Blog Post

Get to know: Gracie Arenas Strittmatter – Technical Art Director at BioWare and SIGGRAPH 2019 Real-Time Live! Chair

Let’s get started, a question we like to ask first is how you found your way into tech and animation! 

Ever since I can remember, I have loved creating and tinkering with things. I’m glad that my parents encouraged this and supported my participation in activities like summer art and engineering programs when I was young. Through these endeavors, I discovered that I really liked math because it was fun: a series of puzzles requiring logic and critical thinking to solve. My father, now retired US Air Force, has a degree in Computer Engineering and my family was lucky enough to have a computer around the house at a time when it wasn’t commonplace, which exposed me to navigating a PC environment and basic programming at an early age. On top of that, growing up in the 90’s during the Disney Renaissance was pretty incredible; it inspired many kids like me at the time to want to work in creative entertainment. 

Texas A&M has a great reputation for computer arts and sciences. Do you feel your education got you ready to work in the industry?

There’s a bit of a disconnect when you’re sitting in college courses learning theory, and then trying to understand “how does this apply to a professional role?”.  I think everyone experiences that in their own way. It wasn’t until I landed a Technical Art internship in graduate school that it all started to come together and I realized that everything I had learned up to that point—math, programming, art—had a very real cohesion in the professional setting that I couldn’t have fully understood without first-hand experience. 

Can you share your experience from school to first job? What was your path into the industry?

Growing up, I never let go of my interest in art and math, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with them. In high school, I learned through a few friends about the Visualization program at Texas A&M (a masters-only level degree program at the time) and saw the creative technical work coming out of that program. All the art schools I was admitted to were out of state, so I resolved to pursue Computer Science and continue art classes on the side. Long story short, I got into the masters program and during that time landed an internship at EA a Technical Artist working with a supportive team on challenging work. I was offered a full-time role after the internship, and today, over a decade leader, I’m leading a team of exceptionally talented Technical Artists at BioWare. It’s been an incredibly rewarding career path. 

And related, can you talk about your reasons and experience with volunteering and working with SIGGRAPH?

 I started out as a SIGGRAPH Student Volunteer in 2002, at the encouragement of my high school art teacher, Mrs. Linda Otstott. I didn’t really know much about it, other than the conference focused on computer graphics and interactive techniques, but I’m glad I applied to volunteer. It changed my life. In between shifts, I popped in to sessions breaking down how teams had produced animated shorts, I saw the Electronic Theater (the “best of” in animation in the past year), and simply became enthralled with the community at the conference. That was just the beginning. I continued to volunteer in the Student Volunteer Program throughout my college career, progressing from volunteer to Team Leader, eventually serving on the organizing committee, and finally chairing it in 2013. 

Some of the friends I made in those early years are now some of my closest friends and we continue to volunteer in the SIGGRAPH organization together. Throughout the years, I’ve served on the Production Sessions Committee, Real-Time Live Committee and Jury, and most recently chaired Real-Time Live in 2019. If there’s a testament to networking, this is truly it. This community has been my extended family and supports me in my own career journey. Volunteering gives me a chance to work with other creative individuals and exercise leadership skills. It really is a unique combination and I know that my years volunteering has had a direct correlation to my success as a contributor, manager, and leader in the video games industry. I’m incredibly indebted to this vibrant community and look forward to continue being involved in the years to come.

Can you talk about your path from junior tech artist to Lead and how you dealt with going from doing work to managing workers? Did you want to move into more of a management role or did it just happen over time?

I became particularly fascinated with leadership theory while I was in college. I was involved in many student organizations and I loved seeing different people come together, work toward common goals, and face challenges. Typically, the teams I was on had to overcome challenges, and we didn’t always have successes. I learned a lot of valuable lessons in executing visions, managing difficult conversations, and working with diverse perspectives. Though extremely hard at times, I found a lot of fulfillment in being able to help others through empowerment and inspiration. 

As an Associate Technical Artist, I found myself working on creative teams, liaising and communicating with a wide variety of people as an individual contributor. This type of work was particularly important, because through it, I learned the nuances of the technical artist role. As I continued to volunteer year after year at SIGGRAPH, I learned one very important thing about myself: I loved to lead creative people. I found that it gave me great energy. I brought my leadership experiences from college and SIGGRAPH into the professional setting and began to refine them (e.g. volunteering to do presentations or volunteering to lead initiatives), with the intention of one day being a manager. This in turn made me more visible to senior leadership, and within a few short years, on short notice, I was called upon to fill a Senior Technical Artist lead role opening on Madden NFL and found myself managing interns throughout the year, too. At the time, I felt that I wasn’t ready for the role, but I am glad that I seized the opportunity. My departmental leadership had seen something very special in me that they wanted to see more of, and I was more than prepared to deliver it, even if I hadn’t recognized it in myself. To this day, I’m appreciative of that opportunity, because it was an incredible boost of confidence to my career. 

When I moved to BioWare, I struggled a bit. There was a lot of challenging work, which I enjoyed, but there was also a long time where I had to reprove myself and build a reputation with a new group of developers. I went back to having no reports and working on a smaller team. I continued to be involved with SIGGRAPH and used that as my outlet to hone leadership skills as I made strides in the workplace to develop robust solutions and take ownership of initiatives. I reached out to an old manager at my previous studio and began meeting with him regularly for mentorship sessions (still do to this day!).  I started a monthly studio BioWare Technical Art lunch for networking and idea sharing. I arranged cross-studio Technical Art meetings to help BioWare communicate with other teams. Soon, I caught the eye of leaders within the studio and was called upon to be one of the first developers in Austin to work on Anthem as a tools developer on the Technical Animation team. I dove deep into this work, began leading tools meetings, and started networking with colleagues in Edmonton. 

Within a couple of years, an opportunity opened up suddenly for the Technical Art Director role, and by that time, I had built such a positive reputation that I was offered the role immediately. I acted quickly, not knowing everything that I was getting into, but knowing with confidence that I had been putting in place the tools for me to prepare for this role for many years and that I was more than capable of filling the tall order. I remember within four days of accepting the role, I flew to Edmonton, met all of the team members in person, and started pouring myself into everything so that I could get things started on the right foot. I went immediately from being an individual contributor to having seven reports, organizing a task backlog, outlining expectations, and jumping head-first into a project that was already full steam ahead. From that point on, my mentality shifted from “me” to “we” and I haven’t looked back.

There are a couple of common themes in my career: opportunities have come very quickly and reputation/networking has always played a crucial role. If I was in a role at work that didn’t offer everything I wanted, I found ways outside of work to develop my leadership skills, so that when opportunities arose, I was ready to meet them. I worked at this incredibly hard, and still do. Even if I felt I wasn’t entirely ready for a position, I trusted the opinion of those who recognized the potential within me and said “yes” to the opportunity. Ultimately, you are in charge of your own career. No one is going to “make it happen” for you and I am 100% convinced that had I not prepared myself in the way I did, I would not be in the role I am in today. And my story isn’t over; I’m excited to see what the future holds. 

