Anna O'Key (annaokey) wrote in 3delite,
Anna O'Key

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Character Animation for Rise of the Flight 1917 cut-scenes

We made a lot of character animation for a large series of level premonitory cut-scenes in Rise of the Flight 1917 game.
Game developer: NEOQB, publisher: 777studios.
The game plot implied development of interpersonal relationships between fighter squadron pilots. First, aces look down on beginners and banter them slightly. Later on, when newcomers get more and more experienced, they become friends.

This is a scene which comes before one of the first missions. That's why experienced Rickenbacker treats John a bit haughtily. John is a freshman, so his behaviour is corresponding to situation. We had to complete these scenes in a very short time. One scene took from 2 to 5 days to finish (character body and face animation). We rendered this scene, so in-game it might look and sound in a different way.
You can download a better quality avi (12,5MB) from this page:

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Man, I don't know what it is about video game animation--I've only ever done level and pick-up object design for games, though I've animated in other contexts--but the characters always seem to have some sort of palsy.

Seriously, they always seem to move so much, like they've got ants crawling on 'em; swaying all over the place as they speak, waggling their heads back and forth like Stevie's weird. And deeply unnatural-looking.
And I only ever see this in video games; it's not just your stuff, this is rampant in video games. Yet if you look at, say, movie aniamtion, Pixar and the like, they allow their characters to be still, to move more naturally.

I wonder what that's all about... *raised eyebrow*
Hello, thanks for the comment anyway ;)
I totally understand your point! Now I'll try to explain the situation with game-animations in detail.
When I came into game-industry and my friends and colleagues showed me video games, cut scenes from the games etc, I thought - how one can play them! Those guys in the games behave so unnaturally, they are sometimes ugly and clumsy. I became an animator and deeped down into industry of video-games. I got to know how characters are made for games, what is a game engine, how reels and cut scenes are done and so on. Now I can tell you, what happens INSIDE games (animation, I mean), is totally conditioned by the game engine and the space of memory which can be used to store and make live characters in game.
So, first, these characters are made of a couple of thousands polygons, they are called Low-Poly (up to 3 000 triangles), or sometimes Mid-Poly (from 3 000 to 7 000 triangles), for better quality game reels Hi-Poly are used (more than 7 000 triangles). To compare in cartoon models several score or hundred thousands polygons can be used. So, low-poly models look stiff by themselves, nothing to tell about their joints - they move not in all directions properly without distorting the mesh, so the mesh limits the movements of joints.
Secondly, game models can use texture of a limited size - 512*512px ususally. It also contributes to the poor look of the model and it shows when the joint rotations pool it to the sides.
Thirdly, different engines use different types of bone system. From ordinary bones to inverse kinematic systems, like CAT or Character Studio in 3Ds Max, or custom rigs. And different systems have their own drawbacks and movement limitations, which are supposed to be "natural human limitations", but sometimes work not that "Natural" as a real human body should. We had to work much with character studio in Max, so I have much to say about it. We made animations in Motion builder and had to import them to character studio. In older versions import was very rough with mistakes and troubles. Animations were not transfered to spine, but for the last spine joint (in many games it is noticeable), neck also had some troubles. Now import is far more comfortable, but Character Studio inner limitations still remain. For example, you cannot part legs (thighs) to the sides and at the same time bend knees sideways (inside or outside) to adjust legs position properly. Same thing with elbows, they rotate in one plane only.

Then, engine demands to place as little keys as possible. So, imagine, what makes key reduction with animation, especially with feet on the floor and in swift actions. Here shaky and palsy movements appear.

Another thing here - game plot preconditions a series of mevements and transitions inbetween. And these series must be suitable for all game occasions! That's why many talk-dialog scenes may have only a couple of common animations for 5 seconds that are randomly played in every dialog scene. Sure, they would look strange sometimes! And those transitions are such a pain. They are so annoying (for me at least).

To be continued...

Another very important point - Style of the game and ingame animation: it can be real-like or cartoony. Here lies another difference with famous cartoon makers. Most games tend to use real-like movements. They are more jerky in reality then cartoony stylised and augmented movements. They contain so many slight and subtle additional movements to imitate behavior of a living being - you will never see them in a cartoon. And nowadays more and more companies use motion capture to create plenty of different animations for a game in a short time. I will not burden you with description of mocap editing - this is a story for a separate article... I will only tell that mocap that is not cleared carefully can cause a lot of jerks in a reel, game or cut scene.

Not I'll go on to a difference between ingame animations, cut scenes and intro-outro reels. I think, everything is clear about ingame animations. I described how they are made already and why they look as they look... So, cut scene is a little scene that is played by the GAME ENGINE inside the game (at lease that is what we call here cut scenes in the games we make), so they have all the drawbacks and inconveniences of creation as ingame animations, except transitions between animations. These scenes usually have some plot and are played before or after some level. So they look better then ingame animations, usually.
Then come reels. These are most perfected and finalized as far as video game art is concerned. These are rendered (not played by engine) reels that can introduce the whole game, or level, or be an add reel of a game. So almost no restrictions. Only budget:)

And finally Mr. Budget! The last, but not the least. Here I will not say much... You see the point, I believe.

