What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Ben McSweeney, and I’m currently a Senior Artist (Cinematics Director) at Vigil Games (THQ).
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Used to set up Moon Bounces at parties, that was kinda wacky (part teamster, part carnie). Driving a Range Rover for a live zoo tour would probably be next weirdest.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Red vs Blue Animated was a high point, I got to draw lots of fun gun-action and aliens, and it was nice to work on an established IP like the Halo series. And of course there’s Darksiders II, which is coming out this August.
How did you become interested in animation?
It’s always been something I’ve enjoyed watching, and when I pursued a career as an illustrator I found that traditional animation was a natural fit for me.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I grew up in Tampa, FL. I got into the business through a local production studio there called Humouring the Fates, Inc. I spent about ten years working through as many aspects of the production process as I could learn, but eventually I settled into storyboard/layout and frame production work. When I left in 2011 I was the Lead Animator, mostly keyframing and occasionally ‘tweening.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
As a Cinematics Director I tend to spend most of my time reviewing and assisting the animators (both outsource and in-house) in their production. I focus on camera composition and narrative consistency, as well as coordinating with the Game Director and Producers to ensure we’re delivering what they want to see in the game. Towards the end of the production cycle I’ve been able to get a bit more hands-on, establishing cameras for NPC dialog strings.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love seeing good work come together. As a director you spend more time in overwatch, trying to herd lots of variable elements into place to create a consistent whole. When it all snaps together and looks beautiful, that’s a sweet sensation.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I miss the hands-on aspects of animation production. There’s too many pieces in motion for me to actively take part in the production of content, and moreover (because my background is primarily in traditional, hand-drawn animation) when it comes to the production of 3D content the animators on staff are better trained and equipped to do that hands-on work. It means that I have to work harder at communicating rather than simply doing, and that can be frustrating sometimes.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Max, AfterEffects, Photoshop and the DS2 game engine itself. As an illustrator and even as a “traditional” animator, I made the switch to digital production many years ago. There’s a certain nostalgic quality to the old light-table discs and paper bond, but it doesn’t outweigh the massive benefits in working with a digital canvas. “Undo” alone is a magic trick that never gets old, and Layering is so much more effective. Also, I don’t miss the heat of the table lamps in the summer.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Being part of a larger corporate entity is a new dynamic that’s taken some time to get used to, but I enjoy the benefits that come with it as well as the challenges.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I’ve met Monkey Punch, the original creator of “Lupin III” when I worked on a short piece of Lupin-themed animation… though technically he’s a comics artist, not an animator. But that’s only a degree or two separate from Hayao Miyazaki, who directed the best Lupin TV episodes as well as the best Lupin movie, and then went on to become an animation rockstar. Hey, I takes what I can gets.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I was semi-homeless for a while, when I was 18/19 years old, living in a leaky shotgun shack with intermittent water/electricity when I couldn’t find a couch to crash on. I’ve slept on rooftops and picnic tables in the park. I wouldn’t recommend it.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I love to read novels, especially genre fiction (scifi, fantasy, and crime). I’ve worked as a concept artist and interior illustrator for Brandon Sanderson (who’s probably best known for wrapping up the late Robert Jordan’s mega-epic “Wheel of Time” series), helping him to visualize his “Mistborn” and “Stormlight” novels. They’re an incredible amount of fun to develop. There’s a 350+ page graphic novel that I illustrated while working at Fates called “Joe is Japanese” that I hope sees the light of day soon. You can check out some of it at www.joeisjapanese.com
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I can, in fact, tie a cherry stem with my tongue, provided it’s long enough. I can also roll a coin across my knuckles, and I juggle (very poorly).
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
If you want to be a traditional animator, you need to be an effective and confident illustrator. Confident illustrators make competent animators. At any time you may be called upon to draw anything from any angle, so it’s vital that you be well-versed in Anatomy, Perspective and Composition. Don’t neglect the basics of “realistic” drawing because you can’t see how they apply to the way that you want to draw. They’re not lessons in “how to draw”, they’re lessons in “how to solve drawing problems”. When you master them, there’s nothing that you can’t handle.A