Tara Packard is a Bay Area character animator who’s worked in and around the games industry from pixels to real-time 3D. Her shipped titles include AAA games such as The Sims & Sims 2, Lego Island and Madden Football.
In the virtual world, Tara designed and created animation for MTV’s “vLES” (virtual Lower East Side), The Pussy Cat Dolls “Music Lounge”, and “vSide”- social MMOs with emotive 3D avatars (who can do a mean dance step). She has also done avatar animation for “IMVU”, an online social metaverse. Currently Tara is working in AR/VR. Tara has an ongoing passion and dedication to the study of non-verbal communication, acting, character motivation, storytelling, sociology, and psychology in order to create believable characters and breathe life into them. When Tara isn’t studying human nature or playing with new technology, she spends as much time outdoors as possible with her 2 small furry creatures, and sometimes can still be seen driving her ‘low-poly’ Rubber Duck art car.
How did you get started in the industry?
Tara: I stumbled into video games by being interested at first in movies and inspired by the Pixar short “Luxo Jr.” which led me to taking some early 2D and 3D computer classes after art school. That led to my first game job doing pixel animation for a game called Monster Hunter. It was canceled, however it was one of the first few games to go with the Sega Menacer and a super early VR headset (failed: people got headaches, eye strain). At the CES conference that year I got to try my first more immersive VR. I touched a 3D object with a glove and flew a hang glider through a city. I hung out in box VR (projection) and I was hooked. It was many years and false starts before VR made it to market. After games, working on avatar animation in online Real-time virtual spaces was a good lead into animation for VR. Once Facebook bought Oculus I jumped back in — just so many cool things to create, learn and experiment with now in VR!
What drew you to VR specifically?
In VR you can show someone exactly your imagination- you can put them inside it and share the experience — how amazing! In VR you remember and “experience” vs watch, you can show point of view, and it’s the most powerful natural feeling empathy creation tool. I always wanted to just reach into the computer and grab my character and now we can.
What are some of your favorite work pieces that you have created and why?
My favorite work has often been when I can experience people playing with my animations live as if they were a new toy or tool in virtual worlds. For example, I enjoyed so much watching a bunch of live avatars mix and blend dances and emotes to create entirely new dance moves, playing my animations like an instrument. Speaking of music, with a guitar series I made collaborating with one of the engineers, avatars could play a mixed series of animation and sounds mixing, blending and matching them to make the moves theirs, as if their avatar was really playing that guitar. This was so much fun! I also really enjoy working with children’s products. I designed, modeled and created a children’s space world that let my imagination go wild and it was a real blast to do.
What does your work aim to say?
Everyone and place has something interesting, a story, a past, the way someone moves or a look- everyone and everything if we just look. Bringing this out, sharing this in animation and art I create I also hope to share the spark and empathy I feel with all people and creatures. I also want people to feel like a character is alive and really there in the world with them. If I can get out the beauty, the moment or feeling, and share what I see that makes us both unique and alike, and, if I can make you believe that imaginary character is not so imaginary, and memorable, that is awesome!