Moonlighting with Insomniac – May 2016 Edition

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Hi Everyone,

As you may or may not know, this year Moonlighting with Insomniac is focusing on diversity and women in the game development industry.  That theme continues this month with our guest speaker, Insomniac’s very own Animator, Lindsay Thompson.

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Lindsay Thompson, Animator

Lindsay attended Otis College of Art and Design with the initial intention of joining the Fashion Design Program, but in a snap decision changed her major to Digital Media at the last minute.  There she discovered an unknown interest and talent for character animation.  Upon graduating with a BA, she was hired at Rhythm and Hues in Los Angeles to work on Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Incredible Hulk.  For the next 6-7 years she traveled the world, working on films at Weta Digital in New Zealand, Animal Logic in Australia, ILM, Disney, and Sony.   Lindsay has played video games casually her whole life, but remembered playing Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction and noting how appealing and polished the animation was and always tucked Insomniac away in her brain as a place she’d like to work someday.  When she saw the opportunity to apply, she jumped on it!  She’s coming up on three years at Insomniac and feels so fortunate to be a part of the newly released Ratchet and Clank for PS4!

Please join Angela and I, along with our guest Lindsay, on Wednesday, May, 4th at 1:30 PM PT / 4:30 PM ET.

The comments section is open now for your questions so feel free to post away and we’ll answer you when we log in on 5/4/16.  Please remember, we want to encourage open communication and informative discussions but we also need to be respectful around the subject. What subject are we being respectful of?  Not sure that this is needed – but maybe I’m missing something.

Looking forward to talking with you soon!

-Kerri & Angela

  • Tim van der Meij

    I am an animator from New Zealand currently working at Weta (co-incidence!). What does it take to get from where I am to Insomniac?

    • Angela

      HI Tim –
      Thanks for reaching out and joining us from New Zealand! I think you are probably a pretty talented animator if you are working for Weta (they are kind of amazing!) So I’m not 100% sure if I can give you advice. I think we are always looking for people who are solid animators and who can bring a personality/soul to their creations. We also have to have an opening for you to apply to… and then let your portfolio/reel speak for itself.
      Thanks! Angela

      • Tim van der Meij

        Thank you for the compliments! I said a lot in my reply to Lindsay, but I’m definitely an expressive animator so that’s good news. I have in fact seen that opening, and while I feel like I am good at animation I’m not sure if I’m at the level of a senior animator! I definitely intend to work at IG someday though; I greatly admire their work and the culture there and would love to help contribute to amazing projects.

    • Lindsay

      Hi Tim! That’s so great to be working at Weta. I had an awesome time over there and miss it a lot. I would say, there are a few hurdles to getting over here to Insomniac. Having a great reel is number one. Working at places like Weta and ILM really helped build my reel with some high action stuff. Insomniac is know for it’s wide variety of projects. We do realism and cartoony. So having a balanced reel with lots of different styles is really important. Insomniac also loves seeing some gameplay type animation as well, especially if you haven’t worked in games. Showing off walk cycles and melee action would go a long way on a reel here. The second hurdle, especially you being from New Zealand, would be getting a work visa. The US is very tough on foreign visas, but we do offer them. It depends on your work experience, level of skill and possibly college degree. I graduated with a Bachelors degree, which was incredibly helpful in moving to different countries to work. Angela may be able to elaborate more on the visa process. Good luck Tim!

      • Tim van der Meij

        Hi Lindsay! I feel most at home with cartoony animation, and Weta is helping me
        broaden out into realistic animation as well. I haven’t done gameplay
        animation as of yet but it’s definitely something I want to get into
        (some games drive me up the wall with it). I remember talking with Ted at the Fuse launch event (as you do, long story!) and he said that the hardest part is that I effectively have to be better than anyone they can get in the US!

        I didn’t attend college, but I did take anim courses and got certificates at a place called Natcoll (now called Yoobee), although something tells me that doesn’t quite count.

  • Elizabeth Milks

    I’m a high school senior striving to become a game programmer, also in love with the Ratchet and Clank series! How hard is it to join the Insomniac team?

    • Kerri Zinkievich

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks for joining us!! Insomniac always looks for people who have really honed their craft to join our team. I think instead of talking about how “hard” it is – since that’s kind of subjective – I’d spend some time talking about what you could do to help you get into Programming in general and at Insomniac. Of course the first step is learning programming languages. Here our proprietary engine is build using C++. You can do this by self teaching or by getting a degree from college in Computer Science or Game Development. Also, the best way to learn is to practice, so start creating small games on your own time or with friends, that way you have something to show for your work as well. Some other great resources available are online in the forums and blogs of sites such as Gamasutra and IGN. They have resources and learning tools available for your use – just create a free online profile and start helping yourself to all the great knowledge provided. You could also consider networking and learning from professionals in the industry, conferences are always a great way to do that. it’s always good to meet others who want to get into the same field as you. You can provide support for each other. In short, Insomniac is always looking to find great talent so if you learn the skills and can show us how you’ve put them to good use, your chances of becoming an insomniac increase greatly! I hope that helps answer your question.

