Marianne Hayden
Cinematic Animator
Marianne Hayden is a cinematic animator at Naughty Dog. She has worked on all four Uncharted games and The Last of Us. Additionally, she has performed on the motion capture stage for some of the secondary, action-based gameplay animations.

Outside of her work in games, Marianne is a producer, photographer, actor and film maker, having collaborated on a number of short films and other projects.

In the interview, Marianne discusses her process and her role as a cinematic animator at Naughty Dog. We also talk about a lot more, including her experience with crunch, productivity, and staying creative.
By Bailey Kalesti
Bailey: I know that you went to school for the digital arts and theater. Was animation always something you had an interest in?
Marianne Hayden
Marianne Hayden
Marianne: Yes, pretty much since high school. Toy Story came out when I was in high school and I thought, “I like that. I want to do something like that.” I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t know how to get into it, so I just studied art. We didn’t work with computers for art when I was in high school; everything was more like painting and drawing. Traditional art was my foundation and then once I got to college, it became more CG art.

But yeah, since high school I wanted to animate, but I also wanted to act too. But since animation is acting, those two blended really well together. And so I studied both when I was in college.
Bailey: When you were in college, were the courses digitally focused at that time?
Marianne: Yes. So, I went to UMBC, which is University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and they had a really good film program. I went from ‘98 to 2003. Since I double majored, it took me five years. But that was the beginning of when they started introducing digital into their program, and I went that way. I didn’t actually take any film classes, which I wish that I had. So, they had a little, tiny animation program at that time, and I took all of those classes when I was in school.
Bailey: And it was 3D stuff?
Marianne: Yeah.
Bailey: Had you ever thought about doing more traditional, 2D kind of animation?
Marianne: So, we did 3D and a little bit of 2D in undergrad, but I didn’t really do more 2D until I went to grad school. But I still focused more on 3D. We had to learn the fundamentals of 2D so we could apply it to 3D, right? But that was never really the focus that I wanted, I always just wanted to work on the computer (I don’t know why). And now it’s like, “Why am I sitting at a desk all day?” [laughs]
Bailey: Well you saw Toy Story, like you said, and that kind of stuff.
Marianne: Well, it’s not like Pixar was ever my end goal. That was just what I saw at the time. That’s what interests me; telling stories through animation and film. I like all medias to tell stories.
Bailey: So, what was your transition to working more on the game side of things; that interactive stuff?
Marianne: It was kind of like an organic process. Since I was more trained in 3D, and I had an animation background, when I got out of school one of the first jobs that I had was working as a contract animator for a wrestling game. The requirement was you had to know mocap and you had to know 3ds Max and MotionBuilder. And I didn’t know any of those. I hadn’t worked with either of those programs or done any mocap. But they hired me based off of my reel. And they were like, “Oh you can animate. You’ll do fine. You’ll pick it up. If you know Maya, then you’ll be fine in 3ds Max.” And they were kinda right. They were really similar.

But that was my start, the wrestling game, other than I interned at Insomniac (which was my first introduction into games).
Insomniac, a game studio, is known for a number of titles including those from the Ratchet and Clank series.
Bailey: What kind of stuff did you do while you were at Insomniac?
Marianne: I did a lot of turns and loading guns and some walks, but they also gave me the chance to take some old VO from Ratchet and Clank and do some test animations; to play with the old rigs. Because at the time they were working on Resistance and so they weren’t doing any more Ratchet stuff. So, basically I interned and just improved my reel. I didn’t do a ton on Resistance, I did a little bit. But it was nice because I had a couple mentors there that helped me. I did some creature animation there too.
Bailey: And this was all stuff that you would see while you were playing the game, so in-game animations?
Marianne: Yes, in-game animation.
Bailey: In terms of the kind of work you’ve been doing more recently, can you tell me about your day-to-day creative process? How does your day typically unfold while you’re working?
Marianne: At Naughty Dog?
Bailey: Yeah.
Marianne: I guess it depends on where we are in production.
Bailey: Where does your involvement usually begin?
Marianne: As a cinematic animator? Well, our involvement is consistent throughout the whole project. So, right now we just finished Uncharted 4. So, a lot of people are on vacation and we’re talking about what went really well on the last project and what are some things that we could improve upon. Trying to figure out how to apply those to our next project. How we can work more efficiently and also still keep our creativity really, really high.

