Animating a video game – with Arthur Munoz

April 18, 2024 saw the early access release of No Rest for the Wicked, the new game from Moon Studios, creators of the ORI saga. Leaving the license to one side for the time being, Moon takes on a new genre, and not the least, that of the Action-RPG, with the determination to shake up its codes.

Two weeks after its release, I had the chance to chat with Arthur Munoz, Game Animator. It was an opportunity to talk to him about the tricks of the trade, his career path and his most recent projects. In 2024 alone, Arthur also worked on Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown and The Last Faith, a pixel-art metroidvania heavily inspired by Bloodborne and Blasphemous. If we go back a little further in his CV, it’s with the French studio Spiders that he cut his teeth, notably on projects such as Greedfall and Steelrising.

If you’d like to hear this interview in its entirety, a podcast version is available on the site.

The job of animator

Point’n Think: Thanks for being here, Arthur. How are you?

Arthur: Hello, thank you for seeing me, I’m doing very well. I’m back from vacation, which was last week, and now I’ve got two days at work, but there’s a big bridge for the next few days, so it’s a good time to rest. After the Early Access release of No Rest for the Wicked, it’s a good time to rest and take stock of the coming months. Right now, we’re really taking a break and thinking about how we’re going to get on with the next phase of work on the game. Given that it’s Early Access, there’s still a lot to do.

As I said in my introduction, you’re a Game Animator. Can you tell us exactly what your job entails?

The Game Animator is the person who animates characters for gameplay purposes. For those unfamiliar with animation in general, it’s a bit like a 3D digital puppeteer. Characters are manipulated in 3D using controllers, in space and time, to give them life, personality and actions that can be linked to the overall game mechanics.

You’ve worked on quite a few projects this year, including three major games. Is it difficult to work on so many projects at the same time?

Well, just because they’re coming out at the same time doesn’t necessarily mean they were made at the same time. A lot of games came out around the same time this year, that’s true. There’s The Last Faith, for example, which I’ve been working on for over two years, but very sporadically. Given that it’s an indie studio and doesn’t have a lot of resources, I really worked on it in bits and pieces for a few days here and there over a period of two years, so it wasn’t like a full-time project.

I split my time between full-time and part-time. Prince of Persia was another project I worked on part-time. It’s true that I generally have long days, about 10-11 hours a day, when I’m working on lots of different projects. But I love having a variety of projects with different animation styles and different game styles, especially game styles that I like too. It’s true that this was a time when I worked on a lot of games that I think are very cool for me, according to my tastes anyway. And it was a real pleasure to take part in all these projects. It’s really a kind of consecration to work with Moon, for example, which is a studio I liked a lot more than ORI. I played Prince of Persia when I was a kid. They’re really games that forged me. For The Last Faith, it was really the pixel art aspect that attracted me, working on a really old school game, with a unique graphic style and a very Bloodborne feel. It was something that really appealed to me when they offered it to me. So, in general, when I’m presented with projects, I think about what I really want to do and how I can devote my time to it.

Arthur's background
Arthur’s background

Do you ever work on animation outside video games?

I recently did the Greedfall 2 trailer for Spiders, before Christmas, so that the trailer could be released in February. It was cinematic, but it’s still in the video game theme, of course. But yes, my whole career has been based around video games. I’ve done a bit of children’s TV. That was my first job. But after that, what I really wanted to do was work in video games, because that’s what I wanted to do in the first place. When I was young, I used to play video games a lot. I had a PC, I had consoles, I played with friends too. It was really something I did mainly as a hobby. When I wanted to move into the world of work, I said to myself “what could I do to have this passion side ?” Video games were something I dreamed about, and I didn’t even know if it was possible when I was young.

If a young person came to you today and said they wanted to be a Game Animator, what would you advise them to do? How did it all work out for you?

I did a course in animated film after the general baccalaureate. I spent three years at an animation school. It’s like a private school where you pay a year’s tuition to learn about cinema. You get animation, modeling and texturing, so you’re basically in general 3D. But when you leave school, there aren’t many opportunities where you can be a generalist. It’s all very specialized in video game or film production. So I concentrated on animation because that’s what I liked best. Today, it’s true that it’s a bit different because a lot of things have changed. I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and schools have really evolved in France.