“As I’ve worked through the ranks of my career, I’ve learned to ask more pointed questions, gotten better at debugging (stepping through code), and have been more diligent about leaving things in a better place than how I found them.”

From Console to MMO

Not everyone gets to work on AAA projects that are locked to disk and console limits then move to an MMO where it is a very different scale and design. How would you compare your time on the different games and your experience having to work and deal with the technical challenges of both?

Both types of projects certainly have their share of challenges. Most of the projects I’ve been on in my career have been on console. In sports games, the cadence for development was cyclical and predictable: development essentially boiled down to 9 months out of the year, so we had limited amounts of time for research and development to prove out design ideas. Some of the tools we used for content creation in those games, as a result, would get incremental feature updates each year as needed. And, in some cases, if refactoring was needed, we’d have to prioritize against other objectives and build it in to the schedule, but that would very likely cause other things to fall off of scope within that year’s development. Anthem’s years-long development cycle afforded our Technical Animation team the time needed to create a robust tools infrastructure that now serves as the foundation for all art and animation tools at BioWare. There are also challenges with Anthem’s massive open world environment because you want to give this sense of expansiveness and realism in the world without killing the frame rate. So we have to put a lot of optimization measures in place to make sure that we stay within console (and PC graphics card) limitations. It’s such a different context from sports games, which are typically confined to an arena of some sort. 

This can all be contrasted with live development, where tech (including pipeline/tools, engine, and in many cases, specific software versions) is largely set in stone before game launch and is very hard to change once it hits live service. Even more challenging is that if you don’t have an idea of how long the live service will be around and you decide to use third party software, you may eventually face the challenges of deprecated/unsupported technology, so it must be chosen wisely. I joined SWTOR after it had already been live two years and there were still plenty of opportunities, to streamline artist workflows within the technologies we had. The tools that I built years ago are still being used and adjusted in different ways to adapt to the needs of the game. One of the biggest challenges of live service is content creation. New content, once released, is consumed very quickly by players, so how can we go about creating more procedurally-streamlined or user-generated content opportunities? SWTOR continues to grow, and so technical artists proceed to work within the framework set years ago—understanding what can and cannot be achieved—to help fulfill game ambitions that contribute to developing storylines and engage players in new ways.

No matter what kind of game and platform, there is always a need for streamlined workflows to create more (and better) content. And no matter where that content ends up–console or PC–we must take into account the full capabilities of consoles and PC graphics cards, understanding hardware limitations, so that we can ultimately deliver the best experience to players.

Can you walk us through what your day or week looks like?

As a Technical Art Director, I am responsible for the direction of this discipline on a game team and for the people who execute it. I also recently took on the side role of Deputy Director of Art and Animation, which means that I help ensure that any concerns and feedback from content creators on the development floor are communicated to the Director of Art and Animation. My weeks are typically divided up in a way that balances all these important things and are a mix of company-wide (EA-wide) initiatives, studio (BioWare) initiatives, project-level (Anthem) initiatives, and team (report-specific) responsibilities. 

I’m involved in studio-wide leadership meetings to better understand how initiatives might affect Art and Animation departments as well as studio art leadership meetings to communicate with peers on other game teams and drive collaborative efforts. 

One of my biggest priorities is to make sure that my team is understanding innovation within the Technical Art discipline at a company-wide level and establishing connections with counterparts at other EA studios so that we can drive collaboration. I work with my team to divide-and-conquer through active participation in relevant steering groups and communities. Another one of my priorities is helping my studio and team understand the value that Technical Art brings to game teams. Often, you’ll see me representing the Tech Art team in various Anthem stand-ups and syncs, cross-studio or cross-project workflow meetings, or providing input on Technical Art career development initiatives at a company-wide level. I coordinate with other leads on the Anthem team to ensure that my team is delivering the solutions they need, and in a timely manner. I also hold regular team meetings, such as stand-ups, studio tech art reviews, and lunches to promote knowledge sharing between Technical Artists on my team and at the studio. A lot of my time is also poured into the people on my team in the form of 1:1s, career development, and scheduling impromptu time to help unblock them from things that may be inhibiting them from doing their best work. Ultimately, it boils down to a lot of communication and coordination with a lot of different people for a myriad of reasons. And I love it. 

Aside from these day-to-day obligations, I am also actively involved in volunteering at the studio, whether that is through leading studio tours, speaking on panels during student visits, participating in community service events, participating in our employee-led workplace culture council, or being involved in an Employee Resource Group (ERG). I serve as a Global Co-Chair for Somos EA, our Latinx/Hispanic ERG, and work with our executive sponsor and board to help drive initiatives at our studios to create a support network for employees and allies and celebrate the richness our culture brings to the workplace. I believe that all of these extra endeavors help create a workplace that is fun, engaging, and is a reminder that I get to do some really cool stuff every day.

Do you still get involved in the production work or are you bigger picture and making sure the artists are supported? What have you done or do to help support the tech artists (maybe something you had done or wished management had done or understood when you were in direct production)

I love production work and wish at times that I could be more hands-on, but now my role is about force multiplication: empowering other Technical Artists to do their best work. I’m very much in a wide range of technical conversations at the team, studio, and company level and I find satisfaction in being able to drive the direction of my discipline and set its strategy. The number one thing that I do to support the individuals on the Tech Art team is give them lots of time and attention. That means giving them regular, reliable 1:1 time and getting to know them as people (not just employees). It also means pointing them to resources for development so that they have the tools they need to effectively drive their careers. I understand that I cannot be an expert in every facet of technical art and I trust my subject matter experts. I’m a huge advocate for my team members and work hard to clear things out of their way so they can focus on creating high-quality solutions for the game team. I also make concerted efforts to travel to see people on my team who are working in other studio locations. And most of all, I am a champion of the value my team’s work brings to the studio. All of these things make a huge difference. My philosophy is that if you make people the priority, the rest falls into place. As a Latina, one of the biggest cultural aspects of my upbringing that shines through in my work is the idea of family: everyone is unique and has their idiosyncrasies, but at the end of the day it is necessary for all of us to come together to create something far beyond any single contributor’s capabilities. 

How has your workflow progressed or advanced from when you first started out, any big “wow” wish I knew that moments? Any advice for your past self if you could?

