Molehew’s Mining Adventure





Goggles up, drills down! Be careful of the hot molten magma and other tricky obstacles as you mine for gems in this exciting arcade game, exclusively available as part of Netflix’s Cloud Gaming service.
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The Making of the Pipeworks Godzilla Video Game Trilogy

The making of the pipeworks godzilla video game trilogy

As we head into Pipeworks Studios' 25th year, this November brings a wave of nostalgia for employees and fans alike who have been with Pipeworks since the beginning.

This month, we celebrate the release anniversaries of two iconic members of the Pipeworks gameography – “Godzilla: Save the Earth” (StE) in 2004 and “Godzilla: Unleashed” in 2007. As highly anticipated winter releases, these titles welcomed the holiday season in a monstrous way. Alongside their elder sibling, 2002's “Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee” (DAMM), these games are a key part of Pipeworks’ history, helping put us on the map and allowing us to grow into the successful studio we are today.

Our Godzilla video games are our earliest examples of the Pipeworks pedigree: Crafting exceptional games for all to enjoy. They stand as a testament to the creative freedom given to us to work within the legendary Godzilla universe. Not only that, but these titles also underscore the remarkable level of trust established between Pipeworks, Atari, and Toho, showcasing a collaboration that allowed us to create a genuinely unique Godzilla gaming experience. The lessons and experiences we gained from bringing the colossal world of Godzilla to life set the stage for who we are today — and we will carry those memories with us forever.

To celebrate each of the respective birthdays in the Pipeworks Godzilla Trilogy, our community team sat down for an interview with three developers of the games: Dan Duncalf, Dan White, and Simon Strange.

Before we begin, what was your role for each game in the Godzilla trilogy?

Dan D: Producer.

Dan W: Technical Director.

Simon: Combat Designer.

What was the process of landing the Godzilla contract? How did it feel?

Dan D: When Atari approached us about working with them, they had both this Godzilla game and another title that they were looking for developers for. To be honest, when looking at the Godzilla franchise, we were concerned that it wouldn't be well-received, as all the other Godzilla games up until that point were pretty bad. But the Godzilla IP was very valuable, and as of that time, Pipeworks was still an unproven studio. 

Pipeworks was able to show Atari some demos we’d made, including Xbox-related demos that were created for Microsoft, which showed our technical prowess. Basically, to show that we could make good games was our team's individual back catalog of successful games. What we had was our back catalog of games that individuals on the team had developed throughout their careers. Since the most recent Godzilla game prior to ours had critic ratings below 50%, there was a goal to beat that rating. And we greatly exceeded that goal. This was also Pipeworks' second title in production – it meant that all our eggs weren't in one basket.

Dan W: Well, we got the contract from Atari, and I don't remember how we got put in contact with Atari to begin with. As I recall, they knew the license was available, they were interested in the license, they were interested in making a game, and they wanted us. 
We actually made a demo for them. It was a demo, so it was not full-featured, but you could basically just drive Godzilla around in a little bit of San Francisco. The demo looked cool by the standards of the time. I think it was the fall of 2000 when we did that. 
We just barely got Godzilla signed when a different project we were on got canceled. If it had not gotten signed when it did, Pipeworks would have been in real trouble. But it all worked out; it was great. It came just in the nick of time. 

Simon: I originally interviewed at Pipeworks for a different project. A week after my interview, Pipeworks called me back and said, “Oh, that project doesn't exist anymore. So, if you come back for a second interview, it's going to be for this other game about Godzilla. Do you know anything about Godzilla?”

When it comes to that first game, at the time of its release, Godzilla video games had somewhat of a mixed track record. With that in mind, what did you take away from various forms of Godzilla media out at the time? What about the movies specifically – how did you aim to capture that same feeling as the films? 

Dan W: This is the fundamental challenge of a Godzilla game – clearly, it should be a fighting game because that's what they do in the movies. But also, they're giant monsters, so they should move kind of slow. Even though our monsters feel slow compared to, I don't know, “Mortal Kombat”, if you just look at how tall Godzilla is and you look at how fast his fist is moving, it's breaking the speed of sound--just because he is so big. Getting the timing right was really difficult. 

