R: Gameplay Animation

  1. Background
    1. Game animation is unique: it stands apart from all other kinds of animation because of the fact that it encompasses all forms of animation. Every style of animation has been used in a game at some point. On top of this is the interactivity of the game platform: the animation, in many cases, is getting seen in ways the original creator never expected the art to be seen. This is because the one playing the game is in charge of moving the game forward, and by extension moving the animation forward.
    2. Another major factor setting gameplay animation apart from other kinds of animation, is are the development requirements. The desired end result and the degree that the player of the game has control over the camera can drastically change how the animation must be designed and implemented. Nothing can ever look perfect from every angle, and due to the development cycle and time pressures common in the game industry, there is little time to make every element of the animation perfect. Yet every year the quality of animation seen in all ranges of games, from superstar AAA development teams to single person indie projects, are becoming more and more impressive.
  2. Applications
    1. The main application of gameplay animation techniques are exactly where you would expect to find them, games, but because of some recent technological breakthroughs in real time rendering, some unachievable results due to time constraints can now be created using techniques usually reserved for games to accelerate content creation for digital media. A great example of this is the digital media company “Machinima” that produce video content created inside real time game environments.
    2. So looking back into the games industry itself, animation is fundamental to a huge portion of the games being created, as it is literally the designing creation management of all of the moving characters and a large portion of the movement of the props used in the games.
  3. In practice
    1. Gameplay animation usually consists of a set creation pipeline, every studio or team will have its own version of the pipeline. Here is an example of the pipeline that I use:
      1. Asset list: I’ll create a comprehensive list of all of the animations needed, listing details about what they are to achieve, number of frames, weather or not the animation is looped, and any dependencies.
      2. Pose Design: I’ll take an animation from the list, and go about designing a single pose that captures the desired look of the that animation asset.
      3. Pose Test: I’ll export the single pose from my animation software, and apply it to the character in the engine, to check consistency, and get feedback from the rest of the team.
      4. Stepped Keys: From here I will proceed to create the rest of the key poses around the original pose, using stepped keys. Stepped keys are important as the transitions are not important at this step and will detract from the timing of each pose.
      5. Stepped Test: I will export the stepped keys to be tested in engine, this is to check to make sure the timing and length function correctly in engine, this is another good opportunity to get feedback on your work.
      6. Breakdowns: While still in stepped keys, I will workout the correct breakdowns to accentuate the keys.
      7. Breakdowns Test: Keeping to form with the rest of the pipeline, testing the result of your work in engine at every stage, and getting feedback may seem over the top but it is one of the most important parts of any pipeline, the game engine is were the final work will reside, so it must be checked and rechecked.
      8. Curve setting: Finally we can transition from stepped keys to auto keys to get some movement between frames, but personally I find it best to work on a single transition at a time, keeping the rest of the animation in stepped keys until it has had its turn, also starting from the original pose, and working outward from there, from my experience produces the best result. Also it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, special care should be taken to the start and end of a looped animation, make sure you understand the export process, as to not end up with a hold at the start and end of the loop.
      9. Curve test: once again, export, test, feedback. You should know the drill by now.
      10. Iterate: The most important part of working with game animation is the ability to work in an iterative fashion, you may not work the entire pipeline on a single animation before you start the next, and things change over development, sometimes hours of work will be scraped, that’s why the ability to work iteratively is important: speed will come with practice and time.
  4. My Project
    1. Being my project is focused on gameplay animation, I will be utilizing all of the things that I have talked about so far.

References

Action: The Animator’s Process, Saturday, May 30th at Gnomon. (2016). Gnomon — School of Visual Effects, Games & Animation. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from https://www.gnomon.edu/community/events/action-the-animator-s-process

Game Specific Animation Techniques. (2015). polycount. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from http://polycount.com/discussion/97447/game-specific-animation-techniques

Procedural Characters and the Coming Animation Technology Revolution | AiGameDev.com. (2016).Aigamedev.com. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from http://aigamedev.com/open/editorial/animation-revolution/

timings?, G. (2016). Good techniques for syncing gameplay actions to specific animation timings?.Gamedev.stackexchange.com. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from http://gamedev.stackexchange.com/questions/108005/good-techniques-for-syncing-gameplay-actions-to-specific-animation-timings

What I Do At Work – Gameplay Animation. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js23ZWcs4z4

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