Developer Interview: Sit Down with Senior Animator Carin Huurnink
It takes a team to make the magic of Warcraft Arclight Rumble come to life. Gather ‘round as Senior Community Manager Syless “Aezztra” Necole delves into more of Senior Animator Carin Huurnink's processes and inspirations.
Please introduce yourself and let players know what exactly it is that you do on Warcraft Arclight Rumble.
Carin Huurnink: Greetings! I am Carin Huurnink, senior animator on the Arclight Rumble team. I’m originally from the Netherlands and have been on the team since the early stages of our game. My job is to give life to our characters and to translate gameplay ideas into fun yet recognizable animations in game.
The world of Azeroth is HUGE; how did you and the team tackle the enormous task of scaling down the world to what we see today?
Carin: I have been playing World of Warcraft ever since its release, and nowadays, I’m raiding Ulduar multiple times a week in Wrath Classic. To me, it was a dream come true to work on a franchise that I love and, at the same time, create something brand-new.
One of the highest priorities while making animations for Arclight Rumble is to clearly signal to the player what’s happening on a small mobile device screen. In one glance, you should be able to distinguish which unit you’re dealing with and what action they’re performing. We try to achieve this by using clear silhouettes, exaggerated poses, and broad movements. Our VFX and audio artists really help us elevate it beyond anything we could do as animators alone, enabling us to scale a world as huge as Azeroth down to miniature size.
We try to squeeze in as much personality and familiarity to the in-game characters as we can, but the moments in which we celebrate an unlock or level up is where the player really has a chance to view the units up close. These moments are very important to us because we get an opportunity to add some personality to the characters. For me, these are the most challenging animations since my background is in games and not in feature animation or acting. I love working on these kinds of animations because they push me out of my comfort zone, which means I’m learning and growing. One of the most fun celebration animations I’ve worked on was Baron Rivendare. I did my best to give him an air of superiority and vanity. I attempted to communicate this through animation by having him flip his hair out of his face in the most arrogant way.
What was your favorite thing to work on in the game, and why?
Carin: It is really hard to pick one single thing, there are so many aspects to my work, and I love the balance between them. Animating and implementing a new unit is one of my favorite things to do because I get to work closely with all disciplines on our team. Sometimes when developing a unit, new ideas cross our path that might ‘feel’ better to play. We pitch it to design and, most of the time, get the go-ahead to tweak the gameplay of the unit ourselves since our main goal is to make sure the unit feels good to play.
Another aspect I enjoy is the initial character exploration phase. Most of the time, we work on a character that already exists in WoW. These characters have deep existing lore that we want to stay true to. Even though I have played WoW for countless hours, I always make sure to do a deep dive into their backstory to make sure I’m doing them justice with my animations. For me, it’s important to try and distill the essence of a character and find a way to magnify this so that it’s readable and recognizable on the screen of a mobile device.
After the initial character study, I start with pose exploration to further refine their personality. Stomper Kreeg was one of the most fun units to pose. Clearing Dire Maul to purchase some ‘Kreeg's Stout Beatdown’ to min-max our WoW Classic raids was still fresh in my memory. He always gave me the impression of a very joyful, happy, yet not too smart and easily offended Ogre. I thoroughly enjoyed translating these feelings into his character pose.
Are there any characters that were more difficult than others to animate in a readable way?
Carin: Our concept artists and character modelers do a phenomenal job at making sure units are clearly readable from the perspective of our game. They ensure the different colors on a unit don’t blend together and that the different shapes of body parts are very distinct, creating a clear silhouette. Therefore, we rarely experience difficulty animating a character in a readable way.
In some cases, we rotate units a bit upward to show more of their face and add some facial expressions and emotions. For instance, Whitemane is looking up at the camera. If we didn’t add that extra rotation, the player would mostly see Whitemane’s Chapeau.
When looking at the individuality of each zone, character, or item, what were some of the key elements that you wanted to ensure were conveyed to players? How did you accomplish that?
Carin: When developing environments or boss encounters on our game, I find it important —and a lot of fun— to add little callbacks to WoW. Everyone on our team is very open to feedback and collaboration. Whenever I have an idea that could elevate the environment, unit, or boss encounter, I pitch that idea to the rest of the team. The vast majority of the time, my suggestions are adopted, and— on the rare occasion that they are not— there’s always a very good reason for it.
Here are a couple of examples —I’m not going to spoil them all!:
- Ghost Mushrooms in the Apes of Wrath map.
- A Black Lotus in the Light’s Hope Chapel map.
- The scream of our Banshee celebration animation is inspired by Sylvanas in the Battle for Azeroth trailer.
Have there been any fun, funny, or just silly moments that happened during the development process?
Carin: So many! I remember animating the sheep for Polymorph, and we were wondering: what would happen if you Polymorph flying units? Floating balls of wool with legs sticking out, of course! I was laughing constantly while animating that.
For the longest time, we’ve been having someone put googly eyes on the figurines in our office, and up till this day, nobody knows who the Googly-Eyed Bandit is... I would hereby officially like to note that this person is not me.
Are there any challenges that stick out above the rest? If so, what are they, and how did you overcome them?
Carin: I’d say one of our biggest challenges was to find the perfect art style that worked with our game. Initially, we set out to stay close to our Warcraft III roots, but we soon realized that this detailed art style doesn’t translate well to the scale of a mobile device. It was really hard to make out what was happening when units are crowding the screen. We started experimenting with different styles and eventually found the perfect marriage between gameplay and art, turning Warcraft characters into the small miniature action figures they are today and inventing the term ‘Joyful Chaos’. This carries through all our art, including animation.
Are there any elements of the game that you worked on that players may not initially notice?
Carin: Our work as animators consists of a lot of back-and-forth between our animation software and the game engine. An animation can look good up close, but how does it look in-game? Launching a new map every time we want to test an animation can get pretty time-consuming. So, I decided to create my own test map where we can easily deploy units, kill units, and check out their walk-cycles and abilities. The map comes with its very own ‘Death Ray’, which basically is the Chain Lighting spell, but with a 100% mortality rate.
Most squad units have unique variations in their walks. Fun fact: as long as you don’t notice this, we have achieved exactly what we set out to do!
Occasionally, we organize ‘hackathons’ within our team where every team member gets a couple of days to work on an idea that they’d really like to see in our game; most people decide to team up for this and work on a feature together. A lot of good things have sprung out of these collaborations and are implemented in the game, including —but not limited to— Geaulieu the Sickly Gazelle in The Barrens!
Any Easter eggs players should look out for?
Carin: Yes. It isn’t an Easter egg if I spoil it!
Who are some of your favorite characters in the Warcraft universe that you hope to see in Warcraft Arclight Rumble in the future?
Carin: I would love to see Cenarius, Mannoroth, or Lady Vashj make an appearance as a leader and/or boss!
Besides that, it could be fun to have some Silithid creatures join our game. Not only because I would truly enjoy animating them, but it could be a fun opportunity to extend my poison/stun build.
What Army are you currently creating CHAOS with in-game?
Carin: I love my Tirion army! But lately, I’ve also been having a lot of fun with my Cairn deck. Honestly, I swap my armies a lot because each leader has their own unique fun synergy.
For more insights on creating a Mini from the ground up, check out our previously published article—Inside Warcraft Arclight Rumble: Creating a Mini— on the official Blizzard News site.