Simon: At the time of the original game, I didn't have my nuanced appreciation for why so many previous Godzilla projects were lackluster. All I knew was that I wanted to make something really good. 
I very much wanted to create a slower, strategic type of fighting game. I dislike the hyper-focus on speed and reaction times in "fighting games" – I wanted to explore the strategic depths and not copy existing fighting game tropes. So, I was determined to make a game that was strategically interesting and complex, but that didn't require fast reflexes at all. Godzilla was a great excuse to do that – you just kind of pushed your buttons and didn’t need to be fast or speedy. And if you push the right buttons, you’ll win. I thought that was great. 

How did you manage the pros and cons of the tech at your disposal for the trilogy games – whether it was the GameCube, PS2, Xbox, or Wii?

Dan W: For the first game, initially, we were going to do an Xbox game because we were known as Xbox developers. Very early on, the publisher told us to switch to the GameCube. And they were right to do that. It wasn't a tech decision to launch on the GameCube. It was because the publisher, and I think rightly so, thought the GameCube was liable to be a more successful platform for the game. 
We did the GameCube version, and then we made the Xbox version, which we wanted to release, but then we were told we needed to do the second Godzilla. 

Simon: I have two anecdotes for this, actually.  
I started at Pipeworks in November of 2001, and two weeks after starting my new job, everyone at the studio got a free GameCube. I remember thinking, "This is awesome. I haven't been here even a month, and I got a free GameCube! This place rules." 
The other story is about four-player games. Kirby Fong, the producer at Atari, was really adamant that Godzilla support four players. That was his vision, right? Four-player brawling. He wanted "Power Stone," which was a big game on the Dreamcast with four-player brawling.  
I don't know about Dan, but at least Solomon [Sliwinski] and I were like, "This is a two-player game. Fighting games are two-player games! We're making a two-player game, and we're optimizing for two players.” But then we hit a publisher milestone, which had to demonstrate four-player fighting. We were confident that it would get cut and that it would be a two-player fighting game. So, we just slapped that feature together with the idea that we’d cut it after the milestone. We spent maybe a week and a half on it… and it was immediately just awesome. Atari was right – we were wrong. 

Destructible environments were a major feature of each of the trilogy games, obviously. How did you go about creating the different cities, which had to be balanced out in terms of size, throwable objects, and so on? 

Dan D: I want to tell a story about the building throwing in the Godzilla games. It was found somewhat by accident, as when we added throwing objects – I think it was cars – you could literally throw anything. The cars were very tiny and hard to pick up. But picking up buildings and throwing them at each other was really fun. So, we told the publisher about it, and they were skeptical. Well, without the publisher actually seeing it, there was no way for them to see how fun it was. So, we put in a cheat code that you could enter to enable building throwing. The Atari Producer Kirby Fong called me up when he got the next version and asked if there was any way to see the building throwing. In a couple of minutes, I could hear him being excited about it, and within the next few minutes, there were people in his office playing with him, including an Atari senior vice president, who I heard say, “This is amazing! Toho has to see this.” Atari agreed they would finesse this to Toho and try to convince them. About a month later, Toho agreed, and this became one of the trademark features of the games. 

Dan W: I'll say that one of the questions from the very beginning, even from the first demo, was, what about the tail? What do we do about tail collisions? The tail is a weapon against other monsters, but does it pass through buildings? Or is it going to knock down buildings? Basically, we decided unless you are using a move where the tail is a weapon, it just goes through the environment, and that's how it works. It was the right decision, but I spent a lot of time stressing about that. 
We spent a lot of time thinking about how to do destructible environments. It's difficult on that hardware. Godzilla: DAMM and Godzilla: StE use this crazy Z-buffering trick to take gouges out of buildings at the pixel level. If you look at the buildings when you hit them, they sort of look like they have bites taken out. 

The geometry really isn't deformed. There are decals that are drawn on the buildings, which, through a Z-buffer trick make it look like you can see through parts of them. If you look carefully, you can see there are some artifacts around that. We spent a lot of time trying to come up with a clever way to do destruction on hardware in the year 2001. 

