Ryse son of Rome

Interview with Martin L’Heureux

Interview With Martin L'heureux

Martin L’Heureux with Ray Nicholas and Charles Jarman 

We had the pleasure to meet one of the CG Legends, Martin L’Heureux during Trojan Horse was a Unicorn Festival. Previously Senior Animator on Star Wars Episode 1 and a Lead Animator for Metroid Prime, Martin joins Crytek as Animation Director and speaks with us about his carrier and the making of Ryse, Son of Rome.

IT’S ART :  You have been working for the VFX / Game industry for more than 22 years. Can you give us a brief overview of your carrier path?

Martin L’Heureux : I started as a 2D Animator about 23 years ago in Vancouver. Back then, 3D was just born! I switched to 3D Animation around 1995. At that time, it was like re-inventing the wheel. 3D Animation schools were very rare and extremely expensive to attend, but I was fortunate and managed to enroll in a school in Vancouver. Following my studies I started my 3D Animation career at Mainframe Entertainment as an Animator for “Beast Wars” and “Reboot” but, all I had in mind was Hollywood! In 1997 I moved to San Francisco to join ILM where I then worked on Star Wars: Episode 1, Men in Black 2 and Small Soldiers, just to name a few.  After a couple of years working on films I felt the need for something different. This is why I joined Nintendo to work on Metroid Prime as a Lead Animator. Since then, I have had the privilege to bounce back and forth between the movie and gaming industry.

IA :  What are the most spectacular changes you’ve seen in the industry? Why?

ML : The industry is much, much bigger these days. You can find studios of all sizes doing amazing work all over the world today. Whether it’s for movies or video games, they’re everywhere. Also, today the audience’s expectations are a lot larger. In 1997, people were happy with 50 creatures on the screen. Today, we want 5,000 and tomorrow 500,000. The audience is much more demanding when it comes to good graphics, hyper realistic characters/environments and amazing animation coming from the larger studios. However, strangely enough, the new audience is also very pleased with simple “indiegames” created by small teams because they often focus on innovation. The variety of production is immense.

IA :  You’ve worked on Star Wars 1 and Metroid Prime, two major hits and major achievements for the industry. Can you speak about your role in these projects and what are the real differences for an artist to work on a movie or video game?

ML : I was a Senior Animator on Star Wars Episode 1 and a Lead Animator for Metroid Prime. As a Lead Animator, I was responsible for the animation in the game. Working on Metroid Prime was fantastic! I had so many crazy looking creatures to play and experiment with. One thing I can say for sure, is that working on Metroid Prime made me realize that doing games can be as rewarding and challenging as working on VFX films. As you develop a game, you often discover multiple avenues which lead you to results you would never expect. Working on movies is also exciting but, I have to follow every detail of the script to 100%. The process is more linear and defined, working on games is more flexible. Also, the best part of doing games is that you get to play with your work! As an Animation Director, I have to play the game as often as possible to make sure that the animation is going in the right direction. Hahaha!!! How many people do you know have the opportunity to play at work? Well, I do! If you ask me, “what I believe are the top and best jobs in the world?” I would answer the following; Photographer for Hawaiian Tropic, Test Driver for the latest Porsche models and making Video Games/ Movies. Hey, I am in one of the top threes!


IA :  You’ve recently joined Crytek to work on Ryse son of Rome, one of the most awaited games on Xbox One. Can you let us know why you’ve decided to join this new project? What were the challenges ?

ML : I joined Crytek because Ryse: Son of Rome offered me the option to push my limits. That is the great thing about working on a Next-Gen title. You have to do better then what was done previously. As the Animation Director for Ryse, I made sure that the audience would get the best state-of-the-art animations. Ryse: Son of Rome offers a spectacular visual never seen before.

IA : You’re known as one of the best motion capture fight choreographers in the industry. Where does this specialization come from? Can you speak about the work done for the combat on Ryse son of Rome?

ML : Throughout my career I had the opportunity to work with many Stuntmen (or should I say fighting experts) What I find helps to give me better results is when I explain in detail the meaning of Animation to the MoCap performers. I also did a lot of Martial Arts in my early age. That helps me tremendously when I am on stage. MoCap is a great medium, you can capture all the nuances and subtleties of human physics and mechanics. BUT, we must not forget that animation is also an art with rules that have been established for over 60 years. Anticipation, Secondary Action, Opposite Action, Line of Action, etc. are all rules I apply on stage. I spent countless hours with the actors going over the rules. The best gift I received during this production was a compliment from the stuntmen. I was told on stage that my animation rules make them look good. For me, that meant that I succeeded as a MoCap Director. Furthermore, when I shot the combat for Ryse, I made sure to hire the best fighting stuntmen in the industry. Guys like: Ray Nicholas, David Newton, Charles Jarman and Joey Ansah allowed me to bring my vision into the game.


IA :  What was your references for Ryse son of Rome as it is somewhat a historical video game?

ML : I started by studying Roman fighting technics. We found great references and documentations online. The Romans were fighting machines but, they often fought as a group. Also, the Romans were using a defensive/offensive approach. “shield up, shoulder to shoulder”, formation style. Well, as you know, Marius also has to fight solo in the game. That is where I realized that I had to add some spice to the Roman Fighting Style. I looked at multiple fighting disciplines and picked what I thought would make Marius feel strong, agile and efficient. For instance, one of my favourite moves is when Marius jumps into the air (Superman Style!) to inflict a heavy yet agile downward stab to his opponent. I was inspired by a fighting move called “Superman Punch”. This “Superman Punch” is a technique used in Mixed Martial Art Fighting. The technique involves bringing the rear leg forward to feign a kick, then snapping the leg back while throwing a punch. Add a sword in the right hand and you get Marius’ Superman Stab! Of course, the Romans did not do that during combat. However, it feels right in the game.

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