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DF Oliver

Programming Update #4: Animating the Jack

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Thanks for the update Oliver, very interesting stuff!

Forgive me if I missed this note, but it looks as though there is some mesh deformation on the hat and beard, rather than the pieces remaining as static panels, is that the way it will look in game?

That is correct. Geometry is attached to the skeleton using soft binding, which means that a skin vertex will be influenced by multiple joints. Deformation is really important, because otherwise all characters would look like stick men.

Also, I was wondering out of curiosity if you looked at exporting from Flash at all? I know it's possible to export keyframes, so you get all the transitions Flash can do to really make 2D art come alive, but I haven't looked into how it exports the image pieces. If the image pieces could be exported and synched with the keyframes then you would get all the power of Flash animation, with a relatively reasonable file size. And as long as you weren't trying to write a vector renderer it should be just as quick as the method you proposed, while maybe being more powerful and suited to 2D. I can understand if you have more talented Maya animators than Flash artists on board at Double Fine however, your technique is probably geared to best leverage of the talent you have.

We did look at Flash extensively actually, but decided not to use it for this project mostly because we have more expertise with Maya and our Maya-based pipelines are better at this point.

Also the art-style for this game isn't aligned with vector-based rendering and texture mapped polygons are a better fit.

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Correct me if I'm wrong, but in traditional Skeletal Animation you use Motion Graphs to do transitions between animations. Now, in your approach I have a feeling this would not work so smoothly because of the 2.5D approach (unless you drew different views of the body). Can you elaborate a bit on your approach? That would be a very interesting read (for me at least) :). OVerall, thanks for all these updates.. This is the coolest forum on the web

You are absolutely correct. Changing the direction of the character is (and will remain to be) tricky. We are currently investigating different methods. Switching the rig definitely causes a pop, but it might be alright if there is a bit of anticipation build into the animation. We could also draw transition frames and show them, although it might be tricky to make it match perfectly with the start and end poses. We'll keep you guys posted.

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I understand why you'd rather use 'skeletal' animation, but I'm wary of it. It can either look Terrible or OK. Rarely can you see memorable animation with that method, but it's possible.

Here's hoping your animators can show a proper use of this technique, otherwise it will be Canadian Animation: The Adventure Game.

There's nothing inherently bad about that, just that there's very little charm to it.

Good luck!

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I hate to be a downer but the puppet cut out animation method looks terrible.

The ‘flipbook’ frame by frame character animation that they had in the old lucasarts games was what I frickin LOVED about those games!!

It’s a real blow to hear that, that technique will not be used in this game. :( My enthusiasm for this game has kind of been killed now.

Although I know nothing about the technical memory side of it, I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to do traditional animation for the characters, all you need is a skilled 2d animator that is fast.

It doesn’t even have to be on ‘ones’ (animation geeky technical talk) the movement could easily work on ‘twos’ or ‘threes ‘

It doesnt matter what lighting or curve effects you do on that puppet/cut out animation, it will always look crap compared to drawn 2d animation.

I'm sorry to hear that. Old SCUMM games used very few animation frames and I can tell you from my experience working on the Monkey Island Special Editions that a animation with 5 frames-per-second on a high-res background definitely doesn't look great. This means we would need quite a lot of frames to get results that look great. Even though we would like to go this way we will most likely not have the bandwidth nor the memory to make this work.

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That means (if I understand this correctly) that the "cutouts/images" are deformed when the character is moving.

That is correct.

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I hate to be a downer but the puppet cut out animation method looks terrible.

The ‘flipbook’ frame by frame character animation that they had in the old lucasarts games was what I frickin LOVED about those games!!

It’s a real blow to hear that, that technique will not be used in this game. :( My enthusiasm for this game has kind of been killed now.

Although I know nothing about the technical memory side of it, I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to do traditional animation for the characters, all you need is a skilled 2d animator that is fast.

It doesn’t even have to be on ‘ones’ (animation geeky technical talk) the movement could easily work on ‘twos’ or ‘threes ‘

It doesnt matter what lighting or curve effects you do on that puppet/cut out animation, it will always look crap compared to drawn 2d animation.

I'm sorry to hear that. Old SCUMM games used very few animation frames and I can tell you from my experience working on the Monkey Island Special Editions that a animation with 5 frames-per-second on a high-res background definitely doesn't look great. This means we would need quite a lot of frames to get results that look great. Even though we would like to go this way we will most likely not have the bandwidth nor the memory to make this work.

