Experience as In-game Lead Animator
I was given an opportunity to lead the in-game animation team on Mass Effect 2. At first that group was essentially just me, but eventually encompassed 5 very talented people (Ray Lim, James Humphreys, Cristian Encisco, Kiaran Ritchie and Stefano Marchesini). I was also very fortunate to ‘build on the shoulders of giants’ and continue the work of the gifted lead and seniors of the original Mass Effect 1 animation team.
My biggest accomplishments on Mass Effect 2 was the complete replacement of the cover system (creating a 400+ animation monster that helped leapfrog the gunplay to compete with our peers). A total reimplementation of our exploration system, and the replacement of all the core animation sets that drove that system (walks, runs, sprints, etc…). I added asymmetry, backstory elements and a new feeling of weight into Commander Shepard with these changes.
I also had an opportunity to implement and direct the mocap shoot for a new reload mechanic for all of our weapons AND added an entirely new set of ‘Heavy Weapons’, which I was able to implement, direct/polish mocap content for. Also achieved very early on was a polish pass of 300 conversation gestures, and the planning of the eventual additional 700 that our cinematic design team would rely on to build ME2’s beautiful realtime conversations.
Throughout the project I was responsible for directing several multiday mocap sessions, working with stuntmen, actors and (somewhat infamously) a talented dancer. In pre-production I was also responsible for prototyping a more involved, multi-stage conversation which helped us achieve more intense in-game conversations.
Additionally, many of ME2’s creatures or boss battles were keyframed by myself, although the very talented Stefano M/ and James H. certainly were also responsible for many creature animations as well.
I met with the stakeholders I was responsible for delivering assets to, worked with them to establish their needs, scheduled the animation and features to support them and then directed the mocap sessions. On set I was directly responsible for working with the mocap talent to achieve a specific look and movement style to fit whatever system was being created or refactored.
Raw mocap has soft timing, terrible posing, often lacks weight and rarely comes with any finger animation. This stage is really important to the look and feel of the game and the animator will correct these issues by animating ‘on top’ of the mocap, edit the mocap directly, and keyframe any additional animation required.
Creatures and objects are keyframed by the animator by carefully considering the concept art, how the creature is supposed to interact with the player, design requirements and what will make them memorable and establish their character in the clearest possible way as quickly as possible.
Implementation and system work
In ME2’s case, there was extensive system design and implementation. This usually means a select system (Exploration, Cover, Hit Reactions, Reload, etc..) needs a software engineer and animator to discuss the requirements of the feature. Once the engineer delivers the required animtree nodes, I would wire these new features in the animtree, tune them for gameplay, populate them with the correct animations and reach out to stakeholders to ensure that the correct requirements had been met. I was fortunate to work with very talented SE’s who made this process enjoyable.