Saturday, November 29, 2008

Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix

Pure nostalgia! --sweet memories of Golfland arcades and local 7/11's. Classic gameplay at it's best, all with updated graphics.

If anyone's up for a few friendly rounds on XBox Live, let me know and I'll send you my tag. I just gotta get me one of these first!

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And sorry if don't have time in the near future to post personal work. You know how it is...new job = gotta work extra hard to get up to speed instead of bloggin'! :)

Prince of Persia


9.3 on IGN! This week can't come soon enough! I just hope my excitement doesn't get the best of me.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Poll Results: IK Spine?


Spines with both FK and IK controllers seem to be more and more common these days. I've only played around with them very briefly, but haven't felt the need to use them yet. I can see it definitely being good for things like squash and stretch in the torso or for characters on all fours.

I have a new character model/rig that I've been working on lately. It's always good to have both options, but since I don't know how to set one up yet, I just wanted to see if it was in my interest to take the time to learn, since I still need to learn animation:)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

LEC Lunch Crew (Done)


I think I'm going to call this done for now, even if I didn't get all six characters in. Sorry Eric--I'll have to add you in the next round!

Lately I've been wanting to try to draw in a more reductive and stylized fashion, but I always end up adding more lines and detail as I noodle. I then end up with something that's not pushed enough in terms of shapes, proportions, and gesture, but at the same time, not realistic enough in terms of lighting and rendering. I always seem to end up at an awkward place somewhere inbetween. Guess I'll just have to keep practicing.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

LEC Lunch Crew


I couldn't get this out before Halloween, but here you go--another WIP to add to my collection of unfinished personal work.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
Tristan Sacramento as Kratos
David Lam as Wolverine
Eric Lin as Spiderman (in jeans and a Spidy t-shirt)
Me as Ryu Hayabusa (Ninja Gaiden)
Steve Kuroki as the Juggernaut
Patrick Przybyla as the Secret Apprentice


There's a few characters still missing, but as you can see, I can't even finish six.
Anyway hope everyone had a happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

New Adventures


Check out The Force Unleashed if you haven't already done so. My friends sweated over this, and it payed off. Nice combos and use of The Force, all wrapped with a good story and great production values . If you like Star Wars, you should dig it. If you like action games, you should dig it. And as the game's mantra has it--you WILL be "kicking ass with the force. "

Check out Dead Space as well. Also with great production values and satisfying gameplay. If you don't mind a little scare here and there while blasting aliens in the dark, you'll definitely dig it.
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I've posted these games to also let you know that I'll be trading in my lightsaber and force powers for a plasma cutter and magnetic boots. I'll be finishing this week at LucasArts to continue my adventures at Electronic Arts.

For the record, I really enjoyed my time at Lucas. Incredible talent and creativity, lots of nice places to eat, and a BEAUTIFUL campus worthy of postcards. I'm excited to start cranking on the games at EA, but I will definitely miss everyone on my team at Lucas. For those I had the priveledge to work with, I sincerely hope our paths will cross again!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Poll Results: FK or IK?

Thanks everyone who voted.

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Just so you know, this poll was purely for my own curiosity, since the last 3 animators I chatted with preferred IK arms (great animators btw). I never want to start a war by saying one method is better than the other. I see advantages for both, esp. for specific situations.

With that disclaimer out of the way, my personal preference, if a situation allows for either, is FK arms (with rotations that follow world space). For me, it feels faster to pose and edit. I'm sure proponents of IK arms would argue otherwise. Translating in all 3 axes always feel slightly slower to me as I'm tumbling the camera around more. Also, I feel that if the IK's are following world space translations, editing anims could be a bit trickier once things are offset.


OTHER FK PRO'S (in my humble opinion):
  • You get some of the arcs for free. Just remember that you should always check them and add keys if necessary.
  • You get some free noise as well because the arms are translating with the torso. And with rotations set to follow world space, you don't get TOO much noise that is often magnified by fast moving chest rotations.
  • With FK, it's easier to make it feel like the body and shoulders are driving the arms. With IK, you could definitely do it--you just got a work slightly more to avoid the marionette look.

IK PRO'S:

  • The big one, of course, is whenever the character's interacting with the environment or specific targets. For these situations--IK all the way! Just watch out for the magnetic hands and feet syndrome. Maybe slide them a bit before the complete stop.
  • Character flopping around like ragdolls (for deaths, knocked down anims, etc). Because IK's are "separate" from the torso, it's easier to get the whole body looking loose and floppy.
  • Stabs--I'd probably use IK for these. Just to note, though, I have used FK for these in the past when I'm...uh...too lazy to switch. I just add keys in the end and track paths and contact points. And while it's not ideal, a good amount of the 2 character attacks that I've done (like the alien stuff and the Kull beast take-downs) were all FK for the humans. If slippage is obvious then it's my bad and I probably should have been more adamant about switching to IK. If it's not that noticeable, then I guess I can say that it supports the idea that what ultimately matters is the pose on screen--forcing more keys to get the right pose whenever necessary.

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I think with IK, you have more control when it comes to fine tuning the arcs of the hands, but you may need more keys to get those arcs in the first place. Some of my friends use IK set-ups that follows the Root/COG controller. This could be interesting to try. Another method that might be interesting as well is animating with IK's that translate with the top chest controller but doesn't rotate with it.

I do like to switch back and forth often, even when posing, so FK/IK matching tools for the rig is a must. Luckily, this is fairly standard with rigs these days. And if a rig doesn't come with it, it's probably the first thing I'd ask for.

So in the end, as I have always believed, use what YOU like because I'm sure the only ones who talk about FK vs. IK are us crazy animators. I'm sure everyone else who watch our movies and play our games could care less about these debates:) Also, I think real speed will come from knowing what you want with the animation at hand. And why do I always talk about speed? It's not because I want to call it a day early (though that can be nice!), but if I can get to 80% faster I'll have more time to milk that last 20%.