Game engines are so ubiquitous nowadays: it’s amazing that anyone can download one and start using it to create their own game immediately. I’m quite jealous of that, actually! When I was in school, that lack of accessibility (plus not having relevant courses in my program’s curriculum at the time) was a huge reason why I didn’t initially think of games as a career (which is a little crazy since I had grown up playing video games!). The closest I got was writing physics simulations and a raytracer in C++ in graduate school, which was fun. Thankfully, I had a lot of training in programming, traditional art, and computer graphics fundamentals, and it then became a matter of learning how to fit this all into a game development setting when I landed my Technical Art internship at EA. Perhaps a nice stroke of luck was also the timing: when I graduated with my masters, Technical Art was still a very new discipline, so in many ways, the game industry was still figuring it all out as well. If I could go back, I would have to have gotten more involved in a game developer club (we did have a small one at the time) and worked with others to get more game development experience. I would’ve gotten into more scripting for content creator applications, too.

A common thread among Character TDs having to get up to speed on new pipelines, tools and workflows…what is your approach to do this effectively? Wondering how you found this process as you worked through the ranks in your career?

Getting up to speed on unfamiliar pipelines, tools, and workflows is only as good as the documentation that is left behind. (This is why I am a huge proponent of wiki documentation, coding standards, and well-commented, peer-reviewed code on my team.)  In the absence of good documentation, I’ve reached out to content creators who actively work in the aforementioned pipelines, tools, and workflows to understand how they are used in production before diving into the code. What is used the most? The least? This helps prioritize where you should spend the most of your time. Sometimes the process, for me at least, was painful because of lost tribal knowledge, and I had to brute force get into code and step through it. Sometimes I discovered features that end users didn’t even know had been available to them. As I went about my audits, I made it a point to comment code as much as possible and get user documentation posted; I made it as easy as possible for anyone coming after me (even “future me”) to ramp up on that knowledge more quickly than I had the first go-round. 

As I’ve worked through the ranks of my career, I’ve learned to ask more pointed questions, gotten better at debugging (stepping through code), and have been more diligent about leaving things in a better place than how I found them. In fact, our Technical Artist on SWTOR recently went through one of the game’s animation systems and was able to understand it very quickly due to some documentation I put in place years ago. That made me so proud. And ideally, this is how it should be. Commit to making documentation a priority; it will ultimately save costs (and sanity) and pay off in dividends.

Can you think of an example, something you thought was going to be a great fix or process and it turned out not so simple, or maybe it worked better than expected?  

Absolutely! One of my favorite examples of this is the Outfit Stubber Tool on Star Wars: The Old Republic. While I was a technical artist on this project, I learned that adding a new outfit into the game was quite cumbersome: it required manual database connections, our outsourcing liaison had to craft detailed posts for their forum communication with vendors so that art was created in a consistent manner, and design had to wait for final art to come back in order to add metadata like abilities, power, etc. to outfit components. I was tasked with creating a tool for outfit creation that enabled artists and designers to work simultaneously by populating our asset database automatically, creating placeholders in 3ds Max for game (this portion was done by my colleague Kathryn Long) while art assets were being worked on by vendors, and pushing these placeholders out to game so that designers could do their work. When completed artwork came in from vendors, we simply replaced the placeholder meshes with the final art and pushed it to Live. 

This was one of my first assignments on SWTOR and breaking down the database automation side of things (with proper naming conventions) for this particular assignment was tricky, because hundreds of entries and connections were created during the outfit creation process. (I was shocked that our artists had been creating these entries and connections manually for so long – it was very prone to error.) Once addressed, I was able to turn an hours-long manual database entry process into a few seconds. To me, that’s what Technical Art really brings to the table: solutions that empower artists to focus more on art creation itself rather than the steps needed to facilitate it.  

The best part even beyond this? This tool continues to be used in production today and has been in use for over 5 years now, long after I’ve moved on to another game team.

Can you share any tricky problems that you encountered on Anthem? 

Performance was probably the trickiest thing we encountered on Technical Art. With such an expansive world (and with the flying mechanic and VFX thrown in for good measure), we had to exercise a lot of optimization techniques to ensure that things like streaming hitches were mitigated and work with content creators to optimize art where possible to provide the best playing experience.

Our shaders were created to resemble things that were simultaneously foreign and familiar, and technical artists on the team had to work closely with the Art Director and content creators to achieve an artistic vision. There were a wide variety of environments, a day/night cycle, and variable weather. These elements compounded on each other, proving to be quite a challenge.

On the tools side, we had a lot of time-intensive processes that we were able to encapsulate in workflows which yielded significant savings in areas such as icon generation for UI artists, the generation of tree billboards for the lowest LODs, and world map generation. 

If you’re interested, I encourage you to take a look at my team’s SIGGRAPH 2019 talk on the ACM Digital Library, “Creating the Immersive World of BioWare’s Anthem”, for a deeper dive into some of the challenges we faced with content in bringing this game to life.

What have you found , training wise to have been the most helpful to you to grow as a tech artist? Did you have a mentor or an artist that helped you improve your work while on the job?

Hands-down, mentors have been the single-most helpful resource for me training-wise as I’ve navigated my career. This is an aspect of career development that must be self-driven, and throughout the years, I’ve approached a number of individuals who have characteristics and skills that I aspire to develop. I have engaged in single or recurring sessions with these people, coming to these meetings with a prepared agenda and focusing on areas such as management, leadership, strategy, and excellence within my discipline. These people have been within my company (both inside/outside my business unit) and external to my company. They have been leaders in Technical Art, thought leaders in other disciplines, management leaders, studio leaders, and executives. The ones outside my business unit provide unbiased opinions, which has been crucial on days where I was frustrated or needed insight into approaches in other areas of the company/industry. My confidence has increased incredibly over the years because I have seen firsthand the returns of mentoring on my career. I’m glad I didn’t wait to start making this a priority. 

All of my mentors have helped improve my work while on the job in different ways. One of the longest-standing ones who has helped me navigate through years of Tech Art roles and challenging scenarios has been my previous manager Chris Baker, who is a Senior Director of Technical Art at EA Tiburon. He has helped provide guidance and support when there was no one else for me to look to. It’s an especially important relationship to me today, because I am the only Technical Art Director at BioWare. He has been a sounding board, given me confidence in areas that I was previously new to, and inspires me to mentor others. 

What does continuing education look like for you now as a Lead? 

As a Lead, a large part of my job entails leveraging my network, particularly within EA, to drive cross-project and cross-studio conversations across disciplines that relate to technical art. I can no longer focus on individual contributor work, but instead firmly believe that I must focus on my people and a strategic vision of technical art in order to move us forward. 