There was a city editor where you lay down the buildings and the traffic nodes and set up the traffic system. We had a whole destructible object system. Graphics hardware in general, particularly the hardware then, does not want to draw lots and lots of little tiny objects. To get the throughput that you expect, ideally, you would have a relatively small number of objects with very large numbers of polygons. But, for those games, we had lots of small objects with small numbers of polygons. A lot of effort was put into batching and preprocessing and trying to optimize the way all those little objects were drawn. It was a cool technical problem. 

A lot of the tricks that are used to improve frame rate, like keeping the camera pointing down or using a portaling system, none of those worked for cities because you could basically see forever. We used fog but didn't want to be too over the top with it. The fog distance would actually change based on where you were looking. There were a lot of tricks we used to try and limit the draw distance and give you a sense of being in a city while also not having to draw tons and tons of buildings that you couldn't even get to. 

Simon: There were three tracks that we developed in parallel: The "living city" traffic system, the destruction system, and the city layouts. Changes in one would often affect the other two, but we were always iterating on those systems.  

One specific feature we introduced was a "walk-through" building, which meant they offered no resistance to monster movement – you could just walk through them. We wanted "walk-through" buildings to be visually distinct so players wouldn't be confused about which buildings would block them and which would not.  

We tried setting a specific height – but there were too many buildings of various heights to make that feel good. I don't think we ever hit a 100% satisfactory solution. But even without perfection, I think everyone agrees that throwing entire buildings is one of the highlights of the series. 

I literally just played these Godzilla games last week with a six-year-old. And after playing, he said, “There was a bus driving around. This is not a ‘go on the bus’ time, this is a ‘drive away from the city’ time!” But we sure spent a lot of time making those tiny vehicles obey traffic laws. 

How much creative freedom did you have in designing the game? What was the process like for deciding which monsters should be in the game? What about creating the original ones? And what about the locations? 

Dan D: When it comes to deciding which monsters would be in the game, there were some licensing issues between North America and Japan. For example, the Japanese version of Godzilla: DAMM got an additional kaiju because it was released in Japan, but the movie was never released here in the U.S. that had Mechagodzilla 3 in it. There were also some licenses we tried to get but were never able to. 

Dan W: I feel like we had an enormous amount of creative freedom. At the very high level, there was direction, but as far as how the game played, a lot of the details were up to us. I think for engineering and design, in some ways, it felt like an original IP. We had a tremendous amount of freedom to just make what we wanted, and it turned out great. 

Simon: Mark Crowe decided on game locations – I wasn't ever aware of any discussion or push-back there. Atari and Toho were very strict about which monsters we could use – we'd ask for some, then there would be negotiations, they would come back with a counter-offer, and then we'd repeat. We absolutely became bolder with our monster requests as the series went on. Making Mothra a playable character with two forms was a big goal. Biollante, in the third game, was a big goal. 

The art for each game stood out for its time - for example, the first game featured bump-skinned characters, which wasn't standard for GameCube games at the time. How big of a priority was it to design monsters that look and feel like the ones we see in the movies? 

Dan D: Regarding bump mapping, the Xbox and GameCube were just different beasts. The Xbox had a programmable pixel shader, where you could write code to operate on up to four different textures, blending them in any way you wanted. Bump mapping is essentially taking the dot product of the bump with a light source. The “bump” would be in a texture. The GameCube had a “flipper chip” which had eight different fixed functions it could execute between what it called a TEV (texture environment) unit. So, if you had two lights, you would need two of those eight stages to do your dot product. I think when we started on the GameCube development, we didn't really know enough about how it worked to easily port over the Xbox shader compiler that was written, but between Solomon Sliwinski and Brian Apgar, they figured it out. 

Dan W: We spent a ton of time getting bump mapping to work, technically getting it to perform. With that hardware, you didn't write shaders the way you write shaders now. It was very difficult to get it to work correctly and to generate the bump maps. We spent a ton of time on that, and it was worth it. 

One thing that was cool was when you hit the barrier, you have this kind of weird shock effect that plays on the monster. Brian Apgar came up with that. He put random values in the transformation matrix and it just kind of freaks out and produces this crazy effect. 

I also feel like the lighting was, for the time, very good. That was something I personally worked on and spent a lot of effort on. 

