Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Fun with a sock

You’d be amazed what you can learn at Animex.
I’ve just come back from speaking at Animex at Teesside University. It’s one of those experiences I’ll look back on one day and think: now that that changed the way I worked. Where else could you sit down to dinner with a group of animators and level designers and get a masterclass in puppetry from a former Muppets and Fraggle Rock puppeteer? Yes, there we were, responsible adults with socks on hands, utterly absorbed as the excellent Karen Prell (now an animator at Valve - y’know, Portal?) showed us how it was done. And you know what? It’s a bloody sight harder than it looks if you do it right. Everyone thinks they know how to move a sock puppet -- until you see a pro do it. I count it as one of one my great eureka moments. And my neck still hurts.

I was supposed to be imparting game-writerly wisdom at Animex, but I think I learned more than I taught. The festival has a heavyweight cast of speakers from the most interesting parts of the game and animation world as well as an audience of very smart students, and I’m still marvelling at a rather clever game demo from a group of Norwegians who sat down to discuss it with me. I wish I hadn’t run out of time in the informal sessions -- I could have kicked ideas around with students for a week and never felt bored. There were so many great workshops and fascinating talks that it felt like a supermarket dash of ideas. When you’re on a schedule like mine, you often feel that you’re being sucked dry and no energy is being put back in. Animex went a long way towards topping up my depleted tanks of enthusiasm, and I think it’s the first time in ages that I felt like writing something for the hell of it rather than because I’d signed a contract and had to.

If you don’t know why Animex matters, then consider this. In the middle of winter, recruiters from companies like Dreamworks head for Middlesbrough, and they’re not flying thousands of miles because they fancy a curry. They’re there to talent-spot from the next generation of games and animation folk. In today’s economic climate, that tells you a lot.

It’s also a really happy, friendly event. That’s quite rare in this industry, and worth celebrating. It’ll take me weeks to process all the nuggets I picked up, but just spending a week with top-class people whose skills are different from mine and who love their craft was a massive tonic.