25 December 2012

iAnimate Games Workshop 2 Review

I wouldn't go as far as saying Workshop 2 wasn't a great experience. It just wasn't as good as the first workshop.

Allow me to elaborate. Workshop 2 started normally enough. We were given our assignments as usual, but something that was slightly new was that Ric Arroyo (the instructor in charge of establishing the curriculum) gave us a sort of teaser video of what to expect throughout the entire workshop. It was actually really exciting to watch and get hyped about the upcoming assignments. But for me and at least a few other students, that excitement quickly faded when we realized how intense the assignments were.

About 5 or so weeks into the block a lot of the students were discussing the difficulty and confusion on our Skype group, and I felt we had to take action. I took it upon myself to message David Hubert and Ric Arroyo about the difficulties we were having, and David responded with his thoughts and we had a rather productive back-and-forth about what to fix and how to fix it. David and Ric backed off on the intensity and pacing of the assignments, and they were able to make adjustments on the fly with the curriculum. We were also having difficulty actually understanding what was required of each assignment, so Ric started laying out more specific requirements as well as making a complementary video to explain what was expected.

This leads me to another issue we encountered. When my instructor, Tristan Sacramento, started explaining the assignments, it was clear that all he had to go by was the assignment sheets; there seemed to be a lack of communication between Ric and the instructors as to what was expected. This led to Tristan giving us an assignment that I don't think any of the students were quite ready for. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not trying to lay the blame on anyone. These are the kinds of kinks you would expect in an early program like this. Though if I'm not mistaken, some of the students were actually able to complete said assignment and make it onto the student reel so I guess it all worked out.

Tristan Sacramento is a great guy and an incredible animator, but he told us from the start that this was his first time doing any kind of teaching gig. For the first few weeks, he realized that he couldn't quite squeeze everything he wanted to say into each students short window of time for the critique (about 15 minutes), so he constantly offered to give us in-between critiques - critiques we could get if we sent him an email during the middle of the assignment week. This was obviously a pretty big deal that he would take extra time out of his busy life and give us even more critiques in between class sessions. I also had a back and forth with him regarding feedback about what he could do differently and he took my suggestions to heart. I think that speaks to how great of a guy he is, so, good job Tristan :).

Now to come full circle about my first point. At the time, I thought having teaching experience should be some sort of requirement, so I again contacted David (he's very easy to talk to if you haven't gathered). He responded by saying they pick the instructors based on experience and artistic ability, and that having teaching experience is a plus. I foolishly compared Tristan to Richard Lico (my instructor from Workshop 1), and thought that Richard Lico had teaching experience and therefore I got more out of it. David's response was that Lico is one of the most productive, talented animators he's known in his 12 years of experience, and that if you compare any of the instructors to a particular one expecting them to be the same you'll be disappointed.

This was quite a revelation for me as I realized you have to take each instructor as they are and try to get the most out of it. I was expecting Tristan to be as brilliant of an instructor as Lico, but the fact is Tristan just did things differently. Please do not misunderstand me: Tristan is a great animator and turned out to be a great instructor to work with.

There were a few other flaws to speak of, the first being that the rigs weren't quite there yet. The rigs weren't so much buggy as they were cluttered and hard to work with, there seemed to be too many features put into the rig to try to account for every situation an animator could face; many students preferred to use the feature film rigs such as SkyScraper instead. As of this writing, as far as I know, they're hard at work on 3.0 of the rigs that should be ready by workshop 3.

There's also still no game engine as part of the curriculum. Based on what I learned from workshop 1 - you can make all these shnazzy (that's a technical term) animations in Maya, but if you don't stick them into a game engine to test for gameplay, responsiveness, etc, you won't know if the animation works. This will hopefully be remedied by workshop 3, as I'm quite eager to play with the blending and layering of the animations (something that to the best of my knowledge requires scripting/programming, which is another area of knowledge I'm quite fond of). As of writing this we should have access to a game engine to put our animations in by workshop 3. If not, I'll take it upon myself to simply learn Unity or Unreal and put my animations in an engine either way. Showing that kind of initiative will surely earn me some brownie points along the way :)

Workshop 3 should be very fun. Brett Pascal seems like a great guy (he was in a guest QnA event that was open to the public about a week ago). And it just so happens that he's working on a game that I'm VERY excited about: Company of Hereos 2. I absolutely cannot wait to pick his brain about it. If he breaks his NDA by the end of the workshop, I'll consider it a success :)

Overall, the second workshop turned out to be great. I started out comparing it to Workshop 1 and the "newness" simply wasn't there, but that does not at all mean it doesn't stand on it's own. Once they work out the kinks and bugs these will be hands down the best place to learn game animation; in my mind it already is - it'll just be that much better.

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