For as long as I’ve known about 3D media, I’ve wanted to know how to animate it. I was raised in a very 2D childhood; games were mostly 8 bit (16 bit if you were extra fancy), animated media was hand-drawn cartoons and the only ‘3D’ media that we had was claymation shows that, while interesting, never really gripped me or made me curious as to how it was made.

When 3D came around, I lapped it up. I was obsessed with the impressive FMVs (that’s what we called ‘cutscenes’ back in the 90s, kids) of Tomb Raider III. I would dig through the game’s folders trying to find the .fmv file. I didn’t care about the game. I was in love with the 3D animation.

When Starship Troopers: Roughneck Chronicles came about in 1999, I would be downstairs at 7am every morning to marvel at what I thought was the most lifelike animation I’d ever seen.

When people started making fan-produced game movies, I watched them enviously on YouTube, wondering what marvellous talents the animators must have possessed, and silently grumbling at the fact that my computer could never handle such a software, for whatever reason.

I tried Unity and other “proper” game engines, but they often involved too much coding and I must admit I haven’t quite given Blender the attention it deserves. All I know is that the couple of times I downloaded these different softwares, I couldn’t make head nor tail out of them, and most tutorials were convoluted and amateurish.

Fast forward to recently, when I downloaded a wonderful bit of free kit called Source Filmmaker, which I installed on my recently-built monster computer. I watched a couple hours worth of tutorials, and decided that not only was I going to learn how to animate, but I was also going to enter the Saxxy Awards (an annual contest for Team Fortress 2 movies created within the software).

I’m having SO. MUCH. FUN.

It’s not perfect; it’s sometimes slow going, difficult and endlessly frustrating when you can’t quite animate or pose a character properly.

Sometimes, your keyframes look great but there’ll be a mystery keyframe somewhere (good luck finding out where) that will jump your pose to some random trainwreck mess that you don’t quite remember doing. The undo function is also horribly broken; pressing Ctrl + Z doesn’t just undo an action it undoes mouse clicks. In other words, either remember every single move you make, or find alternative ways of undoing your mistakes.

The engine is also quite old and rickety, so sometimes things just go wrong without reason, with no hopes of a fix (Valve abandoned SFM in 2015, and switched to Source 2, which isn’t yet publicly available).

That being said, all of its flaws aside, I am loving it. It’s the kind of software that may not be the most intuitive, but it’s certainly easy to learn and it works if you work it.

It’s also giving me a small opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to try: voice acting.

Since I didn’t get the job I recently went for (which we won’t talk about, because this is a happy post), I have some free time to kick around. So I will work my ass off on this animation! I have until about 1st March at 11pm (when entries open for UK folk) to get my entry in, in order to acquire maximum voting and promotion time.

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