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Meet the New Managing Director of Ubisoft Winnipeg

Ubisoft Winnipeg has recently appointed new Managing Director Michael Henderson to lead their work in developing the technology and tools used by Ubisoft’s global teams to create immersive, believable worlds. The studio was originally launched in 2019 with the goal of supporting the more than 40 Ubisoft studios working on popular series such as Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs, Far Cry, and more. We sat down with Henderson to find out more about his background in animated film, his passion for telling stories through technology, and his vision for the team over at Winnipeg. And his dog!

Can you tell us a little about your background?

I joined Disney right out of college, and spent a few years in their core technology group, working on their internal production pipeline systems for animation. When I joined, it was my team’s responsibility to start moving them towards computer-generated animations, and getting computers into the pipeline from the start of a project. But my desire was to go into production, so I moved over to Dreamworks Animation, where I started in the production engineering team – the people who built the processes and workflows for productions.

What made you want to shift from film animation and visual effects to games?

MH: There are a couple of reasons, one is that I worked through this boom era for feature animation; the 1990s through to the 2010s was the second golden era for the animation industry, with animated films being some of the highest-grossing in terms of box office. I was looking to what is booming now, and it was clear to me that it’s the games industry; every year, people are playing more and more games. Secondly, I’ve been playing games my whole life, so it’s one of those lifetime goals coming true, really.

Are there many parallels between your past work in film and your new role?

In my previous roles in film and animation, my focus was making sure that these different organizations with often very different motivations and goals were working together to make the movie, enabling artists to create something incredible. That was my motivation and what excited me, when you can sit back and say that you and your team enabled a team of artists to make an incredible movie. There are a lot of similarities in the work we’re doing at Winnipeg, our mandate being to push the boundaries of tech innovation to enable our game creators at Ubisoft to make even more incredible games, and that completely fits into my motivations and what I like to do.

What is the role of the Winnipeg team within Ubisoft?

What we do differently at our studio is, we partner with productions and work at their pace. We want to make the most enabling, most exciting technology we can, but also be able to deliver that on a scale where studios can use that tech to make their games. I love the pace of production and the deadline-driven environment, and I love that here at Winnipeg, we’re dedicated to working at that pace as a technology studio, and I think that’s what really differentiates us.

What would you say to someone without a background in games who may not see video games as a viable career move?

People would be surprised how similar the problem sets we’re solving in games are to the film industry. There are definitely differences: for example, in film, our target was to make one frame of film every two days, but it almost doesn’t matter how long it takes to make a frame, as long as it looks the way you want it to look. In games, you have to be making 60 frames a second, so there are technologies used in games that are well beyond what is necessary for film.

What qualities and expertise does a managing director for a studio primarily focused on tech need to bring to the role?

MH: Experience in technology is of course valuable; it’s helpful to be able to jump into meetings and know what everyone’s talking about. This studio is built on the foundation of working in collaboration with other studios, and maintaining those healthy, positive collaborations with game productions and other studios is a critical component of the role.

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Mar 26, 2021 at 18:34

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