(Originally published at OpposableGames on the 2015-02-17. Things get gamic about half way down.)
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the ever delicious Animex festival up in the frozen wastelands of the north i.e. Middlesbrough. A festival dedicated to the computer games and special effects industry. My plane set off from Bristol airport on Sunday evening just as the shadows began to stretch super long across the landscape. Kinda like the demon’s evil shadow hands from the Night on Bald Mountain section in Fantasia, but without the naughty disco gremlins grooving all over the place. Instead, I had the Easy Jet staff trying to flog me their own line in perfumes. I figured I'd already smell like baggage check-in by the time I arrived so gave it a miss.
My buddy Matt T and I prior to getting felt up at Bristol AIrport
In previous years I'd stayed at the Metro Inn a few miles out of town as it was mega cheap. I remember asking the owner over a non-branded microwave lasagne why he'd built his hotel in the middle of an industrial estate, surrounded by car lots and a giant Happy Shopper warehouse? Apparently he hadn't. They'd built the whole thing around him afterwards. Now the only people who stayed there are long distance truck drivers and ghosts.
There was also an amusing moment when I returned to my room to find it completely empty and all my stuff missing. Then on closer inspection realised it wasn't my room at all! Apparently I'd been given the master key code by accident and had the ability to open any room I wished. The manager politely asked me to forget the combination as he had no way of changing it. I'd never felt more secure … OR powerful!
This year, being a grown up, I opted for the Travel Lodge actually in town. The room smelt really weird (I can't describe it as it bares no resemblance to any other smell I have ever smelt before, but if it were a member of Police Academy it would most likely be Zed) and shook when large vehicles passed, but was otherwise perfectly habitable.
Monday morning. Registration was straightforward and this year’s Animex souvenir goodie bag was a sweet satchel - or 'messenger bag' for the hipsters having this read to them. Much classier than the over the shoulder sailor bag I'd received previously that made me look like Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses.
Gabrielle Kent, Amimex Program Director, gave us her classic welcoming talk before handing the stage over to Ed Hooks, author of Acting for Animators. Ed's a bit of a staple at the festival for giving his Acting for Animators workshop but his first talk of the day was something pretty heavy: why Big Hero 6 is an hour and a half advert. Shame Disney didn’t arrive till Tuesday as I think things would’ve kicked off big time - an upper cut from Zach Parrish, Ed smashing a beer bottle over the closest student whilst defending his honour; shards of glass and manic eyes glinting under spectacular eyebrows. In all seriousness it was a good talk with Ed urging those who want to be in the industry to follow their artistic dreams over all else and not bend to 'The Man’. Personally, I enjoyed Big Hero 6 but certainly knew what he was getting at and would have liked a lot more narrative development for all the characters.
The afternoon was dedicated to Guardians of the Galaxy with Cumron Ashtiani of Atomhawk talking about the concept art for the Milano - a space ship I would very genuinely like to sleep with – and Greg Fisher, from MPC, discussing the animation of Groot. Now Groot’s a character I don't need to sleep with but would find acceptable as a neighbour; quiet, well-mannered and useful to have around for rescuing cats from trees. Or putting them there in the first place…
The arrival of the evening saw the arrival of booze. I forget the details but, come the morning, I had less business cards in my wallet so either I made new friends or used them to pay for something.
Tuesday featured talks from industry heavyweights such as Double Negative, Frame Store and Disney. We learnt the difficulties in applying post processing effects to stereoscopic films such as Exodus: Gods and Kings. Apparently they weren't allowed to show crocodiles eating people in the film, so there were plenty of crocodiles eating other crocodiles in a big grinding red mass of death, which was much less disturbing.
An insightful talk on Paddington revealed that the moment Judy's face is licked by the bear was actually created via a big'ol brush of wallpaper paste being smeared over her face. The brush itself was passed through a tiny noose to keep it on target
Zach Parrish took us through the animation process on Big Hero 6 - I had no idea only 800 people worked at Disney. It was interesting to hear how long it generally took an artist to finish key framing a scene (a very long time) so I no longer feel like an arthritic snail.
Laika were there with the Boxtrolls explaining the process of physically building one of their animatable characters. The film was a real labour of love; the amount of time required in stop-frame animation is colossal and you could quickly achieve the same effect digitally if you chose to, but these guys just go in and do it with their hands. I actually think they're insane, or maybe they’re Amish and not allowed to use computers? Either way, the end results are beautiful and always more impressive when you know about the blood, sweat, and tears (and 3D printers) that went into it.
The second evening brought the chance to check out the Student Abstract Animation Awards, though a better name for these might have been 'scribbly squares scratched into old film accompanied by an eclectic mix of progressive jazz toss'. I'm concerned I might have died that night in the cinema as I swallowed my own still-weeping eyes. A myriad of wonky colours danced back and forth across the dark screen like a cobra hypnotising me into a ketamine-style stupor only to end with an angry screen of blinding white. The world around me seems dull and lifeless now with its muted colours and distinct lack of jazz. I no longer sit at my desk; I haunt it. Riker was into jazz, who wants to be like Riker?
