wages. Imagine the game comes out, and your studio has to lay you off, and possibly shut down due to lack of funding.

And then imagine that your game breaks sales records, with no money coming to you or your now bankrupt studio

After all of this, imagine that you need to potentially uproot yourself (and your family if you have one) and move not just across the country, but across the world to find work.

This is what happens, as I understand it; This how movie studios screw the VFX studios.

And that is why you should care.

UPDATE: Polygon has run an excellent opinion piece on this subject:


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Animation Is Easy?

“I hate when people go on TV and tell you how hard it is to do animation … No, UPS is hard work. I’ve done some animation … It’s the easiest job in the world. I go in a booth and I go, ‘what’s the line?’ And the guy goes, ‘it’s time to go to the store.’ And I go, ‘it’s time to go to the store!’ … And then they give me a million dollars.” - Chris Rock

Now, to be fair, Chris Rock was talking about voice acting for animation (although he could have clarified that a bit better). Yes, his delivery was funny. Hell, I laughed at first. Then I realized that his words were to full-time voice-over artists what Andy Serkis' words were to VFX professionals. Tara Strong even took note of this message well before I did.

I'm not going to jump on a soapbox. I'm not a VO Artist. However, I see enough of a parallel that I need to say SOMETHING. So I'll say this:

The award that Mr. Rock was introducing and announcing went to a movie (Rango) that used a technique that has been coined "emotion capture." It is a process where not just the voice acting was used, but the physical acting was also referenced by the animators, as shown in this featurette:

This looks and sounds to me like these actors didn't just go in a booth, say some lines, and collect a million dollars, now doesn't it?

Monday, February 20, 2012

GDC And Other Things

So GDC is only 2 weeks away! Are we pumped yet? ARE WE EXCITED?!? I know I am.

This year will be the third year of the Tech Animation Roundtable! I am hoping to to get more animators, character artists and AI programmers involved this year so we can get some great discussions on everything that goes into character performance- from concept, to model, to rigging, to animation, and into game.

Here's a link to the roundtable on the GDC website:


And the currently planned schedule:

Wednesday 2:00 PM
Thursday 5:30 PM
Friday 4:00 PM (last session of GDC!)

I highly encourage artists, designers, writers, programmers, to stop by. Hell, anyone and everyone interested in character performance in video games (both cinematic and in-game) should feel free to come and participate in what are bound to be lively discussions!

On to the other things. Obviously, I haven't written anything here for a while, nor have I contributed to AltDevBlogADay for a couple of months. The truth of the matter is that I was starting to care more about what I was writing and less about why. When I started writing, I wanted to talk about game animation, creativity, process, and most importantly, why I love doing what I do.

Somewhere along the line I lost some of that. I took a look back at some of my writing and realized that I may have become that jaded, bitter animator guy. I realized that the experience of writing became a lot less enjoyable, so I just decided to stop, step back and pay more attention to what I love about animation, art and the video game industry.

Also, Skyrim.

During my hiatus from writing, I started drawing- every day, actually. I know, it sounds odd- an animator that doesn't draw every day? Really? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT GUY. Unfortunately it was a habit that I fell out of, but I have now jumped back into it with fervor! I'm even participating in a Daily Draw for February over at SatelliteSoda, my thread involving drawing monkeys from my wife's stuffed monkey collection (and one of our dog's!) You can find my thread here.

If you want to see a quick shot of the most recent work from all the artists participating, hit this link too!

Drawing regularly again been quite fun! It's even got me looking at Cintiqs or Asus Slates so I can start 2D animation again. My creativity seems to have been sparked, and I am excited about the possibilities, with both personal and professional work.

Speaking of professional work, I've also had my head down leading the amazing animation team at 5TH Cell, working on our XBLA title Hybrid. The team has been working really hard on this game, and we can't wait till the public gets their hands on it- team-wide playtests are a blast, and I know the fun will carry over to the real world. Just don't ask me when, because I ain't tellin'.

I'm even training more seriously for strongman competitions this year. I may be flipping a tire or tossing a keg in a town near you!

Anyhow, I'm not sure how consistent I'll be writing, but I may get back in the saddle soon. At the very least, I'll have a GDC 2012 Trip Report! Stay tuned...

(it also didn't hurt that Oscar nominations have come and gone)