April 1st, 2021
We really enjoy working with all talented animators in the Spine community, each with their own workflows and tips. We recently had the chance to interview Juliano Castro, an amazing animator who is very active in the Spine community! You may have seen his gorgeous animated scenes on Twitter or his Twitch lessons and streams.
In the interview below we get a peek into how Juliano uses Spine in professional environments.
Juliano graduated in Graphic Design but his passion for drawing and art started when he was a child. He began animating in 2000 after taking a traditional animation course to create a pencil test. Since then he's worked with both 2D and 3D techniques while running his own animation studio in Brazil for almost a decade, doing freelance gigs all around the world.
What is your experience with Spine?
I landed a freelance project from a company in Canada to animate some cycles for a Transformers game while I was still living in Brazil. It was a very small project but I got the opportunity to use my first Spine Essential License. It was an isolated experience and I didn't use Spine again until I had the opportunity to start shifting my career towards gamedev, years later. I started a deeper experience with Spine around 3 years ago when I left Brazil to join a gaming company based in Malta. Over there, Spine was the main tool to create animated assets for their games and I went full speed in that direction.
I use Spine for my daily production at the studio and I also do a lot of personal projects with it as well. At the studio, most of the work is for game assets (characters and props). For personal projects I like to take illustrations from artists I admire and bring them to life. I use this to expand my knowledge of Spine and combine it with other tools like After Effects and Adobe Animate.
Does your approach change depending on what you work on?
Yes, it changes a lot. For games, especially for mobile, optimization leads the way because of the limitations of each game engine. For video workflows I can work with cameras at post production and higher resolution source images, unlimited meshes and bones, and the advantages of direct vertex animation for polishing details.
Could you describe your process?
Usually I receive the asset to be animated with basic cutting, as a layered Photoshop file. Then I use a process of planning and refinement of the cutting and organize the layers, groups and naming to help my process after, when each part is exported and the Spine project is created.
Next is rigging. Depending on the complexity of what needs to be animated, the hierarchy can grow to become very confusing, so, again, naming and structure are very important factors to make the character or scene more intuitive and the workflow easier.
Animation comes after rigging and sometimes I like to start animating before all the meshes are done, because seeing the part in place can give you a better idea of what you will need for the mesh, or even if you need to turn an attachment into a mesh. I like to see the start of the animation as a back and forth process. After achieving the rigging refinement I need and I have the basic animation half done, then I change to a more polished animation flow. I like to use the concept of layered animation, even though it is not really layered in Spine, but I use the concept of building up passes on top of another. I start with basic poses, then I create the inbetweens and refine the timing, keeping an eye on the body mechanics. From there, with a solid base done, I will work on the fine details, polish the arcs, overlap and follow through, and I leave the final pass for facial animation and very specific stuff, when needed.
What are your favorite tools, or runtimes, to use with Spine?
Definitely my favorite Spine sidekick is After Effects. It adds a lot with VFX, particles, and composition tools.
If you have tried different animation tools, would you say working in Spine differs? In what way?
Along my career I have tried a lot of tools. Spine made me transition for good from animating characters in After Effects because Spine is unbelievably fast to get results and high quality character animation out of it. Something I am always pointing out to people that approach me to know more about Spine is the bone/mesh/weight concepts that are very close to 3D tools. When I got started, I dove in with these concepts in mind and that made the transition from 3D to 2D very smooth.
What setup or animation was most challenging?
For games, I believe that dealing with multiple skins and having characters that dramatically change their accessories or clothing is always challenging. Outside of games, realism with human characters is very hard. Creating believable movement and expressions is very challenging because as humans we can detect very subtle variations.
How much time does it take you to work on a project in Spine, and how is this time divided?
It varies a lot depending on the project. For games it can be a long schedule due the long list of cycles needed and the reviews/feedback from the art director. If it is a personal project, done with illustrations from other artists, I like to keep it within a week. I like to divide the process by days: 1 day for cutting and preparing assets, 1 day for rigging, and 1 or 2 days for animation. Lastly, 1 extra day for render passes and composition in After Effects for final exports and posting on social media.
What's your favorite Spine feature?
I have a favorite combo. Definitely meshes combined with constraints is a big combo, you can do a lot with them, even with simple setups.
Any funny story to tell us while developing in Spine?
It is funny now, but quite a nightmare at the time. During my first experiences with Spine, I was new on the team and new with Spine and gamedev, so I asked one of the animators about scaling a character before animating it. The person just said “go with what they sent in the file”. The character came in a high resolution PSD, so I followed the advice and weeks later when the exports hit the dev team, I got a message to resize the assets to “the correct size”. I just replied with a fake “no problem, my friend!”. From there, I only remember the overtime and rebuilding meshes like there is no tomorrow. (Note from the Spine team: if you ever encounter this problem, you can easily resize your project!)
Do you have tips for new Spine users?
Always: study animation, guys. Mastering the tool doesn't mean mastering animation. Stick with the fundamentals, build on them constantly, and be persistent.
Any tips for seasoned Spine users?
Yes! Share your knowledge, help young animators reach their potential, keep doing great animation and inspiring them. We learn and we grow when we teach.
What or who inspires you to create?
I have a long list of 2D artists that inspire me and it grows daily. Most of my Spine work is devoted to them, by animating their illustrations, but artists who deeply inspire me are usually the ones that go out of their daily jobs to explore and stretch their creativity. I see that in animators who are also sculptors, or painters that are musicians, illustrators that could be chefs -- you get my point. Artists that don't limit their art to one circle but are committed to a search that fuels and grows their creative sparks. Also, I try to watch/read/listen to movies/books/audiobooks that can add to my work on a level beyond animation, to bring more substance to the mix. I like to research about movie directing, storytelling, the classic Disney/Miyazaki of course, but some live action as well.
Creativity comes from a fueled up brain, so I try to keep my “brain food” diverse and constant.
Do you have any favorite artist/game/game studio that uses Spine? What do you like about them?
I have some, more artists than studios. I like how creative they are with the tool. To name some of them: Jorge Bompart and Arman Harutyunyan.
Where can people find you or see your work?
My portfolio hub is Artstation, but you can also find my work on instagram and Vimeo.
Anything else you'd like to tell us about? We'd love to hear about it!
I am committed this year to starting projects for teaching and sharing animation, creating useful and more specific Spine content to help the community, and to present the tool for new people interested in gamedev and animation. One of coolest things that happened last year was an invitation to start teaching skeletal animation and motion comics in some online schools and platforms. One of them in Brazil, called Patio Digital, invited me as a mentor for their animation program.
Recently I started streaming daily on my Twitch channel, showing some processes with Spine, talking about animation fundamentals, design for animation and, soon, doing short reviews on animation that people send and want some feedback.
I have more ambitious plans like creating a short movie with Spine, as well and other projects that will demand more of my time and budget. If anyone is interested, they can follow me on my Instagram, Twitter, and Twitch where I do my announcements and post more recent work.
The year will be busy for sure and I hope we all can benefit from what is coming. Thanks to the Spine team for this opportunity to talk a bit more about me and my work. I wish you all the best and look forward to making this community stronger together.
Thank you for your time, Juliano!