Ultimately About Fun
Posted by urk at 5/26/2010 1:54 PM PDT
Not too terribly long ago, Bungie.net community member and animation student J. Cerilli sent over some pretty specific questions he wanted to bounce off of one of our seasoned animators, Bill O’Brien. Bill, being the super generous and totally awesome guy he is, took some personal time out between move sets to help fill in the blanks.

Since we figure this could be gold for anyone looking to make a go of getting into the gaming industry – especially in animation– we’re gonna post the end result for everyone to see. If you stepped inside for pretty pictures or new Reach intel, now’s your chance to back out slowly. This wall o’ text is all about getting your learn on.

Ready? Bill's about to drop the knowledge. Let’s begin.

What are some of the most significant differences between a feature film and video game production pipeline for an animator?

The major differences between animating video games and features are found in creative input and deadlines. Feature Film work gives an animator the luxury of longer deadlines and more focus on creating polished content, but animators are often at the director’s mercy as far as creative input in each scene goes.

Video game animation has more restrictions, because it can be viewed from almost any camera angle, and at any time. It also needs to support the game’s design and provide the player with the feedback required to strengthen gameplay. But although it’s more restricted, you are also given incredible freedoms to make your work truly yours – as long as it fits the requirements for the game.

In Feature Film the animator is dealing with the emotional performance, the dialogue, acting, and facial close ups. In games, the animators are dealing with physical performances. How does a Spartan move through a war zone? How should he hold his weapon? How does a Brute hoist a boulder? How would a Bugger’s anatomy make him jump?

Finding ways to add an emotional element to the physical movement is the real trick. Instead of worrying about how a Marine’s legs move as he runs, think about how scared he is. Think about how he can die at any moment. How do you communicate that in a run cycle? You don’t want generic movement just for movement’s sake. You want to always describe the character through motion – the situation he is in and his present state of mind.

Anyway, got off track but those are the ways I tend to look at the two industries’ differences.

According to the Halo 3 credits, there were a total of five animators who worked on the project. In a feature film such as Ratatouille, there were sixty-three animators. This seems like a massive contrast to me. How does this reflect the responsibilities of the video game animator? Is more expected from you, or is the work more streamlined?

Yes, more is expected of individual game animators in terms of output. Most of our animations are 30-150 frame “one-off’s.” There are times where we have as little as a half a day to to get an animation done for the game. To compensate, we try to determine most of our animation sets ahead of time. For example, we take great care in fashioning strong movement sets for the pistol so we can use that content as a strong base for the rifle set.

Is there an even distribution of work across the animation team, or do certain animators focus exclusively on certain characters/events/cinematics?

At Bungie, we often assign characters for each animator to head up. They become the character leads and are responsible for the overall aesthetic feel and functionality in game. Our cinematics department handles layout, camera, editing, and some animation, and then outsources a lot of the mocap polish to external animation houses. We have in the past reserved some of the better chunks of cinematics for the in house animators to do if time allows. (Woohoo! Die, Miranda, die!)

What are some of the challenges and limitations a video game animator could encounter?

Video game animation has to work from any angle and the player needs to be able to react or attack quickly, so for me, the biggest challenge is creating a sincere animation using a small amount of frames.

Sometimes that means you need to sacrifice weight and timing in a character so the player can keep moving. When you jump off a wall, I want to animate the body changing shape upon landing, showing the impact of the weight on the hips, spine and legs, but often the game needs the player to be moving again in just six measly frames. Those are moments you have to live with.

The trade off comes when you’re given a walk for a monster and you have total freedom to make it your own and inject whatever character you think is cool into that monster – as long as you sell it with animation that excites everyone.

Is it common to have to revisit, modify, or recreate animations due to design changes (or possibly bugs) in the game? (This is one thing I've been particularly curious about.)

Yes, and sometimes yes, but every now and then YES!

We are better now than we have been in the past, but when it comes down to it, it’s ultimately about what’s fun. Every so often you’ll animate something and it’s in the game and tested, but it comes back as being too slow or just not fun, or it’s just not behaving correctly. There’s a lot of that. In the end it’s about making the game enjoyable and meeting animation challenges while trying to get better with your craft.

