Final Fantasy 16 Team on Creating Smooth Animations with Maya's Set Driven Key

Facial rigs were set up in a way to avoid linear interpolation.

Cutscenes in Final Fantasy 16 are works of art, with their high-quality animation and characters' expressive faces. What did Square Enix do to achieve their smooth motions? A team of artists who worked on the game talked to the Japanese site AREA and explained the rigging and animation processes. 

The specialists used Maya and MotionBuilder to achieve the outstanding result. They note that motion capture won't magically turn into great animations if the rig is not done right.

"Motion capture technology is important, but if the rig isn't good, you won't be able to create good facial expressions. With the comprehensive cooperation of the rigging team, we perfected the facial expressions," said Yuki Sawada, lead cutscene motion artist (translated with Google).

Image crdit: Square Enix

The team used the Facial Acting Coding System (FACS) to simulate the movements of facial muscles and added phases in between them with Set Driven Keys to avoid linear interpolation between poses, as noted by animator and game developer Jonathan Cooper.

Maya's Layered Texture node helped blend poses so that even if two poses were performed at the same time, the movement would transform well.

Faces are not everything in Final Fantasy cutscenes, of course. Clothes on various characters move softly and realistically as well. The team used Square Enix's proprietary physics engine Bonamik and the bone system KineDriver to ensure their fluid motion. 

To get it right, lead rigging artist Satoshi Higashikawa set Driven Keys at the base of the swinging objects and auxiliary bones in Maya and reflected them using KineDriver. 

The studio primary rigs to add basic body movements and secondary rigs to create more delicate movements. If the movement wasn't as good as expected, artists would adjust the secondary rig until it was up to their standards.

Apart from Maya, the team used MotionBuilder, a 3D character animation software by Autodesk. The tool was leveraged to create a base for motion capture and adjust the timing of the voices.

"There has been a persistent request from artists to use MotionBuilder. When doing layouts, we compose camera positions while paying special attention to the connections between shots, but we wanted the speed of playback and horizontal connections. The reason they like MotionBuilder so much is because of its fast playback speed," shared lead cinematic technical artist Eitaro Iwabuchi.

You can find out more about the animation workflow for Final Fantasy 16 in this article (in Japanese). Also, join our 80 Level Talent platform and our Telegram channel, follow us on InstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn, where we share breakdowns, the latest news, awesome artworks, and more.

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