Animex Festival, education done right

Animex Festival in Middlesbrough reached its 20th year of bringing video games and animation professionals for epic meetings with the next generation. To many more!

Howdy, folks!
I’m Daniel Vijoi, Art Director at AMC Games and my story starts with the invitation we’ve received for doing a presentation at Animex Festival 2019, May 13 to 17, organised by Teesside University Middlesbrough.

I couldn’t be happier to see this gigantic bottle.
Reaching Animex was quite a quest.
One hour delay of the Bucharest-London flight and I missed the London-Newcastle transfer. Then my luggage got lost.
You can find Star Wars printed T-shirts everywhere, but not my self signed painting I brought for the auction the fest organizers made for raising money to help disadvantaged kids wanting to study the arts.
Each speaker brought something for this cause. 
The luggage arrived with the next plane. And so my beloved artwork. Hopefully they’ll love it too. And pay good money to buy it and kids get just enough education to be the next Banksys or whoever they want to become. They’re very much helped in finding their ways.
This series of unfortunate delays and I’ve lost the first day of the festival.

Video games shops everywhere!

Teeside’s building story starts in 1877 when Alfred Waterhouse, also London’s Natural History Museum architect, designed their high school premises. Afterwards it became Constantine Technical College, and Teesside University in 1969. In the past years they’ve spent over 270 million pounds for making students’ lives just awesome here.
Jonathan, the student that volunteerly picked me up at the airport, told me they regularly invest in new software, painting materials, hardware updates once at two years, so as logistics issues don’t stay against students’ development.

The Europa Building hosting the festival is shelter to 19 000 students each year. Posters with the festival everywhere, each year a different logo.
It’s the 20 years anniversary for Animex this year and the logo’s dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci. The students designed the logo.

19,30, nobody on the streets.

For sure they’re all having a big party somewhere else.
Suddenly a poney drawn carriage with three kids breaks the silence.
What could you wish for more at their age other than a deserted city, 0 cops around, and your own super speed vehicle?

Each street on my way to the hotel seems like from a video game’s map.
I hear a Bob Marley tune from inside “Turtle Bay”, a Jamaican caribbean restaurant. ‘Here’s where’s the party at!’ I say to myself.

Seriously, guys, where’s everybody?

Cross the street to Turtle Bay is the City Hall, an exquisite building dating 1889, just 100 metres away from the hotel.

Waiting outside for the first presentation to start, I’ve met its owner, Ciaran Daly, from Sony London Studio, credited for “Blood & Truth”.

His presentation theme was working with outsourcers and how their studio optimize their colaborations through efficient work processes.
Guess what’s my topic? Working with devs as a co-dev.
☯️ Yin & yang, friends!
From his exposé I get the validation we’re on the same page. He states that communication is vital between the two parties and it’s more convenient to share tools and technologies, the same task management software and so on. Don’t treat the vendor as a hard to access remote studio but as an extension of your company. Couldn’t agree more!

The next presentation was a very emotional one, Elin Festøy from Teknopilot shared with us the story of “My Child Lebensborn”, winner of this year’s BAFTA Award for Game Beyond Entertainment.
Set in Norway in the 1950s after World War II, this mobile game tells the story of children born of occupying soldiers and occupied mothers and what happend to those kids after the peace treaties have been signed and the soldiers have gone home.
Around 12,000 of these children were born in Norway. In some cases, these children, many of whom had been taken from their mothers to be raised in one of nine specialist SS homes in the country, were given up for adoption.
After more than half a century since the war, Elin tells us that prejudice regarding the Children of War is still alive in the former occupied countries and this game’s mission is to raise awareness and empathy.
The game was developed by norwegian Teknopilot in collaboration with Sarepta Studios.

I was scheduled after Mini Animex, a half an hour exposure on the career of Andrew Willans, Design Director of Sumo Digital Newcastle, talking about top tips for Designers and Portfolio mistakes.

The Presentation

13,30, my time to get on stage. Mixed feelings, *insert here any Placebo refrain*. First talk in English for an audience, hopefully, interested in my sayings, that’s why they are here, all eyes on me. Yes! A bottle of water! This will save the day! And I hit the road to their hearts.
My talk was about “Tips and Tricks in Art Co-Development”, on our relationships with our clients, how we manage our collaborations and my top five tips and tricks to improve the experience with a client.

The audience, mostly students from Teesside, also some professionals and some other people that wanted to learn more about gaming.
They were receptive, having played lots of the games we’ve worked at.
I finished earlier so I can let more room for Q&A. A bit challenging to understand all the questions due to the strong accent of the public. The further you go to the north of England, the more you’ll hear interesting accents.
I guess their cheering at the end was a good sign.
After the presentation, some of them even said hi and that they’ve learned a lot, as they don’t usually have too much input from the Co-Developers side. They’re rather used with developer talk and they only impression was that outsourcers are somewhere in China and India and there is some fuzzy image about this.

Lots of business cards handed out and received from the students. I’ve learned about what they are studying and how much input they have from their teachers. Many of them are former artists from the industry, so they have the maximum of input and training coming directly from the games industry.

After the break, Gareth Harwood from Playground Games presented the technology behind the art of Forza Horizon 4, an awesome open world racing game located in England. A lot of valuable insights from their engine, how they innovate with finding new ways of properly doing the paint on their cars, how they reuse the same tracks over different seasons and weather and so on.
Other thing that fascinated me was how they create their amazing skies which are photographed and filmed from real life for 24 hours or so in 360 HDR so they can have the most realistic animated skies you’ve ever seen.

The last talk was from Robert Coddington, Director of Animation at Insomniac Games, presenting their animation work for Marvel’s Spider Man PS4 game cinematics and trailers.
Highly energetic, charming the audience, especially to those studying animation. Lots of content, 100+ slides and 10 movies from the final shots, with mo-cap side-by-side and in-Maya animations. It was new to me all of this, I found it refreshing, this was my favorite talk. 
He also presented his much loved team, about their management approach and schemes. He was proud in creating everything related with these cinematics in house, they only externalized the facial animation.

At the end of the day and the festival, Animex Project Manager Tim Brunton invited all the speakers for dinner at “The Oven”. There I met some peeps at Rockstar and Santa Monica Studio. Awesome gang!

Around 21:00 I headed for one last walk around the center and the hotel and prepare myself for the morning flight. I was about to wake up at 4 and needed to go to sleep early.
I reached my destination without any incidents this time. 

It truly was an amazing experience, great entourage, interesting learnings, but what I was impressed most was how much these teachers are doing for their students. How much input they have from their teachers, former video gaming and animation professionals, and all the technical and artistic support they get from the University. 
Bravo, Teeside!

I can’t stop comparing with our education projects back home.
This only motivates me to do more for students here in Bucharest, to help them get access to valuable insights from our artists working in the game industry for a long time.

Remember my misterious painting? It was sold for £50 at the charity auction. That’s a full bullseye, that’s how they call it in UK!

Daniel Vijoi, Art Director at AMC Games
Reporting on Animex Festival 2019