Monday, 9 April 2012

My Time As A Ninja

No, not that kind of Ninja...THIS kind of Ninja:
That's right! My time as a bearded, serious faced Cinematic Intern (Ninja) at the multi award winning Ninja Theory

I will warn you now, I haven't planned out this post so it could get lengthy. 

The Beginning
It all started on the 12th of April last year. I sent off a rather wobbly showreel to Ninja Theory to apply for their Cinematic Internship program. The showreel comprised of most of my workshop 1 assignments from iAnimate (character walk, character jump WIP, animations of Tots jumping and a ball with character) and some old university work (lip sync, basic acting and a cartoony walk). The programme was a six month contract within the studios cinematic department where successful candidates would be working with motion capture as well as hand key to create cutscenes for DmC and import them into the game. 

I received an email asking me for an interview to which I replied "YES!" and ran off to Cambridge some time later. It was my first proper interview for a job in the industry and I was suitably terrified. Luckily enough, a tutor from my old university found out I was interviewing and sent me a wealth of golden information. Even though I did all my research, I was still asked a couple of questions I wasn't anticipating. Nothing too crazy, just about my favourite films and what I knew about cinematography. But everything went well, I had a great time talking with the lead animator and a senior cutscene animator.

Obviously, this part is no surprise...I was offered the job and accepted it without a doubt. I moved down to Cambridge and had an amazing 8 months (my contract was extended by an additional 2 months). Working in a games studio amongst heavily talented and creative individuals was a dream come true. I couldn't believe that I was being paid to work on cutscenes all day. Not that my focus was/is ever on money but I had never been paid for doing something I enjoyed...it was all very new and exciting.

The first few weeks, despite being great were also terrifying. I was worried that I wasn't learning Unreal and Motion Builder quickly enough and that I might risk lagging behind. Luckily I was just worrying more than I should have and everything was fine after a few small bumps during the training weeks (we had a few weeks of training before we started to receive the mocap data from Giant - I actually got to play with some Andy Serkis performance capture from Enslaved. ANDY SERKIS!!! My head exploded at the time). 

The following weeks were very exciting as we received the data from Giant and started to work on our cutscenes. We were given full responsibility of any cutscene we were given. This meant that we set up the cameras as well as the characters and saw our scenes all the way through to signing off on facial polish. Working with mocap was an eye opener, I had never thought of trying it before. To be honest, I hadn't had much interest in it at university. I turned down the opportunity to take a mocap module and instead chose a module that required me to learn about music and create a song because it meant I'd have more time to animate on another project and I could already play guitar and write songs. I also hadn't thought much about working in games but I am seriously happy that I had the chance to. 

Thoughts On Motion Capture
Mocap was something that I had fun doing. It was never boring for me and I learned a lot about body mechanics from it. however, after some time it did become very obvious to me that it wasn't exactly what I wanted to do. I am in no way ungrateful for the opportunity I was given but it was always going to be a new experience that would reveal its self to either be life changing or unappealing. This is how I feel, and completely my own opinion but I didn't feel that same feeling of creativity whilst editing mocap data. I enjoy creating and bringing things to life, seeing them develop and hopefully sending them running off into the world all nicely polished and such. Editing mocap, for me, felt like constantly polishing something that was already made. That is essentially what it is. However, you can definitely plus a performance if need be (this is why animators weren't happy about Andy Serkis wanting an Oscar for his efforts in Planet of The Apes), but I didn't get that buzz. That's not to say that that buzz doesn't exist for some people. Mocap is awesome if you like seeing results fairly quickly and doing a small range of jobs (if the department in your studio allows). For example, depending on the scale and difficulty level, you could sign a scene or two off in a week. And the way it worked at Ninja, with setting everything up yourself, it felt like you were putting short films together. That's what I really liked about mocap. 

Please don't take this negatively, just because editing mocap wasn't on the top of my list of ultimate dream jobs doesn't mean that it didn't help me in any way. In fact, I learned a ton about body mechanics and how the face works. I've heard quite a lot of animators say the same thing and it's true. Watching rigs move around naturally every day for months really helps you understand how things work. Polishing facial animation was another big one, I learned a ton about how the mouth really moves, as well as the eyes and how they blink and dart. This was my favourite part of the pipeline, I absolutely loved facial animation. This was mainly because it was the closest thing to raw hand keying. Finally, it helped me really tie down my career path. I knew I wanted to be a hand key animator above anything else...and for this, I thank you Mr. Motion Capture. 

An Interns Life
Now, enough about my personal feelings on motion capture and onto being an intern. There's a lot of bad press about studios treating their interns unfairly. This was NOT the case at Ninja Theory. We were paid and treated as normal employees. This might sound like a given but not all studios pay their interns and there are horror stories of interns being unfairly treated. In my opinion, taking an internship was a great way to get my foot and a couple of fingers in the door. I'll always be hugely grateful to Ninja Theory and the cinematic department for taking me on and giving me the chance to work on such a fantastic game for 8 months. It definitely got me into the swing of working in the industry and I learned a lot about working with others and how games are created.

Ok, I think that's enough from me on the subject. And I didn't even mention the amazing, amazing, amazing friends I made during my time there, team lunches, the evolution of my taste in music, Christmas presents, fire alarms, CAKE, coffee, snow, cycling, parties and the time I was able to spend in one of the most beautiful cities in England.

Don't forget to check out DmC when it is released. It's an absolutely beautiful game!


If there's anything you would like to ask me then please leave a comment. Or if you'd like to voice your opinion on mocap or anything else then go for it!

P.S. Here's a treat for making it to the end of the post - TREAT

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