The Chronicles of Spellborn: Developer Diary - Animation
Journal by Lead Animator Michael Perdieus
Hi, my name is Michael Perdieus, twenty-eight years old and born and raised in Belgium. I have a Masters degree in Audio Visual Art. During my studies I became passionate for 3D modeling and animation. I gathered a lot of experience working on music videos and commercials before I started working on computer games. I have been a Lead Animator for two games previously, and in the beginning of 2005 I joined Spellborn NV as Lead Animator for The Chronicles of Spellborn. As an Animator I have the magical task of bringing characters to live. All those amazingly designed and modeled beings remain lifeless statues until they are given a skeleton and a lifecycle. Every creature, from the smallest rabbit to the biggest end boss needs its own specific set of animations to make them come to life in a believable way in the Spellborn universe.
The Chronicles of Spellborn is blessed with a very unique style. Everything that is created for the game like models, textures, sounds and animations needs to fit this style and needs to enhance the player’s experience. As a Lead animator it is my job to make sure that the animations that the Animation Team produces are a perfect fit when all the disciplines come together. Animation-wise this means that some of the animations need to be unrealistic to look real in the game world.
On a smaller scale the same is true for each animated creature. A creature’s lifecycle consists of many fragmented animations such as walking cycles, running cycles, attacks, idles and deaths. An Animator must always keep in mind that all these loose fragments are part of a seamless lifecycle. A big, heavy monster can not have a slow walking cycle that switches to frivolous skip when he starts running. When a player meets such a creature in game, all believability will be lost. This seems logical, but more often then not creatures belong to a family or have a similar evolution cycle and players should be able to see this visually when they meet these creatures. The same goes for creatures that are not related to any creatures as we recognize from our real world. A creature with six legs needs to move in a believable way without the player having any reference as to what believable is in this case.
The process will be different for each studio. For The Chronicles of Spellborn the animation process starts by giving each creature its own skeleton. This is followed by animating each skeleton to build a complete set of animations. All of these sets together with the finalized models are exported into the game engine so Coders and Game Designers can take over. At this point it can become apparent that certain aspects of the creature are not up to consistent style standards. This could happens when certain attack animations don’t match the recorded sounds or attached attack skills. The creature will then end up back on my desk in order for us to implement the needed changes. This is a natural part of a living, breathing process.
Currently I am working on the Vhuul, a vicious enemy race that inhabits the high level Carnyx Shard. Let me explain the process in more detail. The Vhuul are a highly intelligent bird-like race. By looking at the included screenshots you can see that they are equipped with rather large wings. Before I start animating any part of the creature, I first define its entire bone structure because moving and rotating these bones over certain time paths will result in the Vhuul’s animations. It’s very important that all the bones are connected to the right polygons, so when I move a bone related to the right arm it has the proper impact on, for instance, the head polygons.
When all bones are in place and connected to the right polygons I can play around with it like an action figure. I can make poses with the entire model that are needed for the animations. I can now, for instance, define a key frame in which the wings are extended upwards. Twenty frames later I define the second key frame in which the model’s wings are facing downwards. Now I have created an animation by defining two key frames with twenty frames in between that will show the wings going down. Easy does it. But in reality wings move in a total different way - Weight, muscles, air pressure, the wing’s material and acceleration all affect the wings movement. To animate a wing an animator needs to define many bones and key frames to make the creature look real.
As the Lead Animator I have the luxury of deciding the look of the animation myself to a certain extent. I make an animation set based on the creature’s design and in game function. Using the Vhuul again as an example, the wings are already part of the creature’s design. I make sure that my animations reflect the extra characteristics these wings provide the creature. They are not just ornaments hanging on the creature’s back. I make sure that they look like they propel the creature when it is running. In terms of game play, it is important that all animations that this creature needs are made since the creature might have extra attack skills using the wings. So in the end it will always be a process involving multiple disciplines.
My personal challenge is to bring all the models to life that the Designers throw at me. The world of The Chronicles of Spellborn is home to many different life forms. Some are related to beings players will recognize from our own world, while others are fresh from the Designers’ imaginations and I can assure you that the players have never seen anything like them before.
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