‘Learn and Be Curious.’
That pretty much sums up who I am, and where I’ve traveled to in my career. And to understand where I’m going, it helps to see where I’ve been. Please join me as we traverse this condensed timeline of my career.
Many people cite ‘Star Wars’ as their creative inspiration, but I became interested in film and animation after my parents took the family to see ‘The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad‘, where we watched a cyclops roast a human over an open spit.
So at the age of 14, my brother and I animated our first film, ‘Attack of The G.I. Joes’ (shot in 1979 on 8mm film).
We continued to experiment and made many shorts over the years. In our twenties (1994), we filmed our first feature length movie, ‘TOASTERHEAD!’
Toasterhead’ was an exercise in frugality. We had a big idea and wanted to deliver results with the best equipment we could afford at the time – which was Super 8. We purchased a top of the line crystal sync Beaulieu camera.
We designed and built all the sets, props, costumes, and special effects ourselves, and even starred in all the major roles!
After filming ‘Toasterhead,’ I took a multi-media course at the local community college to learn how to edit film on computers. To my surprise, home computers weren’t yet capable of tackling long format film. The Amiga with the PAR (Personal Animation Recorder) was the closest thing, and that’s what we used in class.
There was a fascinating piece of software on the Amiga, called ‘Lightwave 3d’, and it was being used to create CG on T.V. shows such as Babylon 5 and Star Trek Voyager. You mean you can do this stuff at home!? I immediately bought an Amiga and started learning Lightwave.
Two of my classmates eventually got hired on as animators by a relatively new game company in town, BlueSky Software.
Feeling confident with my new Lightwave skills, I gave my classmates a VHS demo reel to show their boss (the legendary Matt McDonald!) Matt was kind enough to invite me to the studio to discuss my reel.
At the studio, Matt plopped my demo in the VHS machine and smiled at my flying logos and simple models. He then gave me a tour of the studio and showed me what they were doing. I was blown away to see full CG characters interacting and talking with each other!
Matt advised me to continue my studies and focus on creating and animating full characters. And that’s what I did.
With a bias for action, I channeled all my energy into learning how to create characters and animate them. Exactly one week later, I had a little CG robot walking around a garden looking for snails to stomp on. I gave my classmates the file on a 3.5-inch floppy disk to give to Matt. That very night, he called me up and offered me a job! What excitement! That began my career in the video game industry. Thanks, Matt!
Becoming a Technical Artist
After working on various titles at Bluesky Software, there a emerged a new piece of software that was taking the world by storm, Alias Wavefront Maya.
I wanted to learn this software so badly, that I bought the ‘Unlimited’ version (Maya 2.0) for $13,000. My friends thought I was crazy – that was the price of a new car! Indeed. But I believed Maya could take me farther than a car ever could (and it did)!
I learned of a new studio in town, RedZone Interactive, that was using Maya with mocap to create football games (GameDay and GameBreaker).
I was hired on as an animator at Redzone and poured myself into learning all aspects Maya. That’s where I discovered the power of MEL scripting!
The studio began to acknowledge my scripting abilities, and the requests started pouring in. Superiors didn’t seem to know how to classify this new breed of people. We weren’t coders, and the more we scripted, the less art we did. What were we anyhow? Thankfully the term ‘Technical Artist’ caught on, and that became my title. My responsibilities included setting up and maintaining the Maya tools pipeline for the studio.
After RedZone Interactive, I went on to several different studios. I set up Technical Art pipelines and continued to write scripts that saved time and money.
At BottleRocket Entertainment, Eric Medina and Jay Beard hired me on to create their Maya tools and character pipeline. From there I gained valuable experience designing modular rigging systems.
At THQ, I learned the power of MotionBuilder, 3D Studio Max, and the Python scripting language.
At SOE and Daybreak Game Company, I was hired to write MotionBuilder tools for the animation pipeline. While there, I became fascinated by animation state machines and poured myself into learning Natural Motion’s Morpheme.
Jon Smedley recruited me for his new game, ‘H1Z1’, where I took on the responsibility of creating all of the state machines and writing MotionBuilbuilder tools. It was a very focused time and were able to turn the studio around in record time by releasing H1Z1 to critical acclaim and financial success!
I am amazed at how quickly both the video game and film industries have grown in such a short amount of time! My natural curiosity has caused me to ‘reinvent’ myself many times over the years:
• Technical Artist
• State Machine Designer
My philosophy about Technical Art has changed over the years. I started out wanting to write tools to accomplish anything and everything. But I began to realize the futility in that. The more scripts I wrote, the more time I spent debugging and maintaining them.
Now I strive to maintain a balance between writing tools and having the ability to contribute art to the production (through animation or state machine design). Therefore, I write only tools that are essential.
My current philosophy is this:
• Build a pipeline that is simple to install (one click), self-contained, portable, and that any Tech Artist can contribute to.
• Define rulesets and audit scripts (naming conventions, joint count, polycount, etc.) to ensure the integrity of assets through the pipeline.
• If there is an existing tool that will allow artists to get the job done, incorporate it into the pipeline. If the tool doesn’t exist and is essential, write it and support it.
• Artists should never be forced to use tools. There must always be a manual way to get assets through the pipeline.
• Be able to batch process files (retarget to new or changing rigs).
• My teammates are my customers. Obsess over them and understand what they need!
I’m blown away by the possibilities of tomorrow! Never before have we had so much power at our fingertips! From the ability to use 3rd party engines to create the next hit video game to consumer cameras capable of delivering the next blockbuster film.
I’m excited to be in this creative industry and at the possibility of being part of the next big thing!
Thanks for reading about my journey so far!