A group of Creative Digital Media students have visited Teesside University to take part in the Animex Festival, an internation film and animation event, held annually at the North East university.

The group two days in sessions held by some of the most prestigious names in the gaming industry, including CD Projekt Red, Naughty Dog and Monolith.

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CD Projeckt Red, creators of The Witcher game series, were reprensented by Anna Podedworna, Concept Artist for the Gwent card game, a spin off of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Anna talked about the challenges of creating illustrations for collectable card games, as well as effective visual story telling and maintaining quality under strict time constraints. Anna was responsible for designing and illustrating around 70 of the 400 characters from the Gwent game, titled Gwent: The Witcher Card Game.

Naughty Dog were represented by Games Designer, Liz Fiacco, who talked about the side of projects that many gamers won't see, but what the designers will work on for most of the project. Described as "blockmesh", Liz showed the audience what a game looks like before art, sound and performances are added. Naughty Dog are one of the most respected companies in gaming, having produced award winning games, such as the Uncharted series and The Last of Us, as well as classics such as Crash Bandicoot and it's respective remaster. Liz has also worked with Obsidian Entertainment, on titles such as Pillars of Eternity and South Park: The Stick of Truth.

James Gentile of Monolith Productions talked about his role as Senior Mocap Supervisor on Middle Earth: Shadow of War, the sequel to the award winning Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor. James gave the audience a first-hand look at how Monolith used a blend of motion capture and animation to bring the denizens of Middle Earth to life, including the Orcs, Ghuls, Olag Hai and Caragors. Monolith Productions have prevously worked with Middle Earth in the past, with Guardians of Middle Earth, as well as on survival horror games F.E.A.R and F.E.A.R 2, and the Condemned Series.

The group of students were also able to find out more about 2D animation from indie games developer Studio MDHR, creator of the indie smash hit, Cuphead. Cuphead is a side scrolling, run and gun game, inspired by the "rubber hose cartoons" of the 1930s, and was created using the traditional methods of the era, including hand drawn animation, watercolour backgrounds, and finished off with 1930s inspired, original jazz recordings. The session was hosted by 2D animator, Tina Nawrocki, who described the painstaking processes behind the creation of the game.

On the second day, students started off the day with Andy Bastable and Chantelle Porritt, Principal Gameplay Engineers from Rare Ltd, responsible for the Xbox One smash hit, Sea of Thieves. Andy and Chantelle shared some of the challenges that they faced developing an online, shared-world game. Rare started their journey with Nintendo, who they worked with exclusively until the early 2000s, eventually making the switch to Microsoft, developing games for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Rare have previously worked on the Donkey Kong game series, as well as the legendary Nintendo 64 GoldenEye. Whilst working with Microsoft, Rare developed Banjo Kazooie games, as well as the Viva Pinata and Kinect Sport series. 

Ninja Theory were represented by Principal Technical Artist, Matthew Stoneham, who showed his journey in the character and animation technology of Hellblade: Shenua's Sacrifice, which won the award for Artist Achievement at the 14th British Academy Games Awards. Ninja Theory have previously worked on Heavenly Sword and Enslaved, both of which received critical acclaim for their artistic design.

Little Big Planet and Dreams developer Media Molecule were represented by Art Director, Kareem Ettouney, who explained the concept of User Generated Content games, and talked about the joys of building immersive worlds, solely using a PlayStation controller. Kareem's presentation particularly focussed on reminding the audience of what can be achieved when developers use their imagination.

Daniel Robson, Senior Environmental Artist at Machine Games, spoke to the audience about the creation and environment art of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, published by Bethesda Games. The talk covered the challenges faced by the studio whilst developing the game, set in an alternate universe, where the Nazis were victorious in World War 2. Machine Games also produced Wolfenstein games The New Order and The Old Blood. They were also developers in the Quake expansion packe, Dimensions of the Past

The last session was from one of the most well known gaming companies in the world, Bungie, who developed the Halo series from Halo: Combat Evolved to Halo: Reach, as well as the Destiny game series. Senior Designer, Raylene Deck, held the session, talking about her experience on working on Destiny 2, as well as her previous role, working on the Mass Effect and Dragon Age game series.

For the first time, Animex had organised an orchestral concert with Composer, Austin Wintory, who has worked on the scores for the award winning Journey and Assassin's Creed: Syndicate. The performance was in Middlesborough Town Hall on the Monday evening, and was titled Animex Live. Austin led the performance of his work from JourneyAssassin's Creed: Syndicate and Abzu, with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra. 

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Creative Digital Media student Nick commented "Animex has helped me understand more about the creation of games from pioneers of the industry and I loved every moment", with classmate Harry adding "Animex was a great experience and I really enjoyed it as it gave me a lot to think about from a personal and professional point of view. The event gave me a key insight into the gaming industry.”

Tutor Kevin said "The students have had an amazing time at Animex this year. They've had the opportunity to listen to industry professionals with years of experience behind them and network with them afterwards. It's trips like this that really allow young people to see what a career in this industry could be like."

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