You might have seen the Evolve Animation + Game Development Reel that circulated widely not too long ago. We caught up with David Gibson, developer and supervising animator on the project, to chat about his contributions to the project, his career start, inspiration, work life and of course, favourite characters!
Area Team: When did you first get interested in making games?
David Gibson: When I was in elementary school my Dad would take my brother and me to the video rental store on Friday nights to rent some games for the weekend. This was back when your neighborhood video store had 5 to 10 NES games to choose from. Friday nights were a BIG deal. Sure we'd rent a movie too, but the only thing I was really interested in were the video games. When I decided to make animation my career I felt I really needed to learn the art of animation as best I could and the only way to do that was to be an animator for feature films. So I spent about 8 years doing that before I dove into my first big video game job working on Evolve. What I was completely aware of during my time working on films is that I'd be reading about and talking about video games all day. Then at night its not like I would go home and watch an animated movie...I'd go home and play video games!
AT: What's the best part of your job?
DG: Creating personality through motion! When animation is the only thing giving something personality its almost magical; no dialogue, no complex facial rig, the motion is what creates a connection with the viewer. Some of my favorite examples in Evolve would be Daisy, Bucket's sentry guns, Gobi, and Sunny's shield drones. These characters don't talk, most of them don't have faces, but you really feel that they have a personality and can tell what they're thinking. There's no greater reward than when someone comes up and sees Sunny's shield drone looking around and they exclaim "That's so cute!" Its just a little junky robot with little robot legs and only one big circle for a face, how can that be cute? Its because of how it moves...and that's the crazy fun power of animation which never gets old!
AT: Walk us through a typical work day.
DG: While supervising the animation on Evolve, my day would start at 10:30 am. I'd spend about an hour getting caught up on email and checking in with everyone on the animation team. I'd spend about another 30 minutes making sure everyone had what they needed and getting answers to anything that was unclear to the team. At noon (if there wasn't a meeting about something), I'd start animating. 1pm, I'd take lunch and be back to my desk by 2:30pm. Now this is where the sweet spot is...I always hit my groove and do my best work from about 3:30-8pm. I put on my headphones, cue up some music (usually Ska or Classical) and just animate. There'd be a question here or there or maybe a meeting, but then at 6pm its time to playtest. We'd usually playtest Evolve for about an hour and then I'd do another hour of work and head home.
AT: Do you get attached to the characters you create? Come on, tell us: do you have a favourite (from Evolve)?
DG: Oh absolutely! Sometimes I become attached to a character when its just an early sketch and other times I don't get attached until I'm finally in there figuring out the character and how they move. With Evolve I was very attached to Kraken and Daisy. It took me a while to become attached to Kraken. We redesigned him many times and I didn't really get attached until I finally finished the rig and started posing him, but with Daisy...as soon as I saw the concept sketch and we started throwing out ideas about a character with a hunting dog-like pet, I was sold. I'm a sucker for dogs. I did have two things that I felt had to happen to really sell this pet though. She needed a dog harness and a parachute (for when she jumped from the dropship). Daisy actually didn't have a name until, while modelling her harness Matt Olson, the modeler, put a doggy tag on it and named her Daisy...and that was that. A lot of the reason a dog/puppy is appealing is because of how they move and a lot of that has to do with secondary motion. Things like floppy ears, jiggly fat, big floppy feet, and a wagging tail are good examples of secondary motion on a dog. Daisy's design didn't have ears or a long tail so I knew I could use the harness in combination with some of her jiggly fat to get that "cute" secondary motion. Her parachute was just the perfect cherry on top of her character. If she had rocket boots or a jetpack that would be too cool and contradict the friendly floppy feeling of the rest of her character. The parachute animations gave me a great chance to drive home that she's just a lovable dopey creature that wouldn't hesitate to stick her head out the car window.
AT: What was the inspiration for the monsters and creatures? Do you use anything as a reference?
DG: For the personalities and motion behind the monsters and creatures there were many sources of inspiration. Goliath was always the brute. I looked at a lot of the Hulk movies and comics, big wrestlers and body builders for reference and inspiration. His character was pretty straight forward and just needed to be a big angry powerful brawler. With Kraken, I wanted him to be the wise old wizard, so I treated his face tentacles as a long heavy beard. I wanted the rest of his limbs and body tentacles to feel like heavy long robes. His overall motion and attitude was always calm, methodical, and wise. This sets up a great contrast to Goliath's over the top, Hulk-like brutality. I also referenced real octopus tentacles for the motion of Kraken's many tentacles. For Daisy, I used my own dog, a Husky, and many dog videos from youtube. If a player is upset when Daisy dies....then I feel I've succeeded. I really wanted the player to form a bond and feel that even though she's an ugly alien dog, she's YOUR ugly alien dog. I used a lot of real world animals as reference and inspiration for many of the creature animations. The Crowbill Sloth's motion was heavily based off of the way bears move. Marsh Striders, Mammoth Birds, and Canyon Striders were all based off of combinations of ostriches, deer, gazelles, and lizards. I heavily referenced meerkats for the Spotters.
AT: What do you hope Evolve game players experience when they play?
DG: The main thing would be a unique and exhilarating experience that they can't get from any other game. And when all the pieces align just right I think that's exactly what you get. The entire team worked so hard to try and push every aspect of the game in a direction that was new and different. I also hope that Evolve players will experience a world that feels alive and that the creatures that inhabit the world feel unique and believable. A lot of my time on Evolve was spent working on the Monster experience. For over 2 years, I worked with programmers Bill Merril and Dan Youhon to push the monster experience as far as we could, always trying new things and never taking the easy way out when confronted with a challenge. Because of this I also hope people see how unique and fun an experience playing as a monster is in Evolve.
AT: I think it’s safe to say your reel went viral on social media. What kind of feedback have you been getting? How does being able to share on social media change the way you work?
DG: Yeah, its been a trip! People from all over the world have emailed me saying how inspirational they find my work and how much they liked seeing the process behind it. What it tells me is that there's a real desire from colleagues, students, and people outside the industry to learn about how video games are made. It has also made me notice that not many people share real information about their workflow or explain why certain decisions were made on a project. I want to try and help change this, but it's a bit tricky because I'm always working on sensitive information that's owned by someone else so I can't stream myself animating an unannounced character or something-but I wish I could! Being able to share and interact on social media has made me think a lot about trying to find more clever and quick ways to share animation. I've been experimenting with sharing animation through Vine and Instagram which seems to be mildly successful, but those services are pretty limiting. There seems to be a good number of people interested in raw workflow videos, where I record myself as I do an animation from blocking to final so I'd like to try and make more of those in the future. Honestly, so much of it comes down to time and finding enough time to prepare things that are really worth it- it's tough; especially since I have to do it after my day job has ended. I'm always chipping away at personal side projects and I hope to share a lot of that process through social media some day! The one thing I would love to know is what people are the most interested in learning more about. That would help me focus my time on the parts of the process that would be the most interesting for everyone.
DG: Thank you for this great opportunity to share more information about myself and my work in Evolve. If anyone has more questions please reach out to me on twitter @poodletime.
AT: You can also check out David's blog, here.