Look at those challenges as new opportunities to reinvent!

What sort of influence does an animator have on the project? Are you specifically told what is needed, or are you granted a certain amount of creative freedom?

There is a lot of freedom in our field. At the beginning of Halo 3’s production cycle, we spent three months creating whatever animation we wanted. I decided to create some specific character interactive moments that I would like to see in the game. Buggers picking up Marines and flying off, buggers landing on dudes and eating them, Brutes manhandling Marines...

Later on in the project the designers remembered those moments and came around looking to showcase those animations in their levels.

The animator also plays a huge role in how characters will move. Design may dictate their speed, but the animator and lead animator work very closely together to create something inspiring and fun for the animator to work on.

Outside of the core animation team, who do you tend to interact with the most during the project?

We interact early on with the modelers. We go back and forth, working to ensure the proportions are something everyone is happy with. Then onto rigging where we make sure they bend and move properly. We spend a lot of time with design, who will communicate the role this character plays in the game and establish their basic gameplay behavior. This process goes on throughout the whole project.

We also collaborate nonstop with the engineers who create the tools and systems that allow our characters to jump, die, take damage, and otherwise interact in the game.

Could you give me an example of your daily workflow? (To be honest, I have no idea how consistent it is. I've read about other animator's workflows in feature films where they are assigned a shot, show their progress in dailies, work to refine it with guidance from the supervising animator, and show the changes at the next daily. I don't really know if this would be the case in video games or not!)

In Reach, I took lead on Spartan, Marine, and other human characters, so I established the look of those characters as far as animation goes.

When I come in, I’ll grab some coffee first thing and then head over and talk with design about the move list I’m working on. Then I’ll brainstorm some ideas at my desk and grab the cameras to go record myself acting out the moves from two angles, one front view and one profile. I edit those down to the takes I like, sometimes combining different parts of takes to create something brand new to base my performance on.

Next, I’ll start animation and block in the golden poses – the main four or five poses my work is based upon. I continue breaking those poses down into secondary poses, being sure to keep in mind that I’m defining arcs and establishing timing and maintaining the character’s balance.

Once I’m happy with that, I’ll show it to as many of the animators as I can. That’s how you really get better...showing your work and being honest enough to incorporate feedback. That will make you and your shot better as a result. I’ll make those adjustments and export it to the engine, which takes about two minutes. After that I can see how the engine is interrupting the keys I’ve set and if it reads and blends back into and out of the idle animations okay.

Then I’ll get some feedback yet again. I’ll make any necessary changes and polish it to a shippable quality. Sometimes on Fridays we have review crits, but toward the end of the project, when deadlines are tight, the lead will just make rounds and do one on one reviews to save everyone some time.

How much of your animation is excluded from the shipped game? Is it disappointing when this happens?

It varies. There is always a chance that a character will not be fun enough or that the systems are too out of scope to be integrated in to the game. That is a bummer, but it goes with the territory and the second time it happens you say to yourself, “okay, this will look good on my reel then.”

;)

Do you ever feel limited by time, or other constraints? Do you feel this affects the quality of your work?

It seems we’re always limited by time. There’s a lot of animation to do in a very short time. You quickly learn the art of doing more with less. It can be a trap, though, because you don’t want those tricks and approaches to define you as an animator – you want to be able to really fine tune work when you have the opportunity. At Bungie, we’ve gotten really good about giving our animators enough time to create fun work and still have a blast doing it.
Pentathlon LIVE 

Posted by DeeJ at 1/27/2012 8:58 AM PST

Cup stays where?

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The Pentathlon Awaits 

Posted by DeeJ at 1/18/2012 2:43 PM PST

Four Schools.  One Cup.

"If any of my competitors were drowning, I'd stick a hose in their mouth."
-Ray Kroc, McDonald's Founder



Were you to peek into the maximum-security recesses of our dark lair on any other day, you would find the fine men and women of Bungie toiling as a unified team in the quarries of art and code.  But on Friday, January 27th*, we will be torn from our desks, divided into four schools by tenure, clustered into strike teams led by captains drunk with power, and sent into battle.  This is our day to shed the thin veneer of friendship and ruin our workplace relationships in ways that will take all year to rebuild.