Getting into the industry may be different today than it was 15 years ago. So I’m not sure I’m the best advisor. After that, I think the best way to get into the video game industry is to show what you can do. Because mainly, people in the industry don’t look at CVs, they look at animations, at what you can do. Character animations, combat animations, anything. But basically, if the person sees what you do, they’re going to hire you if you can do what’s expected.

They’re called portfolios, aren’t they? In which you show a little of everything you can do?

Yeah, we call them “Demo reels” or “Show reels”. They’re videos that show the full range of your animation skills, whether in acting or body mechanics. It’s a bit like the different aspects you can have in animation. Personally, I specialize in body mechanics, everything action-related. I’ll move my body for action-related movements in general, not too many acting-related things. But then again, I’ve done a bit of everything in 15 years.

You’ve also worked on cinematics, in which there’s a form of acting…

Yes, a lot. I worked on a lot of cinematics with Spiders. We did everything: the cinematics, the gameplay, we also did the rigs. The rigs are where you put the animation skeletons into your 3D character. Basically, you create your animation tool, and that’s something I generally do too. Less so now, because I’m more specialized in animation, in game animation. On freelance projects, sometimes I’m asked to do both rig and animation, because they go together. It’s something that fits in well with a production to be able to do both, and people like to wear several hats on a project, because it helps them move forward more quickly.

The trailer for Greedfall 2, on which Arthur worked
The trailer for Greedfall 2, on which Arthur worked

Is this a field in which there’s still a lot of coding, or has it really evolved today and you have software that you all use, on which you base yourself with assets that you retrieve? How does it work exactly?

There can be code for some riggers. The riggers, the ones who make the skeletons, sometimes need to script things to make tools, to automate processes, all that. So it happens. I’m not a coding rigger at all. I’m more of a rigger-tinkerer, getting by with what I know how to do. That’s what I’ve learned. After that, there’s always the side where you evolve, you learn new things and there are new tools coming out that allow you to do new things that are a bit crazier. But mainly, you have to know how to use the animation tool, and in general it’s either Autodesk Maya or Autodesk 3ds Max or Blender now too.

These are the 3D tools that enable you to model, animate and create special effects animations. There are lots of tools now that are more user-friendly than 15 or 20 years ago, when you really had to be a bit of a hacker. Now, a lot of tools are being developed, and it’s much simpler, thanks in particular to the Internet. With all the YouTube videos you can find on animation or any other subject, you can easily find what you’re looking for. Whereas 15-20 years ago, it was really complicated to find a tutorial, you really had to dig into the manuals of the software of the time. It was a different time.

We’ve talked about the fact that you’re a freelance artist. Do you apply to the studios yourself? Or do the studios come looking for you?

I stayed with Spiders for twelve years, but at the end of Greedfall, when I went freelance, something really started to happen on the networks and I began to share my work on the Internet. I’d make little ten-second videos of certain boss moments, or certain enemies I’d made on Greedfall for example. That’s when a lot of people approached me, and followers started following my work. It was really interesting to see this thing suddenly take off. It’s kind of strange trying to figure out why people were so interested in what I was doing.

Then Jason Shum, a former Blizzard animator, contacted me. He’d set up his own freelance animation company in California and said, “Arthur, I’ve seen your work, and I’m interested in hooking you up with a project I have in-house.” His company lends freelancers to big studios, so they can start working directly on prototypes and become part of the team. It’s really like lending an animator. From there, he put me in touch with John Kim, who was director of animation at Lightspeed Studio, a new studio from Tencent, which is creating a new IP. They had just set up this company and they didn’t have an animator, they just had the animation director, but they needed reinforcements to animate stuff, to start prototyping, to animate characters that for the moment were just dummies.

