We Interviewed David Martinez - Character Animator

Posted at Mar 14th, 2014 by AnimDesk.

David Martinez - Character Animator at TT Games

David Martinez was born Spain. He's been working and living in the UK for the last few years. After studying two years in IDEP, David was looking to specialize on Animation, but Spain wasn't about to let that happen due to in-availability.

Soon, after looking online on forums and websites, David read about AnimationMentor in an article that appeared on CGTalk. There he learned that AnimationMentor will open in a year and that got David intrigued to learn English to the best of his abilities.

David ended up graduating from AnimationMentor's "Advanced Studies in Character Animation" course. While studying David started working as an animator at Anera Films in Barcelona, which helped sharpen his animation skills even more. Ever since graduating, David continued learning animation on different online schools such as iAnimate and is now working at TT Games, working on games such as the LEGO franchise.

David Martinez - Character Animator at Traveller's Tales Games Studio

Thank you very much David Martinez for this interview

Thank you for having me. I’m always inspired by reading interviews and listening to Podcasts so it’s a real pleasure to be interviewed by AnimDesk.

Before we start, I’d like to state that the opinions expressed here are solely mine and not the ones of my current or previous employers.

Where are you from, and how do you summaries the growing up part?

I’m originally from Spain, although I have been living and working in the UK for the last few years. At the moment, I'm working at "Traveller's Tales" as a Technical Animator.

I’ve always been fascinated by storytelling in all its forms and as long as I can remember, my goal has always been to work on interesting and challenging projects that move people the same way that I've been moved many times.

Did you use to draw a lot? What kind of Art did you like the most?

Yes! I used to draw a lot as I was growing up. If there was an empty space in a piece of paper, I would draw on it!

I was influenced by several different styles. I loved (and I still do) the art of Boris Vallejo, Carlos Pacheco and Luis Royo. Having said that, I always loved Japanese Manga as well. As for my own drawings, I used to draw in that last style.

For years, I kept a huge stack of drawings that I did throughout the years but I got rid of them all after I got a harsh comment from an Art Instructor. (A decision that I have regretted since then.)

Nowadays, I barely draw. If I do, I tend to use stick figures to try and get an idea across but that's about it.

Did you play a lot of games growing up? Did you go to the arcades?

Every time I’m asked that question I say that I did not play many games but looking back I realize that I played quite a lot!

I remember that one of the first games that I ran on a cassette and the device used to make the same noise as a dial-up modem. As annoying as that noise was, I don’t think it bothered me.

I remember going to the Arcades (especially during my summer breaks). I was addicted to Street Fighter II.

That game was one of the main reasons why I eventually ended up getting a Super Nintendo. (SNES.)

How and when did you realize that you wanted to become an Animator?

As you know, there are some people who have always known that they wanted to do animation. That was NOT my case. I knew that I wanted to be part of ‘The Magic’ of games and movies but I did not know what was involved in the creation of those.

At some point, a friend of mine, who is older than me, started experimenting with Computer Graphics and I was fascinated by the things that he was able to create, so I started doing the same. To give you an idea of how things were back then, we were still using MS-DOS as an operating system!

We knew that there was great potential on learning that new technology so we decided to embrace it. From that point on, every time we watched a movie that involved some kind of VFX, we would go back home and try to recreate it.

Although I did not know that I wanted to become an animator, I knew that my place belonged within the computer graphics industry.

Once I finished school, I was doing some research on schools in which I could learn more about computer graphics and I ended up going to a place in Barcelona called IDEP where they taught us how to use Maya.

During the first year, I was fortunate enough to have Lluis Llobera as a teacher. I had never seen anyone talking as passionately as he was talking about animation. The more he told me about it, the more I loved it. From that point onwards, there was no question about what I wanted to do.

Which art school did you go to? And what major did you take?

After spending two years at IDEP, I was looking for training specialized on Animation, but there was not much available in Spain, and studying abroad was not an option as I didn't speak English. (I actually remember telling my school teacher that I would never use English in my entire life! Who would have thought… huh?)

I started hunting down information about Animation from websites and forums. At that time, one of the best resources available was a forum called "CG-Char" which unfortunately, does not exist anymore.

I remember reading an article about Animation Mentor on CGTalk one year before they opened their doors… Although there are a few online Animation schools nowadays, AnimationMentor was the first of their kind. It seemed to be an opportunity that one gets once in a lifetime so I decided to spend a year (before AM opened) learning the language of Shakespeare.

During that year, I acquired what I would call a decent level of English. I was able to read English but I did not feel comfortable speaking it out loud. I applied to AnimationMentor and I was shocked when I discovered that I got accepted! (I was not sure if my English was going to be good enough.)

