Thursday, June 22, 2006

10 Quick With Andrew Burke

Welcome to the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing series of interviews with 3D artists throughout the industry. I hope that people learn from these Q&A sessions, and share them with others as well.

Andrew Burke is our first participant, and he provides some great insight into the world of TV, Movies and Games. With credits that include, "The Ant Bully," "Jimmy Neutron," and most recently, the new Half Life 2 episodic expansions, Andrew has acquired a great deal of experience.

So let's get this thing rolling!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you break into the business?

My name is Andrew Burke and I’m a character animator currently working at Valve Software in Seattle. I’ve been in this industry for almost 8 years now, with most of my experience being in film and television. I’ve recently made a switch into games after wrapping up on my latest project “The Ant Bully” at DNA.

Jurassic Park is to blame for my career choice. I was always a sucker for a good creature feature, I grew up on old Ray Harryhausen films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans. It really wasn’t till Jurassic Park though, that I was floored by how realistic creature FX could be. I new after watching that movie I wanted to do CG animation for a living.

I had no idea how to break into this industry. Being in Halifax, Nova Scotia I was so tucked away from it all I had no clue as to what would be the appropriate path. After a strange detour as an on air production assistant in radio, I finally found a local school that had a digital media program. I graduated top of my class and ended up getting hired by a smaller local studio called Cage Digital which unfortunately has since closed it’s doors. I was paid next to nothing and loved every minute of it. Luckily with every project I’ve been able to grow artistically opening more and more doors leading me to where I am today.

2. Which of your work are you most proud of?

Funny story. I hate everything I do. I wouldn’t hire me. I leave work some nights depressed at the crap that I’ve spent the entire day keying. Fortunately, I’m my worse critic, people seem to like the work that I do and I end up staying employed. Out of all my work I think the shot that I am most proud of is the snippet in the teaser trailer for “Ant Bully”. I just had a lot of enjoyment doing it and I think I created a fun emotional arc within the piece. Give me a few more months though and I’ll probably hate it.

I also did a few short films back in high school I dig up every so often to embarrass myself by showing people. “Star Wieners” The entire Star Wars trilogy retold with Hot Dog puppets. I think it fits into a “so bad it’s good” category. If you’re a reader of Toy Fair I won first place in the design a Star Wars toy contest they held a few years back with the cast. God I’m a dork, it’s such a lame thing to be proud of.

3. What are the main tools and/or programs you use to create your work?

I use Maya now but I’m a firm believer that it’s the artist that’s important not the tools. This is such an evolving industry tools will change. Hell you could be a Maya guru lose your job and end up getting hired into a Lightwave shop. Focus on your skills and allow yourself to be adaptable to the ever changing technology.

4. What's a typical day in your life like?

The great part about working at Valve is there really isn’t a typical day. We run off of a flat management system so I don’t go to work get handed a list of stuff to do and report back when it’s done. Everyone is equal, there’s no directors, no manager’s, just a group of talented people making kick ass games. There’s a lot of involvement in the development process from everyone, which is fairly new and exciting to me coming from film. I love sitting in meetings being able to contribute to idea’s that may be used in the product we’re developing. It’s a nice change from the dictatorship of film and TV.

5. Who or what are some of your artistic influences?

I really can’t say that I’ve had a big influence from any one individual. There are animators whom I have an appreciation of there work, but I really can’t say that I’ve tried to emulate anyone in particular. I think I’ve mostly been influenced by films that I’ve seen. It’s that wow factor in some shots and performances that just blows my mind and sits in the back of my head for the rest of my life to draw inspiration from.

I have such an eclectic taste in film there’s a smorgasbord of inspiration to draw from. Jurassic Park, The Red Line, Mean Creek, Steamboy, Bambie, Night of the Living Dead, Nightmare Before Christmas, Goonies, The Birds, Twister, FLCL, Wonderboys, T2, Rushmore, Time Bandits, Best in Show, Rock n Rule, Thank you for Smoking, Josie and the Pussycats, Toy Story 2, Iron Giant, Stevie, ah the list just goes on and on.
Comics are huge for me as well. I love the story’s of Walking Dead, Invincible, Powers and Y the Last Man. For comic book artists you really can’t beat Humberto Ramo’s sense of style. God he rocks, I miss his Spiderman. Ok I guess you caught me. I named one influential name.