I started doing gameplay previews, you preview what the final gameplay can be just by doing animation without using the game engine, really just in video. Sometimes, I make videos like that on the Internet where I show what a game can be just by showing animation videos. This animator I came into contact with, John Kim, was a great meeting for me because he’d just finished 20 years at Naughty Dog, he’d worked on Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, The Last of Us, and he’d just left Naughty Dog to become Animation Director at Lightspeed. So I spent two years in pre-production. We’re really looking for a style, for what the game can be, for the paths we can take, and we’re going to explore all that over a certain period of time. This lasted an extremely long time for me, because my previous pre-productions, for example at Spiders, were generally a few weeks, a few months, and here it’s been a year and a half, a year and a half of pre-production doing prototype animation, pre-visualization…

Lightspeed is the studio behind Last Sentinel, a game set in a cyberpunk world, right?

Yes, that’s right. A heroine armed mainly with a gun, fighting androids in a cyberpunk Tokyo. It was announced at the Games Awards in December. When I was told the pitch for the game, I quickly became confident. Knowing that I was going to be working with these people was very interesting for me, as was the change of universe and type of budget. I’d gone from the Spiders budget, which is a bit AA, to AAA with these rather enormous resources, with people who are capable of spending months and months on animations that won’t necessarily be used in the game, just for research or motion capture.

Last Sentinel announcement trailer

I’m bouncing back on what you said. You’ve worked for French studios, here for a foreign studio. You’ve seen AA, AAA. Did that help you see any marked differences in terms of processes and organization?

I’d say it’s case by case. Budgets certainly change the way you plan your work. Because if you’re given a year and a half for pre-production, you have time to explore lots of different things. Whereas on a small budget, where there’s not much research, you’re going to go in one direction, and the first animation will basically be the one in the game.

It’s true that it’s an enormous comfort to work with, but it’s also something that’s difficult. For someone coming from AAA, it’s more complicated to move into an independent thing where it’s going to take a lot of time to develop a direction. Whereas if you’re coming from the other side, it’s more like, “Oh, I’ve got all this time on my hands”. I’m pretty productive by nature, but now I’m going to be able to let myself go a bit more.

The video game industry is going through a complicated period at the moment, with a lot of redundancies. Where do you stand in all this? Maybe it’s a bit peculiar for you since you’re a freelancer, but you have a lot of friends and acquaintances in the industry. Is it a difficult context to live in?

Of course it’s not easy. Back in January, we were all in doubt. Everyone was saying, “What’s going on? Why is everyone being wiped out like this? In the blink of an eye.” It’s true that it’s pretty scary stuff, just like the arrival of artificial intelligence in our businesses. Why replace creative jobs when we should be giving the boring ones to AI to make our lives easier?

In your sector in particular, could AI represent a danger?

There are already tools coming out like motion mapping, which is a great tool for rendering animation. Everything is pre-calculated to a thousandth of a second. But it was a bit the same with motion capture at the time, 30 years ago when it first came out, animators were freaking out, thinking “Oh dear, motion capture is coming, animators are going to disappear because we won’t be needed anymore”. But in the end, even though motion capture is now firmly entrenched in production, it’s not used everywhere, because it can’t do everything either. Sometimes, we want to make incredible movements that are impossible for AI to achieve. But it’s true that for realistic games, it’s a huge production gain, and it would cost a lot more to do it by hand. Ultimately, as long as animation tools are useful and there to help us rather than take our jobs, it will be more interesting.

But it’s true that it’s a blur, because we don’t always know what it’s going to be or what it’s going to look like. You don’t know whether you’re going to be able to slip through the cracks or not, and that’s a big uncertainty, I think, in the industry. I think it’s worse for people who do concept art or all those artistic jobs where you have to create, paint and all that. There’s a lot more progress on that side than on the animation side.

Animation concept for the first Greedfall
Animation concept for the first Greedfall

Creating an animation

We’ve talked a lot about your job, but mostly from an outsider’s point of view. Now I’d like us to go into a bit more detail about what it’s really like to make an animation. Are there any key stages, any pattern to follow? Let’s say I told you to make a double-jump animation for a character.

