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Spotlight on TEC Women: Jen Bristow, game animator

The worlds of art and tech aren’t as far apart as they might sometimes seem, especially when it comes to video games.

We talked to Jen Bristow about how her early love of art led to a degree in digital animation – and a job as a 3D animator at Falmouth-based indie developer Moonshine Studios.

Jen, tell us a bit about Moonshine Studios and Get Packed

Moonshine is an indie games studio, founded at Falmouth University’s Launchpad incubator by Callum Taylor, Graham Smith, Jamie King and Marcus Gardner.

Callum was moving house at the time, and they came up with the concept of a game where you have to fit things into a car. They developed it into a couch and online co-op game called Get Packed, where you play with up to three other people.

You’re all working for a removals company and you have to pack as much stuff as you can into a van. It’s quite silly and stuff is often breaking in half and flying off. It gets a lot of laughs and it can get quite heated as well if you’re playing with family or friends.

It launched in April on Google Stadia, which was really exciting, and it’s had a really positive reception. With everything that’s been going on this year with Covid, it meant a lot to us that we’ve been able to put a smile on people’s faces.

How did you come to be involved with Get Packed?

I was working on a different game project at Launchpad when the Moonshine team were looking for testers for Get Packed. I was one of the first testers, and I thought it was brilliant. In fact, everyone who tested it loved it.

When my project didn’t work out, the Moonshine team asked me to join them as a 3D animator. It’s worked out well because I’d developed skills on the other project that I could bring to Get Packed. And I love being part of a small team – there’s just five of us, and it’s really close knit and friendly.

What do you do in your role as a 3D animator?

I work closely with Marcus, our programmer-producer. He codes the non-player characters and their behaviour, and then I produce the animations that show how the characters will look as they’re walking around or doing certain actions.

There are all sorts of art-based roles in games development – you can do background work, character design, all sorts. But I really love hands-on character animation and production, so this is a great role for me.

Have you always wanted to work in games?

It didn’t even occur to me when I was younger that I could. I grew up with games: I’ve always had a console and I played with my sister and my dad, but I never saw it as a career.

I grew up with games - I’ve always had a console and I played with my sister and my dad, but it didn't occur to me that it could be a career.

I did always have an interest in art, which I took at GCSE and A Level. When I left school I had a bit of a crisis where I really didn't know what to do. I didn’t want to do a degree just for the sake of it, so instead I spent a couple of years working in some very uninspiring jobs.

But I still loved art, so I eventually decided to take an Art Foundation course at Brighton College. I found that I particularly loved illustration, so I decided to take that pathway. It gave me a proper introduction to animation, and for the first time I saw it as a possible career.

I went on to do a degree in Digital Animation at Falmouth, which led me to Launchpad. I really liked the fact that I could combine animation with entrepreneurship and help to build a games company.

When did you make the jump from drawing and painting to using software?

That was on the animation degree. It was actually quite embarrassing because when I started the course, I didn't know what a drawing tablet was. I'd never really used one or seen one. I remember trying to animate one of my first pieces of work with my mouse, rather than the tablet pen!

But once you get to know the software, it makes a lot of processes easier. It’s easy to edit stuff, delete stuff, start again. And it’s easier to work with other people because you have your blueprint and you can build on it together and start making the basics of a shot.

Does using software feel very different from drawing? It’s a very different creative experience. You can do amazing things digitally, but it’s nice to keep physically drawing too if that’s what you love. On my animation degree, the lecturers said it’s always best to start with pen and paper before moving to a 3D animation software tool like Autodesk Maya.

Do you have any advice for girls who might want to work in games?

If you know you’d like to work in games, there are lots of avenues into it. It’s an industry that needs lots of different skills.

If you know you’d like to work in games, there are lots of avenues into it. It’s an industry that needs lots of different skills.

So if you love painting and drawing, you could be a 2D artist or a concept artist. If you’re more into managing teams and projects, there are producer roles. And if you like coding, the industry is crying out for programmers. So do some research and maybe think about studying courses that will introduce you to different options.

And do you have any advice for their parents about games as a career?

It’s important to recognise that the games industry is huge now and there are openings for people with all kinds of different skills.

It can be a big learning curve, though, and you have to be able to take criticism of your work – so helping girls to build their confidence and handle feedback constructively will be really valuable for them. If they have a willingness to learn, they’ll soon build their knowledge and skill.


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