Like i said before .. i know nothing about making games, so i hope im not sounding stupid here. But i remember how beautiful the drawn animation in monkey island 3 was, (not to mention the great cutscenes) and that was made 15 years ago, i also played it on my ipad recently and it worked and looked fine! And would happily wait longer for the game if it meant getting inbetweens done on the characters movements. (im assuming monkey island 3 was 12 frames a sec) The rigged skeleton look OR paper cut out look (however its called) worked well on the new monkey island special edition games because it was being satirical on the old retro point and click style movement. And it also worked O.K on Machinarium game because it was for robot characters. But i just thought it would look very flat on this game. I mean i just cant imagine what the characters in day of the tentacle would look like if they were skeleton rigged, it would be a different game. But maybe i should hold my breath, you guys know what your doing, and are doing an amazing job.

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Oliver, do you or one of the artists believe that the game animations will be as expressive as this

? My understanding is that this animation could be created in game as the animator has shown that the animation was created from these paper cutout style pieces. I suspect expressiveness like this would quell some concerns about skeletal animtion, because maybe one more experienced can tell but I've dabbled with animation and this looks about as good as flipbook to me.

There were a many keyframes (example links 1 2 3 4) and some of the body parts used several images for different poses so one might argue that this is really flipbook or frame by frame animation, but those keyframes were still created by arranging parts instead of being drawn individually and multiple poses for body parts is clearly supported by DFA.

I made a thread (link) about this, but I tried to keep this post short.

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The reason for the relatively high polygon count is actually connected to the fact that mobile GPUs have a terrible fillrate, so we have to make sure to 'touch' as little pixels as possible. Overdraw can kill your performance very quickly. Also PVR compression isn't great when it comes to images with an alpha channel, so we hope to use transparency as little as possible on characters.

For other platforms (e.g. PC) the problem isn't as prominent, but since we won't push enough polygons to make a modern GPU sweat we can simply use the same geometry.

Does that make sense at all?

thanks so much for the reply oliver! I had to look up what fillrate means but I think I got you. okay. but does that mean that all the detail in the background layers are also geometric?? cant be can it? or is it just because they do use alpha that other parts (characters) should make as little use of it as possible.

EDIT: oh by the way I thought of another thing I would like to ask (sorry) - why is it not a good idea to have the rim mask hardpainted in as a separate texture (or as alpha channel if youre not using that then) I mean it seems like that could give you some extra dimensionality as you could add rim for details "inside" the texture. I know you answered a similar question by saying you might use actual geometry (as opposed to a bump map, but Im talking more about a straight mask). but why isnt it better to have the same painterly quality on the rim as on the actual character? I dont mean to say that I would know better of course, Im just curious as to why. thanks. and sorry for taking up a lot of time...

ritchi thai! great post. thats exactly the kind of thing that people (seem to) need to see when it comes to the possibilities of hybrid animation.

NOT that they HAVE to go that route, this "moving illustration" kind of, more minimal animation works for this look as well I think. full animation just isnt very realistic when you have to paint every frame - which is why people use line drawings and solid color areas.

dont google "pinkie pie" by the way.

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I'm sorry to hear that. Old SCUMM games used very few animation frames and I can tell you from my experience working on the Monkey Island Special Editions that a animation with 5 frames-per-second on a high-res background definitely doesn't look great. This means we would need quite a lot of frames to get results that look great. Even though we would like to go this way we will most likely not have the bandwidth nor the memory to make this work.

There doesn't need to be 30 unique frames a second, but there really should be more than one.

Tweening looks fine when it's inbetween unique keyframes, but if you only draw one single frame and slide it around it looks like a lazy, flat, paper puppet.

Draw a few more positions of the body parts, you've already shown us you can do that with the hand grabbing frames, and that should be done with the walking animation as well.

But this is all up to the amount of work the artist is willing to do. I realize you guys don't want to put too much time and effort into an animation that was probably just meant for testing the tweening/skeletal animation system.

The programmers have done a fantastic job with that by the way, I just really hope the artists and animators will use it to it's full potential for the final game.

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Oliver, do you or one of the artists believe that the game animations will be as expressive as this
? My understanding is that this animation could be created in game as the animator has shown that the animation was created from these paper cutout style pieces. I suspect expressiveness like this would quell some concerns about skeletal animtion, because maybe one more experienced can tell but I've dabbled with animation and this looks about as good as flipbook to me.

