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How 1st Grade Sketches and a Chance Encounter Led Ricky Robinson to a Career as a Senior Game Animator

by | Feb 14, 2024

Ricky Robinson

We caught up with 2017 Animation Mentor Grad and WB Games Senior Animator Ricky Robinson on his career highlights and the path that got him where he is today. From a childhood fascination with drawing to shaping iconic characters in blockbuster games, Ricky’s story is a testament to the transformative power of inspiration and dedication. Join us as we explore the pivotal moments and challenges that shaped his career in animation.

A Lightbulb Moment

Animation Mentor: Tell us about your animation journey. How did you get to where you are today?

Ricky: Growing up I was very into drawing starting back when I was in first grade. My best friend in class at the time loved drawing animals and I thought it was the coolest thing and wanted to be as good as he was. So I was always drawing animals and cartoon characters. Sports soon became my main focus as I continued throughout elementary, middle, and high school, but drawing was still something that I found myself enjoying in my free time. I decided to get my degree in biology but during my first year of undergrad, my family and I took a trip to Disneyland, and that trip became the sole reason I jumped into animation.

At Disney’s California Adventure in their Animation Academy theater, they had the Toy Story Zoetrope on display. Once the zoetrope started spinning and I saw Woody, Buzz, Jessie and the rest of the Toy Story gang come to life in front of me, it set off this lightbulb in my head and made me realize that there are people who actually bring these characters to life on screen! Immediately, I knew that this was what I wanted to do. The very next day I went back to school and changed my major to animation.

Toy Story Zoetrope

As I was nearing graduation with my degree in animation, I started to realize that though I had taken a lot of animation/art-related classes, I still didn’t truly know how to animate in 3D and I didn’t have anything to show for it in terms of a reel or portfolio. I hopped on Google and in searching for the top 3D animation schools I came across Animation Mentor. I watched each available student showcase and loved that it was completely online and taught by industry professionals. Needless to say, I was hooked and during my last semester in college I also enrolled in AM’s Animation Basics.

After completing AM’s character animation program, I did some additional 1:1 tutoring and also took the Cartoony Workshop at AM.

Ricky Robinson’s work in the Animation Mentor Cartoony Workshop

My first few animation jobs were smaller freelance gigs on very short contracts that maybe lasted only a month and I had some growing pains, but they were great for my experience in the real world. I then had a very short stint at DreamWorks Animation as a production assistant in the Lighting Department on the movie, Abominable. Although I was not yet an animator at a studio it was very pivotal in my career in the sense that it motivated me even more to keep animating in my free time. Every opportunity I had while at DreamWorks I would take my reel and have it critiqued by animators there and soak up as much knowledge from them as I could. Huge shoutout to Drew Adams, Michael Amos, Sean Sexton, and JP Sans!

PlayStation Studios in San Diego then offered me a position as a cinematic animator on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. That would mark the start of my career in gaming animation. 

Ricky Robinson worked as a cinematic animator on Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order

Since landing my job with PlayStation I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some pretty awesome games at some great studios such as EA, Visual Concepts on the NBA2K team, Ready at Dawn (now owned by Facebook’s Oculus Studios), and Warner Brothers Games. I’ve been with WB Games now for the last year and a half as a senior animator working on an unannounced title that is aiming to be released later this year, and I really can’t wait for the general public to see what we’ve been working on!

Ricky Robinson’s work on NBA2K22

Life as a WB Games Senior Animator

Animation Mentor: Walk us through a day in the life of a Senior Animator at WB Games.

Ricky: I usually start my day by checking to see if I’ve been given any feedback on my shots/tasks in Jira by my lead. If I have any notes to address I’ll get started on those first before moving on to my next task.

On brand new tasks, much like feature studios, we’ll have a kickoff for the character we get assigned, and usually, it’s a meeting with the director, lead, riggers, modelers, and design team. This is when I can ask any questions such as character traits, animation style, rig limitations, and bring up any ideas that I may have in mind for the animation. This is usually so no time gets wasted once it’s time to start animating and to make sure I’m on the same page as my lead and creative director. Then from there, the producer sends me my tasks for the next set of weeks and it’s my job to get my work done within that period and bring up any red flags to my producer along the way that may prevent me from getting my work done within that time frame.