Continuing education has many facets for me: leadership training, management training, staying on top of industry trends, networking, and mentoring. There are a lot of programs that are internal to EA that focus on manager and leadership excellence, and I make these a priority. I also read a lot of articles and books on leadership philosophy on topics such as career development, team building, crucial conversations, change management, and company culture. There are also a variety of online tutorials out there, including those on Gnomon Workshop, Pluralsight, and LinkedIn Learning that have been helpful to ramp up on specific topics. My continued volunteer involvement in SIGGRAPH over nearly two decades has helped me sharpen my skills leading and working on distributed teams to execute a vision for a conference venue (and, more importantly, network within the greater computer graphics industry). In addition to SIGGRAPH, I regularly attend technical conferences such as GDC, SXSW, Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and access resources from internal conferences at EA. It’s important to mention here that the value of networking cannot be understated: it is the single-most thing that has propelled my career and given me a support network far beyond my immediate development team. The second-most important thing has been making the self-driven effort to establish mentoring relationships with people I admire. No one is going to do this for you; take the reins on your own career and make the investment right now. The worst someone can say to you when you approach them for a mentoring relationship is “no”, however I guarantee you that most will find it an honor. I’ve learned so many tips and techniques from my mentors throughout the years and have had incredible forums where I can bounce off ideas and frustrations and get good dialogue, and there’s no price tag you can ever put on that. 

Any last tips or advice you can give to someone that wants to improve their current skills to get their first job or move between film and games?

If you’re trying to land your first job, be honest and clear with yourself in terms of your ideal role. If you like wearing more hats in the development process, being at a small studio might be up your alley. If a AAA studio is your aim, development teams are much larger, so ensure that your portfolio and resume are focused on one specific area of game development. Look at job requisitions from a wide cross-section of companies to see what skills and technical proficiency they expect from applicants. Based on this, are there areas that you need to develop or polish? Some studios use proprietary tools that you can’t necessarily “study up” on, but what can get you the closest to the experience? The earlier that you are armed with this information, the better you can tailor your coursework or extracurricular activities to elevate your profile. Play games: what about them makes them engaging and fun? Get involved in group projects and game jams to help you understand the dynamics of working with others and better understand how everyone’s skill sets come together to create a game from start to finish. And finally, the game industry changes quickly; instilling a lifelong interest in learning early-on is crucial no matter which area of development you see yourself in.

If you’re looking for a move between film and games, certainly many elements of the advice above can help. The major difference between film and games is the computing time–hours/days vs. milliseconds–so understanding techniques and best practices that can significantly improve rendering time in real-time scenarios is incredibly important. In games, many optimization techniques are used to achieve a balance between performance and visual fidelity. Download a game engine and tinker with it. Create a game to understand the development process; you can typically find in-depth tutorials (and community support) that will walk you through the creation of one from start to finish. 

At Rigging Dojo we get a high percent of female students and some of our most successful students have been women. If at all have you faced issues or challenges that male peers might not have or simply not thought about? Of course positive experiences are great to hear as well.

There is a common theme across many women whom I’ve spoken to throughout the years who are either in the industry or wanting to get into the industry, and that is that they often focus too much on the number of women in the room. My philosophy is that if we, as women, continue to dwell on this instead of focus on the skills that we bring to the table, we perpetuate our own insecurity (impostor syndrome) and lack of representation in game development. In the United States, we are at roughly 22% women in game development; there is a lot of trailblazing work ahead that is not for the faint of heart, so for those who are ready to lead the charge, now is the time. 

My dream is to see a more diverse game development world where the representation of females and other underrepresented groups more accurately reflects our player bases. (We’re nowhere near that right now.) Everyone plays a part in seeing this future through. Leading causes of attrition of underrepresented groups within the first year include unwelcome work environments and lack of support. Regardless of whether you fit in an underrepresented demographic, get involved in sponsoring and mentoring others in this community to help cultivate a network of support for all. Identify or start an Employee Resource Group to bring together employees and allies. Be cognizant about the environments that you are creating at work and how you can be an agent of change in promoting inclusivity. Your company will thank you when it starts seeing the increased profitability and greater innovation that can come as a result.

I wish that there were women that I could look up to in my direct line of work. Truth is, there aren’t any that I’ve found. So what am I going to do about it (and who am I going to enlist the assistance of?) so that I can continue to set an example for others? No one said pioneering was easy, but if we want to see a change, we must be part of the solution. 

Personally, as someone who grew up in a military family and had to adapt to new situations regularly, the numbers in the room haven’t phased me. I’ve understood that to move forward I have to make use of the resources that are in front of me. A good 80% of my mentors (which I have nearly all sought out myself) have been male, and have been incredible forces of inspiration, thought, and support that have made me incredibly confident in my own abilities and career. I understand the value I can bring to the table and I’ve sought out work in studios where my opinion is respected and my skills appreciated. It is my hope that through my own work, I can inspire others–men and women alike–to do the same.

Last question, what book are you reading right now or last finished?

I’m currently reading through Ed Catmull’s “Creativity, Inc.” and Harvard Business Review’s “On Change Management”. I am fascinated with creating and sustaining rich work cultures that nurture creativity and empower employees.

How can people best find you and your work online? 

LinkedIn is the best place to find me! I try to keep this up to date with information and resources as much as possible.

Thank you so much for taking the time for this interview!

Blog Post

Get to know: Kaye Vassey Technical Animator at Epic Games

Kaye Vassey is a veteran of the feature animation industry, working on such franchises as “Shrek,” “Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” She is currently a Senior Technical Animator at Epic Games. Having worked on “Fortnite” most recently, Kaye has been writing and drawing the online comic strips “Legend of Bill” and “The Gnome Syndicate” for a total of six years and is in production on her first graphic novel for Month 9 Books.

For more on Vassey and her work, visit Kaye Vassey Art & Animation on Facebook
or @kmvassey on Twitter and Instagram.

Let’s get started, a question we like to ask first is how you found your way into tech and animation! Was it always an interest or did you get into it later in college?

I decided when I was around 10 that I wanted to do three things…be an animator, be a comic artist, and make video games. So, as a kid, I concentrated on art, but also kept up my academics as a way to keep my parents happy. When college rolled around, I was accepted to many art schools that ended up being too expensive, and as a result, made my own art degree at Clemson University in SC. I took all my required art courses but filled all my electives with computer programming, film, and other courses I thought would be helpful to my goal.

Had you been programming and doing other tech work on your own because you wanted to make games or did your first encounter with it happen in college?

I had always played with my family computer, hardware wise, but I didn’t actually get into programming until college. In fact, unlike many high schools now, in my time, there were no computer classes. My art teacher had a Mac and Photoshop version 1.0, and I got to play with that, but that was about it. Once I got to college I started playing with POV-Ray, and that really opened my eyes to the need for programming.

Can you share your experience from school to first job? So often students feel that school didn’t get them ready to work, is that your experience?