I remember watching the lectures over and over trying to distill what the mentors were talking about. It was quite hard but totally worth it! I ended up graduating from their Advanced Studies in Character Animation Course.

Before graduating I got my first job as an Animator but that didn't stop me from studying even more because I am a strong believer in the concept of continuous education.

That's the main reason why I came back to AnimationMentor when they announced their Animals & Creatures Masterclass. (I wanted to learn more about creature animation and working with live-action back plates). Likewise, I did a semester of iAnimate.net as I was trying to polish some rough edges on my Animation.

I have to admit that having a full time job and studying at the same time is difficult but definitely doable. I certainly don't have any regrets as I know that I have come a long way since I started.

What was the first studio/program you sent your reel to?

Anera Films in Barcelona, Spain.

One of my classmates at AnimationMentor got a job there and when he was asked if he knew anyone who might be interested in joining the team, he mentioned my name. He gave me a call and told me to send my reel to the company.

Since my initial plan was to put together a reel once I finished Animation Mentor, I did not have a reel at hand (We were in class 4 out of 6), so I spent the rest of the day putting together my best shots and I sent it across.

I ended up getting the job!

What was your first work you ever worked on professionally?

I was an animator at Anera Films working on a TV Series called Telmo & Tula: Little Cooks.

How did you end up Animating and working for TT Games?

After a few short term contracts in the Animation industry, I was, once again, looking for a job. At that time, there was not much going in Spain and I thought that I would probably have a better chance to get a job in the UK so I decided to move to London for a few months and try to apply within the country.

Most of the companies that I applied to replied to me saying that they were not looking for anyone at that given time. It was quite stressful because I was running out of money and without an offer, I would have to come back to Spain.

The same week that I was supposed to come back to Spain, I got an interview with Traveller's Tales and they offered me a position as a Character Animator so I packed my things and I moved to North-West England to work with them.

Which project(s) are you working on there? And what are you responsible for?

Even though that I can't say anything about the current project(s) being developed at Traveller's Tales, I can tell you which projects I've had the pleasure to work on:

  • LEGO® Indiana Jones 2
  • LEGO® Harry Potter: Years 1 to 4
  • LEGO® Batman 2
  • LEGO® Lord of The Rings
  • LEGO® City Undercover
  • LEGO®: Legends of Chima
  • LEGO® Marvel Superheroes
  • LEGO® Hobbit
  • LEGO® Batman: The Movie

Even though that my first role in the company was Cutscene Animator, I currently hold the title of Technical Animator.

As Technical Animators, our responsibility is to help the Animation team to get things working in the engine as well as creating new tools for them (both in Maya and Standalone Applications).

What are some of your favorite Projects you're proud to have been a part of at TT Games?

Given the fact that we get to work on such amazing IPs, it's difficult to pick any favorites, but I specially loved "LEGO Indiana Jones 2" and LEGO Marvel Superheroes.

David Martinez - Character Animator LEGO Marvel Superheroes "LEGO Marvel - © 2014 The LEGO Group. © MARVEL. ™ & © WBEI (s14)."

The first one was the first game that I've ever worked on and because of that is a project dear to my heart. The second one was a really fun project to be involved in because I love the Marvel Universe.

What was a typical day like for you with regard to your job? When do you wake up, when do you leave work? How many hours do you work a day?

I usually try and get to work by 7.00 and leave around 16.30. In order to do that, I wake up around 6 and leave for work around 6.20 or so.

I quite like to go early because it is quieter and it's easier to focus on a task without interruptions or meetings getting in the way. It also means that when you leave work, you still have time to do something with your evening.

Although this is the usual day, things might change when we are in crunch time.

How do you test your animations while the game is still in development?

All the animation is done using Maya. As for getting it to work in the game, you need to export your animations to a format that the game engine understands, then hook it to the game and check if the results are the desired ones. From that point onwards, it's just an iteration process.

David Martinez - Technical Animator Lego Marvel Super Heroes "LEGO Marvel - © 2014 The LEGO Group. © MARVEL. ™ & © WBEI (s14)."

What parts of animation do you like best and why? What makes it so unique to you?

Planning / Research: I love the process of looking at reference, breaking things down and understanding how something works/moves. The last thing you want is to have doubts once you start animating.

The end of Blocking: I also love that point in blocking in which you hit play and for the first time, the character feels alive! Up until that point, you've been looking at poses and trying to get an idea across but now it is different. Now it feels like it's not you pushing the character around, but the character itself taking decisions and doing something. To me this is highly rewarding.