    • Lindsay

      Hi Elizabeth! That is so awesome that you are already so passionate about games this young. It was long process for me to get here and pretty random at that. At Insomniac, we definitely want to hire the best of the best, so it is competitive. Depending on the position you are applying for, we seek out individuals with previous game experience and impressive demo reels/portfolios. I am not as familiar with gameplay programming, but I think there are some great schools and programs out there for learning more about gameplay programming in particular. I would continue in college, or other specific training, learning more and more about programming. There is no linear way to Insomniac, and we definitely hire people from all backgrounds, so if you stick with it, you can definitely make your way into the games industry! And we would love more women on the team 🙂

  • Tetrach

    I will be graduating high school in about three weeks and unsure of what to do afterwards. Is college required?- as I don’t suppose I could work directly with you guys fresh out of high school. I’ve been drawing my whole life and have grown fond of creating characters, giving them names and stories, so I ultimately decided to become a character designer and was stoked to see that my all time favorite game company was in need of some. I find myself to work well with people and have experience with Photoshop and Zbrush, but I’m not sure if that will be enough. Anyway, I know you guys may not be counsellors, but I’d be more than happy if I were to receive a response as to what to do. So far, I haven’t found an instruction manual to life, and honestly, I kinda fear what my future will come to be

    • Lindsay

      Hi Tetrach! I will say first off, that college is not required to get into the games industry, but it is incredibly helpful. We do not hire right out of high school often, if ever I’d imagine, as some education and experience is required before joining the team. They training you can receive in school, as well as the connections, and degree, can give you much better footing to enter this competitive industry. That said, I do not believe that college is for everyone, and I also recognize that college is not always an option financially for everyone. Character design in particular is a great skill that you CAN develop on your own. But with most art, it is so important to get other eyes on it, and receive critique. I would say to continue drawing and designing. Get on some CG and art based message boards and start posting your work for critique. Begin to develop your portfolio and possibly consider finding some individual classes if college is not for you. Don’t feel scared to not know what you want to do while you are still so young. When I was in college, I completely changed paths and discovered something I never knew even existed. There is no instruction book for life 😉 And that’s ok! Try something, and don’t be afraid to fail. Look for classes and internships and start getting some experience under your belt. You are so young and you have lots of time!

      • Tetrach

        Forgive me for my late reply, I just wanted to tell you that you have my absolute gratitude, thank you for taking the time to respond. You’ve given me some hope by simply replying. Also, receiving critiques doesn’t sound like a bad idea, in fact I it would be a privilege to receive one from you, Insomniac’s finest. Now, I’m sure it won’t happen, taking into account whether or not you have the time, how the task would even be arranged, or if you even see this reply; I suppose I’m just bringing up the idea having high hopes. Anyway, thank you

  • Amaia Iraola

    Hello,
    Can you tell us how is one working day at insomniac? Also, besides of animating, what is your implication in engine/animation systems?

    • Lindsay

      Hi Amaia!
      One working day at Insomniac can be so many different things! Lots of days are the same, but some are very different. We have a relatively small, close-knit team here, so it’s great to come in each day and know everyone’s face. Each day, I come in and check my email. Then I will usually head to our kitchen to grab breakfast. We are very lucky to have a fully stocked kitchen to keep us fueled throughout the day. Then I will get to work! We are pretty independent here. We have team meetings weekly where we usually work out what we are working on for the week. We also sit close enough to where I can walk over to my supervisors desk and ask him questions or show him some work. Obviously my day mostly includes animating at my desk. Some days, I will go record temporary audio for any one of our games in progress. I have actually discovered that I LOVE doing voice acting, and I actually got to be a couple of voices in Sunset Overdrive 😉 But I have a good time working with the sound team and creating some temp audio that has a little bit of emotion in it for our animators to work off of before we can get the final audio sent to us. I do work with the game engine to implement animations, if I am working on gameplay animation. And we play test a lot, so I often pick up my game controller at my desk and play the game a bit.

  • Kat

    I’ve studied Animation and video game design (at a lovely school near the Insomniac studios, you actually gave a talk there once) and my question is how similar is animation for games to animation for tv/movies. Is there full production crews (production assistants, coordinators, managers,etc)?