In general, there’s an initial phase called planning. At this point, we’re still thinking, researching, and we’re not going to start animating without knowing what we want to do. That’s good, because you gave me an example, you said “give me a double jump”. So, first you know what you want to do, and now you have to look for several references. We can look for references in various games or even “reference videos”, i.e. real videos of people doing double jumps, even if it’s going to be a bit complicated at the moment. But for other actions, it’ll be easier. For example, if I’m asked to do a run or a walk, we’ll look for video references of the action requested. With the planning and animation references, we can start to lay the foundations for the animation.

Then comes what I call blocking, i.e. blocking frames, several key images in an animation, often extreme poses in your animation, which you put one by one, creating a jerky movement effect. You can propose this blocking animation to your team, asking them if they need to modify certain parts, e.g. if the double-jump should go higher, if there should be more float to manage the moment when the key is pressed a second time, and so on.

At Moon Studios, we have processes called L1, L2, L3. L1 is really the blocking part. We discuss with the designer whether he agrees on the main keyframes of the animation. If we agree on the main keyframes, we move on to the L2 phase, where we refine the movements a little more, then move on by iteration. The advantage is that even a very jerky animation, you can already put it in the game and test it to see if it goes well with the rest, and have it validated by the team.

Then comes the third phase, the animation polish, where we really get down to the nitty-gritty of fine-tuning to make it as high quality as possible. These are basically the three main phases, bearing in mind that these three main elements can be divided into 20 iterations. The first blocking phase can be changed many times if it doesn’t fit…

Example of Arthur's animation in The Technomancer
Example of Arthur’s animation in The Technomancer

Is it possible, for example, for the art director to come along and say “No, that doesn’t fit in with the DNA of the game at all, you’re starting from scratch”?

Yes, it can happen. Afterwards, with experience, you learn to read the team’s intentions. In any case, they want our expertise as animators, because we’re used to creating thousands of them. We know the references for other games, we know the references for anything. For example, if we start working on a boss, someone will say “Oh, I like that boss in Elden Ring” or “I like that boss in Devil May Cry. What do you think?”

We’ll take elements of that boss, a flow, a feeling that we want to find, and that’s how you give notes of intent to your animations. In fact, I think that’s the most important thing when you start working on an animation, the note of intent. What does your character want to do? If it’s a boss and he wants to kill the player, he can’t just go quietly, he has to run at the player to gut him.

It’s often something that young animators forget, to put themselves in the context of what’s happening in the game. We’re a bit isolated at our computer, working on the animation against our all-white background, where nothing’s happening. You really have to give it context and not lose that. Sometimes you can have a really bad animation, but it looks really good, because it’s in the context of the game. In fact, I think FromSoftware are very good at this, they manage to make things a bit messy sometimes, but because it’s so smooth in the animation set, it’s so well put together and in character that you’re not going to focus on the little detail that’s wrong with the animation.

This year alone, you’ve worked on rather 2D game projects like The Last Faith or Prince of Persia, and more recently on No Rest for the Wicked, a 3D isometric view. Are 2D and 3D animation two completely different things?

Yes, it changes a lot of things in general. You don’t work with animation in the same way, whether your game is in 2D or isometric 3D or TPS. Recently, I did some animation for fighting games, a bit like Street Fighter, and it’s true that I had to watch a lot of fighting games to get a feel for the characters’ timings, because they were also in 2D, so you really have to get to grips with the codes.

It’s the same for the isometric 3D view of No Rest for the Wicked. It’s very squashed for animation because you see the characters from above, so it’s not at all the same silhouettes we usually work with. I’m more inclined to work on the silhouettes of the legs or arms, where you can really see the solids and voids, whereas in isometric view from above, it crushes the character. You can pretty much see the head, shoulders and arms. The legs aren’t really visible, so you’re forced to tune your neurons in a different way. The isometric 3D view is very hard to manage. For me, at least, it’s one of the most complicated I’ve ever done, because you have to exaggerate everything. In fact, that’s the whole point of the game: all the animations are very, very exaggerated, very stylized too. When the character falls from a certain height, for example, when he hits the ground, there has to be a sort of bounce that’s stronger than usual. The same goes for jumps: given that the view is isometric, you need to jump higher than expected to really feel your character take off.

