Thu 25-Oct-18 12 lucky Dojo students, 4 eager mentors and Tom took time out of their hectic half-term schedule to visit the funky downtown studio of Creative Assembly (CA), Horsham’s premier video games developer. Joanna from CA was our amiable guide for the day who patiently herded the group through multiple security doors and fielded our questions with her encyclopedic knowledge of all things CA.
Our day started in a nondescript industrial unit near the station which houses Pete and his state-of-the-art motion capture studio. Ben, Matt, Rhys and Vlad got suited up in black body suits covered in plastic bobbles. The forty-eight cameras spread round a 12x13m studio space was on opening in 2012 the largest developer owned motion-capture space in Europe. Think of it like a massive photocopier. That captures images in 3-D. But not pictures. Just data. In real-time. Lots of it… So not much like a photocopier at all. But what it does is convert motion into data that the clever guys and gals at CA can use to generate cool animation.
We got the dummies (Ben, Matt, Rhys and Vlad) to act out a scene featuring a brave heroine and an evil android on a spaceship. The acting had to be seen to be believed but the pièce de résistance was the group Macarena with androids and heroines competing to bust the moves.
A short walk (yes – it was a short walk Sergio) brought us to the newest office housing teams working on CA’s latest project – a top secret-squirrel FPS game that doesn’t feature squirrels or hedgehogs. We browsed through CA’s impressive awards cupboard before venturing into the workplace.
We spoke to Dan, a game designer, about his work and the multidisciplinary ‘pods’ (small teams of whales presumably) that work on specific aspects of the game such as character motion or game-play mechanics. Dan told us how some games could take several years to bring to market and some never make it past an initial ‘proof of concept’ stage. Next we got to hear from Andy, who has been working for 20 years in games development, got his first role after a brief conversation in the pub and is now head of development and AI. He explained how for their latest game they are using the Unreal engine (and you can too!) and coding the fancy stuff in C++. He was just out from a bug tracking meeting where they had just successfully resolved an issue after a week’s work of head scratching.
Onward to studio two in Spire Court (no Vlad – we’re not taking a taxi there) where War Hammer has been lovingly nurtured through its many iterations. We started in the award-winning audio team’s anechoic chamber (posh name for sound-proof recording studio) where everyone was almost silent (for about a second) before morphing into scary skelingtons (I never knew Edwin had it in him – he *will* lead the skelington hoards to battle).
We then got a detailed walk through of the graphic design process from Josh (whose cool portfolio can be found here) – from black and white outline to fully animated, all dancing (the singing comes from the audio team right?) final model. We watched in awe as the graphics team modeled 3D characters in the same way a physical clay modeller would – but with digital tablets.
We bumped into Aik whose screen was on fire (good work Aik!) as he worked on graphics effects and stopped in Tom’s department where they run the Internet. They confirmed he did actually turn up for work occasionally – but no one had a clear idea of what he actually did round there.
Next up we saw how the motion-capture data got converted into cut-scenes as Chloe hand edited facial expressions and other key elements to bring the characters to life. A fifteen second cut-scene can take a week’s work to put together – but the results are truly cinematic.
The day provided a fantastic insight into the workings of a premier technology company and hopefully gave everyone food for thought in terms of the varied and exciting roles available within such an organisation. CA has recently won national ‘Best Places To Work’ awards and the whole day did an excellent job of showcasing the creative talents at work across all aspects of the development process.
Many thanks to our patient host Joanna, all the CA staff who gave up their time to make the day so interesting, and Tom for organising the whole thing. Now we need to visit Creative Assembly’s other studio… It’s here in case you were wondering.