My Workflow

How I Work

When I first started learning animation by taking a 2D computer class using Animator Pro, I knew immediately that it was what I wanted to pursue as a career.  I remember from that moment trying to get my hands on any information I could learn from through either books, magazines and even taking more classes.  But looking back, I found that where I learned the most was online through other professional animators who were already in the industry and who had posted their own workflows, tutorials and techniques.  To those guys I am forever grateful.  So this is my attempt to give back and try the best that I can to add what I have leaned into the pool.

[ So to start off with a bit of disclaimer, I'd like to say that these workflow techniques I'll be sharing throughout are ones that I've picked up along the way in my career and ones that I've found out to work for me.  They are in no way representative of a definitive "how to" animation workflow as everyone has their own processes and way of doing things that are comfortable for them.  But please feel free to use any information that you do like and apply them into your own.  I humbly admit that I still have a lot to learn in this animation world and I am always trying to improve my knowledge and animation eye by learning from others who are gracious enough to share their workflows and techniques.]



While working on Transformers:Fall of Cybertron, we were fortunate to have Game Informer visit our studio and show them what we had been working on.  My Animation Lead, Jason Diaz gave a great video feature talk here on the process of transforming our characters by focusing on creating an authentic vision and giving a close-up look into the technical and artistic challenges that us animators faced:

I thought these were great behind the scenes informative talks including how working with my Animation Lead to brainstorm ideas in which to keep Grimlock as authentic in character the best we could and to work out the possible ways in which we could best represent his character in movement.  So let's discuss some of my thought processes and techniques that I used in creating Grimlock's transformation!

Some of the occasional questions I ask before starting an animation like this are,
  • "What are the game design elements for which this animation is to be played?" 
  • "Are there any technical constraints I should be aware of?"
  • "How many frames do I get?"
but the most obvious question to discuss was,   
  • "How the heck were we going to transform this bipedal robot into a much bigger Tyrannosaurus Rex?"
Grimlock's T-Rex rig is about twice the size of his robot counterpart.  Transforming these two would be about the equivalent of parking a semi truck into a one car garage.
So let's start off with BLOCKING in the animation:

As you can see the characters are not built as one rig, but actually two.  These need to swap out with each other at a given point in the animation (a la smoke and mirrors) to complete a character transform.  The meshes do have parts that relate to one another, but do not necessarily have a 1-to-1 connection, if that makes sense.  For instance, Grimlock's robot shoulders and arms are that of the T-Rex's hips and legs.  The back of his robot legs have mimics of the T-Rex's tail.  And the T-Rex's head??...well we'll just have to get a little creative of where to put that.  It's identifying these key parts in which to make sense of what will be matched during the rig swap and what parts we want the audiences eyes to track, highlight and follow.  

Here are the key poses I came up with during blocking stage-
  • Area To Highlight: Arms,  Since Grimlock's arms counterparts the T-Rex's legs and we want to have the T-Rex begin and end in standing position, we discussed to have him punch the ground as if one were going to create a shock wave.  Also to make it a more dynamic, a one two type punch as if he's planting himself into the ground to stabilize a foundation for something much bigger to come.
  • Area To Highlight: Tail,  Looking above at number four key pose you can see where I ended up after the punch transition.  I liked this because it felt stable, a position like that of a defensive lineman's 4-point stance. Since his movement was going down and forward already I wanted to keep that momentum going and have Grimlock's strength raise himself onto his arms all the while his legs rise up into the air transforming into one, becoming the tail.
This is what my progress of these highlighted items looked like to the point of mesh swap- 

  •  When creating poses and animation for games it's very important to make sure it works from all angles.  This is where games animation differs from film as our work could be viewed at any time from 360 degrees.  You do want to favor you posing for the in game camera first, but keep in mind the camera will move, other game players could see you, cinematics will cut from different angles and don't forget marketing shots.  Any angle of your character animations could be captured and end up in an edition of Game Informer.

Now let's talk a little bit about TIMING:

During my blocking phase where I'm laying out my key poses in order flesh out the overall motion and staging, I like to work side by side within Maya's Dope Sheet editor (it's dope, try it).  I always "key all" when creating my poses and having them that way keeps things clean for me and helps me stay organized. That way if i need to change the timing, replace a pose or even completely redo sections based on feedback it's easy for me to do so.  

It's quite common that other disciplines will be waiting for your assets so they to can move forward with their work, for instance a programmer to hook things up in code or a designer to test within the level or in combat situations.  So now's about the time where I would export the current state of my animation for game implementation and feedback.  Even though you may be happy with how your animation looks in Maya (or animation software) the end product will always be how it looks and feels in game.  Are there any design or technical issues?  Is the animation too fast or pacing not quite right?  These are issues that are easier to address for me while the animation is still in organized blocks and it'd be easier to go back in and edit things than if I had keys all over the place.  Once things look good from my team and got the go ahead to move forward I begin to take the animation to the next level.

Moving onto ANIMATION:

I'm probably favored more as a combat animator as this is the type of work I have been involved in throughout my career.  So most commonly my inspiration comes from actions I see in movies, poses I see in comics or anything in the Final Fantasy cinematics world.  But going beyond that the work that inspires me the most is fine art from the renaissance period, particularly the sculpture works of Michelangelo, Donatello, and Bernini to name a few.  I like to think that the masterpieces that they were able to create from a block of marble as a single frame of animation.  It amazes me that with this they were able to tell a much broader story.  The use of "Contrapposto" meaning counterpose in their techniques gave figures a more dynamic appearance that result in a more balanced and harmonious pose.  S -Curves used throughout sculptures suggest relaxation with the subtle internal organic movement that denotes life.  This to me is the golden ticket reference that I try to incorporate within my animaitons.
Here's a look of how I tried to follow these techniques from the masters in my motion:

Finalizing and POLISHING:

Here's where the fun begins when I can finally start adding finesse and flare to my animation.  Here are some general steps I do when polishing.

I like to start with the root (hips) first.  To me this is the driving force of a character where weight and balance are derived from.  Combining this with feet placement, I try to have my character moving in the world in a realistic and believable fashion.

I then move onto torso, head and then arms. Offsetting motion and adding follow throughs, moving holds, and overshoots.  When doing follow throughs remember, things that are in motion, stay in motion.  Pay attention to your motion paths, S-curves, reverse C's and figure 8's.

and finally I move my work from the Dope Sheet into the Graph Editor where I double check my arcs.

I hope this workflow write up, although brief, was insightful.

Thanks for reading!

Here is a clip of Grimlock transforming during gameplay in his full glory-



Murtaza said...


Vishal kumar said...

this was such a wonderful information i have got by reading the page! i am a student from india and very much with keen interest in learning the animation up-to the core till the world says wow! and i am looking forward for the internship in international! any suggestions sir ????

Patrick Przybyla said...

Hey thanks guys!

@Vishal, Look into games division. I'll be teaching there soon, but all the teachers are awesome who work in the industry and could help you out with your career goals.

I'll also be updating new blog posts here soon as well :)