Wow, sorry if this was a bit long winded:) I totally thought this post was going to be a quick one.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Few More Workflow Helpers

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Phew! The last two months were pretty hectic. In a nutshell, I had to create over 100 animation assets to support a new game feature. This was on top of all the planning, meetings, and occasional sick days:)

Although, a good number of these assets were smaller transitions or held poses, I still had to use every trick in the book to get these done on time. This leads me to a few more hotkeys, scripts, and workflow helpers that kept things moving along at a steady pace.
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First, if you haven't done so already, go to Jeff Cooperman's site and download his suite of aacScripts. They're all useful, but here are the one's I used a lot in the last month.

toggleNurbs
---map this to "n"
---it's esp. useful when a rig is very cluttered and there's no way to easily toggle the visibility of each controller (I prefer to toggle their visibility through a masterVis node that's parented as a shape node to the Uber controller, the Root controller, and the Head controller)

toggleXRay
---noted this before, and still very useful for hard to find controllers.
---mapped to "9" (or ctrl + "x").

snZeroOutControls
---quick way to zero out channels for foot plants.
---checkbox the vertical translate channel, and checkbox two rotate channels (you'll know what I mean once you open the UI and a rig)

eulerfilter
---I noted this before as well, but because I use it a lot, I've recently mapped it to ctrl + "o"

abxSmartKey
---from another previous post. It's now mapped to ctrl + "k"
---do it! you'll use it more once it's mapped.
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Kiel Figgins also shares a lot of cool scripts on his site.

The one that I really dig is saver.
---I'm more likely to make incremental saves when it's only with a click of a button.

And did I mention before that I absolutely love Maya's shelves for saving poses and selection sets on the fly (using pose2shelf)?

I know setting these scripts upfront may seem like a hassle, but believe me, they will help with your flow.
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A few additional reminders that helped me get everything done on time:

Plan your attack--have a good idea before animating. This may include reference or a bit of thinking. I slacked on the planning for a few anims and they ended up kicking me a bit. Also, for this many anims, I started by creating an Excel list with the full file names and time estimates for each one before jumping into actual animation.

Layer polish--as always, every thing could use more polish, but do what's more important first. Some anims were cut--good thing I anticipated it and didn't take those ones far at all.

Recycle--the only way I was able to finish everything was by re-using parts of anims when I can, modifying them for variations and differnent transitional angles. This may seem like a shortcut, but it's production/budget reality. Hopefully, if you're tricky enough about it, it won't stand out too much.
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Finally, on the bigger front, I felt our little pod at work got a lot done within our given time frame. I contribute that to good collaboration, communication and support. Basically do your best to be a team player while showing support and respect, and most likely you'll get it back. And for those familiar with the term, our small team used a process call SCRUM, or Agile Development.

50 Ways To Help Out

This got me thinking...maybe I should help out too.

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FOUND AT: The Midnight Diaries Of Catty Wampus.

Top 2 Super Powers Wish List


Just archiving the last poll results.

My personal picks were actually flight and healing factor. I gave 2 choices because I thought flight was going to win by a landslide otherwise. I actually didn't think healing factor and invisibility were going to come in that close as well.

I can see where teleportation could be an alternative to flight. Imagine that--if everyone could teleport...no more drinking and driving!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thundercats: Going For Gold

WORK IN PROGRESS...

No shadows and color balance yet, but here you go.

The initial plan was to throw some Nikes onto Cheetara as another mock ad for the Olympics. __________________________________________________________

And here's the inspiration!



I remembered this being one of the best cartoon intro's of the 80's. Great pacing, dynamic poses, exaggerated timing and in-your-face action, and cool effects animation!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Time Sliders 1

Here's a quick sketch of a couple of urban ninjas I'm hoping to flesh out in the future. There are a few others in the crew, and if I ever manage to carry out one of these personal projects of mine, I'd like to model, rig, and animate these guys (and gals to come). But you know how that goes...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Indy Storm Animatic

This was the animatic for the film in the previous post. Again, this was done back at school.

video

Cutting storyboards together with audio definitely helps with planning...though it didn't seem to help my animation at the time. :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Indy Storm

DISCLAIMER:
This is an old student film...purely for laughs:)


Anyone want to see some bad animation? Here's one of my first 3D films that was created during my 2 semester in computer animation, right after I learned how to create a nurbs sphere with a phong shader.

video

Each student was responsible for all aspects of their individual films. This included concept, storyboards, setting a production schedule with milestones, pitching it, all modelling, rigging, animation, lighting, any post-effects, audio, and editing.

This little spoof is intended as a mock advertisement. I took bits and pieces from the Jurassic Park soundtrack and spliced them together for the audio. The logo is just a series of Photoshop'd images. I grew up with Indy and Nikes, so I had a lot of fun with this piece. In the end, though, I'm pretty sure I didn't schedule enough time for animation:)

MORALS OF THE STORY:
---We all had to start somewhere.
---With a little bit of hard work, we can improve.
---We should spend less time layering endless bump maps on stalagtites and spend more time on animation.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Character GUI

For the majority of my workflow, I prefer to select controllers in the actual viewport and on the character--I find it faster that way. However, I also like having a character GUI (or picker) to supplement my selection options. Every character should have one of these. I find GUI's most useful for selection sets (i.e. All Controllers, Spine, Fingers, Mover, etc.) or whenever a controller happens to be hard to find in the viewport.
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AbxPicker, a free download from Highend3d has to be one of my favorite scripts. Thanks Adam Burke for sharing! This super versatile script allows you to create fully customizable Pickers very quickly.

HERE ARE SOME HIGHLIGHTS:

--Easy to make, easy to change and customize on the fly
--Able to save out and import GUI into another scene (with a new character)
--Supports referencing
--Supports multiple characters
--Supports tabs (i.e. body, hands, face, etc.)
--Clean=>only one extra node in the scene
--Useful "help" button on the GUI
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Here are some of the pickers I've made in the past using this script.



