Annie Heijna, associate animator at Creative Assembly, talks about finding a love for animation in unusual places, and the importance of a supportive team
How did you break into games?
I studied Biomechanical Engineering at university. I did my dissertation on motion capture and gesture recognition using the Kinect SDK to allow children with Cerebral Palsy to play games to make mobility training more engaging. This was the first taste I got at game development, albeit in a medical context. It brought on the realisation that I wanted to do something in game development, but something more artistically oriented. After I graduated, I went to Vancouver to learn animation – and knew after my first lesson that I wanted to be an animator, to create content that I myself loved. It was an intense year of learning animation from scratch – but it paid off and I landed my first job as a trainee at Creative Assembly!
What has been your proudest achievement so far?
Honestly, becoming a part of the animation team here in Creative Assembly.
What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Learning about implementation and requirements of animation in a game engine that abide by the gameplay rules. It can get very complex and it’s a steep learning curve. It’s an ongoing challenge – but I really enjoy it and it is very rewarding.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Exploring ideas and finding creative solutions to the briefs and restrictions we need to work within. Throwing ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks is great fun, especially when you’ve got a hella talented and supportive team surrounding you.
What’s your biggest ambition in games?
In all honesty – I’m still figuring that out! You don’t know what you don’t know. I’ve experienced so many facets of animation that sit within game development. One of my biggest ambitions right now is to have a AAA title shipped, seeing people enjoy all of the work going into creating our multiplayer sci-fi shooter.
What advice would you give to an aspiring game animator?
Knowing your craft isn’t the whole equation. There’s no doubt that an animator can animate – but what is especially valuable is how you problem solve and work in a team. That’s where the differences lie between an okay animator and a great one. Knowing the departments that work alongside your own and the basic laws of physics helps with analysing and making creative decisions on a higher level. As Picasso is quoted to have said ‘Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’ It’s okay to not know something, but there’s a difference between not knowing something out of ignorance versus it being something you couldn’t have known.