Game Changer: Fullbright Animator Noël Clark Talks Small Companies vs. Freelance, Challenging Experiences, & Advancements in Animation
Welcome to the seventh installment in our new series, Game Changer! Because it’s important to signal boost the work of women in the games industry (especially lately), we’ll be interviewing the awesome, brave, and talented women who bring their voices to indie and mainstream game development. Check out previous entries!
This week we sat down with Noël Clark (@nwelli), animator at Fullbright and freelance illustrator, to discuss her experiences so far in the games industry!
Emma Fissenden (TMS): Can you tell me a bit about your journey? How did you end up where you are today? What prompted your initial entry into the gaming industry?
Noël Clark: I’ve been fortunate to have grown up in a family of artists, surrounded by creativity and artistic encouragement since I was a child. Out of high school, I first pursued a Biology degree at the University of Washington, but within a few years found myself drawn to the Production Animation field at Digipen Institute of Technology in Redmond, WA. I was originally interested in traditional background painting for 2D animated films, but my goals eventually shifted as I learned more about 3D tools and production pipelines for both film and games. I began illustrating children’s books while at Digipen, and did freelance work for Nation 9, a small start-up focused on creating interactive children’s novels, as a concept artist and animator. During my junior year at Digipen, I was offered an internship at Microsoft Game Studios, and was hired there after graduation. During my time at Microsoft, I worked on several games leading up to the November 2013 release of the Xbox One, some of which include: Forza 5, Ryse: Son of Rome, Project Spark, Powerstar Golf, Quantum Break and Fable Legends. Last August, I saw an animation position open up at Fullbright, I applied, and now here I am!
TMS: Can you describe what your role as an animator at Fullbright involves? What’s an average kind of day for you? How does your role there compare to your freelance illustration work?
Clark: When you work on a team as small as Fullbright, your title rarely encompasses all that you do in a given day. As the animator at Fullbright, I oversee a majority of the rigging and animation, and also have had the opportunity to learn a lot of new things as well. At this stage in production, my day usually involves some amount of research, testing, and implementation coupled with some amount of animation and/or rigging. Although it’s sometimes challenging, it has been really rewarding to take on some of these new tasks and expand my skillset in the game development pipeline.
My role at Fullbright is quite different from my freelance illustration work. Although I have had the opportunity to provide some visual development for the team, most of my work is rather technical and involves a decent amount of research into how we can reach our visual targets. When animating, however, there is a connection to my illustration work in that each shot, each pose, is designed. My favorite aspects of both animation and illustration is telling a story or capturing a moment, and using design to help support it.
TMS: Can you comment on your plans for your own future, and also where you hope the future of the gaming industry might be headed?
Clark: Right now our focus is on getting Tacoma polished and released. I’m not thinking too specifically beyond that, aside from the general goal of honing my skills in illustration and animation.
The video game industry is in a strange, exciting place right now. On one hand, it’s hard to ignore that gamers and developers alike are feeling oppressed and defensive, and this culture is leading to an increasingly polarized (and polarizing) environment. There’s this idea out there—and it’s an inaccurate one—that games can (or should) be only one thing, and anything that questions or challenges that definition should be routed out. This is not a healthy mindset for any creative medium, and more importantly for culture in general.
On the positive side, digital distribution has opened the floodgates for all kinds of neat games that wouldn’t have existed even ten years ago—games like Gone Home, obviously, and the stuff that Nina Freeman [another member of the Fullbright team] is doing. These small, personal projects are breathing new life into an industry that was becoming increasingly cynical and profit-driven. Even through all of the hateful and destructive actions of a few, we’re still seeing amazing, life-affirming projects revealed every day. That doesn’t make the other stuff okay, but it does give you hope for the future.
TMS: Do you have any advice for people—especially women—who might be considering a career in games? What’s one thing you wished the younger you would have known?
Clark: First and foremost, become comfortable learning and motivating yourself independently of school lessons or projects. There are so many resources out there—online classes, workshops, local artists and developers, et cetera—that you can build a strong foundation just by utilizing these resources. Also, as an artist your portfolio is what will get you the job, not necessarily the degree you have. There are a lot of advantages to going to a traditional 4-year college, but they are often expensive and may prevent passionate artists from getting started. The technology in the industry is constantly changing, and it’s important to stay in touch with the current tools/techniques of the day. Even now, I seek out new online art and animation courses whenever I have the opportunity.
TMS: Can you talk about anything really difficult you’ve had to overcome both as an Animator and as a woman in the games industry?
Clark: At the start of my career, I struggled a lot with working in a three-dimensional space, as well as the technical side of working as a 3D animator. As I mentioned earlier, I had initially gone to school with the hopes of working as a traditional artist in the 2D animation industry. I spent a lot of time in school struggling with working in 3D programs (3DS Max and Maya), occasionally even developing motion sickness from doing my homework. As I continued to practice, I learned to see these programs as tools—not unlike a new kind of brush or canvas—and that all of the 2D design and animation principles I understood so intuitively still applied in 3D. The more I learned about these tools, the more I was able to enjoy working with them. Now there are so many resources online to reference when I’m stuck or have questions, and it has actually become a fun challenge to solve the more technical hurdles when I encounter them.
TMS: Quick fire questions! Favourite game you’ve worked on?
TMS: Three favourite games of the past year?
Clark: Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Broken Age Part 1.
TMS: Of all time?
Clark: Donkey Kong Country.
TMS: First game you played?
Clark: Super Mario World.
TMS: Coffee or Tea?
Clark: Morning coffee, afternoon tea. :)
Emma Fissenden is a writer of all trades. When she’s not pushing through her next rewrite, she’s playing too many games and editing fiction at @noblegasqrtly. You can find her on Twitter @efissenden, or check out her other series for TMS, Bad Gamer.
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