Martin McBain

What is your name and your current occupation? 
My name is Martin McBain and I’m a Cinematics Director. I’ve most recently worked at Pinewood Studios on a super huge movie, having previously spent 13 years working in the games industry as both a Lead Gameplay and Lead Cinematics Animator/Director.
 
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation? 
My first job involved site surveys; either I’d be working on technical drawings or else I’d grab my hard hat and theodolite to visit sites around the UK. Fortunately, I got into animation not long after!
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Whilst there are many projects that I loved being part of, being a huge gamer, and a massive fan of Rare’s GoldenEye, it was an enormous honour to be working on the re-imagining of GoldenEye. We spent a huge amount of time looking at what made the original so great and, as GoldenEye fans ourselves, what we would want to see in the game. Our goal was to bring this classic into the modern gaming era, and my task, in particular, was to create a more contemporary, bolder, cinematic experience for the player. As fate would have it, after Eurcocom closed its doors, Rare immediately offered me a position – I was absolutely thrilled to bring my industry experience to a studio that, as a massive fan of their games, I grew up admiring.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I’m originally from Greenock, Scotland. Whilst playing games was a huge part of my childhood, despite the calls from my dad to ‘stop playing those games, they will get you nowhere!’, a job in gaming wasn’t really a career option, being more of a niche undeveloped industry.  As a result, I opted to pursue a career in Architecture. Now don’t get me wrong, I love calculating heat loss and thermal conductivity as much as the next guy, but this wasn’t quite what I’d had in mind – creating great visuals and designs turned out to be a tiny part of the job.  Then it all changed, one day, when flicking through a creative arts magazine, there it was: an advert, a glorious full page spread showcasing 3d Studio release 3 – the original dos version ( thats non-Windows, to all the kids ) – before they brought out Max. Now, as I say, this changed everything for me. I rushed out and purchased the software and manual, Inside 3d Studio R3, and read that cover to cover. I then stared creating visuals, mainly based around architecture and product design, but I soon started to introduce characters and animation – bringing life to my renders. The guys at Eurocom saw my work and offered me a position as Senior Animator; this changed the direction of my career and led me to do what I love for a living.

What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job? 
Leading the Cinematics Department, a lot of my time was spent managing the team and making sure that everyone was happy and knew what they were doing, arranging the schedule, etc. I also spent a lot of time directing the cinematics, so there was lots of planning, meetings with other department leads, auditioning actors, etc. However, I always took a hands on approach so my job encompassed many aspects ranging from storyboarding, animating cameras, characters, vehicles, editing, post-effects, etc as well as creating trailers and marketing materials – lots of different things. Since then, I’ve continued in the same fashion, so my day tends to be very varied and depends a lot on where we’re at during a particular project. It’s one of the reasons I love my job!
What part of your job do you like best? Why? 
I really enjoy so many aspects of my job; however, using mocap and working with actors to capture the performance and seeing that come through into the game is a fantastic feeling. Who wouldn’t love directing Ben Cooke – Daniel Craig’s stunt double – or a series of stunt performers pretending to be undercover, special agent guinea pigs?  Another part of my job that’s great is having the opportunity to help those who are newer to the industry –  guiding them, passing on your knowledge and helping them to develop their career and passion for what they do. It’s a brilliant feeling to give back to the industry and to see people grow in confidence and ability.  I also like the management side as a happy team produces awesome results – oh, and the hands on animation and editing aspects are fantastic too. Hmm, I just love all of it, really!

What part of your job do you like least? Why? 
That’s a tough one. Maybe the constant changes – though that’s also the beauty of the games industry. Rather than following a script and a design that’s set in stone, we work in an organic fashion that’s incredibly exciting and creatively stimulating. However, it’s one of the harder aspects of the job to announce to the team that the work they’ve spent many months lovingly crafting is to be discarded (even though it’s amazing!) because the style or direction of the game has changed.

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?
 Working in an industry that depends on technology that is ever changing and evolving with every generation of console released has allowed us to push the boundaries of gaming – whether that’s in terms of greater gameplay mechanics that facilitate much more fluid animation of the characters or reaching the next level in the visual quality of the cinematics.  Over the last 10 years, motion capture is an area that’s become a huge and integral part of what we do. At Eurocom, we were extremely fortunate to have our own purpose built mocap studio. This gave me unrestricted access to the facilities and meant I was free to experiment and to find new ways of capturing ambitious performances of ever increasing complexity.
 
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?  
Of course, working in such a pressured and demanding industry can sometimes be hard when having a family – especially when the children are smaller. But again, I have been fortunate enough to have a wonderful wife who supports what I do – and it’s really cool when the kids get older and can tell their friends that their daddy makes games 🙂
 
If you could change the way the business works and is run how would
you do it?

 As an artist and a gamer, I’d like to see more projects that take creative risks and that try something really novel and exciting – though I can see why investors are keen to back perceived ‘safe bets’ as, after all, it is a business and a multi-billion dollar business at that.


In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
 I’ve had the pleasure of working with many great and talented animators over the years and after writing an online guide to creating a great showreel, I’ve been inundated with people sending me their own reels for feedback – I’m always impressed with their variety and level of creativity.

Describe a tough situation you had in life. 
When Eurocom unexpectedly closed down, it was very sad to say goodbye to the amazing friends and colleagues I’d made during my 12 years at the company. We do stay in touch, but as we’re now scattered geographically, it’s more difficult – though, thankfully, technology makes it easier.
 
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
Although time outside of work is limited, I’m always experimenting with ideas and new tools. I have a few short film ideas rolling around…
 
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
I love photography and am good at climbing trees. If the zombie apocalypse strikes, I could be up a tree in record time – and maybe even get some awesome shots of the carnage from above…

Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business? 
Getting into the industry has changed from when I started out – game development has grown very quickly and courses have sprung up everywhere. Nevertheless, just signing up to a course and attending lectures isn’t going to land you a job in the industry; you have to be committed and passionate and be prepared to go that extra mile to make sure you stand out against the (vast!) competition.  My top tips would be:Work hard at what you do and find your own style – though make sure you retain the ability to be flexible enough to adapt to the project at hand.
Always ask for advice – and listen to it!   When receiving feedback or being asked to make changes, don’t take it personally.  And, most importantly, remember, you never ever stop learning – no matter how experienced you think you are – especially in an industry that is constantly evolving and adapting to new technology and trends.

 

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