Simon: Atari and Toho both very much insisted on a high level of visual accuracy. In terms of animations and combat style, I came up with a guide for each character based on what I wanted their personality to be. Some of that came from the movies, and some of that was just a desire to "fill out" the design space to make a good game. It's been really pleasing to see movies and comics come out that directly reference those ideas – proving that those ideas about each monster's personality resonated with players and fans. 
Here's a specific anecdote - the Thunderball. I wanted Anguirus to roll into a ball a la Blanka in “Street Fighter.” Toho initially balked, saying that wasn't something Anguirus could do. But we pushed, saying it was a "Rage Move" and represented a special attack beyond normal limits, etc. Plus, it was just awesomely cool. A few years later, in the "Final Wars" film, Anguirus 100% rolled into a ball to attack opponents. That was good news because then it was movie canon, and we didn't have to quibble about it anymore. Gigan's eyebeam and "shotgun blast" were similar. They didn't exist in the movies but felt important and thematic in-game. So, we pushed for them, and then the other media started to incorporate them. Destoroyah's "Horn Katana" was inspired by a single three-second shot in his film – and it turned into his major in-game mechanic. Even the name "Horn Katana" is now Toho canon, which feels great. You could say that Pipeworks invented those things, but from my perspective, we were just unearthing more elements of the characters. Those elements were sort of needed to make them robust. 

The fighting system in each of the games is iconic. What were the early goals for the fighting system in DAMM, and how did that evolve as time went on with the sequels? 

Dan W: There was always tension around this. We had some people who wanted it to be strategic, some people who wanted it to be faster, and some people who wanted it to have a nice balance. I think we feel like in the first one, the building throwing was a little bit OP, but it was cool. 
One of the pieces of technology we developed was a tool we called the monster editor, which we later changed the name to character editor. It was made by Solomon Sliwinski, who was the primary gameplay engineer for all of the Godzilla games. This was a special-purpose reaction state machine editor for making fighting games that was used on all the Godzilla games and on Deadliest Warrior. 
Simon: I wanted a game where a skilled player would consistently beat an unskilled player BUT would lose 75% of their health doing so. The point is that even though "winning" isn't really much in doubt, new players should deal a lot of damage – get a lot of strong hits in and feel powerful even if they ultimately lose. So, we eliminated a lot of the traditional fighting game elements that allow for perfect games. Blocking. Counters. Reversals. Tech throws. Air recovery. The game isn't about avoiding damage – it's about dealing enough damage before you take too much yourself. It's a slugfest. 
We also balanced the game around powerups, which gave it a really unique feel. Some players don't like powerups – but without them, many characters don't work as well. Destoroyah and Mechagodzilla LOVE the energy powerups, for example. Rodan's health is wildly low – but he's fast enough to grab a bunch of powerups, which is how he balances out. 
In terms of evolution, there are tons of details we could talk about. Unblockable attacks, attack directions, damage types, heights, etc. But the core concept stayed pretty consistent. 

Across the three games, are there any concepts that come to mind that ended up on the cutting room floor? 

Dan W: We wanted to make a more sophisticated building destruction system that would have been based on real physics. We put some effort into it and made prototypes of a sort of truss system for modeling buildings. We modeled things like realistic fire spreading and other effects like that. 

Simon: So, I know this is a very popular topic for people doing these – when talking to me about these games or when they do interviews about the games, they're always like, “Which monsters didn't make it?” Very famously, we worked on Biollante for the second game and weren't able to finish Biollante. And so, we just cut Biollante, but there were still some files and there are some fan mods where people that got the partially implemented Biollante in the game, right? And so, there are people who think, “They worked on things that didn't make it into the game!” Godzilla: Unleashed, though. We shipped with 25 monsters – we 100% got every monster we ever thought about getting in that game.  
Nothing ever really got cut across the three games. Biollante is really the only thing that ever got cut. There were things we toyed with or scoped down, though. Like, we did have a much longer story for Godzilla: Unleashed, but we ended up without the time to make all the cutscenes for the story. We had a whole bunch of levels in the game that were supposed to be strung together by the story. And then we ended up with about 20% of the story moments that we had planned. 

What main lesson did you learn from each of the respective games when you look back on them? 

Dan W: The first game is a triumph of a group of people united around a concept making just that, right? There's no engine. We had an idea of what that game was, and there wasn't time wasted on more general stuff. It was very focused on an idea, and it worked out great. 

