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Eva Seyeux talked in short about the epic animations she made for the massive creatures from Total War: Warhammer II.
Heya! My name is Eva Seyeux, I’m from France where I studied animation in a VFX school called ESMA. I joined the game industry when I started working at Creative Assembly on the Total War: Warhammer II project.
Before animating, it’s important to know more about the character and its lore. What is it known for in the Warhammer universe? What is this creature background? What are its special abilities? And so on.
Once we have all the research done, it’s time to go online and find ideas: no animation without references! I look at real life animal footage, movies, documentaries, and games. For this, I usually use YouTube, Vimeo, and Rhinohouse. Having some friends and colleagues who also have game-related interests is always useful as they can suggest places of inspirations.
Further Character Investigation
After gathering all sorts of references, there are a few more questions I like to ask myself before I start animating: How would I expect the character to act if it had a mind of its own? What would I like to see them do in the game? What would make the player enjoy this character? How would it move according to his specificities (a wheel, blades, lots of arms, etc.)?
It’s also important to keep in mind that all the animations have a purpose. They have to work nicely in the game and be respectful of the character’s personality. Therefore, each creature is a different challenge and requires its own different research. For example, for The Rise of the Tomb Kings, the whole animation team decided to animate the creatures as if they were statues. Despite the Warsphinx and the Necrosphinx being statues they also had to move uniquely. The first had to be a kind of giant cat and the second one more like a heartless beast. The Hell Pit Abomination is also a good example. This character has 4 arms, 8 legs, a wheel and who knows how many heads. In order to animate it as best as possible, I went through a lot of videos with rats and even some injured animals. I also looked at different monsters from movies and games. Everything helped.
Character Animation Tricks
The first thing that I learned, is that a good staging is essential. Those creatures are massive and full of details. It’s so easy to get lost and end up with a messy animation. It’s very important to keep in mind which action is the main one and make it clear for the player. For example, the Hell Pit Abomination has many arms and the action needs to be understandable. So, one arm is doing the main action, then it is passed to another one, and another, etc. But not all at the same time. In a way, it’s interesting to learn how to control the eyes of the players to make sure they are looking at the good thing at the right moment.
In addition, with Total War, we also must keep in mind that the gamer is also going to play from above the battlefield. Therefore, the animation needs to be readable from any point of view. In this regard, silhouettes and timing are fundamentally important. This means some very big anticipations holding certain poses and snapping to other poses quickly. All the above also helps a lot to sell weight and strength in the movement.
Finally, to give a bit more life to my animations I also animated the camera to emphasize the movements and the impacts.
In Total War: Warhammer, we have some additional controllers to fake the fat/muscles movements. We can sell the weight of a creature by animating some shaking going through its body when impacting the floor, for example. We can also play with the knees. When a character put its foot down, the knee is going in then out then in again. This sort of details can add a lot of life to the creature!
My biggest challenge is to try and make those creatures seem alive and avoid having them move unnaturally like 3D puppets.
I think what helps me the most is to show their flaws, so I add secondary actions like some struggles or hesitations here and there that can really help bring life to my creatures. They are not perfect digital robots, they are creatures! For instance, imagine the Hell Pit Abomination suffering because of a mutated broken body. It changes the way it would breathe, move, attack, etc.
Advice for Learners
Obviously, I would definitely recommend the book The Animator Survival Kit by Richard Williams. Every animator should read it.
Additionally, there are also hundreds of tutorials online we can learn from. I especially like the Animation Mentor blog, Spungella, and the Polycount forum. The latter is a nice place to receive feedback. I also love going around some animators’ channels on Vimeo to see what people are working on. It’s truly inspiring!
Finally, the best piece of advice I could give to the beginners is to start animating now! Practice a lot and enjoy the process! Ask for plenty of feedback as well, it’s the best way to learn!