Hmmm…did school get me ready for my first job…NO!! Right after college I moved to Orlando to pursue my goal of becoming an animator at Disney, only to find out I actually wasn’t great at drawing compared to all the other applicants. So, I ended up getting a job creating graphics and animation on the Hollywood Studios backlot area for all the TV shows Disney was making in Orlando. I worked very hard on my portfolio and eventually got the opportunity to work with Disney animators, as an assistant animator, on a movie called Eight Crazy Nights. From there, and through making great friends, I moved to Chicago to work with Big Idea Productions on their movie, Jonah: A Veggietales Movie. As they were closing down, and through great friendships again, I moved to San Francisco to work for Dreamworks Animation at the PDI facility. I was there for eleven years before making the jump to games at Epic.

So networking, networking, networking right? What allowed you to push through the setback of finding out you couldn’t draw well enough and keep going to find that first job without giving up?

That was one of the most beneficial setbacks in my life. It really taught me about being humble and having to continue to work to achieve a goal. I was able to push through all that with determination to succeed, and youth…I think being young and hungry helped as well.

And related, what was your second big jump from a feature film Mega Studio like Dreamworks to Epic Games like?

Honestly, it was tough. Jumping over to Epic was an eye-opening experience. I was coming from a large production driven machine to a smaller “just get things done” studio with a lot of success behind them. I had to adjust the way I approached my work to better fit in with the way Epic makes games. The tools and skills are very similar across film and games, but the day-to-day practice is different enough that you have to approach the transition with an open mind and a lot of humility.

So many people have a “grass is greener” view of game vs. film, what are some things that still stand out as different for you, not good or bad really, could be but maybe something you miss or that is missing between the two?

I think the biggest thing is planning versus spontaneity. The films of the animation industry tend to be planned way in advance. They are often written, story boarded, and in a preproduction phase for quite a while. In games, the power to be agile and respond to current trends and events is of much greater importance. This fact means that your to-do list may change daily, and you have to be prepared to switch tasks and roles at a moment’s notice.

This can be overwhelming to many people, or even students trying to learn with us at a faster pace. Can you give some tips or talk about your workflow or approach to handle this?

Handling the agility requirement is really personal growth and making sure you can adapt. Just like any talent, some people have it naturally, and others have to work at it. I always have to work at it, like many things in my artistic life. I think it’s about recognizing that overwhelmed feeling and taking a minute to walk away and organize your thoughts and feelings. Take a walk, breathe, and come back ready to tackle the issue at hand.

Epic Time:

Can you walk us through what your day or week looks like? Are you rigging or what does an Epic Games Tech Animator do?

I have been with Epic for five years now, and have worked on Fortnite since I started at the company. That being said, my day contains a lot of different things. I go to meetings, answer any questions from newer hires, work on dynamic sims, rig, spec out pipelines and processes, etc. Every week is full of adventure and opportunity at Epic.

How is your job structured, are you assigned to a game team or on a central tech group?

I am specifically assigned to projects, like games, demos, etc.

Has your work as a crowd TD and animator helped as you moved to Games? Alt/ Has having done animation before moving to the tech side helped you?

Absolutely!! Being able to understand the job of character animators and the reasons behind any requests they may have helps to foster a good relationship on the team.

How has your workflow progressed or advanced from when you first started out, any big “wow” wish I knew that moments?

Oh wow, yeah! The team at Epic is full of so many talented artists, you can always learn something new. I really believe the key to that is understanding that you can’t possibly know everything and you must keep that humility I mentioned above.

A common thread among Character TDs having to get up to speed on new pipelines, tools and workflows…what is your approach to do this effectively.

I like to break things and then ask questions of others to help me see what I did wrong. At PDI, we had the “ten minute rule”, which said that if you are struggling and getting breakages in tools and pipelines for at least ten minutes, ask someone for help. I still follow that.

Awesome- Same here, we like to get in and break things and try to make sure our students know being stuck is fine as long as you ask questions, there isn’t much point in the struggling silently, team work for the win!

Can you think of an example, something you thought was going to be a great fix or process and it turned out to be not so simple, or maybe it worked better than expected?

Oh wow, there are so many instances where my best laid plans went off the rails. I think that’s going to happen in technical animation. The real test is how you bounce back and approach the problem with what you learned. Failure is a great teacher. I would say that one process ended up working well that I had a small hand in creating was the facial animation sharing system for the game.

Can you share some insight into that as well as any other tricky problems that you encountered on Fortnite?

Actually, you should check out my talk from last year’s Unreal Dev Days on YouTube. I go over all the high level tricks we use to make Fortnite technical animation unique.

What have you found , training wise to have been the most helpful to you to grow as an artist?

Mentorship and humility. I always look to my mentors and trust their advice on most things. The growth happens when you take what they’ve taught you and then spin it to make it your own.

How do you foster this in the studio now, do you or does the studio continue to work to help grow your skills or encourage cross training, lunch and learns?

The studio has quite a few training options for artist growth. We do lunch and learns, show and tell meetings, and also have reps from different software companies come to talk about their new versions, etc.

Any last tips or advice you can give to someone that wants to improve their current skills to get their first job or move between film and games?

Practice, practice, practice. Look where you want to be, find out what engine and tools they’re using, and put in the time to learn. It’s not easy, but it’s totally worth it.

We have heard you draw a comic strip, what else can you tell us about that or other interesting things that you do to balance life and tech.

Well, my background is traditional art, so I just can’t let that go. For years I was the artist on David Reddick’s Legend of Bill comic as well as my own Gnome Syndicate comic. Once that got to be too much with the graphic novel, I had to choose the graphic novel. I hate not being able to accomplish everything I want to, but I’m still going to try. Your readers can catch both Legend of Bill and Gnome Syndicate at

At Rigging Dojo we get a high percent of female students and some of our most successful students have been women. You have a dual view on this on top of another layer of challenges, starting off male in the industry and transitioning to female.

Yes, I did begin my career presenting male, but have been transitioning and affirming my gender for almost two years now, and you’re correct, it’s definitely a different perspective. As a male, in a male dominated industry, it’s interesting to have your privilege stripped away as you become more feminine. When I decided to come out, I knew there would be challenges, and I decided that it was something I would just have to face. I had to stop running away from myself. So, in December of 2017, I gathered together the TechAnim team, and told them I was transgender. I was super nervous, but knew it had to be done. Luckily, my team embraced me, and has supported me to this day. It’s my opinion that Epic has the greatest team of technical animators in the industry, but I may also be a bit biased. Hahahaha. Obviously there is a lot to this story that I can’t quite fit into this answer, and I’d be glad to tell it sometime. In fact, I’d love to see more representation in the industry as a whole, and see that celebrated at gatherings like GDC.

Last question – what book are you reading right now or last finished?

I just finished The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.

How can people best find you and your work online?

The best place to follow me is on Twitter, Instagram, and Twitch at @kmvassey. You can also follow my art page on Facebook, Kaye Vassey Art & Animation…but I warn you, it’s not too current because of…well, you know…work. 🙂

Thank you so much for taking the time for us.

