“Ask yourself how you got here”: 3D character animator Saif Munawar’s remedy for imposter syndrome
Ever wondered who creates the movement of characters and objects in videogames? Look no further than 3D character animator Saif Munawar. At Lucid Games, his role involves animating ‘digital puppets’ to create the running, jumping, dancing and other such actions you might see on screen. Having studied animation at Bradford University, Saif landed the role after taking the time to prioritise “quality over quantity” in his portfolio and further hone his craft through YouTube tutorials. Here, he discusses where he networks to connect with fellow animators, plus shares learning resources for those keen to learn the discipline.
3D Character Animator, Lucid Games Ltd.
Place of Study
BSc 3D Animation and Visual Effects, Bradford University (2015–2019)
What I do
How would you describe your job?
One word: fun. There aren’t many jobs in the world that people can say that they actually love doing, but the games industry is one of the most entertaining and rewarding sectors to work in.
On a normal day, I animate digital puppets to create a set of movements that are used in games. This could be a character that has a specific walk or run, or environments and props such as doors, weapons or vehicles.
Depending on the project, I sometimes work with character artists who provide me the characters to animate with, or I work with my seniors to assist them with very specific animations. It tends to vary depending on project needs.
“There aren’t many jobs that people can say they love doing, but the games industry is one of the most entertaining and rewarding sectors to work in.”
What kind of skills are needed to do your role? Do you need any training for what you do?
The main skill you need is creativity. Anyone can create the same thing, but how we interpret it differs from person to person. It’s up to you to make your interpretation stand out from the others.
Typically, you would need a degree in animation as it gives you the discipline of working in a higher educational level environment, but it’s also possible for those who didn’t attend university to get into the industry. Many who have learnt from YouTube and other online tutorials have been able to.
Although a degree may earn you the title of animator, you have to devote your time to learning the basics and practising. It’s like training a muscle: the more work you put in, the more you get out of it.
What recent project or piece of work are you most proud of?
I had the great pleasure of working on a PlayStation 5 exclusive, Destruction AllStars, and animating some of the awesome characters.
One piece I am particularly proud of is one of its characters, Sgt Rescue’s ‘Clap Clap’ dance (above). I think I timed the movements quite well so that if you play any song with a steady beat, it will sync up the movements with the music.
How I got here
How did you land the job at Lucid Games?
I got my role at Lucid Games as we were coming out of lockdown. I had spent a large portion of my time during the pandemic practising my craft and updating my showreel – which I think secured me the role.
What matters most is your showreel or portfolio. There are many animators out there wanting the same role as you, so make sure you only put your best work there. Remember, when it comes to your showreel, it should always be quality over quantity. Aim for detail!
Another tip would be to cater your cover letter specifically for each studio. Of course you can have a template, but remember to explain why you would want to work for that studio, how their games made you feel and how you can help contribute towards the studio. Also, don’t be afraid to add emotion!
“There are many animators out there wanting the same role as you, so make sure you only put your best work in your showreel.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out? Did you find your feet quickly?
Shortly after graduating, I landed my first role at Bulkhead Interactive as a junior animator. I was not prepared for was the immense jump from being the top of my class to being the most inexperienced person there.
It was quite hard for me at the start. Sometimes the studio you first work for may not be the one for you – and that’s absolutely fine. When you first enter the industry, you have plenty of time to find out what you like and don’t like. There are many studios out there with different people, work cultures and work ethics, so go out there and find the one for you!
“In the industry, there are plenty of studios with different people, work cultures and work ethics, so go out and find the one for you!”
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career, what would they be and why?
Three different strands of industry advice have been useful for me.
The first is what many of my senior peers have told me on handling criticism. No one likes to be told our work is not good or up to standard, but we only know so much. Accepting and understanding the feedback that those with more experience hold can unlock the door to progression, development and success, so always take on feedback with an open mind.
The second is on handling the dreaded imposter syndrome. This is a feeling where you think to yourself, “am I really made for this job?” or “why did they hire me? I can’t do this”.
It is a killer feeling and one that can really destroy your motivation. Whenever I feel imposter syndrome, I ask myself how I got here in the first place. This question alone can help to combat overthinking. By asking it, you can positively re-frame your thoughts:
“Why are you here?”
“I am here because X studio hired me”
“Why did X studio here you?”
“They hired me because I was the best animator out of all the others”
“Why were you the best animator out of the others?“
“Because I worked hard to get where I am”
Your managers chose you for this job because they saw something in you. The job title is yours and you are perfectly qualified for the role.
The final strand is cooperation. Being easy to work with is more important than being good at your profession. Most people would prefer to hire someone with less knowledge and a strong willingness to learn and cooperate, than someone who is very skilled but impossible to get along with.
“Whenever I feel imposter syndrome, I ask myself how I got here in the first place. This question alone can help to combat overthinking.”
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
The 9-5 studio route provides stability, a secure income and the social setting needed for development and growth. Working freelance and supporting yourself, meanwhile, means you break free from the restrictions of a 9-5 by taking things into your own hands.
My advice for freelancers and creative individuals everywhere is to connect with others and socialise. Go to networking events and meet new people, engage with local businesses and provide your services.
Every September I visit EGX [a trade fair for video games] to meet with small developers and find out more about their games. I also chat with a lot of the students who visit the event. There are quite a few online networking events in the industry that you can check out on the Animation UK website. The key to knowing who’s who comes with networking, so it’s definitely a valuable tool!
“Every September I visit EGX [a trade fair for video games] to meet with small developers and find out more about their games.”
What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
Learning the software. This applies to any discipline that involves working with CGI: these are the tools of our trade and it’s all about learning these tools inside out.
Anyone can use a hammer, but those who’ve spent more time learning how to use it can probably do it blindfolded. We as creatives need to translate what people want and need into the software we use.
What are some learning resources you’ve found helpful?
YouTube is undoubtedly the best. There are many animators who’ve learnt from the platform and it contains a vast library of information ranging from animation specifics to getting your foot in the door. Some accounts I’ve learnt a lot from are MH Tutorials, Game Dev Academy, Harvey Newman and Mark Masters.
If you have some spare cash lying around, I’d highly recommend checking out Gnomon Workshop for crash courses in professional practices and Animation Mentor for learning basic to intermediate animation techniques.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Never be afraid to ask for help! Many of my senior peers have told me that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help – no matter how simple the problem may be. Time spent trying to fix that issue can easily be saved by asking someone next to you for help.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar career?
Start by researching the video game pipeline and seeing which sector you would like to go into. The industry has something for everyone – so if you’re a creative and like expressing yourself through art, you can become a 3D modeller or animator.
If you prefer the technical side and making things work, you could become a programmer or technical artist. If you like managing things, you could become a production manager or assistant producer.
Attaining these job roles take time, so know what you want to study and find a suitable course in that field. If you need to learn a specific set of softwares, download them and get familiar with them.
Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Saif Munawar