The buttons I made at the bottom are "extras", used for mapping frequently used scripts and commands (i.e. euler filter, toggling inherit/follow attributes, bringing up other scripts like tweenMachine, autoTangent, shotView, etc.)
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QUICKTIPS:

  • Change the size of the GUI in line #41 of the script to your liking--then save script. Mine's set to 300 x 550.
  • If you want more control and precision while lining up the buttons during creation, change the resolution of your moniter to the lowest setting (as long as you don't mind messing up your desktop icons)
  • Making that first GUI could take 15 mins...or an hour if you are artistically anal like me. But after you've made your first template, you could just import it into a new scene and modify it very quickly for every new character.
I know the GUI itself won't make good animation, but I'm all for workflow helpers and making technical things (like selecting and manipulating controllers) a bit less cumbersome. That way, hopefully, we could concentrate more on the actual art.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Demo Reel

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I posted a rough cut of my new reel on my website. I'll be polishing as time allows, so feel free to let me know if there's anything I should do to improve it or if there are anims I should just take out.

I know it's a bit long...I fell into the trap of trying to sync with the soundtrack:) Speaking of audio, you may have to replay the reel after it's been "loaded." I'm not sure if it's just me, but through Quicktime, the audio seems to get out of sync here and there.
Hopefully I'll have time to post a cleaner cut next week.
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PS. Thanks again to everyone who helped me pick out what goes in and what stays out. Your feedback last week proved to be incredibly useful!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4


I've just finished playing Metal Gear Solid 4 and I have to say this game is one of the most cinematic experiences I've had with a game.

I've never been a huge fan of stealth games, but MGS4 finally managed to convert me. The production values and attention to detail in this game are through the roof.
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Here's what I saw and dug:
  • Again, incredible attention to detail.
  • Fantastic character designs (and art direction for that matter). Just to name a few were the bipedal "Gekko" tanks, the "Beauty and the Beast" Boss characters, the Octo-Cam technology, and of course Raiden, the super-ninja.
  • Some of the absolute best cinematics I've seen in a game. I felt a lot of this had to do with the great camera work.
  • Characters that I cared for. Several scenes in the game even managed to choke me up a bit. (Shhh...)
  • Finally, as epic and cinematic as this game was, the dev team wasn't afraid to inject off-the-wall humor and practical jokes through-out.

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Here's an old trailer for those who haven't seen it yet. It's quite long, but make sure you check out Snake's encounter with the bipedal "Gekko" tanks (near the middle). I love the design of those machines, esp. the way they traversed the uneven terrain. Also, check out how Raiden takes them down single-handedly (near the end).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Western Spaghetti

Sorry for the lack of posts...I'll be back soon. For now, check out this bit of stop-motion coolness by PES.



FOUND AT: YOUTUBE
CREDIT: PES

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"Hansel and Gretel" Story Beats

We've recently lost a few comrades at work so I've been asked to help out with storyboards for our pre-vis animatics. An excuse to draw is always good, but since I haven't been drawing everyday, it's a bit intimidating, esp. with all the kick-ass concept artists we have here! *cough* Dela Longfish *cough*
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Anyway, in the flavor of storyboards, I pulled up some (yet again) old work from school. The following story beats were done in conjunction with the Layout Apprenticeship in my previous post.

The idea behind these beat boards was to outline the entire story using only 10-15 drawings. At a glance we could check the pacing and make sure we're hitting all the plot points that we need to.


This is the final version.


Here's an alternate version.


Lastly, a side-by-side, in case you want to see the differences.

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I'll throw the actual boards up in a later post.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Hardware Render Buffer

So you want to create a new reel and can't decide if you should just playblast a bunch of clips together or give your anims the full treatment of lights and render. You want to playblast because they're a lot easier and quicker, but you also want to render because everything looks so nice fully lit.

Well, what if there was happy medium--something in between? There is!

THE HARDWARE RENDER BUFFER!
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It's the best of both worlds. With the HRB, it's like playblasting with the added advantage of motion blur and anti-aliasing. Althought, it's actually slightly more work than playblasting, it's definitely a lot quicker than setting up lights and doing full renders.

Here's what you do:


Here are my settings. Use what you like.


Scale as you wish:


View the sequence with the Fcheck.


If you like what you see, import the images into Quicktime Pro and export an uncompressed clip. Then when all of your clips are exported, throw them into Premier to toss around as you like.

All of my previous reels have only been playblasts (HRB for future ones). My reasoning is that while it definitely is nice to have full renders, the time it takes me to set up lights and render, I rather use that time to polish my animation even further. Plus, if I just finished editing together a reel and realize that I need to fix yet another anim hitch, I'm more likely to make that fix if all I needed to do after is to re-playblast. And although I don't want to speak for everyone, I'm pretty certain that the animators that are looking at your work will be judging it by your characters' motion and performance, and not by their rim lights and cast shadows.

For future reels, I think I'll be using the HRB, unless of course I have a shot that have already been lit from a cinematic sequence.
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While doing these "suped-up playblasts", these are my additional prefs:
  • All heads up displays should be turned off--just to keep things clean.
  • I actually like having the grid visible as a ground plane. I feel it grounds the character, and in a way, helps with weight because you can anticipate where the foot (for example) is supposed to hit. Without, it's like hitting an invisible wall that you're not ready for. This might be just me, but I find it a bit awkward without a ground plane. It's like the character's floating in space.
  • If there's camera movement, the grid acts as points of reference in the environment. This way, you get a better sense of how much the character is moving relative to it's environment and not the screen.I've seen animation tests from film studios and they are all rendered with some sort of a ground plane with a checkerboard texture.
  • Finally, I prefer the motion-blur to be subtle. I think it's one of those things that should be felt and not seen.
Here's a final tip--echo all commands in the script editor while setting up the parameters for the render settings and make it a shelve button. It'll save you time if you have 20+ clips to render.
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Now remember as always, this is purely my preference--I have friends who like to render their reels, and I have to admit, it looks quite nice. But I'm stubborn:)--I'll still say that what extra time I have, I'd prefer to use it to nicen' up the actual animation instead.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lay-offs

Lay-offs are never fun. I have lots of talented friends from all disciplines that are currently looking for work. If anyone has openings at your studio, could you please let me know so I could give them the heads up? You could either post it as a comment or shoot me an email. Thanks.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ninja Gaiden 2

DISCLAIMER: DEFINITELY RATED M FOR MATURE!


