Alex Zemke: Animating Ellie's Kiss in The Last of Us and Portal: Companionship

Categories: Gaming
Last year was a big year for Zemke, whuch also saw him take a lead animator role in Puppeteer, a small release that was among the most inventive and beautiful titles of 2013. The Internet probably knows Zemke better from the stunning images that showed up in 2012 of his animated Portal short film Companionship. Though the Internet isn't lacking in the Portal shorts department, none of them quite can the elegant, almost Pixar-quality of those first looks at Zemke's baby.

Then there was silence.

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According to Zemke the project was almost scuttled by its own initial success. At first Companionship was meant just as a small personal project, but the wave of interest generated by media attention to his stills brought in a flood of names keen to be involved in a high profile project.

"It was only intended to be a tiny little personal project, but then all these different people showed up, with all their various skills and all their enthusiasm, and I got totally carried away," said Zemke. "I thought I needed to grow the project to accommodate everyone, and that was a huge mistake. Its scope and scale grew quickly, got way out of proportion, and became unmanageable. But I was still so excited about it, so confident that we could do it through sheer numbers and force of will, that I didn't recognize that everything was out of control."

Once 2013 rolled around and paid game animation work was forcing Zemke into working 12-hour days, six-day weeks, and driving 160 miles a day they made no headway, no matter how hard they spun our wheels. Toward the end of the year he was forced to admit that expectations on Companionship were just too high, and decided to take some time off to get some perspective

"Now the film is scaled way back down. It's simpler, more streamlined, and far less technically ambitious," said Zemke. "Which is nice, because I'm finally enjoying working on it again! For a long time it was just a constant source of stress, which it never should have been. Live and learn!"

Here's hoping that we'll still see Companionship one day soon. If his work on Left Behind is any indication, the result will be well worth waiting for.

Jef has a new story, a tale of headless strippers and The Rolling Stones, available now in Broken Mirrors, Fractured Minds. You can also connect with him on Facebook.

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