A Matter Of Timing

Years ago, my future mother-in-law was curious about what I did for a living and asked me a question about being a game animator, “So do you have to draw every frame?” I thought to myself, “Thank God I don’t have to create 30 drawings for every second of gameplay.”

How could I explain it all? Sometimes what I do is technical, like when you adjust the weighting on a rig so moving a character’s wrist doesn’t make his shoulder flex in a weird way. Other times, it’s a form of acting, creating personality and mood with a stance or a movement. Often, it’s simply about getting the motion right, adjusting how a foot eases into or out of a pose, or showing kinetic energy transferring from one part of the body to another.

Working on a game, you use the same techniques as movie animators, but you often have extreme timing and movement restrictions to fit game balance requirements, and you rarely get to build an animation with just one camera shot in mind. You try to make things look great from every angle. It’s challenging, but when it all comes together, you take a beautiful, static model created by the art team and make people see it as a living, breathing being.

This is what I do.

As a kid, I always liked to draw, but the thing that really inspired me was animation. I would watch Looney Tunes and Disney classics no matter how many times I had seen them before. I loved old Ray Harryhausen movies like Jason and the Argonauts from 1963, and all of his Sinbad movies. Early on, I knew I wanted to be an animator.

As I got into my late teens, though, I learned that opportunities for animation schooling and jobs were few and far between. So when it came time to go to college, I looked for something more practical. A year of drawing bolts and geodesic dome houses taught me that architectural and mechanical drafting was not my true calling. I moved to graphic design next — first at the University of Washington, then transferring to Cornish College of the Arts to finish my BFA. It was interesting, but not inspiring.

Then I got lucky. In 1989, the last semester of my senior year, Cornish added a brand-new class to its curriculum: computer graphics. It probably sounds funny now, but back then things like PageMaker, Freehand, and Macromind Director were cutting edge. These weren’t just new pieces of software; they were entirely new ways to do things. Having access to Director let me try my hand at animation — I still remember that first experience of putting together a series of images and making it come to life.

That was my way into the field. In 1991, a buddy at Microsoft was looking for someone who knew Director to create animations for a new application called Cinemania. I didn’t know how to animate very well yet, and I barely knew the software, but I was in the right place at the right time. I knew this was the chance to do what I’d always wanted, and I wasn’t going to let it slip away.

Over the next few years, I used every free moment to get better and looked for learning opportunities wherever I could. Through a friend at work, I managed to get after-hours access to an expensive SGI computer running Softimage, a high end 3D program. I stayed late every night and taught myself how to model and animate in 3D.

My timing couldn’t have been better, because a game development boom was just starting in Seattle. I felt like I’d landed my dream job when I went to a little studio called Sucker Punch, where I got the chance to animate all of Sly Cooper’s moves in Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus. Up until then I had only done small pieces of character animation, so this was the first time I was ever responsible for fully animating a character — especially a cartoony one with a personality like Sly.

During my time at Sucker Punch, I learned a ton about how animation affects the responsiveness of a character in a game. Animators are trained to have the character anticipate action, but in games, anticipation tends to go out the window in favor of getting the immediate response players expect when they press that button on their controller. With little to no anticipation, you start to learn little tricks that help sell the animation and direct the viewer’s eye.

Until this point in my career, I’d been primarily animating characters by hand. I didn’t have much experience with motion capture (mocap) animation, but this changed when I started working on MAG. While I was responsible for hand keying all of the first person and weapon animations, I also helped direct mocap shoots and modify the mocap data to match the game’s animation style. This experience helped me with my work on SOCOM4, where I was responsible for not only hand keyed character, vehicle, and cinematic animations, but also for character mocap.

I first found out about Undead Labs from my friend and old co-worker, Steve. When I learned that he and two of my other old colleagues, Foge and Shaun, were there too, I knew I had to be a part of the team.

I think that third-person action games are the most fun and challenging to work on as an animator because they really let you put a lot of personality into the characters. Animating combat is also one of my favorite things, and zombie combat is especially appealing to me because you gotta animate over the top!

It seemed like the Lab had everything I could want in a company and a project, and I feel very fortunate to be here.

Class3 presents a great opportunity to do things in animation and in games that I’ve never done before. At this point, I have been animating for games for nearly 20 years, but I’m still hungry to learn new things. As an animator, you can always improve — you’re always learning and there’s always more to learn.

I look forward to the challenge.


(Emily’s note: If you just can’t get enough Reid and would like to know more about him, be sure to check out Jeff’s introduction.)

  1. Researcher: Zach

    Wait does this mean we will be able to ripe the arm off of zombies and beat them to death with it!?

    • Researcher: Pieter Kuperus

      Lol, I sure hope so!

    • Researcher: nat0202

      I don’t know about you guys, but i think that would make this game an awful lot like ‘Splatterhouse,’ and that kind of over the top whipping a guy with his own small intestine isn’t something i’m looking forward to. Don’t get me wrong, i’m all for dismemberment and impaling zombies with my chainsaw. Splatterhouse was fun, but I don’t think it would work so much in a game like Class3.

      I could be all wrong.

    • Researcher: Htlcody

      well I think of the arm thing, and the other motions as higher level grapple moves instead of usable weapon techniques

  2. Researcher: Brian

    this sounds awesome, you know what would be cool? if you guys made it possible for a wheelchair survivor to show up. im in a wheelchair myself and id love to see that animated into a game like this

    • Researcher: SirDiamondNips

      Interesting… That could make for an interesting character in the story.

    • Researcher: Brian

      yeah thats what id think. mine is electric though so all my friends say id be useless and wouldnt survive long in a zombie world. the only problem id see is charging my chair but that can be handled with a variety of things plus i can carry a lot more things and not be slowed down like others that walk. so i could be the mule while everyone else is hands free when going for supplies.

    • Researcher: Blake (NegativeHUNTER)

      The Book “World War Z” has a character like you and he was extremely useful only thing thou his chair was a manual labor one. But bad-ass none the less

  3. Researcher: Evan

    Happy to have you! Looking forward to seeing some of your work! I’m very very excited for this game!

  4. Researcher: geist

    welcome Reid

  5. Researcher: Budwyzer

    You did the animations to one of my favorite FPS games. The number one thing I love about MAG is the crispness of what happens when I press a button. You, sir, NAILED IT! I’m giggling like a little school girl right now because I’m so excited about having you working on Class3. My only wish now, is that there were a way to preorder RIGHT NOW. I’m sure the extra income would help you guys tremendously.
    Anyways, I’m glad to hear you’re skills are being put to use in another game I already love. Greetings, Earthling.

    • Researcher: qwerty

      agreed with the pre-order but i dont think they know if its a monthly subscription mmo or a regular xbox game

  6. Researcher: AlwaysWinter

    Welcome Reid! Best of luck!

  7. Researcher: Brandon

    I’m so happy they got the man responsible for one of my favorite characters which is Sly Clooper that game was amazing and the animations feel of it was amazing welcome to the team.

  8. Researcher: Cary E

    Rock it!

  9. Researcher: Connor Moran

    Crafty naming convention there undeadlabs. “A Matter of Timing, as in animation timing and in his life timing :D”

  10. Researcher: Dantron

    Dantron greets Reid. Dantron inquires if Reid has ever animated a robot eating a pie. Or a robot eating many, many pies.