No Rest for the Wicked and its isometric view
No Rest for the Wicked and its isometric view

In the same vein, is making a battle animation or animating a boss also a very different approach?

As an animator, the most important thing is legibility. Our job is to let players know that something is going on. The player has to understand that the enemy is up to something and that he’s going to drop a mega-potato on your head. I like to call them beats, as in music, they create a rhythm. Basically, when you see a character strike a pose of anticipation with his fist back, you need to hold that pause for at least 5-10 frames, so at 30 frames per second, that’s about a third of a second. This gives the player time to read the enemy’s position and say to himself “oh, he’s going to throw something at me, I’ve got to move”. You can’t stay in that position too long, otherwise it’s too easy, but you can’t switch too quickly to the next animation either, otherwise it’ll be too hard. It’s all a balancing act.

It’s also a team effort. When you’ve finished an animation, does someone go back over it to polish it up, to make it more attractive?

It depends on the project and the tools available to the studios. At Moon, for example, they’ve just developed something called “Heat Reactions”, which has been integrated into Early Access. When you hit an enemy, it makes a movement in reaction, and this animation is a procedural thing. Normally, it’s up to us to make these animations, we make an animation of a guy taking a hit. But here, for the game, we had a VFX artist who knew how to make procedural reaction animations. This creates a bouncing effect when you hit the enemy, which is very noticeable on the first Boss, by the way, because it’s huge. You’ve got all his legs firmly planted in the ground and his great pelvic movements, with all the physics of his clothes and accessories on top, creating a very lively effect. When you touch him, you really feel that you’re touching him, which is perfect.

The first boss of No Rest for the Wicked
The first boss of No Rest for the Wicked

Just as an art director would be inspired by a particular artist, or a screenwriter by a book, as a game animator, are you inspired by any particular works of art, things that made an impression on you as a child or even more recently?

Yes, completely. I’m a huge fan of Japanese animation. I think you can tell a little bit… Or Japanese games in general, Devil May Cry, FromSoftware games. I also spent a lot of time as a child playing God of War or Shadow of the Colossus. Those were the big games that really influenced me when I was young, and made me want to work in video games.

I’ve also been influenced by a lot of mangas and comics. As an animator, it’s an invaluable source of poses, of really cool moments, when you’re really imagining things and drawing inspiration from all this great stuff. Dragon Ball, when I was a kid, I used to look at it with big eyes and think, this is incredible. Anyway, when I was a teenager, I spent my time either reading manga, playing video games or drawing, that’s all I did.

Do you still have time to play? What was the last game that made you go wild?

Hades II ? It didn’t take me long to get into it, because the first one really blew me away. I said to myself, I’ll buy it, I’ll play for 10 minutes… I played for an hour and a half…

I have fewer opportunities to play because I’ve got kids and that obviously takes up a lot of time. With these long working days, it’s really hard to sit down and play. But if I have to name one game, it’s Inside. Every time I think of a favorite game, it pops into my head, because it’s had such an impact on me. In terms of animation, it’s very sober, just a little boy moving forward and going through obstacles. There’s this twist in the game that’s so incredible when he transforms, plus a big chunk of procedural animation that’s really incredible. It’s really a game I love.

Then there’s Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian, which really blew me away. To have animated a bug that big, with a little boy following it around and interacting with it and the scenery. What’s cool is that you’ve got studios that really emphasize animation on the front line. That’s what I like about Moon Studios too. They’re very animation-oriented, and it’s something they really want to push to the max, because it’s in their DNA. They want to convey a lot of emotion and atmosphere through it.

On Hades, in terms of animation, what exactly makes you tick? What impresses you?

I generally prefer games that aren’t very pretty but are well animated, rather than pretty but not well animated. The first one wasn’t that crazy in terms of animation. What impresses me is the game’s flow. You can play this game for hours and never get bored of it, it’s like a drug. What interests me as a Game Animator is creating that flow in the player. Hades‘ animation is good, but it’s very choppy, very “pose to pose”, but everything is super dynamic and super responsive. As soon as you click, your character reacts instantly, and you’re really in control. It’s very important in gameplay animation to keep the player in control at all times.