It has been my absolute pleasure!!

© 2019, Epic Games, Inc. Epic, Epic Games, the Epic Games logo, Fortnite, the Fortnite logo, Unreal, Unreal Engine 4 and UE4 are trademarks or registered trademarks of Epic Games, Inc. in the United States of America and elsewhere. All rights reserved.

P.S. Reminder that September starts of Rigging 101, Face Rigging 101, API C++ in Maya and we have several available mentors for Apprenticeships 1-to-1 personal training so apply now.

Blog Post

Get to know – Sophie Brennan Character TD at Insomniac Games

INTERVIEW:Get to know: Sophie Brennan – Character TD at Insomniac Games

First off congratulations to you and the entire team on the news “Marvel’s Spider-Man is now the fastest-selling first-party PlayStation game EVER.”  that is pretty rad, also Spider-Man was one of my favorites as a kid so it is even more awesome to get to talk with you about your work!

 Let’s get started, a question we like to ask often is how you found your way into tech and animation and games. Were you always in to computer graphics and tech or did it happen as an AH-HA!

I was extremely fortunate as a child to have parents that were not only technology nerds – but encouraged me to use it. My older brother had a personal computer from a young age that we shared. I used to watch him play games and played with him where games featured co-op. We weren’t really allowed video game consoles as my parents wanted us to understand computers and how to operate them before we played a game so I grew up tinkering with technology and got my own computer (a Pentium II, if I recall) around the age of 7. I learned how to operate MS Dos and install games from floppies. I also had to debug and problem solve when things didn’t work – and the internet wasn’t easily available back then!

At the same time, I was always drawing. I would often draw video game characters straight from magazines or strategy guides.

When I was around 13, my mum gave me her Wacom tablet (once again – very privileged), and I started to draw on the computer using open source software like openCanvas and oekaki boards (online drawing forums). 

I wasn’t sure I wanted to do art as a career – even though I would always sit through the credits on Disney films and read all the names going by. I was in a rut when my grandparents took me on a trip to the States to see family – San Diego to be exact! The dollar was cheap and I bought over $400 of video games to take home. One of these was Uncharted for the PS3. This game changed my world! I watched the behind the scenes credits and saw ‘Wow! People do this as a job!’. Seeing Amy Hennig talk was important because suddenly I realised ‘Hey! I could do this as a job!’. While my parents were super encouraging of everything I did I never really realised a women could make video games even though I spent my entire childhood playing them.

 After that, I enrolled on a local college in Scotland for ‘Digital Art’ and the rest is history. My love for both technology and figuring out how things work, as well as my practise in traditional art made me gravitate towards technical art and rigging. As soon as I made my first biped rig I knew this was the role for me.

Can you share your learning curve and experience over the years as a TD going from finishing school to and getting your first industry job? So often students feel that school didn’t get them ready to work, is that your experience? 

Oh yeah! Totally! While I did do a course that specialised in Games Development in my university – I was not prepared at all for a rigging role coming out. I barely knew what IK/FK switching was or even how to skin properly! I didn’t even know that most games (at the time) could not support blendshapes as correctives. Or that many engines had fairly limited vertex skinning counts (I didn’t even know that was a thing!).  

When I took my art test at my first company (which was a 2-day onsite test) I started by using blendshapes and they had to course correct me. I didn’t even know! Looking back – I was totally woefully unprepared for the role. I was fortunate that they still accepted me and essentially gave me a 6-month apprenticeship in learning how to rig and skin. I’ve never seen such a thing since – so I’m super grateful for that.  

I had also spent a lot of time sculpting, modelling, texturing and understanding the whole pipeline – whether I knew it or not – at school. And I had some fantastic friends in my last year of school who were in the industry and were able to offer me advice and help even in my first year on the job. I had learned python scripting in my last year too – which was a big bonus. These things helped sell me, I think. Cause while it was obvious I was super green to the job – I had a lot of working knowledge of how to create – I just needed some rules and standards established.

My advice to students out there – learn as much as you can while you’re at school! I know you feel like real experience on the job is more important (and it is, really!). But you’ll never have as much free time to study and explore again!  

After that, it took me quite a few years to be comfortable in my role. Impostor  syndrome was strong and I constantly double-guessed myself because of my gender. I was the only woman on the floor in my first company (it was across 3 floors). It took me until coming to the US and shipping my first AAA game before I started to feel more confident in my abilities. I’m not sure what the fix for this is. Everyone experiences impostor syndrome but the gender imbalance can feel really isolating. I encourage people (especially women, minorities and gender non-conforming people) to connect with some like-minded peers – whether they junior or not! I wish I had had more of that early on in my career.

Walk us through what your day or week looks like. How much time coding or pipeline work vs. rigging and character work are you doing for example? 

It totally varies week-to-week, milestone-to-milestone, project-to-project. That’s the beauty of TD work! I’m always being challenged and learning new things.

 Typically, I’ll get into work and check my email to check up on anything I might have missed from the previous night or in the morning before I arrive (we have flexible hours). I’ll make sure that if a new task or problem has arisen that I’ll talk to someone regarding it – whether it’s the person reporting it or another team-member who has more knowledge of it. Then I’ll start on my daily tasks. I often have one or two major things going on at once – while I’m also involved in planning and meetings for various other things. This can range to being in a design meeting where we are discussing ideas or mechanics for the game, a daily review, planning meetings for content that is coming down the pipeline or even longer scope things like improving our pipeline and engine tech and planning new systems.  

However, a lot of my time is still dedicated to maintaining the rigs and (a little less) the tools, for animators and trouble-shooting their problems or issues. I’m much more character orientated than tools orientated generally – but this might change as my career develops! The fun thing about tech art is you have the power to often pursue what path interests you. Right now I’m mostly involved in rigs and character work – but in the future I could be really investing in our tools. It really depends on my aspirations and the needs of the project/company at the time.

Let’s Talk SPIDER-MAN!’

How long have you been working at Insomniac as a character TD?

 Just a bit over two years now!

Tell us about your ramp up on the project. How you like to work, how much back and forth with animation was there, building on existing tools vs making it fresh etc. 

 I entered later in the project, in early production. A lot of standards had already been established. There was a lot of getting up to speed at the company. Insomniac has its own engine and we have A LOT of tools – both for content creation and publishing to our engine.

 Honestly, there was a lot more back and forth from character art than animation! As a lot of our rigs were standardised – we had to solve problems at the character art stage rather than in animation. Also, because of the sheer number of content and characters in the game – we didn’t have a lot of time from animation for secondary or additional animation on the rigs. Much of our job was to make them do as little as possible when it came technicalities and leave the acting and performance to them.

 That’s not to say we were perfect there! But we tried to limit the number of shots where they would have to fiddle with cloth controls or correctives and instead automated it through batch exporting or the rig itself.

