What Did This Veteran Animator Gain at Blizzard?

Animation SupervisorRay Hsu

Ray Hsu joined SAFEHOUSE as an animation supervisor in October 2023, after working in the cinematic team at Blizzard Entertainment, where he was involved in the animation production of many popular games such as "Overwatch" and "Diablo.” He has also been involved in the animation production of one of SAFEHOUSE's biggest productions, and continues to work tirelessly as a trainer for young animators at ANIMGURU, the studio where he is currently serving as CEO. We asked him about his career to date and his thoughts on his work.

Hi! Can you introduce yourself?

Hi guys, my name is Ray. I am currently the CEO and animation supervisor of Animguru and animation supervisor at SAFEHOUSE. In my animation career, I started as an animator at Sony Picture Imageworks. “Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs” was my first feature IP in animation. Later, I worked on VFX films “Smurfs” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” After a few years in the film industry, I decided to go into the game industry where my passion and interests are. So I joined Blizzard Cinematics and was there for 9 years.

" is never about the big moves, it's always about the details that make you shine!”

What kind of people do you look for when bringing them on to your animation team?

I always look at their demo reel first. And the second thing is their character and personality. I want to work with someone who is fun, someone who is always passionate about what we do in animation. Also, if they are passionate about games or films. It's always fun to work with talented people and animators. I think lots of animators are fun to be with when they make jokes and stuff. I remember when I was a student at Pixar classes, my mentors were both super talented at their jobs but also really funny at making jokes and stuff. So I thought that's the type of people I would love to work with together, both talented and fun!

What have you learned from working with Blizzard’s cinematic team?

I learned how polished you can be with your work. I think I started to learn more after becoming a supervisor and giving feedback on people's work. I realized how to help and guide them to achieve the same image that I have in my mind. Lots of artists have their own take and thinking in terms of the shot. That's why I feel the process becomes very important at this stage. The people I was around at Blizzard were all very talented and professional! I learned the process of how the Blizzard cinematic team achieved something great! I think that's very important to me.

I remember my very first task was doing a run cycle of Zerg (Starcraft). In the film industry, this is 4 hours of work. And I finished early. Then I started to proceed to the next thing, but then my Supervisor started pulling out this anatomy sheet of a dog's skeleton and reference footage and asked me to really learn from the inside out of a 4 legged animal. I was shocked, and then I took my time redoing the animation of the dog/Zerg running. In the end, the Zerg cycle was finished in 1 week’s time. I was both shocked and excited to see the detailed process of Blizzard's cinematics team.

So like my previous interview with SAFEHOUSE, it is never about the big moves, it's always about the details that make you shine!

Credit: Blizzard Entertainment / Overwatch Animated Short | "Recall"
Credit: Blizzard Entertainment / Overwatch Animated Short | "Recall"

Which animated TV series or movie made you want to be an animator?

It was “The Lord of the Ring”, haha, I didn’t want to start as an animator. I think it was sometime in my college years we got to learn everything a bit. I was doing really well with the modeling. Also, modeling humans. And Animation was actually the worst out of all my classes because to me it was like really hard, animation was really hard to do. And I remember my first animation when I did it and the movement was basically like a zombie.

Maybe even worse than a zombie’s. And then I saw this reel from a graduate student who was going to be working at Blue Sky Studios. I was like, “Oh my god. How did you make something like that?” So I was really surprised and impressed with his work. And then I thought to myself, “Oh, I really want to learn this skill and to be as good as him.”

Yeah, because I remember that when I saw his work, I just kept watching it. And I kept replaying it over and over again. I just wanted to know, “How did he do this?” And luckily we had a program at school where we had Pixar mentors who could really teach us at that time. So it was great. And so that’s how I chose to become an animator for my career.

“...Pixar and Ghibli films. To me, their characters are so alive.”

What kind of character animation inspires you?

I was really inspired by Pixar and Ghibli films. To me, their characters are so alive. And the way they tell their stories, they are always so inspiring to me. And the details that they put into their characters, everything, it’s just beautiful. Even now, in the industry, there are so many great animated films, but those two studios’ work… I always go back and still watch them over and over again. Yeah, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Ghibli’s animated films.

Being a supervisor you have to interact with many different types of personalities. What is the most important thing to keep in mind when being a leader around so many people?

I think all artists have personalities and character which is important. I really respect that. It makes them unique even when they work. I think all artists have their own style and creativity. For me, I wouldn’t say I’m just a leader, it’s more of a mentor role: to really guide them, and help them in a way to achieve something that I see in my mind (for the project). And they can learn throughout this process of how I see things. They can train to see how I see things.

My mentoring style is to help people to really learn and to be better artists. Even if they decide to leave our studio they can keep growing as a great artist.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

The ultimate rewarding thing is definitely when the audience sees your work and reacts. That’s why we call it the entertainment business, right? In animation also, we make great art, great animation, people see it and they have feelings for it, right? So when they see your shot or see your work, they’ll be like, “Oh my god, it was so amazing!” To me, that’s the most rewarding part. Even with the most recent IP that we saw come out online, people’s comments: how they liked it, how it was exciting, looking forward to the IP… that’s the greatest feeling.

Finally, would you like to say anything to current and aspiring animators?

Thank you! Thanks for checking out this interview. I look forward to working with you all in the future.

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