Employee Spotlight
20/02/2014

Lasse Rasmussen

This month it’s time for our third installment in the Logic Artists Employee Spotlight. If you haven’t read these before, the Employee Spotlight gives our staff the opportunity to come out and talk about what they do in the studio, not to mention show off some of their work. This month we are getting to know our Lead Animator, Lasse Rasmussen.

Where are you from?

I was born in Herning (Denmark), central Jutland and spent most of my kid years in a small town just outside the – at that time, to me – bustling metropolis that was Herning.

What do you do at the studio?

I’m a (softly defined) lead animator and together with my partner in crime – Morten Helgeland – I oversee the general direction of animations and the “language” of such.

How long have you been working here?

I started working for Logic Artist late autumn of 2012.

What was your training for this? How long did that take? Where did you do it? Why did you get into this career?

My training has been a mish-mash of preliminary drawing courses, ranging from small, private undertakings to the state-sponsored Drawing Academy found at Viborg. After a combined year of attending those courses, I was admitted into the Animation Workshop (On my second try!) – also in Viborg – at which I resided three and a half years. In total, from start to finish, I reckon I’ve spent six years educating myself to reach the point I’m at now.

I primarily got into this business because I often was stuck with the notion that game animation these days is either of pretty low quality or lacks the “soul” and character that you can find in feature-film animation. I think that’s a real shame, because between movies and games, I think that games is the strongest, bravest and most creative media imagined to date – it’s immediacy and the fact that you put the control in players hands to influence their game worlds gives a much more intimate connection between the art and its consumer.

Also because I want to animate totally radical fighting moves/robots/dragons/explosions/babes. Probably this more than anything.

What do you eat and drink at work?

My eating and drinking habits are best described as two titanic forces fighting for control over my body: Occasionally, I try to indulge in healthy habits, eating elaborate salads, vegetarian diets and generally organic foods. Other times, I’m a filthy pig, gorging down that Nr. 7 Pizza with extra meat, extra cheese, extra everything – I tend to indulge in the latter when my programming software is acting like a distressed toddler.

My choice of drink is – naturally – two cups of coffee (weak, with a tea-spoon of honey) to wake me up in the morning and keep me going through the afternoon. Being the aforementioned pig I occasionally am, I’ve been seen grabbing a beer the moment the clock hits 5 PM – on mondays. No regrets.

What kinds of digital games do you play?

Curiously, while I really like working in the games industry, my line-up of games I actually play is horrifyingly lacklustre compared to many of my colleagues. I swear my loyalty first and foremost to most of Valves games (sans DOTA). Team Fortress 2 in particular is my personal gaming addiction, to the point of which I occasionally have to delete the local game files because I can waste away 6 hours of a day tearing through other players and afterwards suffer a feeling of great accomplishment and horrified realisation that I won’t get those 6 hours back.

But the most terrifying admission I’ll bring to this spotlight is my love/hate relationship to World of Warcraft, wherein I insult my surroundings by being a hopeless casual. I’ve been with this old relic for the last 8 years and little as I want to admit it, I’ll probably flank it to its bitter end!

What kinds of other games do you play?

What?! Are you implying there exists “games” outside a computer?

What is your favorite thing to work on at work? Why?

The favorite part by far is when I’ve put down the last keys for an animation, show it off and get a laughing rise out my colleagues: this normally happens when I showcase my particularly sadistic pieces (Remember that civilian when you’re in combat while playing Expeditions: Conquistador? Hehehe).

Generally, the most awesome things I get to play around with are combat and acrobatic animations where you really get to f*ck sh*t up (pardon my french). It allows the animator to really move weight around, see their digital puppets do amazing (and terrifying) things and generally create the awesome animation I want to see in games myself.

What is your least favorite? Why?

While I count my blessings to even be able to animate professionally for a salary, there’s naturally those less-than interesting chores I have to remember: For example, in order for animation to actually work in a game environment, you need to have a long list of transition animations: Short, half-second animations that link the more interesting together. They’re rarely that physical or interesting to make, but again: It’s a small thing.

My absolute least favorite thing, however, remains when animations aren’t working as intended when they’re imported into the game engine: My programmer colleagues have often remarked on the momentary artistic hysteria I devolve into when a hand doesn’t arc in the EXACT way I imagined it.