Wha's your animation workflow look like when animating? Did it change throughout the years?

I think that I have a pretty standard workflow (but it works for me):

  • I either record video reference or I try to find some reference that I can use. (especially if the character is a creature or is doing something that I can't physically do.)
  • I don't do many thumbnails but I do a lot of research and I take a lot of notes (sometimes on top of the reference).
  • If I have time, I do a 2D version using my Wacom and a tool like Flipbook.
  • I create the story telling poses and then the main breakdowns.
  • From that point, instead of keep breaking down the poses, I tend to go straight ahead which allows me to get a more organic result.

Even though my workflow has changed a lot throughout the years, it's pretty stable nowadays. Having said that, I experiment with new ideas every now and then. (I just make sure not to do that in production!)

Do you add a lot of your feelings into the characters/shots that you animate? Can you give us an example?

I always try to do so!

There is one scene that I animated in "LEGO Marvel Superheroes" in which I had Spiderman, Thor, Ironman and Magneto.

It was great to look at each character personality and try to figure out what each character was feeling at that moment in time. Then, I tried to push it as much as possible while making sure that the scene was conveying the message in the clearest way possible.

Tell us a little about the tools that you are using (or used), what's your preferences? What are your favorite tools?

I got to work with Autodesk Maya, 3D Studio Max and Motion Builder.

Autodesk Maya is my favorite tool when it comes to Keyframe Animation. By the end of the day it all boils down to the tool that you feel more comfortable using.

If you had a chance to add or remove features from 3D animation software, what would it be? What is missing today in the industry that could make things much easier?

One of the things that we do as Technical Animators is to try and answer that same question. To me, one of the main goals is to make the life of the artists easier by providing them with tools that allow them to get the job done faster and without having to deal with the technical side of things.

Even though content creation tools have evolved a lot since they were born and they are more artist-friendly, there are some things that still require some "Techy Knowledge"…

One of the things that I love about Maya is how customizable the application is. That means that once you find a comfortable way of working, you can strip the interface to hide all those things that you never use. In addition to that, its functionality can be extended using scripting languages like MEL & Python or by accessing the API.

What is your favorite 2D and/or 3D animated film(s) and game(s), and why?

My favorite animated film is probably "My Neighbor Totoro". To me, that movie is a masterpiece and I can watch it over and over without getting tired of it.

As for games, I love those that are story driven (Such as the latest "Tomb Rider").

What are your thoughts about Japanese animation? Are you a fan or prefer good old American animation?

I've always loved Japanese animation. When I was a kid, pretty much all the TV Series I watched were Japanese. There was some American animation as well but not as much.

Nowadays, I think that I watch more American Animation than Japanese. Having said that, every time that Studio Ghibli releases a new movie, I run to the cinema to be the first one to watch it.

What was the most difficult part for you while being in the animation industry?

I used to freak out thinking that I would not finish my animations on time. As a result, I ended up skipping planning and jumping straight into animation because I felt that I needed more time to animate and if the planning I did didn't work, it would had been a waste of time.

It takes some discipline to trust your actions, specially when deadlines are looming.

Have you ever had a character that was too difficult to animate? Which project was that on?

Each character is different and has its own set of challenges but for me, the hardest characters are those that I've never animated before. It gets even trickier when the character is not human-like (a creature for instance).

Because of that, I need to do a lot of study and research in order to understand who they are, how they move etc. That's the fun part! (At least for me)

Who influenced you the most? Who is or was your ultimate animation mentor?

Two mentors that really influenced me are Lluis Llobera and Arslan Elver,

Both of them are extremely talented animators and they are great mentors as well. They are willing to share their knowledge and passion with other people and make sure to push their students to get the best of them!

2D vs. 3D what are your thoughts on this endless battle? Why people seem to be fighting over these media?

Personally, I don't understand why people keep arguing about that. The way I see it, those are different mediums and some stories work better in a specific medium. Same thing applies to other techniques like Stop Motion or Cut-Out.

I think that some people are just angry to see other mediums getting less attention. In any case, I believe that there is room for all of them. It just depends on the story being told. :-)

Doing games animation, which you think in your opinion is more fun: Games, or film?

To me, those are two different beasts. The challenges, constrains and limitations that an animator faces on games are different from the ones of one working in Film.

As for which one is more fun, it depends on the personality of the animator and his/her priorities.

Did you use to own a game console in the past? Which did you love the most?

I've had a few game consoles throughout the years. Game Gear, Master System, Super Nintendo, Playstation 2 and Xbox 360. I guess that I will be getting a next-gen console at some point as well! :-)

Have you thought about creating your own game? The thought of doing an indie game crossed your mind?

