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.

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.


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.


  • 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.


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


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.

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.

---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)

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

---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)

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

---from another previous post. It's now mapped to ctrl + "k"
---do it! you'll use it more once it's mapped.

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.

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.

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.

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 more drinking and driving!