As soon as you disconnect the player from the character through a flow animation error, you detach the player from his avatar and lose this state of flow. One of the fundamentals of gameplay animation is the thread. If you detach your character from your player, he’ll feel it and realize that he’s at home on his sofa, playing a video game, whereas you want the opposite.

Recent projects

I’d now like to go into a little more detail about some of the latest projects you’ve been working on. We’re going to focus on the year 2024, which won’t be bad at all, and it’s just as well, since I’ve had the chance to play all three games you’ve worked on.

Let’s start with Prince of Persia The Lost Crown, which I’d put on the back burner and recently picked up and finished. I already consider it to be one of this year’s greatest games, and I was really blown away by it. Would you like to tell us a little about your work on the game?

I was contacted by the game’s producer in 2022. He asked me if I wanted to work on their project, but I didn’t really know what it was. We had a little meeting and he told me it was Prince of Persia. I was doing two days a week or so on the project, and I was mainly connected to two things: special attacks and hero finish moves. So it was mostly between the bosses and the player, or the attack animations that the player could launch at certain times to unleash his powers.

I was in touch with the project’s main animator, who would give me the pitches, who would give me the major information so that I could move forward. It was really an execution job, basically I was told “you’ve got this in your scene, he’s got to do this and you’ve got so many seconds roughly.” But you’re free to do whatever you want with the characters to fit in with the AD and the animation style, which is close to Japanese animation. I was able to play with these dynamic cameras, with these hyper-strong poses and really hit the big impacts where you feel it hurts…

I was just about to ask you if you were inspired by Dragon Ball?

Of course I was. We talked about references like that, we exchanged Dragon Ball references, even Japanese fighting games like Guilty Gear where they have ultimate super attacks. You’ve got the camera going into directed mode, where it’s really staging, where you’re going to become a bit of a superhero for a few seconds.

When you take on a license like Prince of Persia, there are references, and you’re inevitably inspired by what’s gone before. Did you manage to take that into account? Was it a help or an added difficulty?

Yes, I played the very first one when I was a kid. I’d played Sands of Time too. What was that, 20 years ago? I think it’s also unconscious references sometimes. When you’re working, you create things and you don’t even realize that they resemble something you’ve seen before. Obviously, when you go to work on Prince of Persia, you know the history of this license. After that, I think this game really stood out because it’s a Metroidvania, with a new artistic and animation direction that’s not related to the old projects. It’s good to have your own identity to develop.

I recently saw that they were making a new Rogue Prince of Persia, and here it’s the same thing: we’ve still got a completely different identity, and you can see that they’ve really worked on that aspect.

Prince of Persia The Lost Crown, a game in which Arthur worked mainly on finish moves and special attacks
Prince of Persia The Lost Crown, a game in which Arthur worked mainly on finish moves and special attacks

Before we move on to No Rest For The Wicked, let’s talk about The Last Faith, a game that combines 2D, pixel art, platforming and combat, and that leans more towards Bloodborne and Blasphemous. A project perhaps a little less ambitious than Prince of Persia. What was the experience like for you, and if you’d like to tell us a little more about your work with Kumi Souls, who was behind the game?

The Last Faith is basically two brothers making a game together. They’re Italian, and when they contacted me on ArtStation, they asked me if I’d like to do some of the boss battles in the game. Mostly big creatures that take up the whole screen. In pixel art, it’s very complicated to keep the volumes so that it doesn’t look too flat or too pretty. My job was really to create the 3D model from the concept art he’d sent me. Create the 3D model, create the animation skeleton and create the animations for the game.

They gave me documents so I knew what the boss was going to do, the spirit, the references. They had a lot of FromSoftware references, and you could tell they really liked Bloodborne, so it wasn’t hidden. It took a lot of discussion and planning to figure out what we were going to do, because pixel art is a very complicated thing.