Simon: For Godzilla: DAMM, when characters are supposed to be different, ANY similarities will spoil the illusion. For Godzilla: StE, mini-games are MUCH MORE WORK than you think. Even more than that. For Godzilla: Unleashed, new control schemes are very shiny – but they don't have staying power. 

Which character from any of the games in the trilogy is your favorite? 

Dan W: Mechagodzilla. I love those rockets. 

Simon: For me, Gigan. The first game had 11 playable characters, and there were 12 of us full-time on the project. So, everybody was assigned one character to master and be an advocate for. I was Gigan, and I just can't help but love him still. The Giant Space Chicken is hilarious. He teleports – which fits because my original “Street Fighter II” main was Dhalsim! 

How does it feel to still have such a loyal fan base for these games after all these years? 

Dan W: Incredibly gratifying. It's so gratifying to have worked on something that people respect 20 years later. It's incredibly gratifying, and it makes me wish every game we made was like that. 

Thank you for allowing us to make these games and having them be successful. We wanted to make a game that sold hundreds of thousands of units and that people would want to play. When we started Pipeworks, that seemed like kind of a crazy idea, and yet that's what happened. We made this game, and people played it and enjoyed it, and it's just like I said, particularly the first game is incredibly gratifying to look back on. It was a ton of work and at times super stressful, but it was great, and without the players, it never would have happened. 

Simon: Obviously, it's great to still get fan letters from something we did more than 20 years ago. It's proof that the work we do at Pipeworks can matter. It’s really cool to go to places and have people ask, “How come King Ghidorah has 350 health, but Destoroyah has 600 health? What were you thinking when you made that decision?” and I think to myself, “Oh yeah, I remember thinking on that for a couple of days!” and here we are 10+ years later, talking about it. That is great. 
A mural advertising Godzilla: Unleashed on the streets of New York City in 2007 (image credit: Toho Kingdom).
Nestled within the revered Pipeworks library, the Godzilla trilogy stands as a noteworthy gem among the myriad of games, becoming a cherished cornerstone in our gaming legacy. Discover more about our extensive gameography by visiting the "Our Games" section on our website and uncover the rich history of Pipeworks!

International Animation Day 2023

International animation day 2023

Every year on Oct. 28, the global community comes together to celebrate International Animation Day, a special occasion dedicated to honoring the creative minds, scientists, and skilled technicians who contribute to the world of animated art. It's a day when we pay tribute to all the facets of animation.

This unofficial holiday was established in 2002 by the International Animated Film Association (Association Internationale du Film d’Animation) to mark the historical significance of Oct. 28. On this day in 1892, animation made its first public appearance at the Grévin Museum in Paris, thanks to the pioneering work of Charles-Émile Reynaud and his Théâtre Optique, where he showcased his inaugural creation, "Pantomimes Lumineuses."

Animation, as an art form, comes to life when skilled artists breathe movement into drawings, bringing them to the realm of motion pictures. This captivating medium has been in use for over a century to craft cartoons and various forms of entertainment. Throughout the years, artists and technicians have continued to innovate, giving rise to diverse styles and techniques in the world of animation.

In recognition of International Animation Day, we spoke with Pipeworks art manager Ben Hopper to talk about his path to becoming an animator, his day-to-day work, his influences, and how he continues to grow and evolve in his role:

What initially sparked your passion for animation? Can you recall a specific moment or animated work that ignited your interest in the art?

Probably not one specific moment. As a kid growing up in Buffalo, New York, I devoured anything and everything animated. It probably started with "Sesame Street," which, back in the early 1980s had these great, really funny animated segments. Back then, not only were Saturday morning cartoons hitting their peak, but syndicated cartoons before and after school were also huge, and I watched them all. In Buffalo, Channel 29 was the home for all that stuff. And if there was an animated special on prime time, like "The California Raisins" by Will Vinton Studios or any of the animated holiday specials, I was there in front of the TV.

A lot of the American studios back then outsourced the animation to Japanese studios, and I remember gradually noticing how all my favorite shows were created in the US but animated in Japan. "The Real Ghostbusters," "G.I. Joe," "The Transformers" – all animated in Japan. Sometimes there would be an episode animated by a different studio, and I would notice how the animation wasn’t as good, and I’d be really disappointed. I even remember watching a "Strawberry Shortcake" cartoon that had really impressive animation – I think it was a pilot episode of a planned series – and of course, it was one of the Japanese animation studios in the credits.