In pre-production there's a lot of brainstorming and trying out new ideas and coming up with new systems for our characters or for our animals. The animators have a hand in all of that stuff. Talking to designers and coming up with new gameplay ideas. So, that’s kind of where we are right now. And once production starts full force again and we’ve started shooting things—after it’s edited and it comes to cinematics—then we just jump onboard and scenes are split up. And production’s in full force. Does that make sense?
Both screens of Marianne's workspace while animating a scene from Uncharted 4.
A scene from Uncharted 4, animated by Marianne. Body and facial animation. Keyframe/mocap clean-up. All prop animations.
Bailey: Yeah. I know that you’re doing motion capture stuff, then the editors take it and create 4ups for you guys to use as a reference. How much say do you typically have in what takes are used?
Marianne: That’s not really my job because all that stuff goes through our editor, Ryan, who you already spoke with, and Shaun Escayg, one of our cinematic leads. Shaun does the camera layout in Maya. He and Ryan work closely with Neil Druckmann to get an edit that works, to make sure it has the feeling they need for wherever the scene is in the game. And once they’re pretty solid on the cut of that scene, then that scene is split up between multiple animators. And so I would get a section. Let’s say the scene is two minutes long, I would get a section that’s about thirty seconds. My cameras would be pretty much done, but there’s always room for improvement. So, if I have a suggestion for a camera or a different angle or maybe there needs to be an insert shot, I can make that suggestion. Those things are always listened to. Sometimes they say, “Yeah, yeah. That can work,” or, “Oh, that’s not gonna work right here.” So, it’s not like it’s given to me and that’s the end. Multiple eyes on things also generate new ideas. They’re open to those kinds of things.
Animating a scene from The Last of Us.
Bailey: When you get a segment of a scene to do, I would assume that you’re handling all the characters that are in that scene for that period of time.
Marianne: Yes, most of the time. The main people in the cinematics, who are usually speaking. Sometimes we have background characters in our cinematics that are placed by the designers. And they would be NPCs that wouldn’t be in my scene file that I’m working on. But when it’s in the game, they’re in the background. Those I wouldn’t work on.
Bailey: So, the additional characters in there.
Marianne: Yeah. Have you played Uncharted 4?
Bailey: I have.
Marianne: Have you finished it?
Bailey: I did.
Marianne: So, a good example is when you’re in the ballroom during that underground auction. There are a lot of cutscenes between Rafe and Sully and Nadine where there are people walking in the background. The main part of those cinematics are those characters, but a lot of the people in the background were placed by designers.

