Tuesday, August 30

How the GOW4 animations were designed by the Coalition

The Gears Coalition team has done a sweet blog on how the animations for Gears of War 4 work, check it out.

Octus: Hi Jason! So for people who don’t know, what’s the role of your team and how much of the game does that encompass?

Jason: Hey there! The Animation team covers a whole bunch - from all of the gameplay animations for the main characters, to the weapon animations and executions, all of the creatures, the interactions in single player; chainsawing goopy door snot or juvies bursting through doors to scare you. It’s a pretty broad range of stuff to cover!

Octus: How has animation fundamentally changed from Gears of War 3 to Gears of War 4?

Jason: Epic had a really solid foundation for animations from the previous Gears, and we used that as a starting point for our own animations. From an animation perspective, I really see us as having actually built two games. We deconstructed Gears of War 3 at the start of the project which taught us a ton about the what, why and how of making a Gears game – it was really important we understood why everything feels the way it does.

With that knowledge under our belt, we built Gears 4 by taking some of those animations further and keeping some things the same. We had the opportunity to try a few new things early on like adjusting the cover slide – we tried a simple pose change, but in the end that small change looked worse than sticking with the old tried and true cover slide. We discovered a lot of the reasons why Epic did all of the things they did and why it makes for such a great core gaming experience.

The benefit of going through that process is that learned where it was safe to move things further, like we did with the core locomotion, and where we were starting to stray from that core feeling. If you play the game, I feel like we’ve maintained the Gears feeling but brought a little something fresh to it as well.

The Swarm team's 'race' execution in Versus Multiplayer. Tapping Y extends the execution.

Octus: Modern day games are a blend of Mo-Cap and hand animation. How do you use the two together to build animations?

Jason: We worked hard to nail the performances at the mocap shoot in order to utilize as much of that data in the game. We wanted to avoid having to edit the motion capture too much and risk losing some of the magic we captured.

As an example of that, we actually hired stunt guys with training to perform the CCC shanks for us which was pretty awesome! The shanks probably needed the most editing though. Even though the actors did a great job at mimicking the shanks, the impact and timing wasn’t quite where we needed them to be to feel super visceral – to achieve that, we accelerated sections of the mocap, slowed other moments down and cleaned the posing to make it clear what was happening for each execution.

We also used the same cinematic actor or actress for each character to capture the character’s movement in order to keep a consistent feel to our characters across cinematics and gameplay. We do a lot of clean-up on the mocap after the fact, but my goal was to try and keep the essence of the original as close as possible.

One of the things we’re really happy about for Gears 4 is the opportunity to create unique animations for females and males in the game. If you play the campaign with Kait for example, you’ll see that she has her own unique animation set. I wanted to make sure she felt like her own character so she didn’t walk around with the same male set.

There’s quite a few subtle changes we’ve made to the overall player movement as well. One of the best comparisons from Gears 3 to Gears 4 is our new pistol move-set which we started over from scratch on. I felt like it was pretty clunky in Gears 3 and so we mocapped that all and gave it an overhaul.

Our goal for approaching the core animation for this game was “Make it feel and look like you remember it feeling and looking.” It’s a rose-tinted glasses type thing. The whole project has been a fine balance, because anything we did to try and improve the core animation could have effects on the Multiplayer experience. We didn’t put anything in the game without making sure the MP team was aware of it so they could test and evaluate the changes to make sure it didn’t hurt that experience.

One of the many new CCC finishers added since the Beta

Octus: Gears of War 4 has a diverse range of enemies – from DeeBees to Swarm in a variety of shapes and sizes. How does your team’s approach change from enemy to enemy?

Jason: The thing I love most about Gears as an animator are the creatures and enemies. They can be so outlandish and awesome, it’s easy to get the creativity flowing once you see a great concept piece or prototype. As an animator, I love being involved in this early process so we can help provide some ideas and concept-animations - or even just listen in on the decisions and thoughts behind the design. Bringing a new enemy to life is really collaborative and iterative (it has to be!). Once they’re in production, they kind of take on a life of their own and you have to sometimes adjust to what they become.

Each creature or character has his own unique set of challenges. Some creatures require a ton of iteration before settling on what we could do and how we could actually complete it (there’s a creature I still have nightmares about!). With other creatures, we knew exactly what we wanted to do, but it took a lot of iteration to get it moving and behaving the way we wanted (I’m looking at you Juvie). All in all, each creature presents totally different sets of challenges. It’s our job as animators, engineers and tech animators to bridge the gap between concept and design, and try to make something memorable and most importantly fun for the player to fight!

Octus: So let’s take the Pouncer for example, which is vastly different from any enemy seen before in Gears. How did you bring it to life through animation?

Jason: The Pouncer was the first enemy we made and so it has a special place in my heart. It was early enough in the project that we were able to concept quite a bit of animation - the Pouncers shape changed quite a lot in the first few weeks of its conceptualization until we landed on what you'll see in the game this October.

One of the big improvements that was made during the creation of this guy was the jump arc that he takes. Our smarty pants Lead Animation Engineer (don’t tell him I told you he’s smart, it’ll go right to his head) came up with a way to ensure each of the jumps he chooses has a really nice trajectory that works in concert with our other animations. It made a big impact on how the Pouncer looks while he’s jumping around.

The thing I love about the Pouncer is how much interaction you can do with it. You can get him down to low health and chainsaw him out of the air, you can run over to your team-mate and kick him off, you can get pounced on, you can get your head ripped off by him - as a creature, he was super fun to make! A lot of those ideas came from design and some of them came from “wouldn’t it be cool if?” conversations we had. They really wanted to make a fun co-op enemy and I think he turned out pretty cool.

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