Wednesday offered a bag of choices including; various workshops, an indie devs day and a comic book day. I went for comics as drawing is totes sweet; the highlight being the informal interview between Jim Zubb and Tula Lotay. Tula's work is genuinely inspiring and her personality really came across in the relaxed setting. I can't imagne there’s anyone who wouldn't like to have a nice cup of tea with her. Except for those abstract film students, who clearly drink ink and nightmares whilst hating joy. She also run's Thought Bubble festival so I'll be checking that out next chance I get.
‘Creating Manga Shakesphere for Mature Female Readers’ by Harumo Sanazaki was a real treat, with the story of Romeo and Juliet being retold from Lady Capulet’s view point. My favourite quote being: “I know you now have the right to exploit me sexually...” There was more but I dropped my pencil at that point and missed it.
Michael Molcher gave a convincing argument on why 2000AD is in fact responsible for the high quality of story telling in all modern comics today. A sweeping statement I’ll admit but he had enough pictures of Judge Dredd looking persuasive plastered to the walls that I wasn't going to argue. He also plugged their Future Shock writing competition, so if you dream of working in that area I suggest you give it a go.
Wednesday evening brought a gaming social in which local games companies (and Gang Beasts creator Boneloaf) got a chance to exhibit their ongoing projects. Here I met up with Graham and Chantelle from RadiationBurn; a few months prior we'd interviewed a couple of their interns for our 3D junior vacancy so it was nice to know where they'd come from. Chantelle kinda looks like Thea Queen from Arrow whilst Graham's built like a brick shit house so it's entirely possible they do roam the streets of Starling City jamming pointy things into bad people when they’re not programming by day. Their dialogue was a damn sight better than that of Arrow and I didn't feel like I'd wasted an hour of my life after talking to them. If you get the chance be sure to check out their current project, Living Dungeon. I was pretty drunk at the time but I'm sure the game is still great fun sober.
Thursday featured Ken Wong talking about the art on Monument Valley (winner of ALL the awards), Facial animation from Cubic Motion (who've totally robbed our logo, somehow ahead of us even designing it), and Creative Assembly's Gary Napper on the design and AI of Alien: Isolation (excellent speaker, by the way). Nicole Stark gave a heart-felt presentation on the development of her game, Ninja Pizza Girl, which was inseparable from tales about her life and family. I liked her story about how the folks she used to work with removed a slutty nurse zombie from the cover of their game after realising it might be offensive to women. I especially liked that it was followed by Alessandro Taini of Ninja Theory who's art consisted mostly of Dante from DmC lounging around topless, naked angels pretty much deep throating his conspicuously placed gun.
The evening brought yet more boozing and Miss Kitty Powers's charity auction. This raised a good few hundred pounds for Special Effect, a charity centered around helping people with physical disabilities play video games.
Miss Kitty Powers with Nicole Stark filling in as her lovely assistant.
Friday was cut short by the necessity of catching a plane home but, before I left, I managed to catch Andrew Walsh's talk on writing characters for Fable Legends. He's a shouty-sweary man - much like the pissed guy you're scarred is going to talk to you down the pub. He knows his stuff though and my favourite quote would have to be: “If you discriminate against people for their gender or race then you're a fuck wit.” He still, however, completely acknowledges the reality that all these things feed into the creation of a character.
Jennifer Clixby from Lionhead finished off my day with an overview of what a producer actually does. Apparently they're not just untalented, nazi taskmasters telling me to do work and stop spinning around on my swivel chair. They are, in fact, core to the process of creating. Well, pretty much anything that's going to require more than a couple of people to work on. I think, in my heart of hearts, I always knew that.
Lana's a producer we met who's currently trapped in the stark and demoralising town of Guildford. We liked her as she had cats on her skirt. Feel free to email her and get her to move to Bristol.
When I attended Animex five years prior the girl staying in the room across from me, Leanne, was fresh out of uni and showing off her final year project piece about a security camera coming to life and beating the crap out of a bugler. I saw her again this year, however, this time she was on one of the panels talking about the creation of her game, Super Glyph Quest with Alex Trowers, and the creation of her baby, Super Willow Quest (also with Alex Trowers). To top it off she's on MVC's top 100 women in games. A lot can change in 5 years. I'm no longer an unemployed bum but the head of my department at the sweetest company this side of London. I tried explaining to Leanne that much of her success must, undoubtedly, be down to meeting me but she wasn't buying it. Maybe we can both owe a little bit to the inspiration provided by Animex festival? That and the sustenance provided by the weird ass chicken-cheese mush Teeside exudes from its fine takeaways.