PS: I forgot to tell you about the terms. Often the terms are very short and pressed. I do not know why...
For example, this cut scene with the pilots was made (only animation, I mean) in 2 days by 2 people - including lipsync. (For a very decent summ $;).

PPS: Comparison with Pixar: I think that now video game creation is a separately standing CG art, that simply cannot be compared
to video film production.

PPPS: I am also a hot Pixar and Dreamworks fan and nothing will force me to give preference to games. That's why out studio make
little cartoon films between the orders and sometimes during them. Though I dearly love my job and love animating for games too.

Thanks for attention.

I...really don't think you quite understood my point or my question.

I mean, I've worked in the games industry; the technical stuff you just said is already well known to me. 3D Studio MAX is my own preferred animation system; I do my webcomic in it.

The question is not about high-poly versus low-poly, the question is not about anything particularly technical at all. It's really an art question, a question about the animation itself, what the animator DID, the keyframes they decided to lay down.
It's entirely possible to make generic speaking animations for games that fit the technical specifications, but which aren't quite so...manic. To make character animations where the characters aren't twitching, thrashing, and swaying quite so much...which looks really, really unnatural.

Yet so few games accomplish this. I've known a few...but not many.
Well, though, we cannot drop technical part from here, whatever you say)) No and no ))
Then, if we EVEN drop all the technical questions (low poly, key reduction and direct use of mocap without editing) and even style questions... then - it's entirely the problem of budget and time terms.
Because it would be a hundred times more complicated and an eternity to fit fine animation into technical requirements. And a stuff of animators only (I'm not saying about modellers and texturers) like in Pixar. All in all those games would rarely pay back. And you are talking about those few compalnies and projects in the world, who allowed that (budget and stuff and so on).

I believe that mostly, in games, developers have other tasks then perfecting animations (if animation is fine - it's cool, but... not the critical goal in itself).
For example, I saw characters and animations in WoW. Hm... :) And a lot of people spend their lives there!
Think it's like that...
I really don't think you understand what I'm getting at. I could, with very few keys, animate those characters infinitely better; more lifelike, less hokey and less exaggerated.


It's not a matter of how complicated the animations are, how many keyframes you put's more a matter of how far you make the characters move, how exaggerated the motions are. In video games, people always seem inclined to overdo it.
Hell, here; let me put my money where my mouth is:

Now, I admit, this is pre-rendered animation and not for a game, but it really doesn't matter. The point is that the character's movements are much more subtle, much more understated. It's a lot closer to how real people move; your characters look like they're over-acting by comparison.
This is what I'm talking about: less is more when it comes to life-like character animation.
In the reel you showed there's keyframed animation. I ours - it's closer to mocap and rotoscoping from live actors. And here we keep in mind staging principles (as well as principles of classical animation) with the moments to accentuate, with logical pauses, with movements that guide spectators' attention. And here it's up to stage director to decide about quantity and manner of movements.
So, to my mind, movements are closer to real in the pilot reel, not with the space girl.
And if we proceed in this direction, we will come to a holy-war question Keyframe vs Mocap and so on, which I had better retain from.
I think, at this moment we come to the point of subjectivity and I will not furiously defend our reel - neither will I say anything negative about yours and quality of animation in your reel (it's quite good).
Let's agree to differ?
Now let me, too, speak not on my bare word:
I re-viewed our reel for some more times and I honestly do not see what you call overdoing there. The one pilot that is sitting - is just sitting and nothing more. The on that is explaining is almost standing, slightly bending forward according to accented phrases and is following his speech with his left hand (perhaps, a bit too often, but not as it sounds from your comments, really!)
All the other jerks and palsy ARE because of the game and bones limitations - feet key reduction from animation made in builder (we make animations in builder, bacause it is 10 times quicker then in Character Studio, and this is the question of time and terms - which I pointed out in 2 previous comments), also character studio spine import limitations and inproper work of shoulder rotations. Also there we cannot rotate pilot's hands at wrists properly without twisting the whole elbow, which was a great trouble! And it is seen in the reel. And that is bones system limitation. Faces of the soldiers have just 5 bones to move.

I say, if we had not 2 days, but 2 weeks for this reel, and not Character Studio of Max8, but simple bones - animation would look 10 times better.
Why it is not the question of time and budget?
I wanted to finish discussing my point of view at previous comment, but here is this addition, sorry.
Well, I'm sorry, but I still DO see it as over-acting. I don't think he bends slightly, I think he rolls himself around on his waist like a bad dancer.

I see this in just about every video game and nowhere else.
thnaks for sharing!plz
also try this site for
3d,graphic design jobs,models,portfolio and more.
Thanks for the link - will visit!



March 8 2010, 12:58:51 UTC 6 years ago

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Re: cool


March 8 2010, 13:01:01 UTC 6 years ago

ohh sorry hehe forgot I alreay posted don't wanna be called a spammer
but just try to encourage people heheh sorry for double posting