Animation Showreel – 2012 from Lasse Rasmussen on Vimeo.

Where do you go for technical inspiration or advice?

Curiously, most of my creative inspiration comes from drawings, photography, music and books – especially music and comic artists represent the bulk of my creative juices. Dropping but a few random names I can come up with: The italian line-up of Donald Duck drawers, Huberto Ramoz, J. Scott Cambell, Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series, Arthur De Pins-..
When I specifically look for animation inspiration, the guys and gals who concocted the “Meet the Team” series of Team Fortress 2 have my undying respect. The later additions to the Halo series also sport some radical, hand-made combat animation that left my jaw scraping along the floor. Recently, I’ve set my sights on Wildstar because of its unique style.

Naturally, I also throw sideways glances towards regular movies – at the end of the day, nothing can be as inspiring from a technical standpoint than real movement.

As a newly educated worker entering the games industry what were some of the things you did to get yourself hired in the industry? Do you have any tips for people new to the industry?

As much as I would like to profess to the rose-tinted idea that my skills were of such height that I was head-hunted by LA, it more or less boiled down to me being available when they needed an animator. It helped, naturally, that Søren – who put me in touch with the company – had the bravery to trust me to fill the boots of a Logic Artists animator.
Having said that, I think first and foremost my focus on wanting to be a professional and backing my claims up with action that made the greatest difference. I accepted early on that hard work and persistence is the saving grace of any artist.

My biggest tip towards people interested in the games industry? Be passionate, and work very hard. Especially the “work hard” part – this is a ruthless industry to work in, and if you think you’re going to laze away at regular hours and be payed massive salaries from the get-go, I advise you to ask yourself whether this is the industry you truly want to be part of.
You should first and foremost get into this business if you really really really like games and making games.

Finally, be professional. Meet on time, get sh*t done, accept and appreciate the mistakes you make and the critique you receive: you’re never “done” developing as a game developer employee, and rock-solid work ethics will give you an earnest chance at making a living in the industry. Be a team-player, because you -are- irrevocably part of a team in so many ways.

Take us through your daily routine at the office.

I tend to arrive at work around 8 or 9 depending on the weather, the alignment of the stars, my (lacking) sleep routines and whether someone silently challenges me to a race on the Copenhagen bicycle lanes. (Hoho, you think your racing bike makes you fast, bub? We’ll see about that-.)

I then fire up the coffee machine (assuming the other early birds haven’t beat me to it) and ignite some old-school game soundtracks in my headphones while I rage profusely over something insignificant on the World of Warcraft forums. Then – at about 9.30 – I’ve fetched my first cup o’ joe for the day, beginning (or well into) the age-old tradition of glaring incredulously at the animation I was tampering with yesterday. I occasionally then delete half of it in silent artistic fury and begin redoing those parts.

Throughout the day, I fight the software and my animation in an epic battle. At around 12.30 PM, I slurp down the second cup of mud, preparing for the lunch-run at around 1.00 PM. Post lunch-run, I dive into the second half of the day, updating my animation spreadsheets, exporting completed animations and starting new ones. This all occurs while some TV-series or video game playthrough fills most of my second screen – because distraction.

I normally leave work at around quarter past 5 PM, but I occasionally grab another hour of overtime patching up holes in the aforementioned spreadsheet or tweaking some of the more rushed animations. When particular deadlines loom in the horizon, I don’t shy away from bookmarking a weekend here and there to make sure the work-load is evenly spaced out.

Would you share some insight from your experience as a professional animator?

I’ll admit that I feel it’s a bit early for me to be in the position of addressing graduate animators as I’ve only been actively working as an animator in the industry for about one year’s time. The introduction into the games work environment has both been easier and harder than I anticipated, and I’m often surprised by the sort of challenges I have to face – conversely, aspects I thought would be very complicated turn out to be alarmingly easy. It’s this clash of expectations versus the gritty reality I want to address. Hopefully through this we can help potential new animators gain a better understanding of games development from our perspective.