Guess what I'm doing after work today...

...picking up a copy of Ninja Gaiden 2, the sequel to one of my favorite action games of all time! Of all the beat'em-up games on my Favorites list, Ninja Gaiden is probably at the top. It's an "old-school" type of game--light on story, but heavy on mechanics--one that will definitely put your reflexes to the test.
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HERE ARE HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE PREVIOUS TITLE:
  • Some of the slickest and most satisfying combos I have ever seen. You really have to experience them with the controller in hand to fully appreciate them.

  • Super responsive character control.

  • Very satisfying combat system--one that rewards quick reflexes and precision timing, as well as the ability to balance offense with defense. This is probably the main reason why this game rises above the others in terms of combat. Like watching a good fight in the UFC, there is a constant back and forth between you and the enemy.
  • Great incorporation of acrobatics within combat--fluid and useful--not just for show.
  • Probably the best implementation I've seen of a "heavy" weapon. This is how all heavy weapons in a game should feel--not overly slow, yet still manages to show power and weight.
  • Great example of how multiple-hit attacks (per single button press) should be--very fast and responsive, very satisfying.
  • Finally, lots of weapons and upgrades--all complete with brutal, flashy combos.

And remember, these are just my opinions--definitely take into account the fact that I love this specific genre when it comes to games:)

Happy slicin'!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Sonic-BOOOM!!

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Check out the power of AUDIO! Include some PFX (these are faked with geometry btw) and a bit of camera shake, and an attack that was ok now feels much more powerful. Because I play a healthy (or maybe not so healthy) amount of combat games, I need my attack moves to be super-charged.

First, here's one with no sound effects or any other trimmings other than a simple "woosh". It's ok, but it could be much more.

video


Now...here's that same attack in full effect!

video

As animators, we do your best to make our attack anims look as powerful as we can with exaggerated poses and timing, but without the right sound effects and particles to go along with it, those attacks will never max out. I know this is obvious, but I just wanted to point out that personally, I like my games’ SFX and PFX to be cranked up beyond what would be appropriate for a film.
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HERE'S ANOTHER EXAMPLE:

Pay particular attention to the last attack. The animation isn’t very exaggerated, it’s basically the “One-inch Punch”—2 poses, and no overlap. But because you get a huge explosion effect with it, along with a quick camera blur and an over-the-top hit-react, boy does that move feel good to pull off in the game. (Not sure why the compression on this one is so bad when I uploaded it)

video

This game is God Hand btw. Although it recieved mixed reviews, I actually think it’s a good game if you’re into fighting games. It’s quite quirky and humorous, but it actually has some pretty good combat mechanics.
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And of course, I always have to come back to good ol’ DMC.

video

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WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THEIR PFX:

-----They’re exaggerated—some draw more attention than the actual poses.
-----They’re graphic—bold shapes and hard edges—not just “soft” pixie dust.
-----Each of the special ones are hand crafted—they aren’t just trails that automatically flow off the sword.


WHAT I LIKE ABOUT THEIR SFX:

-----They’re cranked up—sword swings for special moves aren't just “wooshes”. They sound as if they’re already slicing through metal, even though it’s just air.
-----Dante’s sliding stab sounds like his sword just slammed into a stone wall—again, even when nothing’s there.
-----Characters exert powerful attack "shouts"
-----Finally, notice that weird squeaky sound when Vergil does the spinning vertical kick. It doesn’t make sense when you think about it, but it’s a very nice touch.
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So why am I posting all of this? Because I want to make sure those anims we sweat to create for our games get support before that final review months down the line—before we have to change it or try something else because it “doesn’t feel powerful enough.” Also, when I’m slicin’ through demons with my trusty sword, I want to feel like the ultimate badass!

Oh...and don’t forget controller rumble!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Aliens!

video

Some bug hit me hard the other day (no pun intended, well...maybe just a little), and I had to call in sick--no fun at all. The good part was that it gave me time to edit these old clips together.

Locomotion for these critters was a bit tricky since they only had three legs. Don't look too closely as there was a lot of cheating involved.

Oh, and be careful--some clips may not be suitable for children!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Prince of Persia Music Videos




Here's a duet featuring the Prince and Lara using clips from the games. I hope I'm not the only one who finds this amusing:)

-----Unless otherwise noted, YouTube videos that I'll occasionally post are ones that I've found through a bit of surfin'. Just wanted to make sure credit goes to the folks that created them:)

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I dig this song--it's the one that plays during the ending credits in Sands of Time. The clips in the video are from all 3 games. Hopefully it'll give you a better idea for the flavor of the series.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Prince of Persia: Next-Gen!




Ahhh! One of my favorite franchises will be back later this year!

When Prince Of Persia: The Sands of Time came out 5 years ago, I was instantly hooked. Not only did this game have beautiful art direction, it had some very satisfying and innovative gameplay mechanics, as well as interesting characters that pushed the story along.

To top it all off, when this game came out, it set a new bar for animation within a video-game, esp. regarding how the player character moved and transitioned from animation to animation in actual game-play. My friends and I would often refer back to this game for inspiration.
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Incase you're not familiar with this series, here are some links.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Prince of Persia: The Warrir Within
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

If you've never played any of the PoP's, and you want to give it a shot, I'd recommend playing the first one first (Sands of Time).

Oh--and I hear they're planning to make a movie based off of this game! Man, I'd kill to be able to work on that!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Minnie


video

A portrait for a friend.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Timing Tools

Here are a few hotkeys that may help make timing tweaks a bit easier, esp. when you're working on a scene that has 1000+ frames.
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First off, in case anyone's not familiar with how to set up a hotkey, here's how:

Scroll down to the User category --> Click New --> Type in the Name, the Description, and the Command --> Click Accept --> Assign New Hotkey --> Save

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Now for the hotkeys...

