“I like to make stuff.”
Greetings, Tristan! How are you today?
“I’m doing great!”
What is your current title?
“Current position title is Senior Animator.”
You currently work at Sledgehammer Games, right?
“That is correct. I recently joined the team last September for their next title.”
Can you list some of the games you’ve contributed to in the past?
“There’s been a few I’ve contributed little bits but I’ll list the ones where I was in production for at least over a year. Rise to Honor, Marvel Nemesis, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Dante’s Inferno, Dead Space 3, ChronoBlade.”
As a Senior Animator, what does your typical work day entail?
“I get into work around 9:30 a.m. and grab a coffee. I’ll play the latest build of the game to see what the latest and greatest updates were from the night before. After that, I’ll check my task list to see where I’m at and start animating away. My usual routine is to animate for a couple of hours, export my animations and put them in the game, review my animations in the game and make more notes then go back to Maya to fix or polish. Rinse repeat.”
Has that animation cycle typically been the same throughout most of the projects you’ve worked on? Crank out anims… test in game… refine. I imagine depending on build structure, the iteration time may vary.
“It’s generally the same. At the beginning of a feature, if it’s cinematics or some type of systems work, there is some heavy lifting to be done at first. There is a lot of setup that has to be done in collaboration with designers and programmers and other artists. Once everything is set up the iteration process can begin. Yes, depending on how the build structure is, iteration time would vary. The faster the build process the faster you can fail and try something that works.”
“I had just thought to myself there, that even though it was crazy late at night, all of my friends were out partying, that I was actually having fun working on these animations. I figured then that if I could get paid for this, I’d be set.”
Where did you learn to animate? Did you go to school? Are you self-taught?
“I did go to school for animation, but it was a long journey to get there. It wasn’t until I exhausted the traditional school systems to figure out what I really wanted to do. After Jr. College and going to a State school, I ended up going to a specialized school focusing on digital visual media where I was exposed to animation. I didn’t’ think that working in the games industry was an option until I went to that school.”
What was the specialized school?
“The school was Ex’pressions College in Everyville, Ca. Since I left there, they’ve become an actual college instead of a vocational school when I attended, basically, more expensive.”
Prior to Ex’pressions, what career path were you considering?
“It was a tough road. I grew up wanting to be a comic book artist but the older I got the less feasible that seemed and started looking for things that could actually pay me. I looked into graphic design, advertising, architecture, design and industry. At one point I had started a clothing company with a few friends, 594Gear. It was a graffiti based clothing company. After that died down was when I attended Ex’pressions College.”
Wow, that’s a variety of paths. Animation caught your eye. After learning how to animate, how did you make the move to games? Did you want to be a game animator or was It just a possible opportunity?
“I feel very lucky that I stumbled upon 3D animation. I can remember the moment when it all of a sudden clicked what I wanted to do for a career. I was in a computer lab one night, and it must have been around 3 a.m. and It was just me and few friends animating away trying to polish up our projects. I had just thought to myself there, that even though it was crazy late at night, all of my friends were out partying, that I was actually having fun working on these animations. I figured then that if I could get paid for this, I’d be set. At that point, I would’ve worked in films or games. The opportunities that came just happened to be in games first but I think it’s where I needed to end up.”
How did your first game opportunity come about?
“My first gig out of school was actually at a movie studio, Tippett Studios. Which was my dream company to work for at the time since I was a huge fan of Starship Troopers. It was just an internship and it was in the rotoscoping department which had nothing to do with animation. While I was there I got a call from a small art house in San Mateo called Secret Weapon. They were doing various art projects for the big companies like EA and Sony at the time and thought that it would be a good foot in the door to the games industry, and it was an animating job. I had some friends there from school that had recommended me.”
So, did your reputation get you the job at Secret Weapon? Someone referred you?
“One of the best advice someone at school gave me, I’m not sure who, probably one of the instructors, was to not be a dick. The people that you are working with now are most likely going to be the people you will be working with in the future or helping you to get a job where they’re at. That advice was spot on. So I’d like to think that it was because of my work and me not being a dick that I got recommended.”
That is fantastic advice. You trade on your reputation. Especially with how “small” the game industry is. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?
“As far as game animation goes, I was fortunate enough to have been given the challenge of animating Dante, the main hero in Dante’s Inferno. I was in charge of all his core animations which involved combat and navigation. I was very proud of how they came out in the game.”
As well you should be. Dante was a well executed game. Although, I’m sure the production of the game was extremely challenging.
“The biggest knock on the game was that it was a God of War rip off. Considering that we had some of the key members from God of War helping out on the game, the direction was basically going there. God of War is one of the best hack and slash games out there and I was happy that it was being closely compared.”
I like to think you were “inspired by” God of War.
“[Laughs] Just like many other games during that time. I really miss the hack and slash genre. There aren’t as many of them being made nowadays.”
Are there any tools, programs, or plugins you can’t live without in your day to day work?
“Maya has been the constant throughout all the companies I’ve worked at. I haven’t really worked in any other animation package. I started using Maya in school and have been working with it for close to 17 years now.”
What is the one game/film that has inspired you the most?
“That’s a tough one. So many games and such a long timespan. I’ll pick one that stood out while I was at school that helped me in deciding to be an animator. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I loved the art style and loved the animations. I remember the cutscenes and wanting to be a part of something like that. I found out that their studio was only a few hours away from the bay area so I kept that in the back of my mind to keep working towards and maybe working there one day.”
“To be a good Animator in the games industry you have to be a team player, accountable, dependable, passionate with your craft, and don’t be a dick.”
I love Abe’s Oddysee. It was ahead of it’s time in so many ways. I loved that you could take over the mind of an enemy the best. How do you stay up on the latest animation trends and techniques? Are their websites you frequent? A meetup group?
“I think with animation and the reason why I chose it as a career is that you just get better with more practice. I was always intimidated with Modeling, which was my alternative, because every year there is new tech to learn and you always have to be on top of your game. With animation, there are fundamentals and the more you animate the better you get. There is also a lot of tech that is involved with 3D animating but it’s more just ways to be more efficient so you can get back to the fundamentals of animation. Working with other good animators also helps.”
So, what are key traits one would need to become a good animator? Is it just practice….lots of practice?
“Ha, I feel that’s the case with everything. Practice. That should be a given. For me, I like to be efficient and not waste a lot of time. Animation takes a lot of iteration time to get it right. Sometimes the director will want to add or even go a different direction than what you currently have so being fast and efficient is a good trait to have. You also have to be a good communicator. Working on game animations is a team effort that includes programmers, designers. and other artists to help you get your shot to final. Being able to communicate with your team is essential for success.”
I assume, when hiring, you get to look at animator reels from time to time. Any advice on what to put in your reel? Or what not to include?
“I think doing research on the company you are applying for will help. Tailor your reel to what their needs are. I wouldn’t send Pixar a demo reel that has my mocap game shots. Keep it short with your absolutely best stuff.”
If I wanted to become an animator for games, what advice would you give me?
“To be a good Animator in the games industry you have to be a team player, accountable, dependable, passionate with your craft, and don’t be a dick. Know your competition and just try to be the best at what you do.”
How do you like to spend your free time?
“Netflix and chill. [Laughs] I’ll binge out on movies or games. Spend time with the kids. Try to get outside and do some mountain biking. I also try to draw as much as I can with my spare time. Follow me on instagram! https://www.instagram.com/tristansacramento_art/”
If you had to describe yourself in one sentence, what would you say? What is your tagline?
“I like to make stuff.”
How can people find you if they wanted to reach you?
Fantastic. Thanks Tristan, this was informative and fun.