 At Insomniac, we also have a whole suite of tools built by many, many talented people over the years. We leveraged them to the max while we were working on Spider-Man – but we were constantly updating and fixing older tools to work more consistently or help speed up the workflow. This was a team effort and we luckily also had help from North Carolina on this aspect too! Specifically, we worked on caching and proxy tools a lot  – to make our heavy cinematic scenes run faster – as well as our motion capture tools and pipeline.

How much stock Maya vs. custom inhouse tools or maybe runtime rigging in the engine are you using?

 The tech art team on the whole tries to use Maya stock as much as possible. We have a lot of tools and scripts – but don’t necessarily rely on plugins or custom nodes within Maya.

 Plugins can cause a lot of problems when working with outsourcers and require careful integration into our tools updates and installs so we don’t accidentally cause issues throughout the company. This isn’t to say we don’t use them – we do! We just make sure we are careful and introduce new ones as needed and ensure that their deployment is done correctly.

 That being said, we do have a LOT of tools in-house developed in a range of languages from MEL, python, PyMel and the API. We’re currently going through a lot of our legacy tools and standardising them to PyMel/API since a lot of the scripts we have are quite old. But as I mentioned before, we have a lot of really good legacy tools written way back when that are still massively useful day-to-day – so it’s an ongoing process.

Do you have enough inhouse tools to use to build the rig or are you also scripting and or working with the tool team to get a rig done?

 We have a fantastic modular auto-rigger in house that can build and rebuild the majority of our rigs with a simple button click that we are constantly updating and improving! It’s truly amazing!

 On top of that, for special cases, we will do custom rigging ourselves that are build on the backbone of that system. Then, if a component is proven, we will add and write it into the system.

 This system allows us to work amazingly fast and hop back and forth between the rig and joints with ease. Without it – I doubt we’d be able to rig nearly as fast across our multiple projects. It’s also very flexible – so its use isn’t just limited to Spider-Man!

We also work with our tools team for support on features such like run-time cloth and ragdolls. Our link with Core (our engine team) is super important to the team and we work as closely as possible with them to schedule out desired features and fixes during production.

Any tricks or trouble working with a character that has very visible texture patterns, I imagine deformations wasn’t easy. Can you share some insight into that as well as any other tricky problems that the game gave you or the team?

 Being honest here – I didn’t really work on the most iconic and closely examined character at all – Spider-Man! That was our amazingly talented Sergio Sykes *(*Rigging Dojo Alumnus) – who is a wonder in himself. However, the rest of the team did work on deformations and correctives in a similar vein – so I can definitely give some insight there.

 We managed a lot of the deformation through a balance of automated rig component (like our knees, buttocks and elbows). We would leverage both joint based deformation and blendshapes for this. Our joints did a lot of the heavy work, while our blendshapes would kick in to often fix things up and add volume back. This was honestly just trial and error. We worked with the character team who would supply us blendshapes. For characters such as the inner-demons, MJ or the labcoats – the cloth was ran through Marvelous Designer to give them a base and then we would ease out a lot of the irregularity in the shapes to prevent texture stretching and swimming edge loops. We also would ask for certain areas to be higher res that might be under scrutiny – as well as providing more UV space for areas that deform massively.

 I wish we could say we had a magic bullet for it! We tried to standardise the shapes we produced so our character team knew what to expect – but a lot of it was education in how deformations worked and a lot of back and forth. It was definitely a lot of work!

Was the webbing something animators could control in Maya or pure in game programming…where was the line between animation and engine tech? 

We had both! There were a couple of version of the web rig used in cinematics and combat animation for finishers and such. A lot of the traverse were programmatically spawned. Basically, any web that was an indeterminate length – either in combat or traverse – was part of our in-engine web system. That included the blending around buildings and it floating away once you move away. This was controlled by specified points on Spider-Man’s rig, and whatever he was webbing to.

 Cinematics webs were animated with our web rigs – as we were able to get a lot more art-directed shapes and movement out of them there. And thankfully, our amazing team of animators were able to get the absolute most of these rigs to sell Spider-Man’s performance! I’m constantly in awe of what they are able to achieve! 

What have you found , training wise to have been the most helpful to you growing as a character TD? Does Insominac have formal training support or inhouse mentoring?

 Insomniac itself subscribes us to a TON of resources – including the GDC vault and a number of reference and tutorial websites. We also have in-house mentoring for people interested in other disciplines within the company.

 Mostly, however, a lot of the training just comes from talking to the people around you! Everyone at the company is so ready and willing to share their knowledge and we have a whole library of in-house documentation explaining techniques and documenting specific parts of our pipeline. We also are equipped with cameras and headsets so we can easily call and communicate between the studios.

Any last tips or advice you can give to someone that wants to improve their skills as a TD?

 I think, looking back at this, this was one of the hardest things for me to figure out in my earlier career. What’s really important is the ability to problem solve and communicate. If you have the luxury of working with people who are more senior than you – mine them for information! We LOVE to share! We have an intern program we run each year and I love teaching our interns about whatever they are interested in or maybe don’t quite understand yet.

 Take apart existing rigs, reverse engineer scripts and challenge yourself to do things you don’t understand. And brush up on your Google Fu! While a lot of the solutions we develop are not tutorialised – often there will be a snippet of information online that helps you complete the puzzle you are trying to solve or inspires a new idea or technique.

 Also – talk to animators! Find out what they want to do and make that happen. It’s hard to articulate what someone might technically want, but if you figure out WHY they want to do it – you can solve the HOW yourself. Never be afraid to ask questions or for help either. What we do relies on teamwork and everyone in the team should want to improve the product. Sharing information and ideas is the number one way to make things better. I know for a fact on Spider-Man most of the techniques I used as the core of a lot of my solutions were things I learned from other people!

Looking back on the Spider-Man project to where you are now, what are some things that you would tell yourself to change, keep the same, a worry that didn’t need to be worried about? A bit of post mortem slash time travel question 🙂

 Haha – looking back… I don’t think I quite knew what I was getting into! So I’m glad for that – because it would have been a lot more intimidating!

 I think the things I learned most…was actually that words are really powerful. Both for good and bad. I came in quite unsure of myself – and that could make people doubt me too. I also sometimes can be a little careless with my words – which could inadvertently hurt people. This isn’t out of maliciousness – but definitely I try to think more carefully about how I talk and phrase things to people.

 For example, in the UK (where I’m from) – it’s very common to make fun of yourself or downplay your abilities. Here in the USA – those can come across very negatively in a professional context, so I’ve definitely adapted my attitude there.

 Rigging is hard – but working with people is harder! Trying to align everyone towards a similar goal and getting everyone on-board – or exchange ideas… that’s tough!

