Day 1: A Staff Warrior Kicks the Bucket
Published on April 18, 2011 By ScottTykoski In Elemental Dev Journals

Hey Everyone!

I know information on Fallen Enchantress seems to trickle as of late. This is an unfortunate side-effect of adopting a 'large studio' pipline (rather than our previous indie-team system, where our excitement tended to go unchecked on the forums). Know that the game is on track and design decisions have been fueled by the feedback gathered post-WoM.

Now, with the role of Producer in MUCH better hands, I was given the opportunity to pick up a new art form that is near and dear to me...animation. This is something I always wanted to do, but the GalCiv series didn't really need it, and for WoM I was making schedules and filling in on the code side of things.

Anyways, every Monday I'm going to give you step by step tour of a certain animation, for anyone that likes this sort of thing. We'll take a motion from rough keys to the final version that you'll be seeing in FE when the beta opens up.

Todays animation: Death with Staff!

Step 1: The Rough Pass
The first version of an animation is the ‘rough’, where we block in some basic poses. I want this guy to get knocked back, then fall the the ground. This rough accomplishes that, but timing is still off’s not very good.

Step 2: The Timing Pass
At this point we want to really nail the ‘timing’ of the animation. These boil down to adding extra keyframes for anticipation and removing keygrames where things aren’t moving fast enough. Here you can another pose was added, where the character gets knocked to his knees, from where he can more seamlessly fall on his face.

Step 3: The Secondary-Motion Pass

By this point, it’s starting to look more like the end product, but we still want to push the secondary motions so the head and arms properly follow the torso’s movements. Anything connected to the object that is moving (here, the torso is leading the motion) should follow a few frames behind that object.  I also zoom out a few times to make sure the animation reads well from far out, since players don’t normally played in at close zoom.

Step 4: The Polish Pass
After getting the 3rd step officially approved by Paul, our art director, I can go in and polish the animation, animating the plate mail and cape, as well as pushing those secondaty movements even further (not the extra limp wrist...possibly verging on over dramatic, but I’m gonna keep it in) 

Paul was also kind enough to remind me that we don’t have weapon specific deaths, so I went through to ensure the animation works with a sword, bow, etc.

And there we have a quick rundown of one of the MANY new animations you’ll see in FE. I think we have around double the animations roadmapped for Fallen Enchantress over WoM, so you should see a considerably more expressive and varied world (where the units and creatures are concerned).

Cya next Monday, for more animation excitement!

Comments (Page 1)
on Apr 18, 2011

on Apr 18, 2011

Sweet, first!

[Edit] Dagnabbit Dowdy!

on Apr 18, 2011

the best part of watching Boogie animate is him acting out the animations

on Apr 18, 2011

How much time does an animation take to make? I'm curious because it always seemed like a massive timesink to me, one that players at least never talk about.

on Apr 18, 2011

the best partof watching Boogie animate is him acting out the animations




Seriously though, really cool post. Don't often get to see much of the progress of animation in video game dev stuff like this.

on Apr 18, 2011

Ah you changed the later animations, was wondering why they didn't look improved


on Apr 18, 2011

the best part of watching Boogie animate is him acting out the animations


Can we have a You Tube of those as well, thanks.

on Apr 18, 2011

Im also curious about how much time it takes to create the animation for each step.  Can an existing animation be modified by giving a start and end point for key parts of the body (potentially making additional animations easier as you can cut out redoing some of the work)? How does skinning the model (such as with the cloak) interact with the base model?  Does cloak movement such as from a breeze or unit movement get animated separately or in conjunction with this animation?  Relating to this animation, can the unit drop things they are holding as they collapse?


Can the animation be used for all humanoid units, or does a separate one have to be made for each armor type for example?  Or do the details such as armor work more as a decal or an attached model?  On the tangent of equipment- does an armored torso replace the non-armored one or sit on top of it (such that if there was a hole in the armor it shows what is actually underneath vs. having the part underneath be part of the armor skin?


Can the game choose a random death (or other) animation available for the unit class (model type such as human) for that action type from a list?  e.i. Having more than one possible death animation that can play when the unit dies (collapsing in different ways) Can a different animation be triggered by the type of the triggering action? i.e. Death by a fire attack has the unit burn up (could be done a number of different ways on a scale of realistic to abstract comical) or trying to put themselves out, an or a more dramatic death when killed with a critical hit. Or a different idle animation when a unit is afflicted with a status ailment (with potentially another visual cue) to work as visual short-hand for the player.


Can effects be tied to an animation thru a mod- such as a gratuitous blood spray when a champion is killed or a sound clip saying 'Head shot!' when killing a unit with a critical hit with a bow?


