As lead animator at Sumo Digital and with 27 years of industry experience, Tony Jackson is the best person to speak to us about animating, and how students can stand out from the crowd in the games industry.
Q: Can you tell us about your professional background?
A: I trained as a technical illustrator, using physical media, on a drawing board! Prior to working in games, I worked as an illustrator for an architect.
Q: How did you get into the game industry?
A: I was bored working for the architect, loved playing video games, saw an advert in the press (printed, no internet back then) and applied for the position of an artist. At the time I had no digital work at all. I took an A1 folder full of hand drawn material and was offered the position of an artist, which I embraced passionately. In the early days I was involved with all aspects of art production, moving to focusing on animation a few years later. I’ve never looked back.
Q: What is it like working as an animator? And at Sumo?
A: Working as an animator is exciting. I find I’m learning something all the time, and if I’m not, then I’m not pushing hard enough. Technology and tools are changing so fast, if you want to stay relevant you have to know what’s going on, and I love keeping up with those changes.
Sumo is great at giving you the freedom to do your job, giving you a great sense of responsibility and purpose. I can only speak for the Nottingham studio, which has an amazing mixture of experienced and new people.
Q: Sumo’s got a very diverse portfolio – from FPS to platformers and open worlds. With a portfolio like that, is it difficult to focus on something then pivot to a different genre?
A: Part of what’s great about Sumo is that diversity. From a creative stance, the opportunity to work on such different genres helps keep my work life challenging and fresh.
Q: With long-anticipated games like Crackdown 3 and Dead Island 2 currently in development at Sumo, what is it like to work with a higher level of expectation? Do you feel any pressure?
A: Although I’m not working on the titles you mention, there’s a pressure whatever project you’re involved with. They all come with a level of expectation.
Q: Can you run us through what your talk and the panel at BFX will entail next week?
A: My talk aims to give the attendee a small insight into what is involved in preparing and executing the production of animations for this particular project. In broad terms it’s not so much about animating as it is about what’s involved in the overall process of getting the animation from idea to game.
Q: Why should students learn animation over other disciplines in games?
A: That’s a tough one, there are so many great disciplines. I guess it comes down to what drives you. I love bringing things to life on my screen, it’s why I chose to focus on animation over and above the other art disciplines. I still build my own models as a hobby, with the prime focus of animating them. If they love the idea of doing that, then they should animate.
Q: What are your tips for students to help them stand out from the crowd?
A: Stay focused, practise, practise, practise. Learn from those around, never be afraid of criticism. Challenge yourself.
Tony Jackson is an experienced video games animator with 27 years industry experience. Enthusiastic about all aspects of game development, especially the arts with a focus on animation.
Fascinated by the technology advances and driven by the challenges and opportunities presented along the way. Loves the development environment and the people in it.