Jonathan Bygrave

Animator for Frontier Developments

Paston 2005-2007
Media Studies - BTEC National Diploma (double Distinction)

Leeds Metropolitan University 2007-2010
1st Class Hons - BSc in Animation and Special Effects

"The main thing the course gave me was a thirst for learning and I think that is a credit to the teachers and the environment"

Who do you work for, and what projects have you been involved in?
I work for Frontier Developments based in Cambridge although we also have an office in Halifax, Canada. I came to the company to work on a title called Kinect Disneyland Adventures, I was mostly a wrangler for this project although my title was Graduate Animator.

I was responsible for taking the animations that outsource companies had done for us and getting them into the game, it was a tough job and required a lot of hours to keep up with the vast amount of animations we had coming in. I did manage to get a few animations of my own into the game as well which was exciting for me as I have a lot of love for Disney, my first animation that went in to the game was on Tinkerbell so that was a pretty big moment for me. Currently I'm working on the next instalment in the Zoo Tycoon franchise which is going to be a launch title for the new Xbox One. 

What is a typical day at work like?
A typical day starts with a Critique session with the other animators. This is where we get together in groups and provide valuable feedback for each other’s work. When you're staring at your shot for 8 hours a day it is very easy to become blind to the mistakes in your work, so having other people to make suggestions on where you can improve is incredibly helpful.

After this I'll check my schedule to see what I need to be working on that day, then I'll either continue where I left off the previous day or I'll start planning my next shot. For this project that involves looking at a lot of reference images of animals, studying how they move and trying to pick out any little traits I can get into my work.

I will then block out some key poses into my shot to show my lead and make sure they are happy with my idea before I start fleshing out the animation. Once I have my key poses I get what is known as a placeholder into the game, this is so the programmer scan be getting on with their end of things and will allow me to test my animation in game when I am done.

Once my animation is done I export it and test it in game to make sure it is blending in with the other animations in a believable way. The aim is to make the animal’s look and feel alive, we don't want players noticing when one animation ends and another starts.
I guess that's about it for my typical day, I normally get a coffee around half 10 and play some Frisbee at lunch time as well.

How did that course help you progress upon your career path?
The main thing the course gave me was a thirst for learning and I think that is a credit to the teachers and the environment. I can safely say I wouldn't be in this line of work without the enthusiasm that was injected into each class. It gave me a taste of many areas in creative media and I was encouraged to pursue the aspects that interested me, which is what led to most of my time being spent on 3D animation software. Once I decided this was the line of work I wanted to follow I was given a lot of guidance in finding the right university and course for me.

One thing I noticed when arriving at university was how much higher the standard of work coming from students at Paston was compared to other students in the first year of my course and I think that is because of how hands on the BTEC is. I had such a strong foundation in media production that students from more traditional course backgrounds were lacking and to me this is incredibly important when going into a creative field.

What are the important skills you have had to develop and hone to be successful in
your job?

Saying goodbye to my ego is by far the most important, if you can't accept advice on how to improve your work then you will remain at the same level and, over time, people will stop trying to help you out. Animation is a difficult job, you're never going to stop learning and that is something to embrace, I always aim to make each new shot my best work yet.

Communication is another skill I had to work on, when you're working on a big project every member of the team is trying to make the best game possible and in order to do that successfully you have to build relationships with other departments. On any day you may have questions for programmers, riggers or modellers so it's important to know who you can contact with specific questions so that you can seek out an answer as swiftly as possible.

The Creative Industries are the fastest growing sector of the UK economy at the moment. What advice would you have for creative individuals at Paston looking to progress into the industry as you have?
Go for it! It's not going to be easy but if it is what you want to do with your life then it will be worth it. It's never been easier to learn about whatever area you're interested in, there are numerous online schools now which are producing amazing work and a number of different forums where members are always willing to offer advice on where your work needs improving. My biggest piece of advice when considering where to move onto after college would be to look at the quality of work being produced on the courses you're thinking of applying to, and if you can, find a course where you're being taught by industry professionals. At the end of the day though you’re only going to get out what you put in, and if you're passionate about a certain field then that is what's going to drive you to continue to work at it until you succeed.

Oh and don't forget to live a little, I think it was Brad Bird who once said animation is about creating the illusion of life, and you can't create it if you don't have one.

Are you able to reveal what you are working on at the moment?
No problem, I’m happy to do it. I think I mentioned this at the start but Zoo Tycoon coming to Xbox One and Xbox360 for the Holiday season this year (2013). Also look out for Elite Dangerous next year (2014) which is a return to the series that got Frontier started.

"The main thing the course gave me was a thirst for learning and I think that is a credit to the teachers and the environment"