Cat being interviewed about animation tips

So, you want to be a 3D Animator?

Here at MLC we specialise in all things art for games. One of our highly requested services is 3D animation, and we just love seeing our 3D animators work.

For those unfamiliar, 3D animation is the process of manipulating characters and objects within a three-dimensional digital space. If you need help with animations for your game, get in touch. We’d love to collaborate on some custom animations with you.

Rob is one of our 3D animation masters, I recently took the opportunity to find out more about him, his love for 3D and get some valuable tips and tricks for those wanting to get into 3D animation.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, What do you do and how you got into 3D animation?

Photo of RobI have been working as a full-time freelance video game animator for 7 years now. My 3D journey began quite late at university, like many students I hadn’t nailed down what I wanted to do. However, knew I needed to work it out quick before my mum began feeling crippling disappointment. (Been there my friend)

The first year of Uni is generalised 3D (3D Modelling, animation and coding). I had previously enjoyed animated mediums, be that flash games or Disney films and I knew I had more interest in how things were moving but it had never really clicked it was something I wanted to do as a career until I tried it. So for the second year, I specialised in animation.

After university it was no secret my animation skills were abysmal, so I took a job working in retail whilst spending much of my free time hammering away at 3D animation to increase my knowledge and skills. I began freelancing some small animation jobs for peanuts to gain experience, often working very late nights and very early mornings until I felt confident enough to quit retail and try it full time… And that takes us to now.

So you went to Uni to learn 3D animation, do you think a qualification necessary to get into it?

There are so many online courses, such as AnimSchool or Ianimatethat would be a much better investment to gain the skills. Once you get out into the world of freelance it’s a very portfolio based skill. Therefore, anyone with an interest in 3D with access to Youtube and a lot of time to dedicate could learn animation to a good standard, crack out an high-quality demo reel and be on your way.

That being said, I don’t regret gaining my qualification. Perhaps, more down to the friends and experiences rather than the qualification itself. I was taught by amazing industry professionals, who had 10+ years of experience in the 3D industry, who put up with my constant nagging for feedback and the advice I got was invaluable.

So in my opinion a dedicated degree from a University is not needed at all, however, the support from experienced 3D animators and the like-minded people you meet definitely made it a worthwhile investment for me.

Which 3D software is best for beginners?

Hands down it has to be Blender. It can be complex to navigate and a bit heavily of a shortcut-based workflow, but it is free. Also, it’s open source, which means if you need a tool or plugin for something specific there is a good chance it exists.

It’s probably where a beginner would want to start as the only cost to someone learning animation in blender is time!

More big studios are now adopting a blender-based workflow meaning the chances of getting a job somewhere that uses blender are significantly higher than it was 3-4 years ago.

Which 3D software is your favourite and why?

I am an avid Maya user, and I believe it is industry standard for a reason.

The tools it provides are robust, it’s easy to navigate and work with, you have a wide range of free and paid rigs to work with.

I personally cannot code but I also know its Python and Mel languages are amazing for plugins or automating menial, repetitive tasks.

Animbot gets a mention here as well, an animation toolset that provides 100’s of functions to increase animation productivity. Only available for Maya!

What was the most fun project you worked on and what made it so interesting?

That award goes to a project I’m working on right now 👀.

In my 7 years of freelance, I have not worked on a project that has given me such joy. How it looks, how it plays, and the technical knowledge of the single dev working on it. It all culminates into a very enjoyable experience.

The client knows what he wants and will spend the time to feedback in detail. The end results are amazingly designed characters that move in a very appealing manner. It has allowed me to spread my creative wings as the client is very receptive to new ideas and is more than happy to chat back and forth.

I enjoy being part of the design process and assisting with the creative direction of the character animation.

What are your top 3 tips for creating 3D animation?

  1. Practice

    Really hammer the fundamentals down. Animation specifics are a bouncing ball; A ball with a personality, multiple balls with different weights.

    bouncing ball

    When you get fed up with staring at a bouncing ball do it for another couple of months past that, it cannot be stressed enough how important these first steps are.

