Team Focus – Matthew Lake Feb 28 - Tosh

Animation Means To Invoke Life, Not To Imitate It. -Chuck Jones

This week we’re sitting down with Matthew Lake our Lead Animator here on Installation 01, you may know him from his fantastic work on the Cinematic Trailer from May 2017. Now that formality is out of the way, let’s get to know him a little better with a quick Q&A.

Firstly, tell us about yourself Matt; where are you from and how old were you when you discovered that you wanted to be an Animator?

Hello All! So yeah, my name is Matthew Lake, I’m from England and I am a technical animator currently working in my first job within the games industry (Yaay!).

Looking back I don’t think there is a single moment in time when I was younger where I thought “yes, from this day forth I will be an animator”, it was a gradual process, and things just fell into place more perfectly than I could have hoped for. Since I was little I’ve always had the passion for storytelling, be it making silly little comic books, Macromedia flash animations or stop-motion films - I always had a love for storytelling. It wasn’t until I begun creating machinima content in games like Halo, Gears, and Call of Duty when I became involved with Machinima.com, becoming a director and creating content that was displayed in front of millions of people that I found what I loved to do. I’ve helped on some amazing machinimas like The Forgotten Spartans created by Darknal, worked alongside the likes of BS Angel and Drift0r on Gift of Mercy, and talented VFX boys like jimbothy and AVCOM productions from back in the machinima days (Jimbothy is still going strong!).

Back then we were all a tight knit community, always wanting to drive each other forward always wanting to improve our last piece of work and blow it out of the water in every regard from cinematography, editing, script writing etc. In hindsight, back in the beginning of the Halo 3 era of machinimas, it was super simple to create high-quality content before we all begun to learn After Effects… Then it was a downward spiral of wanting more and more with each video… colour correction… then composite explosions… then lens flares… then we all ended up getting 3D assets. I’ve always adored Halo as a medium for narrative storytelling, not just in its own universe (which is incredible), but the toolsets given to the end-user to create their own unique story. You have the ability to tell an equally epic Halo-esk tale of Spartans been abandoned on a ring and having to fight an armada of amazing composited elites on avalanche, or you could have a opposite spectrum story of two action figures that come to life and play the game that they are from.

However animation is a different beast altogether, while in Halo you can run, jump, shoot, throw grenades etc. and you can tell so much story from that alone, but the nuance, character and sheer amount of storytelling that can be derived from animating actions is just fascinating. It’s what made me fall in love with it. Go watch the Disney Character Study for Big Hero 6, where each character has to walk into a room - you’ll understand what I mean.

You have quite the background in Animation, Are you formally trained or are you self-taught?

I guess I’m a bit of both - fortunately for me, I discovered I wanted to follow animation as a career before even leaving high school. So knowing what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to be, I dove headfirst into academic studies for animation to give me the appropriate training, skills and a scrap of paper to say I knew somewhat about animation!

But yeah, my early years were 100% self-taught - trial and error and just brute forcing my way through 3D, but I eventually went to college and university where I acquired my degree in animation. However I wouldn’t say that I am “formally trained” - university studies are heavily self-taught courses, they give you the time and resources to learn your chosen craft, they don’t magically make you an animator/artist/programmer by just sole attendance, you really get out what you put in.

You're absolutely right, nothing ever just magically comes to anyone, you get out what you put into it. That being said, would you say that a degree is necessary to pursue a career in Animation? And what advice would you give people that want to start?

This is one of those weird questions where you seem to find everyone on polar opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t personally think it is a “requirement” per say, but I would absolutely encourage anyone thinking about it - I wouldn’t have had the time to dedicate to the refinement of this craft without taking up a degree in animation, nor do I think I would have landed myself in the incredible job I have today.

Just some things to consider, I’d say start out by looking at the companies you’d like to work at some day - look at their job application forms, and the requirements for said role. Nine times of out ten, it’s probably going to request some form of animation or relevant degree, and some experience working in the field.

Now, does that mean you 100% need a degree to get an animation job? No, probably not - There are a lot of people in my studio that don’t have degrees in their field, there is even one gem at my company whom was mid-way into his education and was offered a job here and he ended up leaving education to work full time (How awesome!). This just shows you do not need a degree to break into the industry. I think at the end of the day it all comes down to the person at hand, if you are super talented, then you’ll get hired regardless, but having the scrap of paper that says you know to at least a respectable amount about your field versus a person who doesn’t have that scrap of paper - you’re probably more likely to get the job.

I personally think a degree is more than just that though, because not only does it showcase that you know what you are talking about, it shows your love and drive for your field, it shows your work ethic, your commitment of working for years towards a single goal, working in teams on a variety of projects and adhering to real-world briefs with tight deadlines and to come out the other side of all that still wanting to do that for a living? Well, I personally think that speaks volumes.

As for people wanting to start in animation - Jump right in! Honestly, just do something - anything at all! I get a lot of people on Discord messaging me asking where should you start with animation, what programs should you use etc. Maybe make a gameplay walk cycle, or do a couple of shots of a mock film - anything to get you started, then it will snowball into endless possibilities. Just always evaluate your work. When you are done with a piece, look at it, rip it apart, look at its faults, where you had problems during production, what you could've done better, then move on to the next project and apply all those skills to your next project. Also, try not to get stuck redoing the same piece of work over and over again. It’s an endless cycle, just move on. As for applications for animation, there are many available, free applications like Blender are a good place to start, or if you are in education, you can get student licenses for 3D Studio Max or Maya. We utilise 3D Studio Max on Installation 01.

That's all wonderful advice jam-packed with knowledge and insights into the process of starting a career in Animation, thank you very much for sharing that with us. Now I know you touched on it earlier with your beginnings in Halo machinima, I have to ask, what would you say inspired you to give your amazing talent to help make this project come alive?

I recall many moons ago when the “WERE BACK” trailer for Installation 01 launched - I saw the video over on Reddit and instantly fell in love with what the team were doing and had been able to produce at the time - especially some of the artwork by the beautiful Mr Perlind. At the time while they had their first-person animations pretty much nailed, they did seem to be lacking in the character animation department (third-person animations), which is one of my fortays, so I reached out to the team, specifically Bean, asking if I could aid the production with any of my skills and I was shortly brought onto the team as a technical animator responsible for sorting the rigs and tools, pipelines and character animations. We’ve come a long way since then.

The "We're Back" trailer ey? That's quite a long time, how would you describe working on Installation 01 throughout your stay here in one sentence?

In one sentence? That’s a lot of pressure. "It looks off."

Nailed it.

Perfect. Outside of your career and Installation 01, what do you do with your free time?

In the very little free time I have the privilege of having between working a full-time job and Installation 01, I mostly spend it with the people I love - friends and family. I don’t play many games these days, considering I have a 9-5 job-making games rather than playing them now, but I always make sure I save time for those special games like my latest was Mario Odyssey - Scratch that, I got a SNES Mini for Christmas, so Yoshi’s Island has been front and centre constantly!

That's the bane of making great games; It leaves very little time to play them! As always, I have one last question for you Mr Lake, even though you don't find the time to play anymore, What's your Ultimate Halo match?

oooo… Halo Reach Beta, Headhunter, on Swordbase. Fond memories. Not necessarily the Ultimate Halo match, but definitely one of the best memories multiplayer wise in the franchise.

Well, I'd like to thank you for sitting down with me today Matthew, It was fun! If you'd like to follow Matthew Lake and his work you can visit his Website and follow him over on Twitter @Chrisnepts if you have any questions yourself.

Until we meet again,

Tosh

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