On previous projects, the artists wouls usually use sprite sheets to create the character animations. Sprite sheets are the traditional method for animating characters in 2D games, but they have their own drawbacks. Creating smooth animations with sprite sheets can be very time-consuming and they don’t allow for easy editing. For pixel art games, sprite sheets are usually the best approach, but for my game, I wanted to find a faster and less rigid method. With very limited experience of animating characters, I felt like it was important to find a method which allowed for rapid iteration.
I had thought about using a program called Spriter, a piece of software which allows you to build a skeletal rig for 2D sprites that you can animate like a 3D model. However, I decided that I didn’t want to spend a lot of time learning a new piece of software, especially if I could spend the same time creating my animations. Instead, I decided to create my animations directly in Unity using a character rig. Character rigs are essentially a hierarchy of parented objects. They allow you to move an object higher in the hierarchy which will affect objects lower in the hierarchy. What this means is that if I move a thigh object, the shin and foot objects would also move. This is quite a clumsy explanation, but essentially this means that I can animate individual body parts to create my animations. I had this method in mind when I created my character designs which is why I made them with separate body parts and assembled them in unity using this character rig method.
Here is what my player character rig looks like:
As you can see, each object of my player character is parented together in the hierarchy. If I animate the ‘Body’ object, anything parented to it, like the ‘Head’, ‘Left Leg Upper’ and ‘Right Leg Upper’ objects would also move. If I was to animate only the ‘Head’ object, the ‘Cloak Front’ and ‘Cloak Back’ objects would also move, but nothing else would. This method has the potential to create very fluid and precise animations, but actually creating them is a different story altogether.
I decided to start with my player’s run animation, which is probably the most complex I will have to create. I decided to use a book by Richard Williams called The Animator’s Survival Kit. This book is a fantastic resource for learning how to create animations in a traditional hand-drawn way. For my purposes, I just needed to know how a character moves when running. The book includes references for many character movements and provides extensive examples of how to animate particular motions. I read the section on run cycles which allowed me to understand the core principles behind running animations. Once I read this section, I realised that starting with the running animation was probably like being thrown in the deep end. However, I decided to push forward and eventually managed to create a fluid run animation.
Having never animated a character using this method before, I’m really happy with the outcome. I think the quality of the animation is due in part to the character rig method. It allowed me to edit the animation and see the results immediately. Going forward I will be using the same approach to create all of the animations in Denizen. With my primary characters designed and the method of animating them in place, I want to start thinking about the overall structure of the game and to design some puzzles.