One of the biggest sticking points, I think, is that many animators aren’t too eager to “grow up” – harsh as it might sound. I don’t blame them! The lure of a protected environment in and around art schools is pretty enticing, especially with the sheer volume of creative energy that’s passed around.
However, I personally feel staying in such an atmosphere – however delightfully comfortable it is – doesn’t prepare you for the realities of what’s first and foremost a pretty hectic business. If you really want to get out there and make a difference with your chosen artistic skills, my only advice is to face the music and get involved with professional productions as fast as possible – contrary to popular belief, you grow much faster as an artist when there’s expectations resting on your shoulders, even if those expectations are uncomfortable to carry.

I’ve found that a particular set of values really help ease this transition from school to work, and I’ll list them below. Do remember that this of course only based on my opinions.

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU’RE PART OF A TEAM

The first, most important and ironically often ignored advice is to remember that you’re part of a team. Now, from where I came from, this was an unofficial mantra imposed upon us from the school administration. However, when push came to shove, when someone didn’t follow this rather simple advice, I felt that the culprits were absolved from any real consequences as long as they were better than average in an artistic sense.

While I won’t say you’re guaranteed to be barred from entry into a games company, you can be damn sure that you’re doing everyone in that company a huge disservice if you aren’t prioritizing the team above your own artistic desires and demands.
Whatever decisions you’re making down on the floor should be in the interest of the team and the product you’re making above your own artistic desires.

Does this mean you won’t get any creative say in the game? Absolutely not – in fact, the better a team player you are, the more likely you’ll have willing ears listening when you do present a smashing idea.

BALANCE ART AND TIME

One of the key skills you should prioritize and value is balancing how much quality you can inject into your work versus how much time you have to work with. It’s impossible to make all the animations in a game as exceptional as you want – so prioritize smartly! Always ask yourself what animations have the highest exposure and are most important to communicate the design intent of that particular game element and do your best with the time you have.

HARD WORK AND A PROFESSIONAL ATTITUDE

While the discussion still rages on if there’s any such thing as “talent”, one of the most precious advice I want to give (and which I should have embraced far earlier than I did) is that – in order to really contribute in a professional setting – you have to be “boring”. Exercise regularly, get your eight hours of sleep, eat healthy and remember to occasionally take a break from your art and go get inspired by life in general.

This goes hand in hand with a generally professional attitude towards your work: be on time (This is a biggy!), prepare your stuff for dailies and expect that work you’ve done is subject to change. You have to find the balance between being passionate about your product while understanding that it can (and occasionally will) be changed, down-graded or scrapped entirely. Artists who get too attached to their work – and thus proclaim it above criticism – can stall an entire production and ultimately endanger the integrity of the product as a whole. Please, don’t be one of those people.

But beyond anything else, concentrate and work hard!

Let me repeat it for posterity: -Concentrate and work hard-!

Depending solely on your talent for success will get you nowhere alarmingly fast, and I can assure you that anyone at the top of their game today had to work long, hard hours to get where they are, “talented” or not.
There is no magic pill or alternative method to go about it – hard, concentrated work with a professional (and “boring”) attitude is the make-or-break value of game development. I don’t care if it sounds preachy: whenever I forget to be professional about stuff, my work suffers and – as a result – the game suffers.

EMBRACE YOUR FAILURES

The final and most important advice I want to give any animator – or any person, full stop – is that you have to analyse your relationship with mistakes and failures. In our modern society, failure has been demonised as something inherently bad that should be avoided at all costs – I feel that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Failure is only doing you a disservice if you refuse to learn from it – however, if you treat your mistakes and failures as challenges to learn from, you’ll soon realize that every success you’ve achieved probably has been preceded by a mistake. In other words, your mistakes create the foundation for your success.

Making mistakes but actively learning from them tempers your character and makes it harder for you to get knocked off balance the next time you encounter failure. The more proficient you get in learning from your mistakes, the better foundation you have to achieve greater things.

Because you will make mistakes – plenty of them. The sooner you make friends with your mistakes, the sooner you’ll learn from them and the sooner you’ll not repeat them.

PARTING WORDS

Reading through my pointers may paint a rather somber picture of game development. But despite – or maybe because of all its challenges, pitfalls and headaches, developing games is many times more rewarding than most things I could imagine using my time on.

It’s the challenges – and overcoming them – that gives you that tell-tale buzz of accomplishment when you see your animation integrated into a working game, eliciting a positive response from the game controller – and an even greater sense of success when all your small animations are combined in a game, contributing to a great gaming experience.

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