An Exclusive Interview with Brandon Fernandez, Animation Director for the Rise of the Tomb Raider

I had a chance to interview Brandon during my time as an ambassador for Tomb Raider community for E3 2015. Brandon talks about his work at Crystal Dynamics and how he animates the Lara Croft of today!

Hello. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Brandon Fernandez:  Hi, I’m Brandon Fernandez, Animator Director on Rise of the Tomb Raider.  I’ve worked at Crystal for 15 years, with my first project being Soul Reaver 2.  13 of those years I’ve spent focusing on player animation and control.  Working with our talented player group on bringing our characters to life not only in cinematics, but during every moment of gameplay as well.   I’m excited to hear fan’s reactions and thoughts on Lara’s growth in her latest journey.
What would you say is involved in your average day working on the new Rise of the Tomb Raider?
Brandon Fernandez:  While not animating myself, much of my time is spent continually playing the game, ensuring Lara’s animations and controls are in sync and intuitive.  While we are always pushing for high fidelity motion, we also strive for a character that feels responsive and easy to control.  In addition to this, I also work with our excellent animation team reviewing work and providing feedback.

As a professional animator, how has the process of character animation changed through the years?


Brandon Fernandez:  15+ years ago there was less specialization in games, so an animator might model, rig, animate, create character vfx and even do a bit of design tuning.  With the ever increasing fidelity new hardware allows, along with a maturing game’s industry filled with professional artists in all areas, animators are now able to focus more on animation as an art.

How has this technology opened up new animation options?  Has it saved time in production or has it brought up new complications?
Brandon Fernandez: It has definitely increased our ability to achieve more nuanced performances with our characters.  It brings with it new challenges to be sure, but much like motion capture for body motion, it allows us to get the subtle, minute detail of human movement quickly.  Then it is up to one of our skilled animators to massage that into the characters you see come to life.


In the past, video game character animation would have been a more solitary occupation; working from pre-existing reference materials.  With the increasing use of motion capture technology in modern games, the artist needs to interact with the motion actors.  How has this affected your workflow?  

Brandon Fernandez: While motion capture is a great tool to help us create our characters, the majority of an animator’s time is still spent crafting that performance with the team here at Crystal or in our sister studio in Montreal.   Motion capture allows us to get to a common ground faster, so we can focus more on the subtly of the acting and emotion.
As an artist, do you guide the motion actors’ performance?
Brandon Fernandez: We have many talented people at Crystal who are in sync with our characters motivations, so the direction is shared.  Whether it is Noah, Tore, Brian or myself, there is always someone with a strong understanding of our characters driving the performances.
What is the most enjoyable part of your job?


Brandon Fernandez: The challenge and beauty of animating for games is creating a character who can both be separate of the player with her own personality, while also at the base level be driven by the player.  Ensuring the player and Lara are in sync throughout the game is a great challenge, and when done right is incredibly rewarding.