Dev Blog
February 4, 2023
Slave Zero X: Artist Focus on Scott Brown
Scott Brown
Artist Focus: Animator
So, tell us about yourself!

I'm Scott Brown, AnimatedTako online. I grew up in Virginia, currently living in Georgia. My art style is aggressively shaped by American 80s toy-centric cartoons, late 90s action anime, action figures and 16-bit arcade classics. Pretty much, I love toyetic characters with functional designs, tightly controlled color schemes and cool, saturated shadows. I have the most fun animating fighting game scale pixel art because there's a duality to working in a rigid grid that's comforting in it's structure but challenging to find unique expressions with. Certain lines and curves just aren't possible to render literally, so you have to start implying them instead between pixels and I find that sort of interpretive element to be extremely engaging both to make and to look at. I'm an animator on SZX, working on all the pixel art sprite based aspects of the project.

 

How did you get started working on Slave Zero X for Poppy Works?

Wolfgang messaged me out of the blue about it on twitter around October 2021. I signed some stuff and we had a call where he showed me what was being cooked up and I thought it had awesome potential. I still had some full time work to finish on other games at the time. A few months later, I started working on SZX in early 2022.

What sparked your interest to work on SZX?

Even in the earliest form I saw it in, SZX looked like something I wanted to play. The action was crisp, Shou looked like fun to animate, and the dark dystopian setting felt like a fun playground for violence.

 

What do you enjoy most about working on SZX?

Trust, freedom and synchronization on the team. Francine empowers us to go wild with action and posing, adapting her characters to pixels. Tristan is open and receptive to any attack ideas or animation flourishes we come up with. We all mesh well on the animation team passing the characters back and forth, we're pretty much on the same page about what kind of acting and posing to use and any time we aren't, we pretty easily come to a consensus after weighing the pros, cons, and efficiency of different decisions. It's just really nice to be doing your best with very little friction in the way, and I think that shines through in our work.

How would you describe the world of SZX? How did that World influence the art style?

It's a dark oppressive world tailor made to keep you down with a protagonist and combat built around pushing past your limits, and finally doing something about that problem everyone has been telling you're too weak to solve. At least, that's how I see it and think about it when animating the characters. Even though Shou has tremendous power via X, He's finally putting all this pent up emotion inside him to use with a singular goal in mind, so no effort is spared. Every action is carried out with 100% intensity and effort. It's really fun to animate a character that's just exerting themselves so frankly. I feel the same about the various enemies in the game. They're all cogs in SovKhan's grand machine, little micro machines shaped for a specific purpose to keep the mega city functioning. They've ruled unchallenged as a power that's never tasted loss, and their entire lives are shaped around performing their particular combat role. So, we make their attacks very measured and practiced, but their hit reactions are messy and inelegant - They're not used to the resistance.

What has been a challenge you overcame working on SZX? An art piece you wrestled with? The complex pipeline?

Mostly just having to wrestle with cutting certain ideas because of time constraints. There were a couple times where we had to finish animating a character before they were implemented in a rough state, so I think we didn't take some risks we could have if we knew we had time to adjust them based on some testing in game.

What skill has helped you most on this project?

It's a cornball answer but it's true, communication is the key, and not having an ego helps even more. Anything I couldn't solve on my own I just brought to the table and talked it out with the team and we either knocked our heads together to come up with an easier approach or way to divide the work. Just keeping each other up to date and sharing sprites saves you so much time in small little ways. On a character like Enyo for example, she has a lot of props and wings. We saved each other so much time by making sure we shared reusable wing poses, sharing sprites every time we drew a prop for a new angle, etc. A leg here, an arm there. That's one of the best parts about working in pixel art as a team and it goes a long way to maximize your output as a group.

Poppy Works has been completely work-from-home since 2012. They are a global company in the sense that they hire anyone qualified from all over the world. What has it been like working with such a diverse group of people?

It's been awesome. Everyone has that unique little extra chance of adding a flourish I might not have thought about. The timezone coverage is pretty nice too - when I wake up there's already some awesome work posted in the team discord that was done somewhere else in the world while I was asleep. It's great to start the day off inspired like that.

Tell us something fun about working with the SZX team, a funny moment, something special that stands out to you about the team, or something you would like the world to know about this experience.

Building a game is a challenge of course - but especially one bolted together with tools that weren't necessarily meant to be used the way we use them. The team has a pretty good sense of humor about it when things go a little sideways and it's spawned some pretty incredible internal memes in the team discord.

What has been your favorite piece to work on?

I think the hammer wielding Heavy has been my favorite character to work on. He was the first character on the game I got to work on the majority of sprites for a few weeks in as I was starting to feel comfortable on the team and really started to get into the swing of things.


So, I'm both happy with how he turned out and nostalgic for the time I was working on him, getting to know the team and starting to feel confident this game was going to be something special!

Was anything cut from the project you wish had stayed in?

We got really excited collectively about a third, final "perfect god" form for SovKhan where he would be fighting you without any of his armor and minimal powers, just buff naked martial arts. After a long march animating mecha-like characters with rigid armor and huge mutants, I thought a final sprint focusing on just an idealized human anatomical figure would be a fun cool down and neat climax as SovKhan eventually has nothing left to fend off Shou and X with. We ended up cutting it in favor of focusing on more new content for the middle of the game, but it would have been nice to get to.

How did you get started in this industry? Any suggestions for up and coming artists who would like your job?

It took awhile working on small game projects in my spare time while doing animation in other fields before I was able to cross over into games full time. Experience on a team is important, and having a personal project you can work on to build a portfolio is great. The most important thing with animation in games with fighting game inspiration like this is having enough example work on one character to show you can draw them consistently doing a wide variety of stuff, especially doing a backflip and landing on their face after eating a nasty attack. Really, you'd be surprised. I think I've animated a backflip on every single game I've been on. Walk cycles, run cycles and back flips. Make that your life.

Final thoughts

I've really had a great time working on SZX at Poppy Works, I can't wait for people to get their hands on the game!

 

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