And sometimes, by myself, those things were really complicated where we had to break them up into multiple cinematics and play them at the same time because the background people were making the scenes really heavy. So, we had to split it up. But usually for cinematics it’s the main characters. Those were special cases.
Bailey: I know you’ve been working at Naughty Dog for a while, and you worked on all of the Uncharted games, correct?
Marianne: Yeah. Well, I worked on Uncharted 1 when I was at Technicolor. That’s who they outsourced their cinematics to at the time. Now we outsource some of our cinematics to Sony San Diego. But for Uncharted 1, I happened to be working at Technicolor and I was working on Uncharted 1 as one of the games while I was there.
Bailey: What was one of your favorite cinematics to work on thus far?
Marianne: That’s a good question. I really liked the cinematics with Sully and Nadine. I thought that as characters to animate they were really fun.
Sully and Nadine at the auction in Uncharted 4.
Bailey: How so?
Marianne: When the face has more certain definition, like the cheeks or—Sully’s older, so he’s got more character in his face. Some of that skin is kind of loose; it gives you more to play with. I just prefer animating Sully. And Nadine—she’s a different character. I like animating women, for one. We only have two female animators on our team at Naughty Dog.
Bailey: Cinematic animators?
Marianne: No, there’s only one. I’m the only woman on the cinematics team. The other woman is on gameplay, and she works really close with design. But I like animating the women because I am a woman, so I bring that perspective to those characters.
Bailey: Like you were saying with an older character, I know that sculptors will often enjoy creating that as well because there’s more to work with and it’s a bit more interesting.
Marianne: Yeah, it’s kind of like figure drawing. I prefer to draw either really heavy people or really thin people. But normal people, to me, are boring to draw—[laughs]—when it comes to figure drawing. And I kind of feel the same way about animating. The extremes are more fun.
Bailey: In terms of anything that was more difficult, were there things you worked on that were a kind of a headache or kept you up late at night?
Marianne: [laughs] Actually, when I was talking about the scenes in the auction when there is a lot of background people, that was a lot of problem solving. Trying to figure out why isn’t this working and how do we get this to work better. There’s a lot of back and forth with our designers. Because originally the designers were going to place a lot of those background people to kind of match the cinematics. But we realized that wasn’t working because when we do cinematics, we’ll often move the camera and the characters around per shot for staging. But if you’ve got people who are stationary in the background (who are in the same place all the time), then it kind of messes with continuity if you’re moving the main people around the room for lighting reasons or whatever. And so that became a problem for some of those set ups. Working on that was really challenging, but we figured it out and got it to work eventually. I would go home at night and think, “How do I fix this, and why is that not working?” And having to work with the programmers to figure out how to get two cinematics playing at the same time, in sync. It was difficult.
Bailey: Technical challenges.
Marianne: Yeah.
Bailey: I saw a picture of you in a motion capture suit. How much motion capture stuff have you done?
Marianne: Well, a decent amount. I actually did some before I came to Naughty Dog because I have a little bit of an acting background. I’ve done some acting on the side. I haven’t recently, but a few years ago, before I had kids, I was doing more. I did some when I was working at Technicolor, it was the first time I ever got in the mocap suit. It was for Silent Hill, I think. So, then when I came here and when I had my first kid like five and a half years ago—it was when I was on maternity leave—Amy Hennig asked if I could fill in one day. I guess one of their actors was missing, but they knew that I could get in the suit and do that. So, I did. That was for Uncharted 3 where I did a bunch of IGCs [in-game cinematics] and background and in-game animations for Elena and a few other characters in that game. And then I did some on T1 [The Last of Us].
Marianne on the motion capture stage for an orphanage scene in Uncharted 4
The orphanage scene in-game.
Sometimes we need to go down to our mocap stage and shoot something and try something out. And the animators will just jump in a suit and we’ll do it, or if an actor’s not available. We’ll often have a stunt actor and we’ll have the actor who’s in the cinematics. So, it’s not always the same person who’s playing. You might see Elena in a cinematic, but Elena in-game is probably a different actor.
Bailey: The technology allows you to do that kind of thing.
Marianne: Right. So, when we’re at the end of production and we think, “Oh, we need to go to the stage and we need to capture this IGC.” Well, if you give somebody a day notice, sometimes it’s really hard to get those actors. So, it’s just like, “Well, I’m already in the office.” We just go down and we do it.
Bailey: Totally. So, what kind of stuff are you doing? Is it really action-based stuff where you’re getting behind cover or running?
Marianne: Yeah, it’s all over the place. Some of the stuff I did for Uncharted 4 were explosion reactions for Elena. So, there would be an ambient explosion and then a heavy reaction explosion. If you hear an explosion in the background, you react to it but the force of the explosion isn’t on the person. So, there’s that. And then kind of like flinching, I suppose. We do a flinch move set where you flinch from every direction, and then one where the explosion is closer to you where you fall on the ground.
Uncharted 4 gameplay with Elena and Nate.
I’ve done stunts, but then also IGCs, like an in-game cinematic that you would see in the background. Like boosting somebody up or climbing up a ladder or opening a door.
Bailey: That’s pretty awesome. I do want to talk some other stuff that you’ve done outside of Naughty Dog. I know that you’ve done some photography and film stuff. What have you been working on lately?
Marianne: I have a bunch of stuff kind of floating in my head right now that I’m hopefully gonna get to soon. [laughs] A really good friend of mine, Gbenga Idowu, is somebody that I went to school with at UMBC who lives in Los Angeles now. Actually, he’s been out here for about eight years. But we do a lot of projects together. He is a writer and an actor. We were in the same acting program in undergrad. And so, he will often write something and then I’ll produce it. And sometimes I’ll act in it too. The most recent film that we worked on together was a short that he wrote and I was the animation producer for it. So, those are side projects, you know? If I don’t have time to do the animation, but I know a lot of people in the industry that could do this for a tiny bit of money because when we do side projects we don’t really have any money.
Bailey: What was the name of the project?
