Industry Insight – An Interview With 3D Artist Chris Ollis
Chris Ollis is a 3D Artist and Animator by trade; he has spent the last 4 years as Lead Artist on Moviestorm, a virtual movie-making package. However previously he spent some time at Codemasters, one of the longest running and largest British based games developers. GameBrit caught up with Ollis to ask him about his time at Codemasters and gain some insight into the world of games developing.
Gamebrit – What did your role at Codemasters involve?
Chris Ollis – I was hired as a character artist and animator for a FPS that never happened, so was quickly redirected to the Race Driver cut scene team to which I was probably more suited. It then generally involved making 3d props, environments and characters, animating them, tidying up and applying mocap data for both bodies and in RD3 faces, some physics simulation (cloth, liquids and things falling over) and various other things involved in making some very shiny pre-rendered sequences. I also helped out with some in-game track building, car and driver work for a couple of other titles.
GB – Could you give us some examples of games you have worked on?
CO – Race Driver 2 and 3, one of the Indy car titles and then before I was at Codies a cheap yet technically impressive PC title called Private Dancer, its shelved sequel (company went under before launch) and numerous Unreal Tournament mods.
GB – How did the development process for your particular department work? How did the process work from start to finish?
CO – The cut scenes went through full movie style production phases, starting with the hiring of a film director who helped shape the story, storyboarding of the scenes, then motion capture sessions before starting to build the characters and sets in 3DS MAX, animate them in Motionbuilder and then render them out back in MAX.
GB – Where does that fit in with the overall development of a game?
CO – With the Race Driver series the story was a major part (in the studios mind if not the players!) it was as important to provide a good narrative for the 1 player game as the actual playability of the cars on track. The story also took you through career progression in the game, unlocking various cars and highlighting the behind the scenes world of motor racing and sponsorship. So it was pretty much hand in hand for those titles.
GB – Is there a sense of involvement in working for such a large-scale developer in Codemasters?
CO – The FMV team was quite small (5 to 8 of us depending on development cycle) so it was a good feeling of teamwork and knowing what everyone was doing. But unlike other companies I’ve worked at there was much less of a sense of importance or place in the whole company, the bigger the game, the greater the number of staff and the more you feel like a worker ant who could easily be replaced and who’s voice is rarely heard. Plus when I was there the need and logic for outsourcing got bigger and bigger and I didn’t really want to be coordinating spreadsheets all day (which I half ended up doing in the next job for a while anyway!).
GB – Did you have any particular career high points whilst at Codemasters?
CO – That’s a tough one, not really, no. The main highlight was the people I worked with, we were all committed to doing a good job and I think we achieved that with each title, or at least the reviews seemed to show it. But it really was a lot of work, serious staring at screens and forcing back boundaries, which at times resulted in the hardware or technology simply not being good enough for what we were trying! So I have more memories of us asking too much of a physics simulation or mocap solution than I do of relief when a scene finished rendering or even the games launch. There certainly wasn’t any showering of champagne like on the podium at the end of the game!
GB – On a similar note were there any low points? Did any projects fall through mid-development for example?
CO – It was quite stressful; sometimes I really didn’t look forward to going in to work because it was guaranteed to be more pressure of maintaining the workload. But if you don’t work hard you don’t get the results. As for games falling over, the game I was hired for didn’t happen but that wasn’t a big deal, the company I had been at before collapsed so I was just grateful to have a job. The Race Driver series was a good solid title; at no point did I think it was in any trouble. Other projects fell over in the company, as is the way everywhere, Dragon Empires was in development while I was there, I guess that’s the most notable one, which was a huge shame as the artwork and development that had been done was superb.
GB – Was the games industry what you expected it to be? Would you ever consider going back?
CO – It’s not as stable a job as I’d like, you really do have to expect things to fall over and find yourself unemployed, especially when starting out at small studios. I really enjoyed seeing the inside workings but it does take some of the magic away and you don’t feel the urge to kick back and play games for hours when you get in as you would after a day in an office doing paperwork. I’d go back if the title interested me and the studio felt right, but will try and avoid the production line mentality of a big studio if possible.
GB – Are their any developers you looked up to in terms of what you did at Codemasters? Also, any current developers that catch your eye?
CO – Blur Studios are the cream of game FMV without a doubt; they’ve been knocking out amazing pre-rendered sequences for years. As for game developers in general it’s hard to say as most studios shift their staff, fall over or just change their game type so you can’t really say. Putting aside politics and the reality of the studio system, I’d love to work on Tekken characters at Namco, Ratchet and Clank at Insomniac, the next Batman at Rocksteady, maybe update Bust a Groove (PS1 break dance game), a new Gitaroo Man and anything at Double Fine.
GB – Would you have any advice for any budding games developers?
CO – Developers or people just wanting in to the industry? Developers, wouldn’t want to suggest anything, there’s as much need for someone to make the most unique game of their dreams as a big studio to churn out the same title year after year. Artists and Programmers though, [tweetable]focus on what interests you[/tweetable], be it environment design or IK solutions and stick with it, but make sure you also learn enough other things around that field so when the company you are at falls over or makes cut backs, you have enough skills to get hired again quickly! A hugely talented character artist is good, but if they can’t turn their hand to quickly making some houses or rigging a dozen cars then their job is by no means secure!