Career Advice - Working as a Lead Cinematic Animator with Chloe Bonnet
Want a successful career working as a Cinematic Animator? Chloe Bonnet, ESMA Montpellier alumnus and Lead Cinematic Animator at Creative Assembly, sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.
Want a successful career working as a Cinematic Animator? Chloe Bonnet, ESMA alumnus and Lead Cinematic Animator at Creative Assembly, sits down with us to share her journey and advice to aspiring artists looking for an exciting and challenging career like her own.
What's your current role and what does it involve?
I am a Lead Cinematic Animator on the Total War Real Time Strategy video game franchise, at Creative Assembly (CA). CA is the largest games developer in the UK; you might know them from either the Total War titles, or from games such as Alien: Isolation.
My role consists of making sure that the animation quality my team produces is the best it can be. I do planning, scheduling, management, motion capture planning and direction, and finally animation (both hand-key and motion capture editing).
Because my team is small, I get to take part in a lot of stages of pre-production as well! Such as storyboard and layout.
When did you first realise you wanted to work in this industry?
I was very lucky to figure out that I wanted to become an animator from a very young age. I’ve always loved drawing and was something like 6 years old when I watched Disney’s Snow White on a VHS for the first time. One day I discovered what I thought was a hidden featurette showing some of the making of the film after the credits.
There was this guy flipping pages between drawings he’d made of one of the dwarfs, and the drawings together created this movement. I was gobsmacked and knew that’s what I want to do!
What passions or interests do you feel guided you in the career you are now in?
My passion for animated films and storytelling. I understood from a very young age how animated films were made (i.e. in my child brain: people drew loads of drawings and told amazing stories thanks to them).
Nowadays what drives me the most is creating emotion in people.
I get excited when people feel stuff. Whatever it is, if they feel something from what I’ve created, I feel fulfilled!
Share one high and one low you experienced when you got your first job?
When I landed my first job, I left France to go to the UK. That was my first high! I got recruited as a trainee cinematic animator at Creative Assembly and got to do my first steps as a professional there. And that’s where I experienced my first low as well...
I really thought motion capture would be the same as doing hand-key animation. My first few months were very challenging, because motion capture is such a powerful and fragile thing to work with! I overcame this challenge by reaching out the other animators at the studio, learning from their experience and developing my own techniques and skills! And I became more technical and started loving problem solving.
Describe the journey you took into your current role
At the end of my 1 year traineeship at Creative Assembly, I got offered a 1 year associate animator position that I took straight away. The opportunity to work on Total War: Warhammer 1 was one I couldn’t decline; the project was way too exciting to me.
As I stayed in my cinematics team at CA, I gained experience and my lead helped me grow with every production we worked on. I got promoted to senior cinematic animator after 4 years in the team and became a lead on Total War: Warhammer III.
What about the industry are you most passionate about?
The video game industry is a very exciting place to be. Realtime rendering is such an incredible thing! Video games nowadays have insane potential when it comes to telling stories. It is an industry I didn’t consider when I was thinking about my future back in school, but it is now one I am very passionate about.
Day in the life
What does a typical day look like for you?
On a typical day, I will check in with my team, make sure everybody is doing well and help if somebody needs me. Then I’d get on with my lead duties: provide feedback, liaise with stakeholders on the productions we are currently working on. I’ll attend meetings as well, they’re part of my job. Finally, I will animate!
Depending on time of production and because my team is small, the split between lead duties and animation fluctuates: some days I animate 80% of the time, some days it’s down to 10%. It varies.
What types of tasks do you do in a day and how do you manage your workload?
It really depends, when in pre-production phase, I’ve had entire weeks where I do story board, and other weeks when in production I only manage my team and delegate the work.
Managing my workload is very important for my team to function properly.
One of my mottos is: “There are times when you have to do what you *need* to do, and not what you *want* to do.” That’s the hardest thing to realise. As a lead, you need to delegate the cool stuff to others, so it is delivered on time. My job is to make sure everybody works together to get the best quality as possible. It is a different dynamic. When my team produces great animations, it means I have done my job properly.
How do you manage a work-life balance?
Work-life balance is very important. It is tempting to do some overtime to do more and push quality, we all want to do it. The downside to this is that you give a wrong impression of how much you can achieve within the time you are given to produce what you are assigned.
This contributes to a vicious circle in which you can get yourself stuck very easily, because then people expect you to achieve that amount of work all of the time.
I am very lucky that CA values work-life balance massively. When I have worked for the day, I make sure to leave on time as much as possible, this also sets an example for my team: they get encouraged to have a positive work-life balance themselves.
Which departments and key people do you work closely with?
I work closely with the cinematic artists, the brand and marketing team (as we mostly produce trailers and marketing assets for Total War), as well as some of the game development team such as gameplay animation and narrative.
What software and tools do you use?
I use Motion Builder for motion capture editing and Maya for motion capture enhancing and animation.
Is formal education essential for someone aspiring to do your job?
It is not essential, but it is a plus. Formal education will usually give a more general training, which means that graduates will have a specialty they’ve picked, but they also know about other aspects of production (I personally consider this a real plus). However, nowadays there are so many ways to learn about animation that it is totally possible to learn from online resources only. There are many amazing animation dedicated schools online which provide amazing education.
Formal education gives the students a structure to follow, whereas the online resources ask of much more discipline from the students in my opinion. It is up to what people feel more comfortable with - I know I needed structure personally!
What skills do you look for when hiring an artist?
In addition to the essential skills expected from animators such as knowing and applying the 12 principles of animation, a knowledge and application of body mechanics and keen eye for detail, I would say the following:
Curiosity, interest in learning new skills, adaptability, humility, problem solving skills, drive to improve one’s skills and grow, desire to contribute to, and work in a team.
What mistakes do you see artists making when applying for jobs?
The main thing I see is that people rarely target their portfolio towards what role they apply for. They just apply everywhere with the same portfolio (everybody does that, from juniors to leads).
When applying for a position somewhere, look up what style of animation/art/etc., the studio produces and tailor your application to what this is: if a studio is looking to reinforce its team and works on a realistic looking project, applicants with a cartoony portfolio will be rejected straight away.
When applying for a project or a studio, show that your work will fit the project requirements and the style the studio is after. When writing a cover letter, do your homework and tailor your letter for the place you are applying for, don’t be too general, personalise the letter - it does go a long way (especially in games!).
What tasks would you typically ask a junior artist to handle?
I would assign multiple types of tasks:
Some simple tasks to build their confidence and help develop their speed, workflow and understanding of the pipeline.
Some more challenging ones, possibly with apparent issues, to see how they’d do in terms of problem solving and communication around blockers.
I’d enquire of the tastes of the artist and try to assign a task they’d enjoy as well.
If you could give one piece of advice to artists starting out, what would it be?
Be adaptive, reach out for feedback, be hungry for it.
Feedback is not personal; it is to help you grow and better your skills. A criticism of your work is not a criticism of you as a person.
Don’t be too attached to your work, there are going to be times where you’ll be asked to start over; it’s good. When you are starting as an artist, you don’t know everything and that is normal.
If you could go back in time to when you first started out, what advice would you give yourself?
Exactly the ones I just gave to the artist starting out above!
Chloe Bonnet is a Lead Cinematic Animator at Creative Assembly. She has been working at CA for the past 7.5 years and contributed towards more than 40 trailers and as many cutscenes for the “Total War” Franchise.