Sunday, March 31, 2013

GDC 2013: The Year of Animation

What a GDC it was for animation this year! From the day of amazing talks at Animation Bootcamp to the three days of evolving discussion in the Animation & Character Performance Roundtables, animation was alive at GDC. All around Moscone we would run into people who attended each day’s sessions and hear how grateful they were that animation was getting such a large focus this year.

So how did it all happen?

From 2010 to 2012, I was fortunate enough to host the Tech Animation Roundtable with great success. However, as each year rolled around, I found the audience and the topics were shifting more towards character performance. As I started re-evaluating what the roundtable should be after GDC 2012, Mike Jungbluth proposed the idea of the Animation Bootcamp to a few of us. Since I had already been planning to change the Tech Animation Roundtable to something more animation driven, this aligned amazingly well. After many email discussions, we had formulated the perfect storm of animation for GDC 2013: An Animation Bootcamp at the start of the week to get animators excited about discussing animation, and an Animation Roundtable for the rest of the week to get multiple disciplines discussing how to push animation further in games. Hence the Animation Bootcamp and Animation & Character Performance Roundtables were born.

The Bootcamp

The Animation Bootcamp on Monday was amazing. If you were unable to attend, it will be available on the GDC Vault, so check it out if you can!

The hard work that all the speakers put into their talks was apparent, and we all learned so much from each other. Jalil Sadool’s talk on observation and ownership of a character kicked off the festivities. Amy Drobek’s talk on creature animation gave us incredible insights on how to break down a creature’s anatomy for rigging and animation, and gave me many ideas to take back to work this week.

Simon Unger’s talk on the actual nuts & bolts of planning, shooting and implementing motion capture was a refreshingly detailed and useful view of the technology as a productivity tool. Animating the 3rd Assassin, the talk given by Jonathan Cooper, was eye opening in its examples of how to use previs to sell an idea to your own team, how to develop a unique animation style in an existing franchise, and outlined the sheer amount of work that goes into an animation-heavy title.

Ryan Duffin’s talk on Giving Purpose to First Person Animation gave an amazing view of how the principles of animation, especially staging, can be used to create a believable first person performance (while also giving us a great lesson on how the golden ratio can be implemented to increase the aesthetics of a first person view).

Finally, Mike Jungbluth and Ed Hooks gave the most thought-provoking talk on Designing a Performance, asking us to think about how we can create an empathic connection between player and character.

The Roundtables

After the bootcamp, we got a ton of positive feedback as we walked around Moscone. So much, in fact, that on Day 1 of the Animation and Character Performance Roundtable (henceforth referred to as “the roundtable”) was filled to capacity and people had to be turned away. Each subsequent day saw the room fill to capacity, and each day the hour flew by. Overall I feel that the roundtable was a huge success (though we’ll have to wait and see what the evaluations say!), and I am excited to continue hosting it for years to come.

Since the roundtables are not recorded for the vault, I did my best to take notes immediately following each session. Today I will provide bulleted notes, and I will attempt to write up each day in full over the next few days/weeks as I recall the conversations and ask a few of the folks there to pass along their mental notes as well.

Day 1 Notes

  1. Started by asking “Who are we?” (We are animators, game developers, collaborators) 
    1. Note to self, never do this again. Thankfully the room forgave me and we got past it quick with better topics! 
  2. Design and animation collaboration 
  3. Implementing animation (who does it, how long) 
  4. Does creating networks take away from animation time 
    1. Spend less time on the finer details. Get good blocking/posing/timing and get it into the animation network/engine 
  5. Moving disciplines together 
  6. Communication (marked as topic for next day- in person or offsite?) 
  7. What do students need to learn? What are students learning? (specialize? broad knowledge?) 
  8. Animation principles (marked as topic for next day) 
  9. Don’t be a jerk 
  10. Be good at your craft, the tools are just that- tools to learn 

Day 2 Notes

  1. Today was almost entirely filled with “Applying the Principles of Animation” 
  2. Anticipation in animation as well as gameplay (building up to a moment with audio, or building an attack combo, or just the mental anticipation a player has before they hit the button) 
  3. Staging with state transitions, an contextual environmental cues 
  4. Timing. Blend times, avoiding the “Scale slider” 
  5. Squash and stretch in poses. 
  6. Arcs in mocap. 
  7. Getting rough blockouts to design who can scale them till it feels right, then we finish 
  8. Design communication/docs (marked as topic for tomorrow) 
  9. Back to implementation and communication. Where we sit, how we communicate (marked as topic for tomorrow) 
  10. Empathy- how? Idles could be taken too far. Where is the balance of believable motion to believable character? 
  11. Seeing stuff in game with zero iteration time 
  12. Sorry Josh Scherr for skipping you at the end please don't kill me

