The Broken Tangent

Animation of Kurtis Paddock

Post 0 - A "Brief" History

*The contents below are my own opinions and not that of my employer*

A Boy and His Star Wars

Sporting stylish shirts at two years old

It's hard to say if there was just one thing that sparked my interest in becoming an animator. I feel like it was a bunch of things over time that just stuck with me. But after watching starships scream past the camera, shooting laser beams in space, I knew I wanted to work in movies.  Not necessarily animation, but movies for sure. I wanted to be the person responsible for those light sabers moving so fluidly on the screen.

I grew up in Corona, CA. My father was a graphic artist and my mother was a great supporting hand that allowed me to pursue creative projects growing up. Many times, I would hang out with dad at his office, where he would print large logos on vinyl, cut them out, and install them on big rig trucks. This was my first exposure to computers. His company had a PC with Windows 3 on it. He would open the artwork, edit/clean up extra pixals, and send to the plotter to be printed.

I remember being very intrigued by him and his illustrator, who would create the logos. The number of colored pencils these guys owned always amazed me. I didn't realize there were that many colors in the spectrum, let alone available to buy and color with! It gave me the urge to get some colored pencils of my own and start putting them to paper.

I was awful at drawing, but it sparked my interest in comic books. I couldn't get enough of Todd McFarlane's Spawn. At that point, cartoons such as Chuck Jones and Tex Avery's Looney Toons were in my weekend routine. Thus, leading to the beginning of my focus on animation.

Computer Aided Drafting, 3D MAX, and VICA

The load up screen of 3D Studio MAX R2 where I began the journey

My high school offered computer-aided drafting as an extracurricular class. The teacher knew a bit of 3D Studio, so he created a CAD 3 class, taking projects made in CAD and importing them into 3D MAX. This absolutely blew my mind.  

My friends were technology gurus and exposed me to 3D Studio Max R2. After school, I spent my free time exploring the program. I would create random pieces of geometry, attach a particle bomb, and let the simulation run its course. My buddy and I would then take these simulations back to school and show our teacher. 

During senior year, we joined the Vocational Industrial Clubs of America (VICA). This was the only computer animation competition we knew of. They gave you a topic, such as success, and you had to make a thirty-second short in an eight hour day. Yeah....easy right? We didn't win, but we learned how to create on the fly and learned that this process is much more involved than we anticipated. Most importantly, it strengthened my desire to continue this 3D animation journey. 

The College Years

Where I earned my B.S. in Computer Science with a focus on Media Arts & Animation

As college quickly approached, I was a bit short on options for animation schools.  The concept of an online animation school hadn't even been thought of yet. 

I attended The Art Institute, where they offered classes that were grounded in 2D and 3D, with general education classes mixed in. This worked in two ways: I got to learn animation and my parents got the peace of mind that I'd get a "real education."  

Two months into my freshman year, I quickly learned I needed more practice drawing. I felt so behind on the 2D side of animation. My anatomy was weak, my perspective wasn't even close, and my composition was just off. Needless to say, the first year was a wake-up call; either I fully immerse myself in this or find a different focus. This is even harder when you have teachers telling you, "Maybe animation isn't for you. Graphic Design might be more up your alley."  

Now as a student, you can either give up and accept whatever fate in that moment in time, or you can use that negative energy and put it toward your studies to make yourself better. I chose the latter. I wasn't going to let anyone tell me what I could and couldn't do. By my third and final year, in 2003, I was teaching my teachers how to do things! So of course when I graduated that summer, I thought I was destined for a job fresh out of school. Right...??   

131 Theory Ave

131 Theory where I first started at Blizzard. Years before the construction of the Irvine Campus.

Sadly, I was wrong. I applied everywhere after I graduated, but I didn't hear back from anyone. I ended applying and taking a job at a local art store. While I sold paper and canvas, I would thumbnail and read character animation books. After eight months with still no animation job in sight, I started to get pretty down on myself and my abilities.  But, just when I was getting to my lowest, I received my first call back!

In May of 2004, I finally got my foot in the door as a Quality Assurance Tester at Blizzard Entertainment, working on the original World of Warcraft release.  A night crew schedule of 7pm to 4am, Monday thru Friday, would be my first introduction to the video game industry.  On the weekends, there was no night crew, so we would flip our schedules back to day shift which was 10am to 6pm.   Back and forth, this went on for eight months.

My World of Warcraft avatar with my World of Warcraft vendor. This was a gift from the WoW Development Team to leads and specialists of Q.A. when I was working on Wrath of the Lich King.

Now I know what you're thinking, "That isn't an animation job!" And you're right. Quality Assurance has nothing to do with making the animation, but it has everything to do with learning how to make a video game from the ground up. I learned the entire process hands on. Granted, I wasn't creating the content of World of Warcraft, but I was in the trenches with the artists making sure their creations were presented to the public, mistake and bug-free. And here in lies the two most important things I learned in Q.A.:  communication and team.

After eight months of night crew crunch, Blizzard hired me full time. In the following years, I worked my way up and became an assistant project lead on StarCraft: Ghost, where I established my first connections that would eventually help shape my fledgling animation career.

Blizzard Cinematics

Wearing "Space Marine" shoulder pads shooting video reference for StarCraft II cinematics

Fast forward to 2008, and many hours of animating on my own at home, I accepted a position on the Blizzard Cinematics/Blizzard Film Department, working exclusively with a lip-sync facial animation software called "FaceFX" ( Being mentored by some of the best animators and artists in the industry, this was a huge opportunity, so I dove in. I was responsible for all lip-sync animation on every character that spoke in the in-game cinematic cut scenes for StarCraft 2. I did this for all three StarCraft 2 releases: Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Swarm, and Legacy of the Void.

During down time in-between projects, I was lucky enough to be tasked with animating on full characters on the following pre-rendered and in-game cinematics: Diablo 3, Overwatch, and World of Warcraft. In addition, I had the opportunity to work on World of Warcraft commercial pieces with Chuck Norris and Aubrey Plaza. The Cinematics team was my home for the next seven years.

Heroes of the Storm

At the end of 2014, I moved over to the Heroes of the Storm animation team, about six to eight months before the project went live to the public. It was a very busy time to join the team, as they were just getting ready to release, live to the world, in just a few short months. I jumped in and took on whatever they needed me to do on the FaceFX side. That meant not only was I responsible for the lip-sync animations, but I also needed to rig characters' faces and get them to animate in FaceFX.

The first hero I rigged and animated FaceFX for was Slyvanas.  It's rough for me to go back and look at her. I feel like I need another good day or two's worth of polish on her mouth shapes. She could be more pronounced overall in hindsight. Below is a brief video of some of her FaceFX work for the store. I learned a lot about our pipeline and process on this first Hero. She is one of my favorites because of that.

 I've now been on this team for over two years and have animated FaceFX on almost thirty Heroes. Now, I'm also doing character animation on Heroes on top of my FaceFX responsibilities. I'm honored, humbled, and proud to be part of such a fantastically talented animation team. It's rare to say that you learn something new at work every day, but I truly do and I feel blessed.

Wherever I end up in this animation career, I have no regrets with my choices and decisions thus far. The lessons I've learned and the talented artists and friends I've met along the way, have shaped me as the person I am today. There is still so much to create and learn, and I'm looking forward to the adventures ahead.

Thank you for reading!

-  Kurtis