If there isn’t a kickoff meeting then it’s usually addressing notes from my lead, submitting revisions, and then starting on the next task. The workday for me is very similar to the way AM works which is why I think AM is so great and sets students up for what life is like at studios.

Animation Career Highlights

Animation Mentor: Can you give us a deep dive into what it was like working on one of your favorite projects? What did your role entail?

Ricky: What I’ve just recently worked on at WB would be a great example but unfortunately, I cannot talk about it just yet. One of my other favorite projects was being able to animate Cal Kestis on Jedi Survivor. I had a handful of combat tasks with Cal and I had such a blast on those. Combat is one of my favorite things to animate, and trying to make sure I did the Star Wars franchise and their fanbase justice added some extra pressure. In gaming at most studios, you’re dealing with cleaning up mocap and enhancing the performance. With the combat tasks that I had been assigned the mocap was extremely slow and uninteresting and had tons of problems.

After getting guidance from my lead and the other awesome animators on the Jedi team during kickoff I went on a search for some awesome reference that would really help me to push the posing, action, and appeal in the combat moves that I was assigned. I wound up very happy with it and felt that I had transformed that original mocap into something so much better and fulfilling for those diehard fans of Star Wars.

Animation Mentor: What is one of the most challenging projects you’ve ever worked on and what did you learn from it?

The project that has challenged me the most so far in my career was when I worked on Lone Echo 2 at Ready At Dawn Studios. I was still relatively new to working with Mocap, and still just a junior animator and had much to learn. I was struggling both with learning and understanding how to work with mocap properly, finding a good workflow, and I was still learning how to be a better animator in general. My posing still needed improvement, and the technical side of Maya is where I really struggled at the time. With mocap in gaming you need to have a pretty solid foundation of the technical side of Maya and I had not yet had much experience. 

However, I learned so much from the job. I was there for about a year and a half and from the time that I started to the time that I left I was a completely different and more confident animator. My Anim Director (shoutout to Adam Bryne) took the time to really teach us how to animate and work with mocap and taught us all the do’s and don’ts. Anytime we had questions he clarified and helped us all understand what it means to clean up mocap and enhance the existing performance. My leads were great at helping me with posing, timing, portraying weight in outer space, and also the importance of adding subtle nuances to your animation to help make the characters believable. Without my time at Ready At Dawn there’s no way I’d be where I am now in my career. 

Experience as an Animation Mentor Student

Animation Mentor: How did Animation Mentor help prepare you for the industry?

Animation Mentor is spot on when it comes to what to expect when you’re actually at a studio. The planning process where you’re thumb-nailing, posing characters, doing layout, etc. are all things that you will do on the job. For me, and I think most others at other studios as well, that part is done during kick-off meetings or quick 1 on 1 chats with your lead before you begin blocking. Then working on your task, putting it up for review or “critique,” getting feedback, and then working on those notes is also exactly what I’m doing daily. So truly everything that AM is having students do with assignments and critiques sets students up for success post-graduation. It is awesome!

Animation Mentor: Is there one thing every successful animator has in common?

Ricky: The desire to continue to get better and to not ever get to a point where you feel like you no longer need to improve. Whether that is animating every day when you can even if it’s just for half an hour, or framing through animation to understand posing, timing, and the other animation principles better, or reaching out to more experienced animators for feedback. It is also very important to be someone others want to be around and work with. We’ve heard it for a while now, but it’s true, our industry is very very small so making sure you’re kind, and can also take and give feedback nicely is very important.

Animation Mentor: What other advice do you have for current or future Animation Mentor students?

Ricky: Animation is difficult but it is also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling careers out there but keep sticking with it and follow that passion! It is easy to get discouraged when you see others in your same class, or even below, or (heck classes higher) and get discouraged and feel like you’ll never be as good as them, but keep in mind everyone is on their own timeline. As long as you continue to strive to get better and continue to believe in yourself, you will get there. Just be patient.

Ricky Robinson in the credits

Star Wars Jedi SurvivorLone Echo 2 (Meta Quest)
NBA 2K23 and NBA 2K22Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order

See what other projects Ricky has worked on or connect with him via LinkedIn or Instagram.

Want to be mentored by professional animators?

Start your animation journey just like Ricky Robinson did by learning from animators at studios like Riot Games, ILM, Insomniac Games, Disney, and Blizzard! Get more information about Animation Mentor’s Character Animation Program or Game Animation Workshops.

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