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Creating animation without an animator

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I think it's fair to say that most people here are programmers working on their own projects, and as such they're usually having to resort to programmer art to get things done. I'm interested in figuring out a way to create better results (particularly animation) without needing a talented artist to create lots (or indeed any) content. I (and most people, if they put their mind to it) can just about create reasonably good looking still images. If you're really desparate you can find some photos and trace around them and still get good results. But sooner or later you need some characters, some enemies or similar who actually walk/fly/move around your environments to make things interesting. I'm thinking about this in the context of a side-scrolling 2d game (eg. Streets Of Rage) but the general problem is pretty much the same everywhere I think. Possible approaches I can think of: Rotoscoping (as used in the original Prince Of Persia). Record somebody walking, running, etc. and trace over these to create the animation frames. A basic webcam or mobile phone camera would probably be good enough so no expensive setup is really needed. The actual sprites would probably end up being very simple flatshaded shapes though. Generating animation through code. If we were to choose a simplified character like Rayman with floating arms and feat, we could probably program the movement as a series of simple movements. Feet could probably be moved based on sine waves, with the body, hands and head bobbing along based on some simple spring physics. Results could be quite good, and we'd only have to draw a few sprites for the head/body/hands/feet. Could be annoying having it all hardcoded though. Motion capture on a budget. A webcam and some ping-pong balls might be good enough to capture basic joint movement (although we'd have to manually extract the joint positions from the video instead of any funky camera setup like a proper studio would have). If we combine this with a Rayman-esque character we could get pretty good movement without having to hard code the movement everywhere. Physics based movement. We could generate a simple skeleton complete with muscles (implemented as simple springs) and use these to drive the character. Much like the methods used to "train" robots to walk we could plug this into a genetic algorithm and let it teach itself to walk/run/etc. However I suspect this would be technically very hard to do and the quality could be very variable. Anyone any other ideas or suggestions on how practical any of the above might be?

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I'd go with the rotoscoping + 3D model + mocap files. In fact, you hardly need the rotoscoping part as you can render out your frames in the desired format and add the details with an image editor.

I'm not sure if there are any free solutions that support mocap files, but I suspect Blender can. All you need is basically one good humanoid model and a couple of standard movement mocaps, which can all be found on the webs.

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You mean use some existing mocap data to generate the animation from? A possibility, however I doubt it would be possible to get exactly the moves I'd need for a game. Much like using standard stock art - I find I end up wasting so much time trying to find something suitable (and eventually finding something half-assed) it's probably not going to work out in the long term.

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Well of course if you have a well-rigged model you could do the animation yourself, but ususally it won't look as good as mocap data. In any way, this method has been the most productive for me personally. With real-life recordings you'll be faced with moves that your actors can't do, misalignment of frames etc. that will make it somewhat cumbersome.

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There seems to be quite a few people on the internets trying to do cheap motion capture, but almost all are related to doing "proper" 3d motion capture with multiple cameras and whatnot (which brings all sorts of problems, like syncing video feeds and trying to triangulate the position of points). However I can't find anything on doing this only in 2d. [sad]

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Interesting - I was also planning on diving into some first experiments with 2D animation this week, but unfortunately a hand injury has delayed me somewhat. However I'm going to attempt to learn basic cartoon animation (from the Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams) rather than look for alternative methods.

My intuition says that it might be easier and better to take a simple character like Rayman and animate it by hand rather than via a spring model; my feeling is a purely mathematical model mightn't have the right sort of personality for such a simple style. However something half-way where keyframes are hardcoded by the animator and springs can put in the 'tween frames might work well. I'm planning on experimenting with animation like that with some very simple Rayman-esque characters.

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Eventually we will have standards for animations (or several that there will be converters for) and then with standard skeletons people can start producing animations for general distribution.

I would have thought that animations would be easier to standardize but maybe because of bone weighing schemes and such, they are as bad as the differences in the various model file formats -- many which still dont convert properly.

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Quote:
Original post by Trapper Zoid
My intuition says that it might be easier and better to take a simple character like Rayman and animate it by hand rather than via a spring model; my feeling is a purely mathematical model mightn't have the right sort of personality for such a simple style. However something half-way where keyframes are hardcoded by the animator and springs can put in the 'tween frames might work well. I'm planning on experimenting with animation like that with some very simple Rayman-esque characters.

Sounds interesting, I'll have to keep an eye on your journal to see what I can steal. [grin]

I suspect that good hand-keyframed animation would look better than all of these approaches, but I just don't have the time, patience and skill needed to achive that, hence the search for something which looks good enough without the same amount of work involved.

That book sounds good, I think I might pick that up.

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i really like the 4th idea and think it will be a useful tool to help animators in the future (if its not already around now). This wouldnt be too computational expensive because you can just export the animation to an animation file and use that for your characters. Its a lot more work though but if you ever had rag doll physics included then having all that muscle / joint information could also be beneficial to giving a more accurate rag doll effect either in real time or precalculated. You are also a lot more flexible to do characters like spiders which would be hard to rotoscope. I think spores did something like this.


I think the 2nd idea would look quite mechanical.

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I've come to the conclusion that on a low budget writing some sort of basic system which allows for the hand tweening of key frames of animation and a simple skeletal structure may be the best way to accomplish this. I've thought about and toyed with 1) a little bit, but I don't think its going to be a substitue for the human eye.

I've also come to the conclusion whatever method you choose, will involve a lot of hard work and hand tweaking anyway ;-)

Low cost motion capture would be fantastic, the technology already exists, but the cost has to come down, I just think that it'll require a change in thought direction by the people who make these systems (they may not even want too; thinking about it if everybody could do motion capture in their front rooms really cheaply, who needs a specialist company to provide a solution instead?)

(I should point out my comments are more from a 3d point of view, rather than 2d perspective)

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