Skooch_Left, Skooch_Right


To use--select a key or multiple keys in the Dope Sheet or Graph Editor, then hit the arrow keys to shift those keys left or right.

Note: You could also just type in "+=(any value)" or "-=(any value)" either in the channel box or the Graph Editor to shift key(s) any specific amount. In addition to adjusting the timing of keys, you could use this trick to adjust transform values of keys as well.
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Ripple_Left, Ripple_Right


To use --> Find a spot in the timeslider where you want to add or subtract frames. Hit Ctrl + arrow to shift all keys after that point left or right.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"Hansel and Gretel" Layouts: Part 3

Alrighty, here's the last batch of these "Hansel and Gretel" layouts. (I'm kinda itching to move on to something new)

After we finalized our line drawings, it was time to start experimenting with different lighting schemes. We did several small studies, playing around with values--lights against darks, darks against lights. We also threw in the characters to see how they'd fit into the scene.

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And finally...the final rendering(s).

My first attempt at a final was the one on the left. I wanted to play up the contrast to accentuate the pointy branches. I also had the house back-lit to get yet another pointy/triangular silhouette, as well as to give it a slightly more ominous feel.

The feedback I got from my mentor after showing this was to add more atmosphere--to further separate the foreground, middleground, and background elements. He also suggested that I light the house from the front to bring more focus to it. The final final is the one on the right.

And just for kicks, I embedded evil "faces" throughout the rendering.

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Key take-aways from the Layout Apprenticeship:

Up until that semester, I've always been very biased towards drawing just characters. In fact I didn't like to draw backgrounds at all. Thanks to this Apprenticeship, along with the other Vis Dev class I was taking at SJSU, I developed a new appreciation for environments. Although I know I still have much to learn about creating environments, I definitely appreciate a good one when I see it!

Aside from composition, lighting, etc., the biggest "ah-hah" moment for me during these classes was when I realized that an environment can be a character itself--a character whose attitude and mood all depends on how you "dress" it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"Hansel and Gretel" Layouts: Part 2

The next phase of the layouts was to pick one shot and make a full line drawing. Before jumping into that, however, it was probably a good idea to design the house by itself. Here's a few early house ideas.

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And before nailing down a final composition, I experimented with many different layout possibilities. Here's a couple of them.

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And here's the final line drawing(s).

The one on the top was actually the first version. I thought it might have been a tad on the detailed/realistic side, so I tried an alternate version that had a more reductive style. After going back and fourth between the two, I finally decided on the bottom one.


Each final drawing was actually separated in layers (foreground, middleground, background, house). These layouts are usually drawn on separate sheets so you could create motion parallax during camera moves. Also, characters moving behind foreground elements would be coverd by them.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Hansel and Gretel" Layouts: Part 1

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During my time at San Jose State, I had the privilege of particpating in two “Virtual Apprenticeships” with a couple of artists from Disney Feature Animation.

Once a week, through video conferencing, we would meet with layout artist Michael O'Marah and storyboard artist Ray Shenusay. Here we'd present our work not only to each mentor, but also to the other professionals down in L.A. running the program, our entire class at State, and a couple of other schools that were also part of the program. Needless to say it was an awesome experience, while at the same time very nerve-wrecking!

The story that was used for the Apprenticeship was the classic tale "Hansel and Gretel". In the next few posts, I’ll share some of the work that came out of that run.
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For the Layout Apprenticeship, one of our first tasks was to take a few scenes from the story and create some rough layouts--2 exterior shots and 2 interior shots. Since I was also participating in the Storyboard Apprenticeship, I just used some of my rough boards as thumbnails. As for the style of the artwork, it was up to us to decide.



To be continued...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Thimbletack & Co.

video

More of the same.

If an animation has a pure white texture, that part of the animation belongs to a buddy of mine. The last thing I want to do is take credit for someone else's work.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Street Fighter Sketches





I was a HUGE Streetfighter II fan growing up--shoot I still am! Back in the day, my buddies and I spent countless quarters at the local Golfland arcade, Aladdin's Castle at the mall, and 7/11's across the Bay Area trying to perfect our combos, reflexes and strategic mind games.

Thanks to a post by the Unleaded Artists, I was made aware of an illustration contest for the upcoming Street Fighter Tibute book. Although I didn't have time do up a final illustration, I figure I'd pay tribute to this great game here.

Hopefully I'll find some time in the future to fix, tighten up, and color a couple of these roughs.


NOTES:
  • I gave Sagat a pony tail because the moment I saw Tong Po in Jean-Claude Van Damme's old flic Kickboxer, I immediately thought, "That's what a live action Sagat should look like!" This fight takes place in my made-up backstory, where Ken meets Sagat for the first time. The two were a lot younger and were fighting in local underground fight clubs before they went international. Being a cocky young buck, Ken underestimated the Thai fighter and got his ass handed to him.
  • In the Guile vs. Ryu pic, I'll be changing Ryu's pose from a fireball charge-up stance to a throw pose. I'll need to add some trail for the fireball as well. Finally, I'm going to see if I could show a bit of Guile's face.
  • Guile's flat-top -- believe it or not, my hair used to look like this back in the day! It was all about the Aqua-Net (non-scented ultra hold)!

Monday, March 17, 2008

300 Speedpaints




Sorry if the last post was a bit lengthy. Here's one that's a lot shorter.

Nothing original here, just a few speedpaints based off of screen captures from the 300 trailer. (30-60 minutes each)

Saturday, March 8, 2008

How I Work


I always love reading about how others go about animating their scenes, so I thought I'd add my own process and preferences to the mix, incase anyone might be interested:) I like talking workflow with others because it allows me to discover new methods and inspires me to try new things. It also helps me organize my thoughts, as well as reminds me of the things I should be thinking about for each new animation--because I tell ya, this animation thing ain't easy!
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So...in the tradition of other workflow posts out there, I'll start by throwing up my own disclaimer:
  • I know I still have a lot to learn about animation, and I will probably always have a lot to learn. The following workflow habits are ones that seem to have worked for me for the past 4-5 years. However, I'm contantly experimenting. Ask me how I work a couple of months from now and my answer could be totally different. (Hopefully not too different). In the end, what really matters is what the audience sees on the screen.