When you make pixel art that’s drawn rather than automated, it’s more complex. For example, in Dead Cells, we’re going to generate pixel through a video, which is simpler – you just press a button. But with pixel art, it can take all day to make one frame of your animation. If I make a three-second animation and there are fifteen images per second, you do the math – that’s a lot of drawing to do.

It’s interesting what you tell us. Does that mean that the pixel art in Dead Cells is not at all the same as the pixel art in The Last Faith?

No, as a matter of fact, there’s even a thing between pixel artists, where basically, if you don’t do pixel at the right ratios, you’re not part of the right caste, so to speak. Pixel art in video is kind of considered blasphemy. It sizzles a bit, it’s a bit messy, it makes noise like on old screens, you see the pixels moving all the time.

The Last Faith boss concept
The Last Faith boss concept

When you’re working on a project like this, when the resemblance to Bloodborne is assumed, you know that your work is going to be scrutinized. Is that something difficult to grasp, this fear of doing something less well or differently than the master of the genre?

The master is hard to dethrone anyway. At FromSoftware, they reiterate this with every project, with a whole array of monsters and bosses. They add them to their new games every time, because they share animations and models. Each time, they make a bit of the same game, expanding their universe and their bestiary a little.

You can’t have a bestiary of 100 bosses overnight, even if you’re just starting a game, given the time it takes to create a boss; they’ve been making bestiaries galore for maybe fifteen years now. So with The Last Faith, the idea was to keep the indie scope, it’s really an independent game because there were maybe less than ten people working on it. In general, in these small companies, small structures like that, it’s very specialized and everyone does several things at the same time. Here, I was doing modeling, rig and animation on the same thing, so it’s very versatile. As for pressure, I don’t put it on myself too much, because I tell myself that we’re going to enjoy ourselves, that we’re going to do something we like. In general, when you take references you like, you know you’re going to enjoy yourself.

The thing about pixel art animations is that we were allowed to do maybe less than 5 or 6 animations for a boss. It sounds ridiculous, but with that you’re supposed to make some kind of fight with a boss behavior that tries to catch you from far, from near, he can turn, he can jump…

With that alone, you have to give enough intention to make it look like something. Whereas in big AAA games, the boss fight is going to have hundreds of animations just to move and attack. It’s not really the same scope between these indie games and big games. I didn’t even ask myself whether I was going to make something roughly equivalent to Bloodborne or Elden Ring. As far as I’m concerned, these games exist and we’re right next to them, and everyone coexists. Everyone’s inspired by everyone else, and that creates mixes that sometimes result in really cool stuff.

Animation concept for The Last Faith
Animation concept for The Last Faith

Finally, we have to go back to your most recent project, No Rest For The Wicked. To put it in context, it was released in early access on April 18. It’s the new game from Moon Studios, the creators of Ori. It’s a game that borrows elements from Souls-like, survival games and Diablo-like. A game that aims to evolve the Action-RPG formula.

How did the Early Access release go for you? Is it progressing well? How has player feedback been?

It went well, I think, and it gave us a chance to take a breather from delivering the game to players. We had a peak of 30,000 simultaneous players in the days following release. When there’s a lot of feedback, there’s bound to be a lot of negative reviews, which always happens with Early Access. Fortunately, there have been lots of little patches to improve the game, so that people have better feedback and are more satisfied. It’s true that it’s always a bit hard to get this cold shower from players. But it’s Early Access, so we know there will be problems.

All in all, we were very happy because it’s really a great moment for Moon. I think it had been in development for six years. For some members of the team who had been there for a very, very long time, it must be a great moment. I’d been there a year and two months. I’ve really come to the end of production, even though production is still going on. I think everyone is happy and relieved to be releasing the title and seeing all the positive aspects of the game, that everyone loves the fighting.

