This week's Breaking In once again draws from the pool of knowledge welling up from the animator's pod and tasks Noah Bordner with providing valuable advice on where prospective applicants should start, how they should proceed, and what they should do if they find their toes wedged between the studio's door and frame. If you've dreamed of making games for a living, read on for Noah's down to earth advice.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Noah Bordner and I’m an animator. My job consists of creating a multitude of individual moves that a game character is capable of doing, such as running, jumping, climbing in a warthog, being shot from various angles, etc. The animation and AI engineers take all of these pieces and work their programming magic to make it all come together into a character that feels alive.
What are some of your hobbies and inspirations?
Outside of work I play a lot of games of course, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Motorcycling is also something I enjoy, and I make a habit of cruising about the beautiful Seattle area whenever the rain relents. My main inspirations growing up were anything CG (Jurassic Park, Toy Story), classic anime films (Akira), the concept art for the games I loved, and the sense of timing and humor that had been hard-wired into my brain from watching endless Warner Bros. cartoons.
Before everything was hard-wired, how would you have answered the following question: When I grow up, I want to be a…
… computer animator. At 12, I was already playing around with 3d software and trying to make short films instead of practicing layups, or whatever normal kids do in Indiana. Game development was also something that had always been on my mind, and I could often be found writing hypothetical game design docs in my notebooks during lectures in school. So in other words, I was embarrassingly nerdy.
Nerds always get their revenge. Ask Ogre. Did you get any career guidance from any of the High School Counselors or tests you took during your time in High School?
By the end of High School I had already settled on some kind of career in digital art, and was prepared to head to California to seek my fortune in art school. I don’t recall any counselors or tests trying to talk me out of it. In hindsight, some sort of “plan B” would have been a good idea, since getting into the animation/gaming industries can be pretty difficult.
Did you earn a college degree?
Nope. I came within a couple semesters of getting my degree, but by then I’d already interned with Activision and Pixar and had plenty of material to put together a solid demo reel. In the animation industry, it’s rare for anyone to ask if you have a degree. All that really matters is the quality of your work, and how well you mesh with the culture of the place you’re applying to. So I saved myself a few thousand bucks and started working.
How did you first make contact with Bungie?
I just sent in a cover letter via Bungie.net with a link to my portfolio website. I didn’t know anyone who worked here at the time, only that I was a fan of Bungie’s games as far back as Marathon. However, just because a studio makes great games does not mean it’s a great place to work every day - I went into the interview process with this in mind, and tried to learn as much as possible about what a typical day at Bungie would really be like. After an exhausting 10 hour interview, I was left quite impressed.
What did you bring with you to the interview loop?
Is there one moment in the interview that sticks out in your memory? Describe what you remember about the process..
I remember a distinct contrast in the conversations I had with the different disciplines. AI and Tools programmers would ask very technical questions, the kinds of things you’d deal with on the job. Design was more interested in my idea of what makes games fun, and how flexible I would be as an artist to make animation that serves gameplay. Meanwhile, my fellow animators wanted to know who my favorite super hero was, and tried to convince me of the virtues of a peanut-butter-chicken sandwich.
In one sentence, describe what it’s like to work at Bungie.
The build is always stable and the kitchen’s always stocked – life is good.
Any advice for aspiring applicants?
When it comes to animation, show only your best work, and never pad your reel with sub-par material to simply make it longer, it will just tarnish our impression of your better pieces. After all, we’re assuming you’re happy with everything you choose to show. The best reels demonstrate a consistent quality level, and stylistic flexibility.
For the younger folks who are dreaming of making games for a living, it can be very difficult to get your foot in the door. Start modding games or developing your own with any tools you can find. Read books, try everything, and discover your niche – more than likely a studio is looking to hire specialists in a field. The sooner you know what specialty to pursue, the more clear your education track will become.
Big thanks to Noah for taking some time away from his work to provide some insight and tips. Though we're still not sure that a peanut-butter-chicken sandwich is anything but an abomination, it's a bit more clear where folks should focus their efforts if they want to snag a job in the industry, or even better, with Bungie. As always, if you read through this brief Q&A and think you have an amazing reel we need to see, hit the Jobs page. We're hiring.