Related to the models, I remember reading something in the mod forum relating to the the hand joints or something in relation to making items that a pc can hold and there only being a contact point on one hand.  I don't have direct experience with it though, so I'm not certain of the complications it was causing (and i cant remember the exact context of the issue either- maybe dual-wielding?), but figured it would tie into this.


The only animation experience i have is with sprites and very limited at that- so i don't really know a lot about the process or which methods are preferable to enhance performance (other than having less items such as skins and models in memory leaves more space for other things). I'm guessing that the game loads the models and skins separate from each other and combines them only when it needs to represent a unit. Kind of like painting on the fly vs. pre-painting the models before their use/combination of skins is required).

on Apr 18, 2011

Nice, weekly updates... thanks guys

on Apr 18, 2011

the best part of watching Boogie animate is him acting out the animations

Rofl, I know exactly how that looks too...

If all the other animations in the game are at this quality, then FE should definitely be a significant (visual) upgrade for WoM.

on Apr 18, 2011

How much time does an animation take to make? I'm curious because it always seemed like a massive timesink to me, one that players at least never talk about.

The problem with being a really good animator is that the best you can hope for is an animation that people don't notice. Animation's the type of thing that people only notice when it's done poorly (See Morrowind).

on Apr 19, 2011

Haha, nice animation. I like it!

on Apr 19, 2011

Nice. Thanks for taking the time to show us some of that.

on Apr 19, 2011

re Time it Takes: I'm finding that these animations are super variable, when it comes to how many can be done in a day. This one took around 2 hours. My best experience was on an Elemental Lord, where (because of its design) I was able to whip out 10 animations and still get home on time   Worst experience was the human's 'Revive from Prone' animation, where, becaue of the footwork and acting involved, took me around 3 days to get right (could probably do it in 1.5 days, now that I;ve learned some new tricks).

I've found the big bottleneck is humans vs. anything else. It dosen't take much for a human animation to feel 'off', 'cause our brains are so used to seeing other people move. Giant magical stone beasts, however, are less common so viewers aren't as critical

Lots of questions, so pardon any bluntness...
- You really need to make each animation from scratch. I tend start with two keyframes...Battle Idle at 1 and battle idle at the end, and just start animating. As long as you're coming back to that starting pose, animations can be whipped out pretty quick.
-Cloaks are animated by hand, meaning we eyeball interactions with the rest of the model. If a foot is clippin through, we have to counter-animate the cloat so it looks right.
- I want to push for weapons, shields, and helmets to get knocked off when a 'kncked back' death occurs, but that would be code driven (ie. no way for the artists to control that atm)
- we make one animation that work with all equipment types (this example dosent show it, but ther is a cape and armor bits that were animated as well)
- armor and clothing is stacked...if there was a hole in the rmor, it''d show the clothing or skin beneith it
- any animation can have variations that can be given a liklihood in their animation packs...if we wanted an easter egg whre atroll idly scratches his balls (crappy eater egg, i know) we could make said animation and hook it in with a liklihood of 1%...the code does the rest
- At he moment, no different deaths,idels based on how they die, status ailments, etc. We're planning for some 'low health' idles, so you can visually know if a dude is sub 20% health, and we now have systems for particle effects and colored glows to indicate any status ailments a unit may have.
- I think you couled mod both those things.
- I think the attachment of items to the hand joints is hardcoded, based on the weapoin/item type
- Yeah, animation with sprites is considerably different than animating these 3d characters. There it's more artistic, where here it's almost like playing with action figures. You set up poses, tweak keyframes, and set up your motion interpolation and Maya does the rest. Very fun stuff.

on Apr 19, 2011

we now have systems for particle effects and colored glows to indicate any status ailments a unit may have.

Fuck Yes. I'm curious how this works in practice, although it really doesn't matter until we can start modding for FE. For example, does one effect work for multiple weapons? Let's say someone casts Fiery Weapons on a unit, causing its swords to glow fire. Does it use the same effect if the target has a bow? Are the particles automagically aligned according to the 3d mesh?

crystlshake, the weapons and all static items are simply attached to something called a localframe, which is in turn attached to a skeleton joint (it moves just as the skeleton joint moves). There are contact points in both hands, so there's not really an issue there. There is an issue, however, because there is no set of dual-wielding animations, so we have to use the 1hander animations (which makes the weapons sort of go through each other). That also means dual-wielding units won't really "hit" with both weapons, they'll only wave around the off-hand.


Also the weapontypes are hardcoded, so it is not possible to "add another set of animations" to the existing skeletons. But really, given how much time animations take to make (especially for us modders who have zero experience) this isn't really something I think needs changing.