I’ve done a lot of what are known as rune attacks. These are special attacks that you can install on your weapon. I’ve done about fifty of them, I think, in a year, and a lot of weapon combo animations too. Lots of boss fights, of course. Moon isn’t a very big structure, it’s 80 people, they’re not one of the biggest studios, which means that a lot of people are very busy working on a lot of different aspects of the game. As a result, when I’m working on one aspect and waiting for someone to add animation, sound effects or special effects, I usually move on to something else. It all happens very quickly. Over the last few months, I’ve been impressed by the strength of Moon’s team. I think it’s also because they have a lot of seniors on the team, people with 15-20 years’ experience in video games. They’re really experts in their field, whether it’s the special effects guys, the programmers or the cinematic animators too. It’s really incredible. I’ve got a really crazy animation team.

I work with Guerilla’s former Lead Animator, who did all the Horizons for 12 years. We work together every day. I also have another Game Animator called Brendan Body. He used to animate special effects films like Pacific Rim and Harry Potter. He’s been doing a lot of films like that for 20 years, and now he’s doing video games with us. So it’s true that it’s a pleasure to work with people who have such expertise in the field, both in animation and video games.

No Rest for the Wicked launched its early access in April, and the final version will be released in 2025.
No Rest for the Wicked launched its early access in April, and the final version will be released in 2025.

Still, the game was unanimously acclaimed for its AD, for its clear, high-quality animations. Was there anything in particular that inspired you for the animation of No Rest?

When I arrived on the project, I was blown away because they’d already been developing the game for five years. When I interviewed the Lead Animator, he showed me the game, the animations and the bestiary, and I was blown away by the quality of the animations. It’s not motion capture, it’s not movements recorded by a stuntman or an actor, it’s all done by hand.

It’s really something that Moon wants to communicate, that everything is done by hand, everything is very much carried by the artistic team. I’m not saying there’s nothing automated, but in any case nothing is done without a human touch. That’s the thing we really want to push to the max. The cinematics are all done by animators from Disney, Sony or Arkane. You can see it in the game when you launch the cinematics. The same goes for the lighting and staging. Everything is super polished. What really inspired me was seeing the work that had been done before I arrived. I say to myself, now I’m going to take over and try to follow the same artistic direction. After that, I always have these references in mind that I like. Every time I bring back my FromSoftware references when I’m in my meetings with the Moon animators, I tell them “Look at Bloodborne, they did it like this. This is how they build an animation set”.

There’s a lot of personality in FromSoftware’s projects, and that’s something I try to keep in mind. There are people who are trying to push the industry up, who you can take inspiration from and try to change that with them.

As I mentioned in my early access review, I found the animations absolutely magnificent, but on the other hand I sometimes found them a little repetitive from enemy to enemy or boss to boss. I’m well aware that you can’t create a thousand animations per enemy either, but are there any levers you can pull to ensure that the player doesn’t get the impression that every enemy is using the same animation, the same pattern, every time?

Yes, that’s something I’ve also noticed while playing. But yes, when you make a game, you have to think about production and how much you can afford to give for an animation, because you also have to create others and create a bestiary and all that gets built up as you go along. If an enemy does the same thing all the time, that can be good from a game design point of view, because if such and such an enemy has this way of moving all the time, you recognize it when it happens, but it can have its limits.

Exserv (Youtube content creator) pointed out in his review that the sewer boss does the same thing all the time, so you can play on his RNG to make him do the same move all the time. It’s a really interesting feedback, because it actually makes the fight completely boring. As a player, you tell yourself that if you do that, you’ll win easily. You find a bit of a flaw in the combat, in the mechanics, the logic of construction. After that, it’s up to Moon’s combat designer to find a way of breaking down this mechanical behavior.

It’s a bit of an in-between, a balancing act, to find out at what point you think it’s too easy or too mechanical, and make the combat a little more organic and complex too. That’s what Early Access is for, to make sure the game evolves in the right direction.

In any case, we wish you every success in the months ahead, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on things. That’s the end of this interview, thank you Arthur for your time and for sharing it with me today, I hope you had a good time?

Thanks to you, it’s been great to share this behind-the-scenes look at video games, thanks for everything and see you soon.

No Rest for the Wicked has been on the road and in early access for just over a month now, and as I write this, a first major patch should be on the way. I hope this article has given you an insight into the profession of Game Animator, and inspired you to discover Arthur Munoz’s recent and future projects.

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