Other shows like "Battle of The Planets," "Robotech" and "Voltron" were Japanese shows redubbed and re-edited for an American audience. They just had an entirely different look and feel than American cartoons. The animation was more exciting to me and shows like "Robotech" just had a more mature sensibility than something like, say "Super Friends" or" Scooby-Doo," which were goofy, but I watched them anyway.

So, the explosion of television animation that was used to sell toys in the ‘80s made a big impression on me. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning during the week just so I could watch the opening intro to "Bionic Six," which was seriously, stunningly good. "Thundercats" had an amazing intro, too. And they all had great original songs to go with those intros.

Of course, I took a particular interest in the artistic side of video games early on as well. As the game consoles advanced from the Atari 2600 to the NES to the Sega Genesis and Super NES, I was fascinated how the visuals and animation in games were constantly evolving. And outside of the consoles, the fluid animation and minimal but super effective storytelling in "Karateka" on the Commodore 64 was mind blowing to me. And Don Bluth’s beautiful work on "Dragon’s Lair" and "Space Ace" in the arcades – I hated how hard and expensive those games were, but I would stand there in an arcade and just watch the demo/attract mode over and over because I couldn’t afford to keep plunking quarters into them.

So, I had a love and appreciation for animation from an early age, and I’d often think that’s what I wanted to do someday, even if I had no idea how to go about starting on that path.

Animation is a diverse field with various styles and techniques. Could you share your favorite animation genre or style, and explain why it resonates with you?

I don’t know if I have a favorite genre or style. As a working animator, you’ve got to be prepared to animate in whatever style the project demands. The work I do for a living is all in Maya these days, so I’m always trying to keep my 3D skills sharp, but I go back to working in 2D for personal projects all the time, and I’m always looking for ways to sneak that into my process at work whenever I can. I just think when you’re working in 2D you’re not constrained by a rig someone else made. You’re drawing it yourself, and often designing it yourself, so you can basically go wherever your imagination takes you. I love good pixel animation, and I do a lot of that for fun.

Many aspiring animators have role models or favorite animators who inspire them. Who are some of the animators or animation works that have influenced your creative journey?

Like many animators, I’ve got a lotta love for Hayao Miyazaki, though I’m not sure I’d ever want to work for him. The first film he directed, "The Castle of Cagliostro," might be my all-time favorite animated film. It’s just non-stop fun and action from beginning to end. I think "Princess Mononoke" is brilliant. I love the original "Ghost in the Shell," but the director of that movie, Mamoru Oshii, also directed "Patlabor" – an obscure ‘80s anime feature that I first watched in a Japanese film class in college – and I think that’s the best animated film no one knows about.

Transitioning from a fan of the animated craft to a career as an animator is a significant step. Can you describe your journey and the pivotal moments that led you to pursue animation as a profession?

Yeah, I mean, I didn’t go straight from high school into an animation career path. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and I was a cartoonist for my high school and college newspapers, so making art was always in me, but I didn’t know how to make a living at it. I ended up majoring in English and creative writing in college and worked at a small-town newspaper for over three years before deciding to go back to school to get a degree in animation. I was in my mid-20s at that point.

It was pretty clear to me in 2001 that newspapers were heading into tough times. I knew I had to find something else to do, and DigiPen in Redmond, Washington, ticked all the boxes for me at the time. I started pursuing an associate degree there in 2002, and after my first year I landed a summer art internship at Nintendo Software Technology. So that kind of sealed the deal as to whether or not I made the right choice. It was totally surreal – the summer prior I was working in the newsroom of The Gleaner in Henderson, Kentucky, and a year later, I’ve got a paid internship at Nintendo in the beautiful Pacific Northwest? I mean, come on. It doesn’t get much better than that when you’re looking for validation in a career change.

The process of creating animation can be intricate and require significant time commitments. What aspects of the animation process do you find most rewarding?​

I’m having the most fun when I’m creating something new or using my skills to help someone visualize the ideas they have in their head. Creating a sequence or performance out of thin air is always my favorite thing to do. The whole process – from gathering references to creating thumbnails of the main keyframes to blocking out the animation – it’s very fulfilling when you take it from nothing to a finished piece of animation.