There were a many keyframes (example links 1 2 3 4) and some of the body parts used several images for different poses so one might argue that this is really flipbook or frame by frame animation, but those keyframes were still created by arranging parts instead of being drawn individually and multiple poses for body parts is clearly supported by DFA.

I made a thread (link) about this, but I tried to keep this post short.

Thanks for posting this Ritchie.Thai.

From a technical perspective this is exactly what we are doing. Use skeletal animation while enabling the animators to use hand painted elements. As I said before I'm confident that the animation will be absolutely stunning, because our artists are absolutely fantastic.

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thanks so much for the reply oliver! I had to look up what fillrate means but I think I got you. okay. but does that mean that all the detail in the background layers are also geometric?? cant be can it? or is it just because they do use alpha that other parts (characters) should make as little use of it as possible.

Actually even the background elements will use clipping geometry, which is basically a low-resolution mesh. Especially on mobile GPU's you want to make sure that you 'touch' each pixel as little as possible. Lot's of transparent layers is therefore the worst thing you can do and to remedy this we want to help the GPU by minimizing the amount of pixels to consider. This is, by the way, also true for 'high-end' consoles.

EDIT: oh by the way I thought of another thing I would like to ask (sorry) - why is it not a good idea to have the rim mask hardpainted in as a separate texture (or as alpha channel if youre not using that then) I mean it seems like that could give you some extra dimensionality as you could add rim for details "inside" the texture. I know you answered a similar question by saying you might use actual geometry (as opposed to a bump map, but Im talking more about a straight mask). but why isnt it better to have the same painterly quality on the rim as on the actual character? I dont mean to say that I would know better of course, Im just curious as to why. thanks. and sorry for taking up a lot of time...

You are right a hand painted rim-light mask would totally work and we might end up implementing it this way. Personally I think we might be able to do this geometrically which would free up artists to work on other things (draw more animation frames for example %-P ). I'm not sure if we would actually use a bump map. The normals of the geometry can probably be used to get a nice rim-light going, but let's see...

Thanks for the great questions!

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Because you are writing for multiple platforms, do you focus on the memory/performance limits of the least powerful system and leave it the same for all the others? What sort of scaling would you be looking at?
This was also my question based on the memory limitation comment.

It got me thinking: did we inadvertently create more limits on the DFA by supporting it "too much"?

By funding more and more we made the game bigger and better by adding features, but by funding it enough to add mobile devices to the list of platforms, did we suddenly decrease the target spec for the game?

TBH, I wouldn't worry about this too much. The DFA team is definitely not taking a "lowest common denominator" approach to the game's pre-production. Of course we have to keep in mind the capabilities of the devices we're targeting, esp mobile devices, but it's already looking quite likely that the game will need various types of LOD (i.e. texture detail, screen res, vfx, etc) so that it looks amazing on PCs but can also run decently well on less powerful machines.

Also, to re-emphasize one of Oliver's points, this technique was chosen not just for memory concerns, but because it's a good match of memory, performance, expressiveness, and animator productivity.

Thanks for the clarification, it's all interesting, as always.

Back in the days of adventure glory, many of these game had requirements much higher than the common spec. So slow computer couldn't really run it at a descent FPS. If you lacked the graphics and sound card you could still play the game, but had a lesser experience. Another example is a game details slider, there were Sierra games that had some animations turned off on those lower detail setting. So if mobile devices are also target platforms they should be able to run the game, but not necessarily do everything the PC does.

I'm certainly advocating the game's PC limit would be today's strong platforms (unless the game art itself won't require it). Would love to see an update specific for stronger platform capabilities.

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Three cheers for Oliver, for giving detailed and thoughtful responses to all our questions! And as a result, being awesome =0).

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Hey, have you seen a Kickstarter project called Spriter? It's a program to make animated sprites which doesn't consume that much memory.

Here it is: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/539087245/spriter

Do you know what technology does this use to consume less memory? I didn't understand much (they don't explain that very well in the video), but in the end I backed the project.

It uses similar technology. Sprites are attached to bones or can be animated individually if you prefer. Key frames specify how things are positioned at moments in time. Optionally tweening can be turned on so extra intermediate frames can automatically be created in between key frames. The system is intended to be usable on many platforms, so the animator just gives key frames with desired timings and the implementation then displays that at whatever frame rate it can handle.

