Animation Pro-Tips

Forum for ARTS/COGS/CSCI 4540 Game Development II, Spring 2017

Animation Pro-Tips

Postby BenChang » Tue Feb 28, 2017 5:48 pm

I learned a few animation tips today that I wanted to share while they're fresh in my mind. (Admittedly some of these will make more sense with pictures..)

First set of tips - these are from Almudena Soria from Naughty Dog, or from Kristjan Zadziuk from Ubisoft, my notes are a little messy.


Get your animations into your game engine as soon as possible. Even if that means using a proxy rig with a simplified character mesh before your character model is totally done, get your animations started and start reviewing them in the engine right from the beginning. Don't wait until they're all "done" and them import them: what's most important is how they feel in the game, not how they look in Maya, and there's no way to tell how they feel until you can play with them in the engine.

2. Everything is connected

When you're posing the arm and hand to pick up something, pose the whole body: the shoulders, the spine, the hips, and so on. The most common cause of "stiff" looking animations is when you animate only the limb and not the whole body - all the skeletons and muscles in the body are connected.

3. Use layering to add personality. Set up your base layer for a walk, for example. Then use another animation layer for personality actions; a character running a hand through their hair, straightening a tie, fidgeting with something, putting their hands in and out of the pockets of a hoodie, checking txts on their phone, etc.

From Mariel Cartwright (Lab Zero):

1. The importance of Idles: When doing a set of animations, don't start with the walk or an attack - start with the idle. Don't think of the idle as just a static pose: really treat it as a motion in its own right. This lets you establish personality for the character.

2. Also with the idle, plan out from the beginning how you will transition between the idle and the other clips, like the walk, run, attack, etc.

3. Animate with the in-game camera distance in mind. The camera distance determines the screen size of the character, which influences how much subtlety you can have. When the character is smaller on screen, they need to have more exaggerated poses and motions to be readable. When the camera is closer in, you can have more detail.

4. Also keep the camera angle in mind. If you have a more top-down view, you have to design your poses differently to give them a strong, readable silhouette. This is why it's difficult doing a camera directly down the Y axis: we almost never look at people from that angle in real life, so actions don't read well. Instead, use a high camera with some tilt.

5. Act it out. This is what we always say, act out your animations and shoot reference, but this is still advice that makes it into the Pro-Tips panel. It's not just visual reference, it's about you as the animator feeling the motion and in particular the weight shift in the motion.

6. Weight and force are essentials in any body mechanics animation, and game animation is largely body mechanics. Get the distribution of weight and balance right, and the application of forces and counter-forces, and you'll be most of the way there.

From Zach Lowery (Boss Key):

1. 1st person camera tip, particularly for FPS's. Normally when animating a character holding something, like a futuristic space marine laser rifle, you would first animated the hips / center of gravity, then the spine, then animate the hand positions, perhaps with an IK, etc. The character's body drives the motion, and movement and rotation of the hands drives the position of the object they're holding.

With a first person camera, you don't see much of the body and hands, just the object. So that means the pivot point of the object is often off screen, which makes many motions looks weird. Instead, pick a center of mass point for the object that is on screen and use that as pivot, and let the rotation of the object drive the position of the hands. You have to set up your rig to support this, which you could do using something similar to the Reverse Foot technique.

2. Use animation layers to add personality to simple motions

3. keep it simple: don't put style ahead of readability. Particularly in 1st person, where you don't see most of the body most of the time, and have to communicate actions just from the arms and hands. One technique is to simplify motions into key beats, and emphasize holds (around 4-6 frames) in between the beats. You can add style to the beats in between the holds, but having clear holds keeps the overall sequence of motions more readable.

From Young Vo (Sparky Pants):

1. Don't start a hit react from the idle pose: start it from the recovery. This one is a little hard to explain without pictures, but I'll try and can elaborate later.

The basic sequence of a hit react usually goes like this:

Idle -> Hit -> Recovery -> Idle

the problem is that the result often looks sluggish, even if the hit animation itself is tight. Even though the above sequence is logically correct, visually the amount of time from idle->hit->recovery feels slow. So what you can do is just go straight to Recovery, which will typically begin with the most exaggerated pose in the sequence.

I think you can also view this as a rhythm or transfer of force issue. In the problem that Young Vo is illustrating, what also happens is that there's a kind of mismatch in the rhythm between the attack and the hit react. The attack's high intensity point is the moment of impact, but the hit react's high intensity point is typically during the recovery. Having a delay between the two creates a dissipation of force.

This is actually a common trick in many game animation situations: when your animation looks sluggish, try removing part of it even if that breaks the logical sequence.

2. Use a "Decision/Opinion" pose. This will also probably make more sense with pictures, but I'll try. The basic idea is that you want to show not just an action, but the character deciding to take that action.

A common sequence of poses goes Idle->Anticipation->Overshoot->Settle->Idle.

What this leaves out is motivation - why is the character doing this action in the first place?

In a monster attack animation, you might put in a Decision pose in between the Idle and the Anticipation, where they notice the player, or make the decision to attack, before actually doing it. This is a small thing, but can make them much more believable.

3. use your hand as reference. We always talk about acting out poses and actions, shooting reference of yourself, but sometimes it's hard to act something out - maybe you have a spider creature to animate, or it's something you can't physically do. Instead, act it out with your hand - the most important thing is always to figure out the timing, spacing, center of gravity and weight shifts in any motion.

From John Paul Rhinemiller, Vicarious Visions:

1. Mouth shape / lipsync tips: the "Swing Set". This is a technique for constructing efficient mouth shape sets for lip sync that works by using a limited number of shapes, around 12 or less, instead of trying to adhere to phonemes. This is a little like the "visimes" approach to lip sync, in that you care about shapes, not sounds. You can use shapes that don't necessarily match the current phoneme, particularly for in-betweens, if it makes the motion look natural. The key technique is to construct your set of mouth shapes so that they will naturally flow between one another. A common problem in lip sync is when you build a set of mouth shapes independently, just trying to match their phonemes. Once you start moving between them quickly, it can lead to too much motion in key points, making the animation look too busy.

2. for mouth shapes, start with the corners of the mouth, and think about rhythm and flow between shapes just as you would for regular body animation.

3. change the shape of the lids during a blink - shape them differently going up from coming down. Use a little drag in the middle.
User avatar
Posts: 176
Joined: Mon Jan 17, 2011 4:48 pm

Return to Game Development II Spring 2017

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests