Posted date / 01.16.19

The end of 2018 wasn’t a happy time for everyone in the gaming industry as several high profile developers and studios were sold or downsized resulting in a lot of talented folks looking for work. Luckily, we have an amazing community behind us who rallied extra support to allow us to extend job offers in a timely manner. One of our more pressing needs was to bring in a Lead Animator and after interviewing several extremely qualified candidates we were happy to announce that Ross Armstrong was joining the team in that capacity. We sent David Schlow out to sit down with Ross and welcome him to the Pantheon team.

Q: Welcome to the team, Ross! Can you explain a bit about what your role will be on Pantheon?

A: Thanks, it's great to be here! I'm the Lead Animator on Pantheon and my role will change as we get further into production. Initially I'll be working closely with the Creative Director, Game Designers and Engineers to understand our quality objectives, gameplay intentions and define the appropriate animation style. Much of this initial work will be blocking out animations and working with Chris Perkins and Designers to understand the timing requirements that best suit the flow of our gameplay, abilities and so on. Since the "Animation Department" is new I'll be working with the Engineers and Tech Artists to refine the existing animation pipelines - laying the foundation for other animators to come on board and be up and running quickly. When the Animation team starts to grow, in addition to animation I'll also be handling critiques, scoping, scheduling, managing outsourcing, inter-departmental communications, and anything else animation-related.

Q: Animation has been a hot button topic for a while now. What are the most common complaints you’ve heard so far, and how do you plan to address them?

A: I'll get into more detail on this in a few of the questions below. Essentially we're early in production and in an effort to get up and running quickly we used animations from multiple sources and this can cause some of the popping, clunkiness and stiffness.

Q: What do you think will be the most challenging part of animating Pantheon?

A: I think defining a cohesive style that fits with the lore and the design of the characters will be the most challenging part. Pantheon has an aggressive production schedule and there's a ton of animation assets to create and that will also be a challenge.

Q: Are you using motion capture, and if not are there plans to?

A: We're currently using a mix of both motion capture and hand-keyed animation. The intent there was to get the game up and running quickly so that Designers could get started creating the game systems and the Engineers could flesh out the underlying technology to support those systems. We're in the process of developing this solid foundation and our plan is to eventually replace all of the motion captured animation with hand-keyed animation. Ultimately, removing the motion capture/hand-keyed hybrid will create a more cohesive style that fits with our game lore and the characters we'll be creating.

Q: What other ways are there of getting fluid and realistic motion? How do you go about making it feel organic and natural?

A: While Pantheon will have realistic motion we haven't yet decided on the style or how realistic it will be. Likely there'll be a lot of iteration as a result of feedback from Chris and the Designers to make the animation feel "right". Additionally, there'll be a lot of collaboration between Engineering and Animation to further develop the animation state tree which will help create more fluid and natural transitions between animations. Lead Programmer Daniel Krenn has already done much of the heavy lifting for many of the animation systems we're planning for and I'm excited to start using them.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the synergy between ability development and animation? Are there abilities that don’t get made because the animations are too hard or don’t look right?

A: It's rare, if ever, that abilities don't get created because the animation is too challenging. Abilities are typically a joint effort between Engineering and Animation and VFX that's driven by Design. The decision to create an ability usually comes down to a cost analysis of how much time each department will have to spend creating it. Subsequently Design and Production assess if they want to proceed. If a particular ability is too expensive then the departments will collaborate and find ways to author it more efficiently while still maintaining Design's original vision.

Q: Is there going to be racial specific animations?

A: Yes, our intention is to have race specific animations. Dwarves and Ogres should move and fight differently to Humans, as an example.

Q: Once you finish all the playing characters are there plans to animate the NPCs and wildlife?

A. Yes, we're currently focused mainly on the human race but we'll get to the point in production where we'll be animating NPCs and other races simultaneously.

Q: What other games have you worked on, and how does the animation in Pantheon differ?

A: I started off in the MMO genre as Lead Animator on Gods and Heroes: Rome Rising. It was a monumental project and the animation system was very granular. We authored paired defensive and offensive animations for all 6 weapon types - left, overhand, right, thrust and uppercut. We ended up with hours of animation by the end of the project. We’re not planning to be as granular on Pantheon. More recently I was Lead Animator on Marvel Heroes which was a lot of fun to work on. Marvel Heroes' animation was quite stylized though and I'm imagining that Pantheon will be more realistic but that's yet to be determined. It's going to be a collaborative effort to get the right look and feel of Pantheon and I'm looking forward to the challenge!

Q: What’s the main difference between animating for film and games?

A: There are lot's of differences between animating for film and games but the main difference is that you have a fixed camera in feature animation. A film is intended to be viewed whereas in games the user interacts with the characters in 3D and the approach to animation is very different. In games, your poses have to look good from every camera angle. When I worked on Smurfs 2 I was focused exclusively on animation - that was all I did. As a Lead Animator in games production, I also find myself with many more challenges than just the animation itself, there are also technical, production and management aspects to consider and the variety of challenges can be a nice change of pace.

Q: What’s the most fun aspect of your job?

A: I find it fun to have the opportunity to collaborate with most of the disciplines involved in games production - Design, Production, Engineering, VFX and Audio. I really enjoy working with Design and other creative folks to produce animation and iterate on it to realize the overall vision of the game. In addition to the animation itself, I like the other challenges like the technicalities of setting up an efficient pipeline, scoping and scheduling etc.

Q: Of the systems we are innovating on, what’s your favorite?

A: I haven't been with VR very long but the abilities system sounds like it's going to be innovative and fun to play.

Q: What class will you play at launch?

A: Probably the Rogue - the abilities sound right up my alley!

Q: What’s your Favorite Zone?

A: Faerthale. It's really coming along nicely. I recently saw some concepts and they're awesome!

Q: Is there anything else you’d want the Pantheons to know about you?

A: This is a great team of folks that are working hard to create an awesome game. There's been a lot of hard work and passion put into it and that's really obvious to me. I'm really glad to be a part of Pantheon!