 Conversely – I was always worried about my technical ability lacking. This is especially exacerbated by being a women – where you feel like your skills are always under scrutiny. What I did learn though was that everyone brings different skills to the table! I may not be the strongest scripter – but I’m pretty good at talking to people and making sure things are communicated. Another person might be a whiz at scripting – but have difficulty communicating ideas. You don’t have to be the best at everything! Lean into what you’re good at! If you’re at a good place – they will recognise that too and give you work that compliments your skillset!  Then you can be learning the stuff you’re not so confident with at your own pace – without the pressure of people relying on you for it!

At Rigging Dojo we get a high percent of female students and some of our most successful students have been women. If at all have you faced issues or challenges that male peers might not have?

Totally. It’s hard to put a finger on it but, as mentioned previously, you can feel like the standards for being professional are a lot higher as a women – especially in more technical fields. You will often find yourself questioning your ability or battling imposter syndrome while your male peers won’t (as least outwardly). You also have to be a lot more careful about how you choose your words. Very little of this is conscious bias – the games industry as a whole is amazingly progressive on the development side – but it remains as a societal issue regardless.

There will be a lot of micro-aggressions that will make you question yourself or whether or not you are right for this career path. Talk to any other woman and I guarantee you they will have had or currently have similar feelings. Find yourself other women that you can trust at work and remember that you are here because you ARE good and ARE talented. You are also fighting against the odds to even be here – so congratulate yourself on that.

Also, don’t change yourself to ‘fit in’ at work. If you feel uncomfortable that you have to be someone else to be part of the team (as I once did) then this place is not for you. There are plenty of companies out there that should and will appreciate you as you are – and want more diversity in the workplace. 

Then, once you are in a place you DO feel comfortable – use your power for good! Speak out if you can! Be an ally for other minorities! Spread your knowledge! Work to improve the workplace and industry if you can afford to.

Last question – what book are you reading right now or last finished?

Can we do video game? Haha! I wish I read more but I’m honestly quite terrible at it. I tend to read non-fiction or self-improvement books more than anything these days. Next on my wishlist is ‘Crucial Conversations’. I also have a lent copy of ‘Shaders for Game Programmers and Artists’ glaring at me right now.

Video games however? I’ve been on a JRPG binge lately. Something about those worlds I can just get lost in – no matter how silly they are. Last completed was the DLC for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I’m currently playing Red Dead Redemption 2 and Diablo 3 on Switch.

How can people best find you online?

I’m most active on twitter! @wuffles You can DM me there or just follow me for stupid cat/dog pictures and occasional rigging knowledge.

However, my email is always open should you have any questions. I’ll always take the time out to help people or answer questions – especially other character TDs! [email protected] 

Thank you so much for taking the time for us.

Thank you! It’s been a pleasure!


Extra fun from Rigging Dojo

Free fun with Spider-Man

A long time friend and great TD, Kiel Figgins, released a free Spiderman rig with a cool web rig animation setup. Go give it a look and check out the character and support a fellow TD.

Download the rig (maya 2014) here
Includes Full Character Rig of Amazing Spiderman and a Web Rig/Tool

Want even more Spider-Man stuff, check out our past interview Rigging The Amazing Spider-Man with Character TD Tim Coleman

Podcast: Lead

Listen to our latest TechArtJam podcasts on leading and the work that goes into moving from creating to a leadership role…we hope this helps you become a better employee and future boss.

Episode 7: Leadership.

Episode 8: Force Multiplier

Want to be in one of our future podcasts or have something you want to hear, let us know [email protected]

Blog Post interview Microcast

Blender Rigging for Netflix Next Gen

Like many people, we took notice of the work for the new movie coming out from Netflix called “Next Gen” by 
Today we talked with Rigging Lead David Hearn ( about rigging and about working with Blender on a large scale production. (We were also joined by friend and Blender master Charles Wardlaw )


Listen to the interview podcast here, or on our microcast

Check out the trailer:

Next Gen
Be sure to check out the great Blender Robot projects that David has posted on his blog. Here is one of the latest “Machine Making Ep 6”
Main goals of this Machine:
  • To model and rig a full robot in Blender 3D
  • Build a double-jointed leg system using IK
  • Add an interesting city background and push the final composition.
  • Download the asset here:
  • Full Animation Test: (check out the full blog post for more behind the scenes)

Blender Rigging Features:

First check out the latest build Blender 2.8

Check out the features by yourself by playing with these files provided by the community.

Great Rigify Addon – Great place for beginning rigging in blender
Blen Rig – Auto Rigging Solution
Great place to start rigging in blender:

Blender Bendy Bones Example
Blender 2.8 New Armature Display settings
Blender 2.8 new collections and groups
Blender 2.8 Animation + Eevee
Great Intro To Python In Blender
Learning Blender:
Free Blender Models
Blog Post interview rigtip tutorial video

Get to know: Gio Coutinho – Rooster Teeth Productions character TD

We have been talking with Gio for a few months after Brad met her at his visit to Rooster Teeth and seeing her first rigging video, where she did an excellent job in quickly and clearly presenting the technique. She has since created a great series of videos for Autodesk Learning that cover a solid groundwork of foundation rigging techniques and tools in Autodesk Maya.

Here we are happy to share her work and some information about her with you all as a character TD you should know.

Gio Coutinho is a rigging artist at Rooster Teeth Productions. She’s done a variety of rigging work for the web series RWBY, RWBY Chibi and Red vs. Blue, and has also shared some of her rigging techniques and helpful tips on multiple Autodesk video tutorials.
Gio first got into rigging while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design for a degree in animation. Her introductory class on the subject gave her a fascination with the combination of technical and aesthetic art.
From the classroom, she moved to online resources (including the Rigging Dojo!) to expand her knowledge, which she put to practice on multiple student films and games produced at SCAD. The experience acquired through these projects led her to Rooster Teeth, where she’s made extensive rigging contributions, some of which she has shared with the public in the form of tutorials.
The tutorials showcase the Ruby rig used in the Rooster Teeth series RWBY to teach rigging tips and techniques in Maya, including information on blendshapes, rivets, skinning and set driven keys. They were all developed and recorded by Gio to share some of the rigging knowledge she has obtained as a rigging artist, and display how she has used that knowledge to make high quality rigs at Rooster Teeth.


Videos shared from

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #1: Using Blend Shape for the ‘Breeze Effect’

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #2: Using Pose Space Deformers and Set Driven Keys for Easier Animation

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #3: Skinning Tips For Better Rigs

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #4: Skin Fingers Evenly in Maya

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #5: Using Rivets To Enhance Rigs

Rooster Teeth Tutorial #6: Corrective Blendshapes

You can find Gio on twitter @giofcoutinho

And subscribe to her YouTube channel here where you can find her first tutorials that first got our attention.