Struggling [to be] a[n] artist

{8 February 2013}   2D animation

The next project Sic’em Studios is working on is a prototype for pitching. Our previous attempt to make this was thwarted by hardware more or less. Anyway, the team has gotten larger since then, and another person will be working with me to make the art. She’s not an animator in any capacity, and was a bit hesitant to help out, but working together I think we can do it.

Anyway, the first thing we need to figure out is what software to use. We did a bit of research and decided to check three out: Spriter (still in alpha), Umotion2D and Flash. We’re both more familiar with flash, but neither of us are certain it can do what we need it to. The game will be built in Unity, so all we need is something to animate and make the sprite sheet with.

I was playing with all three of them with a really bad test character thing. The first thing I learned; you need to cut down all the piecemeal images to as big as they need to be; not the full size of the character, as how I do them when I’m making sheets by hand. All three of them bring the dimensions in and don’t cut them down, nor have an easy way to do so.

The test we need to do on them is to see if we can even use the program, if it animates to our desire/ how difficult it is to animate, and how the tweens/animation/everything is exported out, and how it does so. Umotion can export to Unity, so there’s a plus for it. Documentation for Spriter and Umotion is pretty lacking, even more so with the former. I hope Flash will win out, since working that will have more “industry” application for larger jobs, but what bit I’ve seen with the three of them, I don’t see whatever we learn/relearn not being applicable to Flash.

This will be good and interesting. I need to work on more animation things.

I was in the beginning of a “What do I really want to do and Can I actually do it” phase, and then I realized, I work at a game company. I can go ask one of the animators about what they do, what they are expected to do, etc. I’ve removed names of people and companies for NDA reasons. This seems like it’s all pretty standard, but does not reflect every company in the industry, and where you land may change drastically. I just happen to work for a really awesome company. So here is the transcript, including me being a dork. (PS this was done over a chat messenger)

Me: What does your job actually involve? All animation all the time, types of animations (game specific vs cut-scene)

Me: Pretty newbie question, but I realized the other day, a lot of game companies may not have all their animations done in house

Animator: most of the time, yeah it’s all animation all the time, and all game specific anims for real-time creature and player movement

Me: okay

Animator: we also did the 4 intro movies here, *coworker1* and I animated and did camera work, *coworker2* did the lighting, and *coworker3* did the VFX

Animator: but the CG intro movie was done out of house

Me: did the number of animators fluctuate with the project or was it pretty much the same through it all

Animator: it grew over the course of the project

Animator: I’d say for the entire last year or so we had our max number of animators

Me: Is that a common thing (in house animators doing it all) or a sometimes type thing?

Animator: last year before ship, that is

Animator: for most big games, I don’t think that’s common

Animator: there is usually a professional cinematic company doing any sort of video movies

Animator: but the in-game rendered cut-scenes are usually done in the same house

Animator: due to the extremely technical nature

Me: yeah videos, I meant the game animations

Animator: whereas a pre-rendered movie can be done anywhere for the right $$

Animator: yeah, usually for games this size, all animations are done in house

Me: okay

Me: So besides just animation, you need cinematography as well, right?

Animator: hmm, it helps to have some knowledge of camera angles, shot composition, and lenses if you’re making in game cutscenes

Animator: but if you’re doing animation for characters in a game where the player has control over the camera, then I’d focus more on making the animation read well from all angles… which is purely a good grasp on character motion and timing

Animator: the timing thing gets hard when it all has to play based on the user input… things like an anticipation before a big jump are just not possible when the player wants to be able to jump instantly with the space bar

 Animator: so it helps to be a fan of many types of games to see what different styles look and feel like

Me: right, I felt some of that doing some other animations

Me: do you ever do any type of modeling? Or do you know of other places (besides tiny teams) where animators are also modelers or texture artists?

 Animator: hmm

 Animator: I knew of them

Me: do you think it’s a common thing?

 Animator: but I can’t think of many big houses which have the modeler/texture/animator all in one roles anymore

Me: okay

 Animator: with big teams, the specializing is more common I’d say

 Animator: a lot more like an assembly line, now more than ever

 Animator: are you interested in getting into animation?

Me: yeah

 Animator: right on 🙂

Me: I’ve done some, but haven’t been practicing lately, so I’m trying to sit myself right

Me: (wow that sentence made no sense)

 Animator: hehe

Me: I’m on the boarder of an “OH GOD WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ” for a career panic

Me: and thinking “I have no idea what/how things are done in a game company more than 3 people”

Me: then I realized I could just ASK someone since I have that access much easier now

 Animator: haha

 Animator: yeah, so I’m just speaking from what I know, and that’s from 4 years at [rival company 2] prior to [company], and some other buddies I have on teams at some [Rival company 3] companies and [rival company 1]

Me: right

Animator: [rival company 1] used to do the whole model/texture/animate thing back in the days of [big product 1] and [big product 2]

Me: it’s still better than me wondering and not knowing

Animator: cool, let me know if I can help answer anything else

Me: I will, but so far, I think I can do this. I was going to panic if I had to do modeling or something

Me: my topology and unwrapping are terrible

 Animator: that’s a tough thing, yeah.  Mine isn’t all that great either

 Animator: I haven’t really done that stuff since I went to school, heh

Me: oh rigging! Do you do rigging?

Me: how often do animators end up doing the rigging~

Me: omg

 Animator: I know a bit of rigging.  Here at [company], hardly any animators rig.  I’ve skinned some props like walls of bricks crumbling… all rigged bodies, no soft skinning

 Animator: and I haven’t made any rigs other than parenting bones to nodes I can key

Me: is that a common thing?

 Animator: so, hardly any rigging is done by non-TDs

Me: TD?

 Animator: yeah, the TDs usually handle all the complex rigging at most every company I know of

 Animator: Technical Director

Me: ahh

Animator: or technical artist

Me: okay

Me: soo good to know

 Animator: they typically know some scripting/coding

Me: shoulders are so hard

Animator: all our rigs on *game* are built with some fairly complex scripts

{6 February 2011}   CAT Rigging

Rigging is a very difficult thing for me. Setting up the bones so they’ll move in the correct way, to skinning the character. It’s a difficult process that often makes me want to cry (and often does). The places I seem to have the hardest time is with the shoulder area, and with this latest one, the elbows. The model is much high poly than the last model I had done, and certainly the reason why I’m having issues with the elbow.

In my attempt to find some sort of rigging solution, CAT was brought to my attention. It is included in the 3ds Max 2011 program. It reminds me of puppet shop from Lumonix (which I had gotten but not used very much). After many terrible sites that didn’t tell me much, I found these videos. I could only find the first part there, but the rest of them are here. I don’t know if this will help with my skinning issue, (most likely not) but it certainly does help if someone needs to make some custom rigs.

The next thing I need to figure out how the animation layering works, as well as weight painting. Weight painting in XSI seemed pretty easy (since I never used the program I don’t really know, but I am considering going over to that since  3ds Max has that stupid flow chart now too).

(I hate to admit) but the most useful thing I learned from the videos was to use twist bones in the arm. There is still so much more to learn. I want to go back to school.

—-edit/update 1—-

More Max tutorials here with the CAT tutorials part 1 part 2 part 3

Autodesk CAT help thing





et cetera