Once the rig was complete, it was time to buff up on the fundamentals of animation. I’ve always enjoyed animation as a consumer of movies, shows, and games, but this was my first time really working on an animation.
The very first thing I did was make the first frame for the idle animation, the animation that plays when the character is doing nothing but standing still.
This animation, which ended up being 56 frames long (not even one full second!), ended up being one of the hardest animations I have ever done. And he’s standing still! Why was this so hard?!
Here’s attempt #10 of Idle1. This is the one currently in the game at time of posting. No telling if there won’t be an 11th version sooner or later.
It took a ton of tries, though, because in addition to my lack of experience with animating and with manipulating the rig, I figured out a few key principles:
- The hammer has to have weight to it. This usually means it lags behind the rest of the body in some way. This is probably what makes or breaks these animations the most, since it is jarring if it is wrong. In animation this is called “Slow in and out.”
- The hammer is the focal point of the character. This is pretty closely related to an animation principle called “Staging,” which is the act of drawing the audience’s attention to a certain important location. Also, this and the direction of the head give the best indication of which way the character is facing, so the hammer always has to be behind him whichever direction he’s facing.
- The silhouette is king. You’re going to view the character from far away, so the silhouette is the main thing you’re going to recognize about him. If he’s holding the hammer in front of him then he’s not very distinctive, but holding it behind him gives him a clear silhouette.
- As a subpoint of #3, the player’s only going to view the character in one plane. Although the above screenshots show the character from above and to the side, these aren’t angles the audience will ever see in-game. The character doesn’t have to look good from every angle, he just has to look good from the player’s perspective. Not that I want to have animations that look bad if you see it from another angle, but the priority always needs to be on having it look best from the player’s perspective.
- The graph editor is your best friend. Smooth translation/rotation lines are often the difference between a smooth animation and a choppy one. This can also be a great place to add weight to animations by making them lag before quickly accelerating to a position. The best example of this are the heels in the Idle1 animation. If you look at them, they sort of hang before bouncing quickly down and back up again. That’s entirely the graph editor at work. It’s easier to show than to explain, but this blew my mind when I finally figured out how to use this tool.
There’s plenty of other stuff, but those were the big things I remind myself before starting any animation.
Oh, also I’ve recorded every version of every animation I’ve done, so you can see my progress as an animator.
P.S. Here’s an image of a pose I accidentally made during one of the first animations I ever worked on. I still think it looks pretty neat, especially for not meaning to make it at all. I rotated one or two groups of bones and the whole thing ended up looking like an action pose.