What is your name and your current occupation?
Hi everybody, my name is Virgil Mihailescu and I’m currently a character animator at The Creative Assembly, working on Rome 2 – Total War.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I had to buss tables and wait for dishes at the dish machine with my international student schoolmates (the only ones left around during the long boring summer in Bowling Green Ohio..). I then worked in catering when I was living in Chicago and had to serve the Romanian president (I’m Romanian btw) at some weird official breakfast meeting.. probably my life’s most epic achievement? :} And I worked one day in flooring but did the easier parts of this job, which is probably one of the most awful jobs invented by humans. And then I worked for a month remodeling an apartment, well.. just destroying it in fact… which included breaking a cast iron tub with a sledgehammer, which I found extremely satisfying and fun.. and a completely awful experience at the same time, if you can imagine that!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
The current one, Rome 2.. because working on the Total War series is a privilege, I think. And then I got to animate more animals than I ever animated before, and it’s such a cool project to be working on. And Tintin, which was for me my first project at Ubisoft and the first game I ever worked on, and, surprise of surprises, only 2 months into the project I was chosen team lead, or animation coordinator.. as it was officially called. Which, as you can imagine, came as an adrenaline shot and it also turned into one of the most challenging but also very exciting experiences.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Brasov, Romania, I started writing ‘novels’ and drawing ‘comic books’ when I was about 7 or 8 years old.. To better understand this.. you have to imagine that, in fact, my first novel had about 30 pages and probably half of them were drawings… and my characters were mostly traveling, eating, and sleeping (when they were not dealing with savage Indian tribes in the jungles of.. India). As a visual artist I’m self taught. But it so happens that.. half of my life I studied music. I did my undergrad and master studies in music composition. And then one day I sort of decided that being a ‘pure artist’ is something that the world doesn’t appreciate nearly as much as I’d like to, and that as a composer.. I’d probably starve and die. Yes, it took me 15 years to figure that out, don’t ask why. And then, more or less accidentally.. I saw some Siggraph videos when I was working for this contemporary music center at BGSU, where I was doing my masters, and I was especially drawn to this strange little film.. Tomek Baginski’s The Cathedral. I thought that it’s really impressive that a solo animator can do that.. that you can make a film on your own, in your ‘home studio’.. And I started learning more about how this is done, which gave me new and very real motivation, and soon enough I realized I can turn this new found hobby into a career. I think I felt naturally most attracted to animation, out of all that CG has to offer, because it connects to what I used to do as a kid. It also connects a bit with music… both arts are time-based. :} And the principles of animation seem to me a bit like the old Renaissance principles of music composition.. a scholastic way of understanding a new medium. So I always was and still am interested in all areas of CG, but my main area of study.. and practice, of course, is animation. The first job I got was for a small company in Bucharest, doing commercials. I worked as a generalist and had to learn Houdini, which we used for everything, from modeling to rigging to final render.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Well, nothing supercalifragilistic about it, I work, and then I take a ping pong break, and then I work, and then I take another ping pong break… And work varies, so it’s not really the same stuff every day (same for the ping pong breaks..). So I get to keyframe, edit and polish mocaps, repurpose animations, import, export, rince and repeat.. I also enjoy troubling the TDs with feedback on their rigs and tools, they really love that.. :/ Oh, and if I’m lucky enough.. I get to wear the tight rubber mocap suit.. and do advanced kung fu moves, like flying and spinning in the air and such. OK, not that advanced.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I’m not sure… somewhere between researching, planning, blocking a new animation because that’s the most creative part of the entire animation process, on one hand.. and polishing animation, on the other hand, because that’s where an animation really comes to life and stops looking awful. :} The research part is the most fun though, you get to watch crazy things and you call it ‘work’.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Exporting stuff to game engines.. triple-checking stuff and discovering bugs.. I wish I could just click one button and jump to the next animation.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
It hasn’t changed much. I think it’s more streamlined, but basically.. we are dealing with the same age-old IK pops and unfortunate skinning issues. Generally speaking, I think we need better deformers, better rigs, better tools.. and they do get better, just very slowly.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Not sure.. maybe finding a place where I could settle?
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Mmm.. depends how you define greatness, but let’s say, for the time being, no.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I bought some chocolate during my trip to Belgium but now I’m feeling a bit unsure whether I should eat it.. this week or the next.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I spent an eternity writing and rewriting stories and storyboards, editing animatics.. working on tools, experimenting with 3D.. and trying to start the production of a movie. Guess what, I’m still at step 1: learning and experimenting. I hope this step 1 will not consume the whole rest of my life. But if it does, what can I say, it’s a fun-tastic experience!
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I write music.. I read old books.. I travel on foot.. across large distances.. :} I can make this sound with my tongue… *!!.. Uh, hard to explain.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
Absolutely: don’t forget to explore and have fun! :}