    If you come out of the bouncing ball phase with little understanding of the basics, it will propagate to any future work and unlearning bad habits is real tough tough.

    Do it right from the beginning, spend as much time as you need nailing the basics and only then move on.

  2. Stare at people

    (not in a creepy way people, let’s not get arrested)

    Go to the park, the shop, watch videos of people doing stunts or feats of acrobatics.

    Pay attention to how people move, walk, and hold themselves during what seems like a stressful phone call. You’ll start to build up a mental database of what people do, and ticks they may have when thinking, stressed or sad. It is these details that will breathe life into an animation, that takes it from a good animation into an amazing one.

    Watch a lot of films you enjoy, actors you love. How do they show tension or show they are scared?

    Seriously just look at people whenever you can, it is amazing the variance in how different people do very menial things like walking.

  3. Reference!

    It’s rarely a good idea to wing it. Get online and collect as many references as you can. Don’t just look at it and copy it frame for frame. Begin thinking like an animator, how can you push real life to make it read better? Look at the lines of action in your reference, does the spine have a nice reverse C shape? An S Shape? Really dive into the mechanics of how these people are doing these things.

    If you can’t find a reference for whatever you’re working on, get creative. Break its body down into parts. Tentacles: Check out how octopuses move around, how does seaweed flow underwater to represent tendrils in a low-gravity environment?

    Really think outside the box if you are handling something super out there. Film your own reference, you will feel silly and would hate anyone seeing the footage but as long as you can do something safely then do it. I am not a small guy but I know I can do some dive rolls, I know I can handle a few big falls properly. We all have high-quality cameras in our pockets these days, so if you are tackling a shot just stand up and act the action out. Nothing will make you a better animator than “Feeling” how things work.

If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?

Don’t get attached to any single piece you do.

Sounds tough, but honestly putting your heart and soul into a piece of work only to have it get cut is crushing.

However, it is the reality of a creative medium, that a lot of stuff will never see the public eye.

It’s important to feel pride in your accomplishments and that you are talented enough to pull a tough shot off. However, 6 months down the line you will be creating those shots again to a much higher standard. You’ll have moments of clarity where something new just clicks and brings your animations to a whole new level!

Getting fixated on a single animation can hinder your ability to listen to critical feedback. That mindset sets you up for failure.

There have been many times I have thought something was amazing then someone rolls in “Yeah it looks off, this is wrong and this is wrong”; You’ll get defensive, but when you actually listen, go back and apply the changes there is a high chance the end product is WAY better than where it was at. There is also a chance it doesn’t but you tried so can now you progress.

What or who inspires your personal project work?

Tricky one, there is nothing more exciting to me than getting on YouTube and watching other people’s demo reels. It inspires me to constantly keep practicing and increasing my skills.

I think on an individual level the animator “Jason Shum” of Superseed Studios really takes the cake here. His animation style tends to be on the bouncy, extreme, stretchy side of things, which is where I love to live as well. What stood out to me the moment I saw his work was not only his amazing skills as an artist but also his dedication to sharing that experience with others so they can learn, develop and grow.

Are there any industry trends that are changing your role or work?

Motion and facial capture are a big deal now, especially with the release of next-gen consoles, players expectations are generally higher overall. People want epic blockbusters like The Last of Us: Part 2 or God of War which have ridiculous fidelity in performance capture.

More indie-level projects want to at least get close to this, some are content with throwing some Mixamo animations onto their character and calling it a day but others want that indie-level mocap experience.

Companies such as Rokoko allow this with their affordable suits. As long as client expectations are realistic it provides really quick, robust mocap animation!

Lastly, favourite 3D game?

Only a single game to choose?

I refuse to choose one so will give you my 2 tied games! Ghosts of Tsushima and God of War 2018.

Thanks to Rob for taking the time to give us some insight into his world and some invaluable tips for beginner 3D animators. If you have any other questions you would love answered by any of our artists, drop us a message, they love to share their knowledge.
Also, does anyone else want to see Rob’s dive rolls?

If you’re a game developer looking for an animator to create standout animations for your game, get in touch. Our team of animators are waiting to collaborate with you.

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