This is the Winter Pentathlon.  It begins with an opening ceremony to reinforce the oaths that we all have sworn.  On bended knee our veterans will prostrate themselves at the altar of World Domination.  The fates themselves will then collide in trials as diverse as the warriors that will participate in them for glory, honor, and immortality.

*Seems even the fates can't make it into work when it snows in Seattle.



Along with Bagel Fridays and Chuckie’s naked ass, the Winter Pentathlon is among the most cherished traditions at Bungie.  It’s a celebration of games, and a reminder of why we make them.

To lend some context on this cornerstone of our shared culture, I paid homage to the Exalted Committee that plans the affair.  Behold the historic wisdom of Grizzled Ancient, Dave Dunn.

How will this Pentathlon live up to the wild expectations that are swirling through the studio?

We’ve jumped up the number of scored events to 9 to try to encourage all the employees to play in something. With so many more people having joined Bungie, we felt we needed more opportunities for people to participate.

Which School (or “Skool” if ye be Olde) will emerge victorious?

I think all the pundits agree that the Grizzled Ancients will scrap and claw their way to another victory.

You are clearly abusing this official inquiry to exercise a position of bias.  Explain the process.  How do you  guide this event to victory year after year?

We procrastinate as long as we can until we realize that we’re screwed and then we organize a bunch of frantic meetings to draft captains into service, pick events, and plan the day.

Aside from procrastination, what values are weighed most heavily in these frantic meetings as you give shape to the pentathlon? 

We try to foster an environment that caters as best we can to all the different types of gamers we have; hardcore competitive, casual, players of videogames, players of traditional games, strategic, etc.

Cater to us Newbies and describe the origins of the trophy that our elderly seem insistent upon calling “The Cup.”

Way back in the day, we decided we needed something to play for other than bragging rights.  Joe Staten, I believe, took it upon himself to craft a trophy from a lamp, a colander, and a plastic skull.  On a visit to Chicago for the summer pentathlon, the Oni team lost the battle but won the war by stealing the trophy back to California with them.  Thus began the phrase “Cup Stays Here” which the Grizzled Ancients have adopted as their battle cry. 

But why do you call it a cup?  It doesn’t look anything like a cup.  My attempts to drink from it have been met with nothing but broken teeth.

Because it sounds better than “Trophy Stays Here.”  About four years back we decided we needed a real trophy for the Pentathlon so I came up with the idea of a trophy inspired by the Stanley Cup.  I wanted something that represented Bungie – thus the Fist – and had space to engrave the names of the winning team members, like the Stanley Cup tradition.



Behold!  The Fist!  Now that Dave has revealed all he can about the Pentathlon planning process, allow me to introduce you to the schools who will strive for eternal commemoration on the metal plates that adorn The Cup.

To those about to Pentath, we salute you.


The Four Schools

Grizzled Ancients
Huddled over their tennis ball-capped walkers, the Ancients will stalk slowly and painfully toward a victory that they feel is their birthright.  Attempts to retrofit a typewriter to serve as a peripheral to play DOTA2 were abandoned, in favor of bottle-thick bifocals to focus in on the ideal hand in poker.  Can this beloved Cup be pried from the vice-like grip of their tonic-soaked dentures?

Old Skool
In a desperate attempt to grasp the fleeting residuals of their youth like sand in an iron grip, the Old Skoolers have intentionally misspelled their own school name.  Glory days of Pentathlons past will drive them forward as they defend previous titles.  Are their best days behind them?  Or have the ages seasoned them as the ultimate power in the studio?

Middle School
Like the adolescent child striving for attention alongside adorable infants and distinguished adults, Middle Schoolers will struggle to make a name for themselves in the family.  Having shrugged off the naïveté of early childhood, the Middle School will issue forth with textbooks strapped to their backs and a prowess to prove.  Can they take their rightful seat at the grown ups’ table?  Or will they be sent to clean their room without supper?