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Alrighty, now on to it!..

When I first started animating in 3D, I read about the layered approach to animation--animate the root first, then continue outwards.

That seemed to work for a while. Individual motions in my animation were "loose" enough because keys were offset, but the overall animation still came up a bit stiff, esp. with the poses. I found it difficult to predict what pose was to come next without seeing the full pose before it. After struggling with this for a while, I decided to go back to a more traditional method by treating each keyframe as a drawing, and keying all controllers for that "drawing".

This leads me to my biggest mantra:

To keep things simple, I try to remind myself that animation really comes down to these two things:

Poses and Timing
  • Now, I'm sure you've heard this before, but when I say poses and timing, I'm including the breakdowns, extremes, and "overlap" poses (in addition to keyposes of course).
  • Also, for each of these poses, I'm setting a key on all of the controllers.

I feel that breakdowns and extremes can be just as important as key poses, and that having a key on all of the controllers for each pose ensures that I have full control over that pose when I start adjusting my animation. I also feel that you get stronger follow-through by actually creating these "overlap poses", rather than by just offsetting.


So in short, here's what I do...

  • For most of my work, I prefer to straight ahead, keying all as I go. I then slide the poses around in the dopesheet for timing and finess the poses as needed. At this point I should be about 70% of the way there. From there I start the polish, which could take up more than 50% of the time.
  • I think this method lends itself well to action-heavy animation. For the acting stuff, the breakdowns and overlap poses may come after, when all of the keyposes are in. This is unless the transition between 2 keypose is a bit more physical, in which case I'd straight ahead to the next pose with the breakdowns.
  • After my initial block-in, I think I end up with more of these "keyed-all" poses than what you may consider typical.


Exceptions/ variations

  • If there is a really important pose I have to hit (like a grapple idle, where other animations may branch off of) I might straight ahead very loosely to that pose, make sure that pose is solid first, then come back and tighten up the others to make it work for that pose.
  • For a cinematic sequence, I'd probably very loosely block in the entire sequence of shots, using the least amount of poses needed to portray the purpose of each shot. I'd then show that for feedback and/ or appoval. After that, I'll go back and do full straight ahead animation on each individual shot as before.

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Layering and Offsetting

While setting these poses during the initial block-in, I do not worry about any layering or offsetting of keys.

  • This way, I could easily slide poses around in the dopesheet until I'm pretty happy with the timing.
  • It also keeps things clean and facilitates revision as you're going through the approval process with whomever is in charge.
  • I'd also try to keep it like this for as long as I can. If it's a game animation, I'd rather have it tested in the game before I even think about starting any polish.
  • If it was up to me, I'd leave all of the animation assets at this level of finish, and start polish only when each specific game feature is deemed "fun".


Do I ever layer my animation?

  • Sure, but only if the situation calls for it and usually not as a foundation or an initial block-in, even for walks and runs.
  • I admit, some animations will lend itself to a more layered approach, but even with these, I would still lock-down a couple of full-body poses first. (example=> Hit-reacts, Knock-back anims)
  • Wings, tails, and other secondary parts are usually layered in after.
  • Finally, as a quick note for action vs. acting, I'm noticing that I tend to layer a bit more for subtler acting as opposed to the broader physical actions. Details and nuances are usually layered in.

Do I offset keys?

  • Yes, for finer overlap, but only near the end, only when necessary, and only the least amount needed.
  • Again, this is to allow for easier/ quicker changes. And believe me--requests for changes are common in a real production environment. Animating for gameplay is a very iterative process. Not only does it have to look good, it has to function properly with regards to the game design. And the design will often go through many changes during the production cycle.

Finally, whenever I get lost in the mess of keys and my animation just isn't cooperating, I could always find my way back by stamping poses and deleting some of the mess. I'll then reassess these poses, and possibly add a few more key-all poses if needed.

Believe me--if time doesn't permit and all you have are the right poses, the right number of poses, all hitting at the right beats, You're animation will have weight and will be fluid, even if you don't have a single offset (or a few in the feet, perhaps).

This way of thinking may have stemmed from my traditional background (because if you think of it, all 2D animators have to work with are "keyed-all" poses every 2 frames). Nonetheless, this method makes things easier for me to digest.


After block-in

  • After the initial block-in, the feet are usually the first things to be offset.
  • To keep things organized a bit longer I then continue to offset body sections from each other (only if I need to), while still treating each section as a whole as opposed to offsetting their sub-components. For example, I'll treat the spine as one shape and not as individual joints. Each arm is one shape. This goes for the hand/ fingers and legs as well. With tails, esp. when there are many joints, I think of it as whole shapes as I'm animating, and not individual sections. Not until it's already flowing and overlapping with key-all poses do I think of offsetting.
  • For wings I'll animate the root of each wing to quickly block in where I want the flaps. I'll then go back and treat all the controllers of each wing as a whole shape.
  • When I offset, I don't just slide keys around. Sometimes I'll stamp a key where I think the offset should take place, adjust it, then delete the previous key.
  • Even when you start to offset and add keys to refine arcs, you could still see the major landmarks in the dopesheet, in case you need to blow out keys and make changes.


To better illustrate all of this, here are 2 examples from my previous posts:


video


Reference was shot for only the last strike of this combo. I try to pay attention to what the feet are doing. And again, the overall speed is exaggerated for gameplay.

video

This is what the final animation looks like in the dopesheet. Even in the end, you could still see where all the main poses are. Things are still organized, and if I have to make any changes, it shouldn't be too difficult.


No reference was shot for this next one. I didn't want to hurt myself!

video



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Miscellaneous Preferences


Here are some additional, miscellaneous tidbits I prefer.