And the concept of “show early and show often” is pretty important. Putting your work out there for feedback can sometimes feel like you’re standing naked in front your peers, which just to be clear, would be as mortifying to me as it would be for most, but doing that always results in a better finished product.

Animation often involves storytelling — or at the very least conveying emotion. You recently contributed several new emotes to Pipeworks' Prominence Poker. Can you explain how you went about creating the expressions conveyed through some of these emotes what was the process like?

Yeah, that was honestly some of the most fun I’ve had on a project in recent years. I’m not a poker player and not into the casino scene at all, but doing those emotes was a lot fun and really what I wish I could be doing all the time as an animator. Getting paid to record yourself acting like a fool to create a performance through animation – I mean, it’s hard to call that work.

Sometimes I had to animate something that I couldn’t do myself – like some of the chip tricks or spinning a gun around my finger – so I had to do some research on YouTube to animate that accurately. But in the end, it was as simple as starting with a character in a t-pose and making him or her come alive at the poker table. I’m not sure how successful I was – I feel like I wish I would have had the time to give everything another polish pass – but that’s how it goes sometimes.

The animation industry is constantly evolving with new technologies and trends. How do you stay up-to-date and continue to grow as an animator? Do you have any advice for aspiring animators who wish to follow in your footsteps?

I definitely try to keep growing as an animator. I mean, if you don’t do that, you’re dead in the water. I approach every new animation task as if it’s a referendum on how good I really am. I look at every new task as an opportunity to apply everything I’ve learned up to that point. I feel like you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done, and I still feel my best work is ahead of me.

I’ve never been an early technology adopter, so I’m not one to jump into whatever the next hot thing is, even when it comes to my craft. I still don’t like using AnimBot, for instance. A lot of animators in my field use it, but personally, I feel like it inserts itself into Maya in ways I don’t like, and there are always licensing issues with it, and then uninstalling it is such a chore when it’s not working. So, I’m still keyframing in Maya the old-school way, and I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what’s possible there. I’m very much a pose-to-pose animator, and I’m always trying to improve my posing and timing, which for me, are really at the heart of any good piece of animation.

When I started learning how to use 3DStudio Max and Maya back in 2002, the barrier to entry in terms of getting access to that software and learning how to use them was high. Remember, this was still in the days of the CRT monitor, and PCs weren’t nearly as good as they are now. You needed a PC that could run high-end 3D software, and there weren’t a million how-to videos and tutorials on YouTube like there are now.

These days, you can download Blender, Unity, and Unreal Engine for free, and there’s a student version of Maya that’s free, so you can totally train yourself how to author an animation and get it into a game engine by watching tutorials on YouTube or using the Unity or Epic help forums. So, with a little self-discipline, it’s kind of easier than ever to learn the tools and the art form. The downside of that is it’s now more competitive than ever, so you’ve got to be prepared to go up against a lot of really good animators when you’re looking for work.

I would say to any aspiring animator – watch a lot of good animation and really study it frame by frame. There’s no shame in just flat-out copying what others have already done so long as you acknowledge that in your work. It’s a great way to learn and break down the barriers, because sometimes great animation can look like magic, and that can be intimidating to a beginner.

There are also many great resources online for serious training, like AnimSquad, iAnimate, and Animation Mentor. I took Animation Mentor’s Advanced Body Mechanics course a few years ago, and I think that’s an essential course for any serious animator. It always helps to be around other animators as well. Look all around for people you can learn from.

Apart from all of that, becoming an animator requires a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and extreme persistence. You’re going to face a lot of rejection and criticism along the way, so you can’t be easily discouraged. I’ve had many points in my career where my self-confidence was about as low as it could get, but I was able to suffer through that and pick myself back up to try again. Having that kind of intestinal fortitude can make up for any lack of natural talent. Just keep going. Don’t let anything stop you.
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Prominence Poker

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Welcome to Prominence

Welcome to Prominence

Welcome to Prominence

A gambling paradise founded by crooked folks looking to go straight. Prominence Poker is a game that pits players from around the world against each other -- and devious AI -- to build the rep, prestige, and bankroll needed to be, and beat, the best of the best.