Mr. Girbig, do introduce yourself for those who have no clue as to who you are!
Hi my name is Julius, and I live in Germany. I’ve been searching for an ideal University to study at for some time. About a year ago, I applied for a position at Frontwire Studios and was taken on-board, which basically led to where I am at the moment. I have been animating for the past 6 years now and l’m currently working as the lead animator for Galaxy in Turmoil.
So does that mean that you work full-time with Frontwire Studios?
Yes, that is correct. Although, I prefer to see it as a way to spend my free time, because I really enjoy it!
Alright then, would you like to tell us a bit more about what you do here? Perhaps give us a little backstory on how you came to find yourself in this position.
That is actually a pretty odd story, because I joined the company about a year ago when everything was still rather small and the overall project was relatively unheard of at that time. I found a job posting from Frontwire Studios and it piqued my interest (they were still doing a Star Wars game back then), so I sent them a message asking if they needed any help. At the time, there weren’t any active animators working on the game, so I quickly took over the animation part of the game and later on became the lead animator. My dedication for the project kept growing ever since and after all this time, I’m still more motivated than ever to create a game with a company I helped to start off.
As for my job as a lead animator it combines multiple tasks. On one side, I’m still an animator and doing the same job as all the other team members. Things such as creating skeletons for the 3D models and making them move, which might sound easy in theory, but it is actually quite an involved process. To successfully make its motions look realistic can prove especially challenging at times. On the other hand as a lead, I also have plenty of organizational duties, which includes creating documents, discussing new mechanics with management, organizing files, working with the game engine to create the character movement and much more.
Recently, I went a bit off-track from purely animating to more of what you’d call an animation engineer.
Would you care to elaborate on what an animation engineer is?
The main difference between an animator and an animation engineer is that an animator usually creates or adjusts animations or rigs characters to a skeleton to make it possible for a 3D model to move like a human body would. An animation engineer on the other hand is responsible for everything that comes after that. They are responsible for the look of the animation within the game itself. They implement the animation into the engine and create the bridge between a scripted character controller and the animation file. These aren’t the only duties though. It is basically modifying the animation with code, which makes it possible to have character customization systems that bind the hands to a weapon or to a wall and much more. (An example would be how we do combat vaulting).
What are your tools of choice for the job?
Mainly I use Maya, which is an easy to use piece of software for animation, but sometimes I switch back to Blender because there are some functions which are just more pleasant to use. Alongside Maya and Blender, I use Unreal Engine 4 since our game is created with that engine. I also do a lot of in-engine work with Animation Blueprints, which are responsible for the immersive feeling and realistic character movement within the game.
Would you consider your animations to be “satisfying” to watch?
As much as I would like to have a game mostly consisting of satisfying animations, those so called satisfying animations often require limitations gameplay-wise. I always like to take The Last Guardian as an example for a good animation system, but you have to keep in mind that the game we’re creating is a multiplayer game, where every limitation can limit the fun of the players. We try to find the perfect mix of both gameplay and feel for animations and I think we’ve achieved that kind of mixture.
You speak of the Last Guardian as a reference point for good animation work, are there any other games that you look up to in terms of their implementation of animations?
I really like the facial animations of Call of Duty Advanced Warfare, because the realism they achieved is really impressive. There are many games with impressive animations out there, not to forget 2D titles, but what I’d also like to mention is Titanfall 2, since they really add to the immersion of the game and are perfectly suited for this kind of shooter.
What is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever done during your time as an animator?
I once imported an animation with a different XYZ system. The end result was… probably worse than all of the Saw movies combined.
Let’s talk about facial animations, how important do you consider facial animations in Galaxy in Turmoil?
Facial animations are very important for Galaxy in Turmoil, since we do plan to include a single-player campaign, which obviously needs to be as immersive as it can be. Contrary to popular belief to do facial animation, you don’t need any particularly fancy equipment but you need to have someone good at acting at your disposal. We plan to use the marker system, which means that black tracking points will be painted on the actor’s skin. This will then be captured by multiple cameras, while the actor reenacts the scenes to create the best possible footage.
What is your favorite part about working at Frontwire Studios?
Working with a team consisting of extremely talented people and the interaction with the community. lt’s inspiring and motivating. Many other companies don’t do that unfortunately.
How exactly does the community inspire you and motivate you?
Every time I interact with the fans of this project they are very nice and quite cheerful. I experienced this the most when I introduced myself to the community on our forums. Everybody there is encouraging us to work harder and it works!
Additionally, we have polls from time to time, about whether we should include certain features or not. Many fans even came up with new ideas that hadn’t even occurred to us.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to animate?
I once had to animate a candle falling over which was quite hard for me to do because it was around the time I started animating.
What’s the hardest part of animating?
Giving objects and characters a sense of weight and balance, so a gun doesn’t look weightless and so on.
Is there a specific technique you use to address such a challenge?
I sometimes record footage of myself reenacting the motion I’m working on, so I can see exactly how my body moves. I then use that as a reference point while implementing it.
To conclude do you have any words of advice for aspiring animators?
Get connections, since the animation field still counts as an artistic field in my opinion, it’s hard to tell if anybody is good from their references alone. Therefore, try to get a portfolio and don’t be afraid to ask people for their opinions. Learn the basics before you start animating anything complex. You need to know your tools, which can help a lot (especially when talking about IK) and if a motion doesn’t look good the 20th time you’re animating it, don’t give up. Animation is like art, you can’t force creativity, but you do also need basic knowledge about a human skeleton and it’s always easier to record a video for 5 minutes than trying to create a motion correctly, while having no idea about how it’ll look in the end.
And on that bombshell, our interview comes to an end. Thank you very much for your time, Julius.Thanks for reading! Be sure to keep an eye on the Frontwire blog for our next developer interview!
-The Frontwire Community Team
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