As cool as that sounds, I prefer to stay focused doing what I really love which is Animation and Tech Art. I feel that If I was going to create a game, I would have to learn so many things that I would not be able to keep doing the ones I love.

As they usually say... Jack of all trades, master of none.

What are your thoughts of indie game developers? Do they deserve more credit than say, big budget companies?

In my opinion, Indie Game Developers and big budget companies have different objectives.

The objective of Indie Developers tends to be to create something that they would like to play and that, at the same time, is an expression of themselves.

Big Budgets companies, on the other hand, usually aim to create something that appeals to a large number of people.

I admire Indie Developers for doing what they do, but I don't think it's a matter of getting credit. By the end of the day, each individual decides in which side of the equation he/she wants to be.

What do you prefer most, digital animation or traditional animation?

I prefer digital animation but purely because I don't have the skill-set necessary to animate traditionally. In order to get the best of your animation, you need to feel comfortable with the tools and I feel comfortable with the computer.

If you could go back to the past, would you change anything in the way you've been doing animation? Anything that could make you become a better animator?

I would spend more time studying three things:

  • What makes something appealing
  • Cinematography
  • Anatomy (As it is relevant to CG artists as well!)

I would also make sure to focus less on technique and more on the entertainment value. Technique takes time to master but it doesn't mean much if the artist doesn't have a voice.

Do you hang out with your animation colleagues from work? Meeting after work hours?

From time to time, we meet and go for a few drinks or a meal. Specially if the weather is good!

Do you find yourself playing a game that you've been a part of? How does it feel? Do you criticize some of the shots/parts of the work you've done?

Absolutely! I love playing the games that I've been part of!

I tend to leave some time before finishing a project and actually playing it. Even though you contributed to the creation of the game, there are a lot of things that you haven't had the chance to play with during development so it feels great.

I usually find myself looking at scenes that I animated and thinking of the things that I could have done. I think that all creative people do that to some extent. Even though that you can't change what you did in the past, it is possible to learn from your mistakes and try to make it better the next time around. :-)

How do you balance between work and personal life? Creating titles must be overwhelming and challenging

I try to draw a line between work and personal life. It is important to find things that fulfil you and pursue those when you are on your own time so your life does not become "Work Work Work..."

For the last few years, I've noticed that by the time that I get home, the last thing that I want to do is sit in front of a computer. (I probably spend enough hours sitting in front of one).

Tell us about the time you've spent at Animation Mentor, how did you end up tutoring there?

At some point, Animation Mentor was looking for tutors so I applied and they accepted me.

As a tutor, I was having a weekly video conference with a group of students in order to help them to improve their animations as well as answering possible questions that they may have about animation or the week's assignment.

Do you think it's important to direct a student to the right direction instead of letting him "find his own way"?

Even though that finding your own way is important I think that direction is absolutely key. In most cases, that direction is a way to let the student find his way instead of forcing him into one.

What was the hardest part for you when helping, fixing, lecturing students?

To make them understand that it's OK to fail when you are a student. That's actually the best time to make mistakes!

Everybody wants to get things right the first time around but if you are going to make mistakes, it is better to make them when you are a student so you can learn from them before getting into the industry.

Tell the audience and us a little bit about your latest projects, what are you working on as for 2014?

I'm working on a wolf rig because I'd like to do more creature animation.

I'm also learning how to play the Ukelele. :-)

If you could choose to work with anyone from the industry (past or present) who would it be and why?

That's a tough one. There is a lot of people that I would like to work with but if I had to pick one I guess that it would be Glen Keane.

I love how he is able to communicate so much even when he uses rough drawings. Here is an excellent example:

To me, the fact that he has the ability to communicate with rough drawings demonstrates that he has been able to distil the essence of the action he is portraying. That, by itself, is an amazing skill.

Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation business?

For those trying to break into the industry for the first time, I would tell them that they should not reject an offer just because it comes from a small/unknown company. Experience is important! It's also the best way to get a real sense of the industry and start networking with other artists.

It is also important to understand that when you are the newest member of a team, youmight haveto do some of the tedious tasks. That's fine and you should not take it personally.

Be proactive! Don't wait until people ask you to do something! People love to work with people like that and it is in your best interest to be remembered as an active member of the team and not the one that does not move a finger unless he's asked to do so.

Once you get a job it is important not to get comfortable. Seek a mentor so you can keep learning and growing! Sometimes that mentor exists within the job environment and in some other cases you might want to look for it somewhere else.

I think that the best piece of advice that I can give is... Getting a job is not an easy task. Perseverance is key!