I recently spoke with the Senior Cinematic Animator at Rockstar San Diego, Ryan Watson, about his job, how he got started in the industry, as well as some advice he might have for young folks looking to throw their hats in the proverbial gaming ring.
Watson is a bit of a journeyman when it comes to his career in video games. He’s worked at Raven Software, Vicarious Visions, Ubisoft, Deep Silver, and now Rockstar San Diego. He’s worked on some notable franchises including Call of Duty, Watch Dogs, Rainbow Six, Agents of Mayhem, and Red Dead Redemption.
This interview isn’t about what Watson and Rockstar are currently working on as much as it is a look at him personally (I don’t have that kind of pull yet, sorry).
The full interview is below:
I would like to start by asking you about yourself and your career. I know that you went to Full Sail, but I want to know how you first got involved in the gaming industry. How did you break in and what made you want to?
Watson: “So I went to Full Sail in 2000-2001. I left there and started doing broadcast graphics before returning to Full Sail in 2002 to help teach animation. In 2004, I was offered a job by Studio Gigante (THQ) in Chicago to work on WrestleMania 21 for the Xbox. That was my introduction to working in gaming. It was a short lived lifespan as that studio closed and I moved on to work at Raven Software (Activision) where I became a Lead Animator and ultimately a Studio Animator working Quake 4, Wolfenstein, Singularity, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and a few other games that were never released.”
I have to ask, what game or project are you most proud of to date and why?
“I think I am most proud of 2 different games. First, the original Watch Dogs with Ubisoft Montreal. I was able to build a cinematic team that I felt like was probably the best team I have ever worked with. I had a lot of say and I did a lot of on set work in the Motion Capture studio, including becoming the First Assistant Director at one point. Second, I would have to say Red Dead Redemption 2. I came in at the end of the project, but I hit the ground running. I was able to put in a ton of work and I was inspired by the level of detail and quality that Rockstar puts into all their games. So far in my 20 year career, Red Dead Redemption 2 has been the most successful game I have ever worked on and it is a major sense of pride for me.”
If you can answer this, are there any kinds of trickery you’ve had to use while animating/etc. that players can’t see, that makes you chuckle or maybe is a funny story to talk about with your coworkers? An example I always thought was funny was in Fallout 3, Bethesda had to essentially jerry-rig a train by putting the train asset on top of an NPC’s head and have it move super-fast in a way to avoid designing actual train mechanics.
“We always use trickery here and there. Sometimes its as simple as just hiding what’s going on outside of camera view (not animating the legs on a mid shot from the chest up). Another one, was one time I had an object that was not supposed to be in the scene. For some reason trying to hide it wasn’t working. It had to be there after the cut scene. So, when it was supposed to be invisible, I just keyed it under the ground for the duration and when it appears, it was a one frame jump from underground into the character’s hand.”
What advice would you give to someone in or fresh out of college, like me, who wants to be involved in the industry on how to get a foot in the door? It really feels daunting and almost unachievable these days due the high demand it requires to make and release games.
“Put your best foot forward and always remember to be patient. The industry is a whirlwind at times and one moment no one will be hiring and the next minute you will have 30 emails from studios. Its crazy. What I always think is important to newcomers is to have a work life balance. Make sure you are leaving work. Make sure you are doing things to help your mental state and get your mind off work. If not, you will burn yourself out in about 3 years of being in the industry.”
My last question is simple, what’s your favorite game of all time?
“Favorite game of all time? Damn, that’s a tough one. I am a big story guy. I have loved the Mass Effect Series 1-3. I got into Star Wars: KOTOR and most recently, my favorite is Red Dead Redemption 2. The level of detail lets me get lost for hours.”
Watson has had a successful career, he’s worked on some great games and some hidden gems (like WrestleMania 21, that game was awesome) and now that he has a place at Rockstar, he’ll certainly be adding some genre-defining titles under his belt.
You can follow him here.