6. Would you say that you're a 3D artist who dabbles in 2D from time to time, or a 2D artist who happens to work in 3D?

I’ve actually been pretty bad as of late and hung up the pencil for a bit. I used to draw a lot but lately I just haven’t had the time. Being married with dogs doesn’t leave one with a lot of downtime once you get home from the office. I do sit down and doodle every now and then still. Unfortunately I’m more of a 3D artist now who dabbles in 2D less then he would like.

7. What are 3 of the best things about your job, and what are 3 of the worst?

Don’t want to answer this. I really don’t want to bitch about my job online.

8. You recently made the switch from film to videogames. I've heard from people that the film business isn't all it's cracked up to be, as you can spend months animating a set of curtains. What was the reason for you personally to make the switch?

To tell you the truth I really didn’t want to make a switch into games until I talked to Valve. I really thought of it as a step back until I saw what this studio is doing and what they have planned for the future. It’s an exciting place to be involved with filled with so much talent. I’m working with animators from Disney, Weta, Sony, ILM. It really feels more like an all star film team then your typical game group. Funny story, I actually had an opportunity at Pixar which I turned away to come here. Crazy but true.

Games are evolving. There’s a lot of quality stuff being done. Look at the cinematics of Blizzard, Square or Capcom. Beautiful stuff. Or the performances in Jak and Dax. Incredibly fun. Working on a film can be great. Being a 3D animator on a CG feature is very rewarding. I do think people need to be open to exploring other opportunities though. There are a lot of great jobs to be had all over this industry. I think so many people have there mind set on the glory of feature film and sometimes that sort of leads to tunnel vision in there career choices. Don’t be afraid to explore other opportunities. You may find that hidden gem of a job. Personally I’d rather be doing character performance in game cinematics then animating a tentacle on Doc Oc. But hey, that’s just me.

9. How was your experience working in television land (Jimmy Neutron) vs film (Ant Bully)?

I consider TV animation to be the equivalent to boot camp. On Jimmy there were weeks we were banging off 1000 frames a week. You learn pretty quickly how to effectively use your time to deliver a believable performance. You just have to chose your battles. It’s a lot of fun though despite all the work. You usually get tons variety in your shots every week and more input into the performance choices.

Film felt more like being in catholic school. Everything is held under a microscope with a slap on the wrist with the ruler every time you do something wrong. You get a lot more time to do your shots but you focus on so much more detail it’s almost as challenging as having the ridicules frame count. One nice thing is you have way more time to plan, which I loved. I would spend a good day before tacking a shot filming myself in the acting room, sketching out poses and letting myself get into the scene. I couldn’t do that in TV and usually had to jump right into the work. I found the pre-planning really helped in delivering a more honest performance. It was defiantly fun working on the movie, and I was a lot happier with the shots I did on Ant Bully then Jimmy.

10. I notice you have an Xbox 360 avatar on your site. What game are you currently finding that you play the most?

Right now I’m sort of in limbo waiting for any good games to come out for the 360. I’m a fan of story driven titles like Resident Evil or Final fantasy and those are sort of lacking at the moment. I have Burnout, Fight Night Round 3, Tomb Raider, GRAW, Kameo, and Perfect Dark 0 on the plate. Looks like the next title that I may buy is Dead Rising.

Luckily I still have my PC, PS2, PSP, and DS to keep me gaming. Guitar Hero, World of Warcraft (4 Level 60’s, ya I’m a dork), New Super Mario, Kingdom Hearts, Brain Age and Daxter are all keeping my thumbs in shape.

Again, I want to extend a huge "THANK YOU!" to Mr. Burke for agreeing to answer hese questions. Please feel free to leave a comment and let him know what you thought, or swing on over to his website and check out some more of his amazing work!


Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Berke is turbo awesome!

Dave Johnson said...

You are correct. Mr. Burke is fantastic! Thanks again to him for taking the time to answer my silly questions!

Anonymous said...

my name is andrew burke too and i found your name one day looking in a left for dead manual