We recently caught up with CG Spectrum, Vancouver graduate Sebastien Muller. We spoke about his time with CG Spectrum and how it helped get him started in the video game industry. Sebastien just finished working on the latest release in the Assassin's Creed game series, Assassin's Creed Syndicate for Ubisoft - France.
Q: What made you decide to go to CG Spectrum for your education?
A: I actually knew the founder of CG Spectrum Jeff Pepper from before. I was indeed enrolled in another school in North Vancouver where we first met.
Q: Did you have any previous art experience?
A: Yes I did have previous experience in art. I did 2 years of a 3 years program in France but had to quit as I was not learning the way I wanted (and the way I expected according to what I was paying). Then I traveled to Vancouver to do this one-year program where I learned a lot in many aspects of a production (drawing, modeling, rigging, texturing, animation, …)
Q: Did you specialise in a specific area, or were you aiming to be a generalist?
A: Yes I did. I was already specialised in animation but had a lack of experience in acting and dialog animations which I was sure was missing in my demo. I enrolled CG Spectrum with a private mentoring with Mark Pullyblank.
Q: Do you think having access to industry professional mentors gave you a head start landing your job at Ubisoft?
A: Sure it did! It’s so important to be mentored by someone who really knows what they're doing. During my first studies in France, when in 2nd year, I didn’t know anything about my Maya teacher. He wasn’t working in the CG industry by that time, and nowadays, I still don’t know what he did before. And believe me, you can really notice the difference in terms of quality of advice when you deal with an industry professional. Everything came from his experience, and not something he’s read somewhere!
Q: You were mentored by Mark Pullyblank for advanced character animation while at CG Spectrum? What was it like to study with Mark?
A: I didn’t know him before starting my mentoring so I did my research to know more about his professional experience. After reading his IMDB profile, I knew I was having great advice and that I will improve my way of working. Mark is very friendly and always keen on helping you. Not only were we talking about my animations and what to do to make them better, but also about the industry In general. How to get in, what to put in my demo to better show my skills, etc… And even my mentoring done, I still contact him sometimes to get his opinion about a company, my salary expectations, and of course about my animations.
Q: TELL US a little bit about the game development pipeline, and where you fit in?
A: Well it’s a tricky question since it’s a bit different whether it’s an indie game or a AAA from a big studio like Ubisoft, or even a mobile game. Here at Ubisoft Montpellier (France), and from what I know regarding the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate project, we’re driven by Ubisoft in Quebec which is developing of the core of the game. Ubisoft Montpellier is in charge of some levels of the game and some new locations and features.
Where do I fit in? Right under my animation lead who gave me the directions of the different tasks I was to work on during my contract. He’s himself under the decisions of the game designers and producers, themselves driven by Quebec. Of course, it’s a bit more complex than that but you get the idea, I hope so.
It’s so important to be mentored by someone who really knows what they're doing... you can really notice the difference in terms of quality of advice when you deal with an industry professional."
Q: What is it like to work for one of the world's leading game companies?
A: Stressful and exciting at the same time! On the first day when I walked in the studio, I had a presentation and a visit for a couple hours. Then they told me on which project I was to work! I was thrilled to work on such franchise, and scared to be able or not to deliver good enough animations.
Q: How did you get your job as a character animator for Assassin’s Creed Syndicate? Was there anything on your demo reel that really helped the most?
A: I had the chance to work for Ubisoft before, but unfortunately on a canceled project. My animation lead back then was the same as the one on ACS. I had just finished a contract on another company for a CG commercial and had contacted the Ubisoft HR to tell them I was available. The lead remembered me, watched my reel where my last parkour/super-hero animation caught his eyes. He contacted me for an interview and the next week, I began working under his direction.
Q: What challenges do you face working on a game like assassin's creed?
A: I actually worked on a new feature that mostly involved character’s interaction rather than environments. I had a game-play programmer working with me, and he was the one to make sure the feature was working well wherever the action was taking place. My challenge was mostly to make the interactions between the characters realistic, believable and fluid.
Q: Are there any new game play features for this chapter of Assassin’s Creed that you can talk about?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I was working on a new coming feature from the “Jack the Ripper” DLC. This feature is a new attack for Evie Frye and Jack the Ripper. This attack is not part of the main game and will be available at the end of the year. I also animated some new NPC behavior.
Q: Was there a certain computer software program that you used the most while working on the game?
A: I was working with Autodesk Motionbuilder which is a great tool to deal with both motion capture data and keyframe animation. Other than that, we use a game engine named ANVIL which was developed by Ubisoft Montreal and first used on Assassin’s Creed.
Q: Was there anyone in particular in the real world or fictional character that helped you base the characters animation on.
A: Since I was using motion capture data shot by actors, they were given instruction by my lead animator regarding their acting. I had to keep an “Assassin’s Creed” style to the overall animation flow.
I also had to make sure the animations styles fit with the psychology and personal background of the character I was working on.
My challenge was mostly to make the interactions between the characters realistic, believable and fluid."
Q: Was there a lot of motion capture involved in creating the dynamic character animations?
A: As mentioned before, most of my animations are based on motion capture. Of course there’s a lot of re-timing to do on these data, make sure the arms, head and other body parts have nice arcs, no penetration between characters, environments etc…
But on every single animation I worked on, key-framing was involved for better transitions, missing motion capture animations.
Q: Just for fun... Do you think they will ever make an Assassin’s Creed game that brings all of the Assassin's together?
A: Not really sure about it, that’d be fun to have them all in one game and be able to choose the one we want to get his/her specific feature.
All that I know is that Assassin’s Creed franchise has still a long way to go …
Check out Sebastien's latest character animation demo reel below.
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