It also has features like sub animations planned so bits can be reused. No stretching of skins planned for initial release though.

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i was talking about 30 fps in general. of course, the gif is going to look like a rotoscope flip through by a 100 year old person and not an upcoming video game designer who will become famous and create one of the best modern day game trilogies :). 30 fps isnt really what "smooth" is.

but that is just a minor thing. i wont scream "shut up ang give me back my money!", because of that :))).

All movies are displayed in 24 fps. They look smooth. Just because you think 60 FPS is absolutely necessary in action games that's more about reaction time and a point and click adventure game doesn't need that. No video on YouTube, fo example, is over 30FPS. Does all video look choppy to you?

And besides, skeletal animation for games inbetweens automatically so it'll look smooth even if it's rendered in 60fps or higher.

Nevertheless I'm kind of disappointed by this, tweened animation usually doesn't look very good in 2D.

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These are still some test materials they're playing with and this character isn't even in the game. Don't freak out just yet, It'll be cool.

I'm not talking about the character, the art, or anything like that.

I don't like this process. The animation looks like paper dolls to me.

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I hate to be a downer but the puppet cut out animation method looks terrible.

The ‘flipbook’ frame by frame character animation that they had in the old lucasarts games was what I frickin LOVED about those games!!

It’s a real blow to hear that, that technique will not be used in this game. :( My enthusiasm for this game has kind of been killed now.

Although I know nothing about the technical memory side of it, I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to do traditional animation for the characters, all you need is a skilled 2d animator that is fast.

It doesn’t even have to be on ‘ones’ (animation geeky technical talk) the movement could easily work on ‘twos’ or ‘threes ‘

It doesnt matter what lighting or curve effects you do on that puppet/cut out animation, it will always look crap compared to drawn 2d animation.

Yeah, what this guy said. Don't be lazy, guys. Our dad's cartoons were done frame by frame, and if they can do it, so can we.

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I hate to be a downer but the puppet cut out animation method looks terrible.

The ‘flipbook’ frame by frame character animation that they had in the old lucasarts games was what I frickin LOVED about those games!!

It’s a real blow to hear that, that technique will not be used in this game. :( My enthusiasm for this game has kind of been killed now.

Although I know nothing about the technical memory side of it, I can tell you that it doesn’t take long to do traditional animation for the characters, all you need is a skilled 2d animator that is fast.

It doesn’t even have to be on ‘ones’ (animation geeky technical talk) the movement could easily work on ‘twos’ or ‘threes ‘

It doesnt matter what lighting or curve effects you do on that puppet/cut out animation, it will always look crap compared to drawn 2d animation.

Yeah, what this guy said. Don't be lazy, guys. Our dad's cartoons were done frame by frame, and if they can do it, so can we.

I think putting it down to laziness is kinda out of order.

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I think putting it down to laziness is kinda out of order.

Then shall we say "A desire to finish work more quickly?"

The fact is, it's a time/work-saving technique much more than it is a style choice. I see so much love and attention being put into the art and the backgrounds and I think it's a shame the animation won't get the same chance.

I do love everything else about the work, but I just feel obliged to speak honestly that I flat out hate this one aspect.

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Rayman Origins used a similar technique to this and its one of the best looking games this year. They used digital puppetry like this and then swapped different parts out as needed. If Double Fine are using something similar to this system (UbiArt Framework if memory serves) then I'm cool with this animation method.

Its annoying me the amount of negativity towards a system thats in early stages of development! Wait til you see a fully animated character before jumping the gun after looking at one rough walk cycle!

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thanks again for the thorough replies oliver! thats very good information. I thought theyre was too much detail in the backgrounds for it to be geo!

Then shall we say "A desire to finish work more quickly?"

I think youre overestimating the time and budget on this game. its 1/10 that of brutal legend. if its going to have a decent length theyre going to have to cut _some_ corners (ie use some clever technique and workarounds) - its NOT the same to handpaint loads of textured frames as using line and fill. at least wait until the actual animation for the game and then propose (not demand) more unique frames if youre not satisfied. as has been pointed out this basic technique can still be expanded upon if time allows - and we havent seen it polished for the final characters.

saying that they have to work nights and weekends just because its backer funded is ridiculous.

