Michal Aldrich is a Junior Effects Animation major at SVAD. Alena Roberts, a fellow classmate sat down to talk with him about his recent work and Unreal Game Jam win.
I came into the department not really knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but I felt a strong desire to be a part of the creative process, specifically animation.
I knew Southern had a strong art program. Of course I did some research and googled a few names. I found out that one of the professors here actually worked for Disney animation studios back in the day. But truth be told I was really interested in the fact that Southern was the only Adventist school with an animation program.
The first few semesters here at Southern were definitely rough. Most of my classes focused on drawing and hand animation. I was terrified. I just about cried every week. I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing and that I wasn’t going to go anywhere. If I could even finish. Things got better during sophomore year. And now in my junior year I feel like I finally found the thing I need to be doing. Technical Art and Game Design.
My favorite classes here at Southern have been the ones where I can use my skill as a technical artist to help someone create a beautiful design or just to make their characters move for animation. It’s really awesome when I make a great rig and give it to a great animator to use in their project.
This year my Junior class has decided to create a game. I am the Technical Director on our game, so I help the animators get everything into the engine properly. I am also in charge of implementing the game mechanics. The latest mechanics in the game are a gravity field the player can deploy and levitate the character and the character can scan the environment and even charge his tool. Basically the game’s functionality is my responsibility.
I knew of Unreal Engine from the games I’ve played. You’d see the logos of all the Software that was used to make the game. And I thought to myself “Oh, yeah that software makes good things”. So, when I heard the announcement of Unreal Engine 4 and their node base scripting I got excited because it seemed like something I could do. I had always been a little afraid of scripting. All the syntax and figuring thatout what is what seemed a little scary to me at first. But after seeing how Unreal innovated the whole process sort of put my worries at ease and I was able to get into it.
A Gam Jam is an event where a small group of people push to create a game in a few days. A lot of game companies do this to increase group morale. Many of the companies that do this say that many of their best games come from the Jam. I really liked the concept and really wanted to do one once I learned Unreal. And as luck would have it, every month Epic Games, the company that created Unreal, would hold a Game Jam contest. The contestants would form a group of one to five people and create a game with the subject given. My first Unreal Game Jam was in January when Zach told me about the contest. So we recruited some people and got started one weekend. The whole process was insanely fun. The group grew closer, we learned thing about one another, and about ourselves.
One great thing that I learned from the whole experience is how to push everything out in a short amount of time so that we can look at the project at a whole. By doing this you see everything, and if it sucks, you can tactfully tell the team that it isn’t working yet and work to fix it.
The first Game Jam was called Corpus Completus. Epic game had given the topic of “Back to square one”.
So Jesse and I thought what if we had a little guy made of square that walks around and tries to complete himself. Literally. He loses body parts from bombs laying on the ground but he must get them back to complete the game.
And we won.
Probably the best feeling in the world is watch someone enjoy the thing you made. We got to see people from Epic Games play our game over a live stream. And after showcases all forty- something games submitted they announced the three winners. Corpus Completus was the second name announced and I nearly jumped out of my skin. All the hard work paid off. But the most important thing was the knowledge we took away from doing the Game Jam that had helped and will help us on projects to come.
Being the most technical minded person in the class does have its downs. There is loads of pressure. I can make something great, but perhaps not as soon as everyone would want it. And of course that classes are more focused on art than tech at this time means I’m more on my own. I do find myself having to create my own educational mold so that I can be ready to graduate with all the knowledge I’ll need to enter the work force. Lucky for me SVAD is very flexible and the teachers are great so there is no excuse to why I can’t succeed.
Why are you sitting on a bucket?
Zach had the bucket from an Amazon order of some paint that exploded. I was given a cinder block as a present at the SVAD Christmas party this year. I put the block in the bucket, and now it’s my chair.