Developer Diary: All About Animation

by on Mar.12, 2013, under cognition, developer diary

The way a person moves, stands, and talks is part of who they are. It can be an essential part of making observations and judgments about their character–in fact, doing just that is a trick actors have been using for centuries! That’s why animations are such an important part of a video game like Cognition.

Not being an animator myself, when I stepped into directing Episode 2, I was surprised by how much I had never thought about in terms of animations. Every single unique movement that a character makes has to be animated through several stages of revision. Picking up a pen might seem like a simple thing, but it’s not. You’ve probably never thought about just how many parts of your body move when you pick up that pen: your head turns over and down to look at it. Your arm reaches out, and chances are your back bends towards it as well. Your fingers–all five of them, don’t forget–move as you open your hand and then close them around the object. You’ve got the pen! Congratulations. Now move all those parts of your body back into exactly the same position they were in before, plus one pen poised for use.

Oh, did you want to use that pen, too? Well, roll up your sleeves, folks, we’re gonna be here for a while!

Being a part of the daily animation meetings, I quickly appreciated just how much detailed work our animators do, and I also saw as they got better and better over time. Someone might forget to animate the spine for one animation, but the next time around they’d remember to incorporate that into their work. I also learned about the stages of an animation as it progresses. Below are two of the earlier passes on a much more complex action, where Erica jumps out of the way of a speeding car, done by animator Dan Long:

This video shows the blocking pass–in this early stage, the animation is “blocked out” into its main, basic components.

Here you can see a more polished version of the animation. After blocking, details are added into the animation. From here, the animation is polished until it’s approved as final, and then added to the game. Where we may discover it’s so final after all and send it back for more polish!

These are only 2 passes, but it gives you an idea for how much detail and work goes into animations. After sitting in on these meetings for just a few weeks, I had a new appreciation for custom animations–even in older games! Next time you’re playing a game, take a moment to think about all the tiny moving details of every character, every aspect of the game, and just how much work someone put into an animation that lasts only a few seconds on your screen!

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