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Rayman Origins used a similar technique to this and its one of the best looking games this year. They used digital puppetry like this and then swapped different parts out as needed. If Double Fine are using something similar to this system (UbiArt Framework if memory serves) then I'm cool with this animation method.

Its annoying me the amount of negativity towards a system thats in early stages of development! Wait til you see a fully animated character before jumping the gun after looking at one rough walk cycle!

The negativity comes from the awful experience tween animation has given to many people since it gained popularity. It's cheap, it's fast, yes. But it very often results in insipid character animations which many people despise. There's lots of games that make use of such animation, but a popular opinion about that kind animation is that it looks bad.

It's just that people are tired of how devs and content creators sometimes cut corners in quality. At this point it's impossible to say if it will look good or not, it all depends on so much.

But still, the apparent consensus is that puppet animation, even advanced cutout animation in Maya or Toonboom, is just cheap looking. Maybe they can make a terrific job with it and sort of push the limits of the technique like "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" did for Flash animation, but that remains to be seen.

And getting back to Rayman's style, I personally find it ugly to look at in motion, but it's just a personal opinion. It makes gorgeous stills sometimes, but it all looks so "fake", not entirely sure how to describe it to you.

Here's hoping it all turns out great.

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I think there'd be many an animator who would be happy to challenge the assertion that this method is inherently worse looking, and I just reject the notion that the only possible reason to want to use it is to save time.

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I think there'd be many an animator who would be happy to challenge the assertion that this method is inherently worse looking, and I just reject the notion that the only possible reason to want to use it is to save time.

As an animator myself I know it's possible to make great things with the technique, HOWEVER my comment was that it usually is done to cut corners. In this case there are other factors that make it reasonable to opt for puppet animation, like system memory usage, which itself is a huge problem if this game is meant to be played on weaker devices, like android phones, etc.

That's why I hope that DFA's team does push it past what people expect when they are told about cutout animation, and I hope it doesn't enter uncanny valley.

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I think there'd be many an animator who would be happy to challenge the assertion that this method is inherently worse looking, and I just reject the notion that the only possible reason to want to use it is to save time.

As an animator myself I know it's possible to make great things with the technique, HOWEVER my comment was that it usually is done to cut corners. In this case there are other factors that make it reasonable to opt for puppet animation, like system memory usage, which itself is a huge problem if this game is meant to be played on weaker devices, like android phones, etc.

That's why I hope that DFA's team does push it past what people expect when they are told about cutout animation, and I hope it doesn't enter uncanny valley.

Just because it happens to be a more efficient method doesn't mean that that is the only/main reason for choosing it though. I've never known Double Fine to skimp on creating a great look for their games and I'm sure the animators would not be happy with using an technique which wasn't going to show off their work in a great light. So all that combined with the fact I've already seen great stuff achieved with the technique make me suspect that they know what they're doing.

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Rayman Origins used a similar technique to this and its one of the best looking games this year. They used digital puppetry like this and then swapped different parts out as needed. If Double Fine are using something similar to this system (UbiArt Framework if memory serves) then I'm cool with this animation method.

I agree, Rayman Origins was gorgeous, and it used a very similar animation system (I think I remember hearing that the UbiArt Framework uses something involving silhouettes for animation, but the end result is similar) and Rayman Legends, which will also be animated with the same system, is set to look just as good, if not better. Last thing I heard, they're working on making UbiArt Framework available to anyone, but I haven't really heard of any developments on that yet and it seems that Ubisoft might be dragging their feet.

Though I also agree with NilVeres that I think a lot of the negative response comes from people immediately associating this type of animation with cheap flash cartoons. I've seen some great things done with flash and similar animation programs, if the animators have the skill needed and put enough time into it, but flash is also good for pumping out cheap garbage, which unfortunately has been its main use for modern cartoons.

All we've seen so far is a simple animation strung together to show us the basics of how their skeletal system will work. We've yet to see what Double Fine's great animators can really do with this system. Personally, I'm not worried at all.

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Quick question!

Are you storing the animation as raw frame data, (i.e. store the entire state of every node in the skeleton at 30hz intervals), or are you taking a "keyframe" approach with the movements (i.e. store the beginning and end state of each part of the animation, and interpolate what happens in between at runtime)?

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Rayman Origins used a similar technique to this and its one of the best looking games this year.
Rayman Origins' animation looks cheap as well. The backgrounds are lovely, but they cheaped out on the animation and it looks like a flash cartoon.

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