***Again I'm not here to spark up a debate or start a fight. I just enjoy talking to other animators about how they go about the "little" things and what they prefer. I always find it interesting and often times it inspires me to actually try that "new" way of doing something, just to see if it would work for me.
  • Up until now, I've mainly used spline tangents as the default for action heavy stuff and clamped tangents when working on subtler performing pieces. I hate to admit it, but I actually sometime use splines' overshoots to my advantage, mostly for the action stuff. I do acknowledge, however, that things could get a bit rubbery/ floaty if I'm not careful. These days I think I might stick to clamp as the default.
  • So far, I haven't found stepped keys to work too well for me. Maybe I'm not using it correctly. To be fair though, I'm going to give it another shot for the quieter acting pieces I'm doing these days.
  • Weighted-tangents--Again, I know animators who swears by them as well as animators who don't use them at all. There are great animators on both sides. I personally haven't used weighted tangents in the past as I think I prefer to set that extra key for more control (though I have been thinking about giving them another shot for the more subtle stuff. I'm pretty sure, though, I won't be using them for action) Here's my final answer to this debate. What matters is what the audience sees on screen--you're animation, not your tangents. Haha!--I managed to stay diplomatic on that one! Seriously though...find what works for you, but always keep an open mind and try new things.
  • Finally, I tweak tangents only in the end, and probably not too extensively. My reasoning for this is that the moment you adjust a tangent, it won't automatically try to smooth out the curve if you adjust that key. So if you touch a tangent in the beginning, every time you adjust that key, you will probably have to adjust that tangent. Plus it's too easy to let the OCD side of me kick in regarding numbers and curves, it's too easy to get caught up with the graphs and overlook the actual pose in the viewport.

As for the rigs, I generally prefer a clean simple rig, nothing too fancy. As long as it has FKIK switching and matching, and the controllers aren't confusing, I'm happy. Oh--and it has to have a low-res, unskinned, proxy mesh that can be toggled with the final mesh--I'm greedy when it comes to the playback frame rate. :) I do have a longer list of preferences when it comes to rigs, but I'll save that for another post.


TOOLS

Before you animate, get comfortable!

  • First off, get a bigger monitor or preferably a 2nd one. The extra real-estate makes a huge difference! If you can't afford one, save up. It's you're career, invest in it.
  • Get a good chair. Statistically, 8 out of 10 Americans will get some form of back pain in their lifetime. I threw out my back once and I can assure you, it's no fun.
  • Try out Evoluent's vertical mouse. If I'm on the computer for too long, my wrists starts hurting. Several friends recommended this mouse. I gave it a shot, and ended up buying both a left and a right one to alternate throughout the day. You could also try using a Wacom Tablet--yet another way to switch it up.
  • Check out RSI Guard - there's a free trial version. It's a program that keeps tab on how much typin'/ mousin' you're doing and reminds you to take periodic breaks.
  • Buy Quicktime Pro if you don't already have a "special" version. It's only 30 bones, but comes in handy when you need to save a video clip off the net, trim reference clips, or compress and export clips.
  • Take the time to set up scripts, hotkeys, and shelves in Maya. It may seem like a hassle, but you'll thank yourself when your knee deep in keys and curves.
  • Check my previous post for some of the scripts I use ("A Few Good Mels"). Go to Highend 3D for more.
  • Here are some of my hotkeys.

    x-ray toggle (very useful for finding that polevector or other controller that's hidden behind some piece of geometry) Map this command to the hotkey of your preference.

    $currentPanel = `getPanel -withFocus`;
    $state = `modelEditor -q -xray $currentPanel`;
    modelEditor -edit -xray (!$state) $currentPanel;

    I like to reserve my second monitor for the character GUI, the face GUI, my reference video(s), the finalShot camera view (if it's a cinematic), and my IM.
    Because of this, I set up these hotkeys.

    "h" brings up my
    grapheditor layout (2 panel splitscreen: 2/3 Perspective, 1/3 Graph Editor)

    "d" brings up my
    dopesheet layout (2 panel splitscreen: 2/3 Perspective, 1/3 Dope Sheet)

    "8" brings up my
    walk run layout (3 panel splitscreen: 2/3 Front/Side, 1/3 Graph Editor)

    I also map PlaybackToggle to "`" and "0". (under "Playback Controls" category)

    As for Maya's shelves, I love 'em! For each character I create separate shelves for them. One could be for body poses and selection sets. One could be for hand poses and another for the face. Regarding hand and face poses--these are just for speed. It's to get you maybe 80% of the way there so you could adjust quickly. Again, in a production environment, time is always a factor. You never seem to have as much time as you'd like, so you have to find ways to speed up the process--ways to buy you more time for the important shots. The quicker you get to 80% the more time you have for polish.

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PLANNING

I'm sure you've all heard that planning is super important. I totally agree! And although I put this section last, it should be first.

Before you start anything, ask questions

  • Know the purpose of the animation you're about to do. Find out how it fits in the bigger picture. If it's a cinematic, know what your shot is trying to show. Know the purpose of the character. Know what the shot is before and after your shot.
  • If it's a game, find out what this attack is supposed to do. Is it supposed to knock the enemy up? Back? Is it supposed to stun it? Kill it? Are there limitations? Is the animation supposed to be contained to an area? Is the attack supposed to hit at 4ft, translate only 5 feet max and have the player character rotate 180 degrees into the Idle Pose to face the enemy who's in the Prone_Back Pose facing you?
  • Simply put, the more you ask, the more you'll know. The more you know, the less likely you're going to have to redo that awesome animation of yours because it didn't fit into the big picture.

Observe

Regarding video reference, here are my thoughts.

  • Video reference is a great tool, probably one of the best in our arsenal. There is a small trap, however, that you should all be aware of.

You ready? Here goes.

  • If you're not careful, and you start to rely on it too much, you could become a slave to it.

Wait! Hear me out. This is what I mean when I say "rely."