    • Lindsay

      Hi Kat! Is it Woodbury? I had a great time speaking to you guys there. This is a great question and one I wondered myself before making the transition to games. I had only had feature film experience. In some ways they are exactly the same, and in others totally different. Animation is the same. You are still animating in the way you would for a film, in similar if not the same software (Most studios I’ve ever worked at besides one, use Maya). When I started here, I stuck mostly to working in cinematics, so the transition was seamless. Same method of animating shots and scenes to set cameras. Cinematics are little short films in themselves. Gameplay animation however is different. I was very used to animating to the camera, and not having to worry about anything that was off camera or if things looked a bit strange from another angle. In gameplay, you are creating animations and loops that have to be seen from all angles and they have to loop and transition from one to the other. It’s an ever growing, massive puzzle! So this was an adjustment and new challenge for me. You also have to work with programmers and the game engine to get them in the game and looking right. So needles to say, there was a little frustration at first when I thought I was done animating something, and had to keep reiterating until it was working right in game 😉 But I feel so much more well rounded as an animator now, and its really rewarding to work on something that you will see over and over again in the game, and when you can make something work really well, ahhh, it’s so satisfying. It’s hard work! We do have a pipeline and production crew very similar to film. We have animators, and tech artists, and lighters, and coordinators keeping us on track. Instead of shots though, we are working on different parts of the game and different characters.

      • Kat

        Haha, yes it is Woodbury! I graduated last year and I am working at Nexon at the moment as a tester but I was interested in Animation production as well, so thank you for answering my question! Gives me hope that I can work in ap production role one day that involves both Animation and Games!

        • Lindsay

          Yes, there are definitely roles that exist that incorporate all those things!

  • How does Insomniac approach facial animation? Do they use some type of batch process or is each piece of dialogue hand animated?

    • Lindsay

      Hi Archanex,
      I think like any production whether it be film or a game, the methods for facial anim are always different. With Sunset Overdrive, we hand keyed all the facial animation for the cinematics, just as you would in film. In the gameplay for Sunset, it became a lot less detailed. When you have a game like Sunset where the characters talk a lot or interact with a lot of other characters in the game, you have to find the quickest way to do it to get through hours of gameplay!

  • Thanks for answering our questions! What was one of the most fun experiences you’ve had over the course of your career?

    • Angela

      HI Lauren –
      Nice to hear from you again! This one is such a hard question to answer! I think about the times I’ve laughed so hard my sides hurt (blow up sumo wrestling and jousting at a company picnic) to our infamous Pirate Party. The ones that are stand out though are the company cruise to the Bahamas, and then also seeing Sunset Overdrive larger than life at E3. Super fun moments, and ones that I can say I was super proud to be involved with. Honorable mention goes to pop up dance parties in my office as well….

    • Kerri Zinkievich

      Hi Lauren, Welcome to Moonlighting! Lets see, one of my most fun experiences at Insomniac was probably getting to go to GDC for the first time. I’d never been to San Francisco either so it was a double Whammy. Prior to Insomniac I was not in the Games industry, so getting to go to GDC and see what its all about was a huge help and a huge eye opener. I learned so much, there was so much to see and do and I got to meet a bunch of awesome industry folks. Plus taking in all the new sites of the city was pretty cool too. Also, our holiday parties here rock, last year we hosted a Monte Carlo/Casino themed holiday party and everyone played cards… the dancing… oh my gosh the dancing was awesome and hysterical. We had such a great time. We really do a bunch of fun stuff here but those are a couple of my favorites.

    • Lindsay

      Hi Lauren! Wow, over the course of my career, so many things. The places I’ve been able to travel are definitely one of the highlights. I remember when I was hired at Weta in New Zealand, and they flew me out, and put me up in a hotel while I was trying to find a place to live. I was sitting at breakfast, 23 years old, having never lived more than an hour from my family, looking out on the bay in Wellington. The sun was rising, and I just smiled and wondered, “How did I get here?” I’ve always tried to savor these moments in life. I’ve made some of the most amazing friends in this industry. One thing about the people, is that they are great. It’s wonderful working in a creative environment. At Insomniac, I’d say some of the highlights are getting to record temp audio for our games. When I was younger, I enjoyed acting a bit, and was lucky enough that it ultimately transferred over to my career as an animator. I remember one day, the audio guys called me in to record some loud screams. We did not warn anyone that we were about to get noisy. I started screaming at the top of my lungs in the sound booth, and our sound engineer started getting messages asking if he was murdering someone in there… haha.

      • That’s hilarious and tons of fun, thanks for sharing!

  • Angela

    HI Everyone! It’s that time to start answering your questions. We’ve got a healthy start already- so we will dive in and hit your questions. Thanks for joining us – and here we go!!

  • Lindsay

    Hi everyone! Gonna start answering questions in the replies! Happy May the Fourth!

  • Angela

    And we are almost out of time. First – Kerri and I want to thank Lindsay for her awesome answers! Thank you so much! and if there are any lingering questions – we will get to them.

    Thanks again for joining us and we will be back on June 1st for another edition of Moonlighting!

    Until next time!

    • Lindsay

      Thanks guys! And thanks everyone for asking questions!

  • Маргарита Бугаева