"We produce games for children. We've always been big believers in the quality of animation helping to make a link between the child and the character, and I think we've proven that works."
What's your most important tool?
Softimage|XSI running on custom-built PCs. We've been a Softimage studio for 10 years. Now we're really, really happy we stuck with it because Version 4 is a wonderful release. It's an incredibly rich tool, and from an animator's point of view there are many pluses for them in the interface, the workflow. I'm a particular fan now. I'm hoping that with the tools being where they are, now we'll [be able to reuse more]. We've actually changed our methods of working with the tool to try to encourage that. So now that there are new abilities in Softimage, such as the animation mixer, the way they do the rigging, standardizing the rigging, I'm crossing my fingers, will give us the reusability. Ask me in a year."
Kutoka is currently working on Didi and Ditto: The Wolf King, the second title in this educational game series.
How important is an animator's experience level?
"We try and do things at broadcast level, so what we look for in an animator is someone with broadcast experience. We think we can teach them the constraints of the game; I think those are easier to teach."
Current project/platform: Teen Titans; PlayStation2, XBox, GameCube and Gameboy Advanced. Based on the television show, this is the franchise's first foray into game consoles. It is scheduled for release in Q1 of '06. A2M specializes in action-adventure games for consoles, mainly geared for the family, but it has some projects for gamers aged 13 and up.
How are next-gen platforms changing the way you work?
"[They add] new elements into games, yes. But, different tools, no. [For elements] obviously you will see a lot more detail on the character's facial animation. You'll have much more expression, emotion in games with the new power we're going to have."
What's the most important element in your games?
"Probably the characters. In Teen Titans they have to move like the 2D animation [of the TV show]. The consumer has to recognize the characters. The fact that they're now 3D instead of 2D obviously gives us, on the model itself, a bit of latitude, but they still have to recognize it."
What's your most important tool?
"We use Maya. We converted everything in 2000. We felt - at the time and now - it was the most advanced and open tool for us. We have a team of six programmers that work on a lot of tools, and most of our tools are integrated into Maya."
How important is animator experience level?
"We have all sorts of people. We have people that were brought up through games, some were brought up through special effects, some were in animation on TV, feature film or 3D, some even worked in the 2D world."
Gambling on next-gen consoles
RENO - They're a different animal, these videogames on slot machines. Forget storylines and character development - the point is to reel players in quick and entertain them while they're losing their money. The visuals are all action and intuitiveness. Run time for typical slot animations is :03-:10, however, attract modes ('Play me! Over here!') and bonus play can easily be five minutes.
Of the next-gen platforms' influence on this particular videogame niche, Johnny Palchetti, lead 3D technical animator for IGT says, "We keep an eye on what's going on. We use that kind of information to tailor what we're going to be doing. A lot of the people [IGT] has working for them, like myself and engineers and artists, we all want to be doing really great games so we fuse that into it as much as we can. Next gen for us would be whatever the top of the line that PC world is doing right now. We'd be able to raise the visuals to a Halo 2 or Doom. When that's going to happen, I'm not sure. What we're currently looking at is 20,000 to 30,000 polygons in a scene."
IGT (www.igt.com/) is one of the gaming industry's lead videogame makers. It is the system provider and first-party developer. The whole visual package increases what a game earns, an important point since IGA shares revenues with the casinos on these games.
Experienced animators - with film, 2D and 3D backgrounds - are being brought in to keep the quality level of IGT games high. Their tools are proprietary but they decided a few years ago to develop their tools within LightWave. Version 8.0 is the animation tool of choice because it's easier to learn, creates and edits polygons faster in realtime, and has a lower price point. Best of all, LightWave custom tailors what IGT needs. IGT's renderer is now very similar to the LightWave preview. LightWave helped tailor IGT's workflow, which involves using Motion Mixer to manage all animation data, as an asset manager. On the hardware front, IGT runs the Q and X operating system, a very secure embedded system, with a proprietary render engine. Workstations are Dells with the latest Nvidia cards.
Match and Win simplifies slots into a RT environment of a gingerbread house (see photo, above) that has tiles of pastries that flip over. Three in a row wins. Bonus symbols lead into the bonus animation that transitions out the back window into a painting into a magical land of machines.
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (www.scee.com/) used NaturalMotion's Endorphin on The Getaway: Black Monday. The game focuses on the seedy underworld of London's violent gangland. Endorphin allows game developers to simulate desired end poses, creating seamless transitions between the resultant animation clips. NaturalMotion (www.naturalmotion.com/) claims that Endorphin's realtime synthesis technology can help cut animation costs by up to 80 percent on action-related titles.