  • The trap that you could easily fall into if not careful is to rely on reference too much...or better put, not use reference to it's fullest. This happens when you merely scrub through the quicktime file, find a pose, slap it onto your character, then move on to the next, rinse/repeat, as opposed to really analyzing and breaking down the mechanics or the emotional shifts embedded in your ref. You concentrate too much on the "what" is happening in the reference video and not enough on the "how" and "why".
  • If you've been using reference too much this way, then you've become a slave to your reference and you could run into trouble when it comes time to animate something that can't easily be referenced.
  • I've seen it happen. Heck, I've been guilty myself at times!
    Instead of just concentrating on "what cool pose can I find" concentrate also on "why is this pose cool or why is this pose happening and why do I need this pose here?" This way you're more likely to understand why things are happening and you'll be better adept at drawing from what you've learned the next time you have to animate something that has to be straight out of your head because it's something that's beyond what a human can actually do.
  • In the past I often tried to balance referencing my animations with a more spontaneous and gung ho method. Sometimes, I'll just jump into the computer with only a broad idea and see where my instincts takes me. Although caution is definitely advised here, this is why I've done it. First, maybe I just can't shoot reference for this crazy move. Maybe I have to finish this animation in a couple of hours. But seriously, I find that it can be a good thing for me to do from time to time to keep me on my toes--force myself to analyze and breakdown things a bit deeper for myself (body mechanics, weightshifts, underlying thoughts). I'd say about a third of the stuff on my reels was referenced, and probably less for all the animation assets that went into the final game.

Now...with all that said...

If it's an important shot, I'll most likely shoot reference if I can. I imagine if I were ever lucky enough to work on a film, I'm pretty certain I'd shoot reference for every shot that I'm able to shoot reference for.

Bottom line is--work the reference, don't let it work you.

Moving on...


Visualize!

  • See the animation in your head.
  • Thumbnail if you can. To be honest, though, I haven't been doing it much for the past 4 years. I do want to try to thumbnail more, though. I know of great animators who don't thumbnail, as well as great animators who do. I'm sure it's not absolutely necessary but it can help.
  • The clearer your idea is before you touch the mouse and keyboard, the smoother and usually quicker everything will fall in place.


POLISH

  • Once I'm pretty certain no major changes will be requested, I will then cross my fingers and start checking arcs, tightening tangents and adding and offsetting keys wherever I feel is necessary--on every frame for individual sections if I have to.
  • At this point, switch over to "free-form mode" and allow yourself to get a bit "dirty" with your keys. If you did your work honestly and you set a strong foundation, you'll be fine. Your graphEditor could end up looking like a mess, but again, it's what's on screen that really matters.
  • Perhaps step away from the animation for a while, work on something else, and come back to it later to get a fresh eye.
  • Also get feedback! Everyone could give valuable feedback, not just animators. To be honest, often times, my daughter and nephews give me spot on feedback becuase they don't over analyze. They just look at the big picture.

I have one final note about polish I think is quite important. The following could easily be misinterpretted so please, don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way and think of me as one who's just lazy or is always looking for shortcuts.

  • Basically, in an ideal world, you'd have plenty of time to polish every single animation you do. In the real world, there are budgets, schedules and deadlines.
  • This is where you need to prioritize your polish.
  • In other words, don't polish too early, layer your polish from big to small, don't over-polish what's not going to be noticed as much.
  • To hit this home a bit more, resist the temptation to polish those curves in the beginning (exception of course is when the main action depends on getting that curve accurate). Don't offset every finger or eye brow control if your character's only an inch on screen. Resist tweaking arcs and motion trails of that sword tip until you've seen your animation in game and it has been tested and approved.
  • On a bigger scale, every animation you do for the game can't be a portfolio piece. Time just doesn't permit. And if it does, let me know where you're working because I want an application! Of course you should alway do your best, but if you spend 3 days trying to polish every last inch of that get-hit animation, you're probably taking time away from that multi-strike, finishing combo, the one that the player is going to aprreciate more. I strongly believe you have to choose your battles, layer your polish in a logical order, polish what's most important first, what the audience will notice most. And if time permits, go ahead and make that hit-react a portfolio piece. I honestly think that if you try to polish every asset as you go along, you could end up with a less polished game because you may run out of time in the end to polish what really matters.

Now remember, I'm not advocating cutting corners all the time, The last thing I want to do is to come across as a slacker. All I'm saying is work smarter, choose your battles--prioritize your polish.

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So to re-cap my personal process in a nutshell
(in the right order this time):


Plan

  • Think before you animate, ask questions, know the constraints, know the purpose, know the character.
  • Visualize, have a clear idea. See the animation in your head. (this is something I'm trying to remind myself of more these days)
  • Reference (use it, analyze it, just don't be a slave to it)
  • Thumbnail (if you can, why not?)

Tools

  • Get comfortable, get ergonomic! (And don't forget to take breaks!)
  • Scripts, hotkeys, shelves -- Take the time to set them up.

Animate

  • POSES and TIMING (this is what I think it comes down to)
  • As a foundation, I key-all as I straight-ahead
  • Layering and offsetting (not initially, i do it later)
  • Dopesheet (this is where I like to adjust macro timing)
  • Graph Editor (good for polish, good for debugging hitches, just don't get caught up too early)
  • Tangents (I like to jump straight into non-weighted spline or clamped, but use what YOU'RE comfortable with)

Polish

  • Be smart - prioritize and layer it
  • Finesse arcs, tangents, curves, etc.
  • Get "free-form", get "dirty" if you need to
  • Get feedback
  • Step away and come back with a fresh eye.
  • Slip the supervisor a 20 so your shot could be approved.

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Final thoughts

Most of the stuff I've talked about works pretty well for me regarding action-oriented animations. As for acting and dialogue--that's a huge topic by itself, one that I'll be saving for a future post. I have an acting/dialogue workflow that I consider to be "in-the-works", since I haven't done as much performance as I have action. I'm still trying to refine that process. I'll let you know all about it in year! or hopefully sooner:)

I hope all of this made at least some kind of sense. I hope I don't look back on this 6 months from now and think, "what the hell was I thinking!"

If anyone has specific workflow habits that you feel works well for you, by all means, let me know! I'd love to hear it! I'm always down to try something new.

In the meantime, have fun, support others, be inspired.

Thanks for reading!