Like most children of her generation, Kaitlyn Staveley grew up playing video games. “My little sister and I would take turns on the computer playing games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Pajama Sam. Eventually we saved up to buy our first portable consoles [Nintendo DS Lites], which enabled us to play games together. I remember playing Pokémon with her and battling our way to the top as a team! Good times!”
Staveley enjoyed animated TV shows, films, video games, and comic books, and was intrigued by the creativity behind them. “I didn’t know exactly what direction I’d take, but from a very young age I knew I wanted to be a part of something involving art.” Little did Staveley know how much her first experiences with these art forms would impact her life.
Born on a farm in Saint-Anicet, Staveley explored her creativity early on. “As a kid, I was always drawing or writing stories,” she says. She attended Chateauguay Valley Regional High School (CVR), and describes herself as “one of those quiet kids who was often doodling during class. Sometimes the teachers would find creative ways to include art in the assignments… Many thanks to them for going that extra mile!”
Next came college. Staveley took a three-year course in 3D animation and computer-generated imagery at Dawson College. “The teachers were great, and not only did I learn about animation, but many of the other technical and artistic elements that are involved in constructing films and games,” she says. Her final project was to create a short film: Do Us Part, that encompassed all the skills that she had learned. Staveley, who sings and plays the guitar and the ukulele, also wrote and performed the musical soundtrack for the film.
The animator’s job
Staveley has worked at Eidos-Montreal as an animator for three years. She works within a multi-talented team where members develop each game in different ways. She explains, “While animation teams bring life to the characters through movement, character artists create iconic designs, environment artists build engaging worlds, [and] lighting artists enrich the appearance and colours in those environments and characters. Writers construct a great story and emotional dialogue.” Staveley credits her close-knit team with helping her develop her skills. Communication is key. “Our leads are always good at hearing everyone out; I always feel as though our input is valued,” she says.
Those who have played Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy have experienced Staveley’s work firsthand. There were many different phases to the game’s creation: actors donned “MoCap” suits (motion-capture suits) and Staveley placed sensory facial markers and motion capture markers on them before they performed. “Faces, voices, and body motion were all recorded at the same time; and for most of the scenes, the actors were filmed in the same room alongside one another, which produced dynamic, natural, and believable interactions between characters,” Staveley explains.
The next step is to take “the facial performance and replicate it onto the characters. There is both a creative and technical aspect to it. This involves motion capture as well as keyframing [animating an object with the notion that it has an initial state that changes over time with regards to position or other properties]. We work with a software that utilizes the facial video footage from the actor, and poses that we animate onto the character… After that, we can go through our animations to improve, stylize, or accentuate specific poses and movements.”
Throughout the different stages of game development, Staveley’s daily tasks range from doing research for animation, learning new software, and occasionally putting on the MoCap suit herself to help her colleagues obtain new data.
As in many technical jobs it is important for an animator to continually learn new software and pick up new skills – which is a challenge, but Staveley says she wouldn’t have any other way. “One of the best parts of my job is when a game we worked on for a long time gets released to the public. Developers pour their hearts into the projects they work on; it’s very exciting to hear people’s reaction to playing it for the first time.”
To see Kaitlyn Staveley’s work, you can go to Youtube and search for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Kaitlyn Staveley – Facial Animation Reel. Staveley’s short film, Do Us Part, can be viewed at vimeo.com/272841386.