Day 3 Notes

  1. Empathy, the whole time. Amazing. 
  2. Doh, forgot to do roll call for disciplines today.
  3. Papo & Yo 
  4. Walking Dead: Clementine= physical conscience 
  5. Metal Gear Solid 4. Kojima is apparently the staging and empathy king 
  6. No camera cuts in Splinter Cell for reals? 
  7. Does anyone but animators care about the subtle changes, or do we need to paint broader strokes for the broader audience? 
  8. Uncharted injured walk creates some distance for empathy 
  9. Enslaved, Tomb Raider as examples of how character’s animation changes as they evolve 
    1. No credit to Andy Serkis! :) 
  10. Cinematics is a bad word now. Why? 
  11. Figure out how to flow game camera into cinematics without feeling disruptive 
  12. Also no load times! That breaks the emotional connection from gameplay to cinematics 
  13. Difference between games and cinema- one opinion that too many cinematics means we watch, not play 
  14. Didn't keep participants flowing towards the end. Sorry people I had to skip!
  15. Not enough time to discuss how the use of camera lenses, angles, methodologies can create an empathic connection with the player 

Stay tuned over the next few days (or weeks) as I expand upon each days topics. To those who participated at GDC this week, thank you, keep in touch, and watch out for next year!

Friday, March 8, 2013


GDC 2013 is only 2 weeks away! This year, animators attending will find a buffet of animation offerings! Tasty morsels of information and conversation! How else can I get this to sound like food!


There we go.

Animation Bootcamp

Leading off the week will be the first annual Animation Bootcamp! We have a ton of great speakers and topics during this full-day event.

Here's a link to the bootcamp on the GDC website:

And the currently planned schedule:

Monday, March 25
10 - 10:15 - Intro - Mike Jungbluth, Tim Borrelli and Nate Walpole
10:15 - Making an Audience Believe - Jalil Sadool (Dreamworks)
11:15 - It's Alive! Developing Animal/Creature Movement - Amy Drobeck (WB Games)
12:15 - 1:30 - Lunch
1:30 - How to Get the Most Out of Your Mocap - Simon Unger (IO Interactive)
2:30 - Animating the 3rd Assassin - Jonathan Cooper (Ubisoft)
3:30 - Giving Purpose to 1st Person Animation - Ryan Duffin (Danger Close)
4:30 - Break
4:45 - Designing A Performance - Ed Hooks & Mike Jungbluth
5:45 - 6:15 - Q & A Roundtable - Tim Borrelli (5th Cell)

In addition to Ed Hooks' talk at the Animation Bootcamp, he'll be giving another during the main conference:

It's on Wednesday, at 3:30 PM.

But that's not all!

Animation and Character Performance Roundtable

This year will be the inaugural year of the Animation and Character Performance Roundtable! After three years of hosting the Tech Animation Roundtable, I noticed that more and more of the conversations involved discussing how game development teams can work better, and facilitate meaningful dialogue with designers, animators, modelers, writers, and AI programmers. Unfortunately, many of those people were not in the room! The Animation and Character Performance Roundtable aims to correct this. This roundtable will focus on the entire process of a character's performance in-game, including the initial design spec, concept phase, modeling for animation, rigging, creation of animations for proper player input or AI controls, use of motion performance capture, creation of state machines and blend trees, voice recording, implementation in the game engine, and finally, the end-user experience.

Here are the links to the roundtable sessions on the GDC website:

And the currently planned schedule:

Wednesday 2:00 PM
Thursday 10:00 AM
Friday 4:00 PM (last session of GDC! Last year I had a great turnout, so let's beat that this time guys and gals!)

If you are an animator, character artist, concept artist, designer, writer, AI or animation programmer, or just interested in animation and characters in games, come by! Get involved in the discussion on everything that goes into character performance- from concept, to model, to rigging, to animation, and into game.

So spread the word! And be sure to come and participate in what are bound to be lively discussions!

See you all at the buffet table in two weeks!