Animex is a week-long festival celebrating games, animation, comics and visual effects through a programme of talks and workshops. It prides itself on being an inspirational, inclusive event where students and those starting out in game development get the chance to meet and learn from experts hailing from a number of big-name studios.
It’ll be held this Monday and Tuesday at Teesside University’s Animex, and as festival director Gabrielle Kent explains, this year it’ll play host to Naughty Dog’s Mark Davies, Media Molecule’s Rex Crowle and many others.
“Now that most of the prep work is out of the way I am practically bouncing in my seat over some of the people I’ll get to meet next week,” Kent tells us. “The Last of Us completely blew me away and that is possibly the games talk I am most excited about this year. Naughty Dog designer Mark Davies was last here in 2008 representing Ninja Theory and it’s going to be great to see him six years down the line after working on such an exceptional game. I am passionate about all of the games our speakers represent which means that I am probably even more excited than our audience.”
Some of the speakers are returning from last year, most notably Journey soundtrack composer Austin Wintory and Tomb Raider reboot writer Rhianna Pratchett, who is working with Square on a new project. That’s on purpose, says Kent, the idea being to retain a few familiar faces and regulars in order to lend the event a feeling of a “family reunion”.
“It also allows delegates to form a bond with our speakers and often leads to employment opportunities further down the line,” Kent tells us. “It’s wonderful to be able to say that our speakers enjoy the festival so much they want to come back. Rhianna was a very late addition to the programme this year after approaching us. She is such an inspiration to our students we couldn’t say no! The people that return are the ones that are the most passionate about their work and sharing their knowledge with the next generation. In most cases the higher profile the studio or speaker is, the smaller the ego. Animex doesn’t do egos.”
The programme of speakers is put together based on the games its organisers feel are the most exciting or innovative and through personal recommendations from previous speakers. “We never get everyone we’d like – Tim Schafer we’re looking at you – but there are always fabulous folks representing,” says Kent. “We also listen to the students and look at the games they are buzzing about, they’re often well ahead of the curve. That’s how we landed Karla Zimonja from The Fullbright Company – many of our female students had been shouting from the rooftops about Gone Home from launch.”
Kent also invites speakers based on her own personal tastes. “I think I terrified John Palamarchuk from the God of War team when he realised just how much of a fan I am,” she says. “We’re lucky to have Rex Crowle this year too. He is the kind of artist that wakes up your inner child. The glorious, brightly coloured paper landscapes and characters in Tearaway make you want to break out the Pritt Stick, crayons and scrap paper. That’s exactly the frame of mind we want people to be in when they leave Animex.”
More than any other year, the 2014 festival is focused on game design and narrative. It also aims to reflect the diversity in the game industry, from indie to blockbuster to mobile markets, plus of course Teeside University gains by pulling in so many budding game developers. “Many students attend with their colleges then go on to apply to us,” Kent says. “We also have a good relationship with Noroff in Norway who attend Animex every year and send their graduates over for a top-up final year at Teesside. Our students love the festival and always brag about the people they get to meet during festival week.
“One of the biggest benefits for us is the input into our courses. Many of our speakers are more than happy to consult with us on course content. While all of our staff are ex-industry, we do have to make a concerted effort to keep up to date. Having designers, producers, animators and artists from world leading studios feeding their thoughts and foresight to us each year provides an invaluable injection for our courses.”
Recruitment and course development aren’t the whole story behind Animex. There’s passion driving the festival, too, adds Kent. “It sounds twee, but we really are in it for the love of it, why else would we spend every Christmas panicking about all the little details? The fact that it is as exciting for us as it is for the students is why it’s a success; we’re passionate about making it the best it can be.”