Marianne: It’s called Symptoms of Love. We haven’t completely finished it yet so it’s not out. We both work so when things get really busy, those things kind of go to the side. We didn’t submit to festivals or anything—not yet.
Bailey: I can understand that. [laughs]
Marianne: [laughs] Do you make films as well?
Bailey: Yes. I’ve been working as a graphic designer, like motion graphics stuff for a live-action film. Doing the UI you see on the computer screens and stuff. I’ve also been writing a short, animated film as well.
Marianne: Oh cool. Are you finished writing it or is it in production?
Bailey: For the most part. I’m in the late-storyboard phase of that. Those things take a long time, like you said. Finding people who have the time and who are talented enough. And they need to make money and I’m like, “Well, I don’t really have a budget.” [laughs]
Marianne: Yeah, it’s definitely challenging. But in every project that Gbenga and I work on together he’s like, “I’m not doing anymore of these projects!” [laughs] And I say, “Well, I don’t believe you because you always have to have a creative outlet other than your job.” You know, something that’s more like a passion project.
Bailey: Something where you try to learn something new.
Marianne: Yeah, exactly. Or step out of your comfort zone. I don’t produce at work, but I know how to organize things to get them done. When you’re working on a film you need to organize everything and make sure everybody’s doing their job and getting it done. And stay on track. I like doing those things and I don’t have the time. And that’s like the only thing I can offer. Because I have two kids, I don’t have the time to be on set all weekend. But to answer your question, I do short films on the side. Or my husband and I—I’ll produce stuff that he’s working on a short film that he’s been working on for a few years off and on. I’ll help with the editing of that.
Bailey: Yeah, it can be hard to balance so many projects and things that are going on in our lives. Especially when you’re working on something at work and you’re in crunch. Everything else stops.
Marianne: Yep. Everything stops. So, even during crunch I would make lists of projects that I want to work on once crunch is over. And I go back and I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna do that.” I do it, and I cross it off and I move on to the next one. So, that way I kind of have something to look forward to that’s my own project at the end when I have time to do those things. And I’m just starting to go down that list right now.
Bailey: How long were you in crunch for Uncharted 4?
Marianne: At least six months.
Bailey: Wow, that’s a lot.
Marianne: Yeah, it’s a lot.
Bailey: Was it more than on The Last of Us?
Marianne: Yes, for me. I think if you ask people in different departments, everybody seems to have a different answer. But for cinematics it was crunch for a long time. [laughs]
A scene from the It's best this way cinematic in The Last of Us, animated by Marianne. Facial: keyframe. Body: keyframe + motion capture.
Bailey: I’ve never had a six month crunch period, but I can only imagine.
Marianne: I hope that you don’t. [laughs] I hope that you can avoid it.
Bailey: When you’re working for a prolonged period like that, what do you do to help with that?
Marianne: I go to the gym. I play basketball. I make sure I take breaks and get up and walk around and try and go outside. [laughs] I’m not kidding. I park in a parking garage under our building, I get in the elevator, I go upstairs, work, eat lunch at my desk, and maybe go to the gym. But the gym is in our building so there can be days where I won’t go outside until I leave work. So, I’ll go in, and it’s light outside, and I’ll go home at about 9 at night and it’s dark. Like, I don’t even know if it was warm today. Those kind of days. So, when I realize that I’m doing that, I have to take a step back and say, “Okay, you have to get up and take breaks.” You have to walk around. You have to let your eyes relax. You gotta go to the gym and release some of that stress and try and eat healthy. And I have to put limits on what I’m willing to give. How long can I work? Because I can’t just work until my body shuts down. I still have to go home and take care of my family, you know? [laughs]
Bailey: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Marianne: That’s a balance that every individual has to figure out, because nobody’s going to tell you how to do that.
Bailey: You need—at least in my experience—to save energy for the next day so you can be on top of your game, and for the rest of the week too.
Marianne: Exactly. For me, I couldn’t work more than twelve hours a day. I’d hit twelve hours and my brain was fried. I mean, basically anywhere between ten, eleven and twelve, my brain was fried. So, there would be days where I could only do nine or ten and then there would be days when I could do twelve. But if I was consistently doing twelve, I was just like a zombie. [laughs] And that’s not useful to anybody. And in my opinion, if you’re not rested and you’re not healthy then you’re not productive. And there comes a point where if you’ve worked too long, you’re being counterproductive. So, I would stop working as soon as I realized I was being unproductive.
Bailey: I fully agree with that. Is there anything that you wanted to make sure that you mentioned? Or if you have any advice? Could be about anything.
Marianne: Hmm, well, I really like my job. I work with amazing people. I work with really talented people and people that are open to suggestions and creative feedback. That makes for a good work environment. Even when there’s crunch. And crunch is hard and stress is high and tensions are high. All of those things that I mentioned previously are still there. So, everybody wants to do a good job and do the best that they can and so do I. So, that’s why people do crunch because they want to make a good game.

I was thinking about this the other day, I’ve been here for about seven years. That’s a long time, at least for me. I’ve never worked that long anywhere, ever.
Bailey: Do you feel that having worked there for that long has been worth it for you in the long run?
Marianne: Yeah, definitely. I was able to start my family and still have a job to come back to. And to have the flexibility. Yesterday was my son’s last day of preschool. I went there for his little celebration and took the time. We’re compensated for crunching and that’s really helpful. We’re allowed to recoup and take some time off and get the creative juices flowing again.

I don’t know, I mean, I haven’t worked this long at another game company so I can’t compare it to what someone else’s experience might be. I like it, or I wouldn’t have been here for seven years. [laughs]
Bailey: [laughs] That’s a good sign, definitely.
Marianne: And seven years, for a lot of people here—that’s nothing. There are people who have been here for ten years, fifteen years. And that’s encouraging too. It’s like, “Oh, well, something’s working.”
Bailey: Well, I just want to say thank you so much for talking and sharing what you can. It’s been really nice.
Marianne: Yeah, thank you.
The views and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the people in this interview and do not necessarily reflect the views of their employers.
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