Newbies
The pacifier will be spit onto the dusty grotto so that teeth can be gnashed in a blood-thirsty snarl.  The voice-stifling fear of saying the wrong thing in a meeting will be replaced with a barbaric yawp.  Newbies don’t know well enough to be afraid – very afraid.  Will this be their tactical advantage, or their untimely undoing?




The Games


The day-long event planned for this cast of players represents a gauntlet of competitions from almost every genre and category imaginable.  From the desktop to the tabletop.  From the fog of war to the fog machine.

COD MW3
Let’s do this.  The competitive shooter in the line-up boasts a class system that fits in lock step with the theme of the day.

DOTA 2 Beta
Each school will cast their best spell to conjure up victory while a live cast tells the tale of their magical battle.

Forza 4
Take the wheel.  Mind your torque.  Keep that priceless prototype off the wall.  It would be a shame to scuff your custom paint job before it
can be judged by race fans.

Puzzle Hunt
The boundaries of human intellect will be stretched to the point of shattering.  Complex riddles will require the mindshare of entire teams to crack the codes therein. Root beer will be mercilessly drunk.

Cranium
This challenge will draw from both sides of the brain.  Problem solving meets creative expression.  Communication will be forced through the prisms of numerous artistic mediums. Including clay.

Blongo Ball
It’s like a game of horseshoes, only slightly more (if not completely) suitable for indoor use.  We already have the divots in our drywall to serve as evidence of much practice.

Texas Hold ‘Em
There is no limit to that which will be wagered.  All cards will be wild, from a certain point of view.

Dance Central 2
So you think you can dance?  The Bungie Webcams make a triumphant return, andfor those with two left feet there will be nowhere to hide.

Rock Band 3
No celebratory gathering of family would be complete without a house band to murder the classics.  A panel of distinguished judges will make the star makers of reality television look like the nicest people you have ever met, while our alpha-geeks channel their inner rock star.


Our At-Home Audience

While we play the roles of the gladiators on a stage of our own making, you will be invited to serve as the carnage starved audience.  You are all invited to the party, attending through the virtual interfaces of your choosing.  Feast your eyes on Bungie.net this Friday to witness the revelry as it unfolds.

Monitor webcams that reveal the feast and the dance.

Browse photos, uploaded to illustrate the story as it is written.

Decide the winner of the Forza 4 paintjob fashion show in a forum election.

Spectate the gilded mediocrity of our DOTA tournament, along with expert color commentary provided by Tobi Wan from JoinDOTA.com.

Keep an eye out for episodic updates to our scoreboard.

Follow the chorus of Bungie Tweets (@bungietweets)


The Pentathlon awaits. 

Victory will choose only the most cunning of the four schools entered into this pageant of jubilation and sport.  The rest will be sent home to sulk in a vanquished state, waiting for their next opportunity to settle old scores, birth new legends, and totally redeem themselves.

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Rumor and Speculation - Updated 

Posted by urk at 2/16/2011 10:36 PM PST

Don't believe everything that you read.

This evening, Kotaku Australia published a blog entry to their website claiming that Bungie recently terminated as many as thirty contract employees without notice or justification, effectively eliminating all non full time staff at the request of our publisher, Activision-Blizzard.

The claim is false.

Bungie has never been asked to lay off any employees or contract employees by our publisher, Activision-Blizzard, for any reason. The talented professionals who grace our offices day in and day out are the lifeblood of Bungie – our most cherished commodity – and the unsubstantiated rumors posted today are in direct opposition to the culture and values that we believe make Bungie an exceptional place to work, and to call home.

(Oh, and since we're on the subject, we're hiring.)

UPDATE

To clarify, Bungie has not experienced layoffs or group firings of any kind.

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Take Our Jobs...If You Dare! 

Posted by DeeJ at 12/23/2010 10:14 AM PST

runningturtle writes:

Join Bungie!

Take our jobs, if you dare. Eat our snacks. Climb our rockwall. Enjoy the best benefits the industry has to offer.

Our ever-expanding team of kick ass developers is bringing a brand new world to life. Our Careers Page is kept current up to the minute. World Domination is only a step away.

Your move.

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