Another reveal at the end of our most recent stream involved newer animations for the Warrior. After his chat with Fernando, David caught up with our Lead Animator, Ross Armstrong, to chat about the creative process in bringing our characters to life.

Q: In our last stream we were finally able to show off some of the animations you’ve been working on. How did it feel to show that off to such a large audience?

A: It felt good to reassure players that we're listening to them and are hard at work to improve our animations. I should also mention that showing Maya playblasts reveal only one part of the animation process. Integrating the animations into the game is challenging and can often be a collaboration between Engineers and Animators. The conditions for triggering animations and transitions within the Animation State Tree can be complex depending on the character, and those affect how the animations look in game.

Q: Let’s start with the Warrior animation: how did you approach starting on such a massive project such as players’ character abilities?

A: Our process is quite similar for each character. Chris Perkins and I do a character kick-off meeting, and we discuss the high-level character traits and how he intends for the character to behave and be integrated into gameplay from a Design perspective. From there I do a "first pass" animation which I playblast (a quick movie made in Maya) and share with him. He reviews it, provides feedback, and we work iteratively until we're both happy with the way it looks. It's then exported and integrated into the game.

Q: How much creative freedom did you have to interpret each ability?

A: Usually there aren't many limitations, and I'm encouraged to be as creative as I can. I consult with Chris Perkins often, both before I start and all the way through to asset delivery. Animation timing has been a big consideration because Design is trying to achieve a particular cadence during battle. As such, the animations in Pantheon are intentionally slower than an action game, for example. Locomotion and climbing are a little different because Design provides me with fixed translation speeds that the animations need to match to minimize foot/hand slip. Differently proportioned characters should be addressed differently because of their gait, and that can be challenging.

Q: Looking at an ability like “Taunt”— it’s different than what we’ve seen in past games. Was there a mandate to try new approaches or did that come about organically?

A: All of the abilities we've created for the Warrior arose in an organic way. Chris Perkins usually has a good idea about what he wants to see and achieve from a game design perspective, and then we work together iteratively to develop the animation. I'll also block out rough animations so he can see what I'm thinking for the acting choice, and we'll go back and forth until we arrive on something that we're happy with and that fits contextually within Pantheon.

Q: Which was your favorite ability to animate and why?

A: Each ability presents its own unique challenges, and I find them all fun to animate. As with all art, some animations come out better than others; it's an organic process. There's always room for improvement, and those polish tasks need to be prioritized and balanced with the schedule. Constructive feedback helps me to improve my skills as an Animator, and I consider myself lucky to be in an environment where I receive plenty of it!

Q: Were motion capture cameras used in the process?

A: No, it's currently our intention that all of the animations we'll be producing will be hand-keyed. I should note that there is currently motion captured animation in the game, but we are planning to replace it with hand-keyed animation moving forward.

Q: Will each class have their own unique abilities that require starting from scratch, or will there be aspects you can steal and mash together?

A: Balancing the large scope of Pantheon, the number of assets required, labor resources, and schedule, we'll be trying to leverage re-use of animation whenever we can. Given the proportionate and character trait differences between both races and classes, it's our goal to create as much unique animation as we can considering our production challenges.

Q: Moving on to climbing. We’ve stated it’s such an important feature in our game. What was the approach to beginning there?

A: Once we determined the climb speed, it was just a matter of implementing all of the different climb directions and then adding the ledge shimmies. In Maya, I created a climbing wall grid which helped figure out the hand and foot positions for each of the looping climbing directions. In addition, I understand we are considering plans for Engineering to implement a procedural inverse kinematics layer for the hands and feet that will help keep climbing similar for differently proportioned characters according to race. We'll be working out those details in the future to make sure climbing feels and looks right.

Q: How much more involved will climbing be than what we’ve seen in the initial video? Should we expect any backflip dismounts?

A: Of course there will be animation polish as feedback on climbing comes in, but the majority of first pass climbing animations are complete. There are a few remaining climbing and sliding animations that are still needed, but those have been prioritized lower than the work I'm currently focused on and will come at a later date. Backflip dismounts would certainly be cool—but adding those would be determined by schedule and priority, and there's a lot more animation needed right now that's taking precedent. We're always open to ideas though, so please keep them coming! It's always great to get feedback and constructive, creative ideas from players.

Q: Will all the races climb similarly, or will you have to create a different set for, say, a smaller race like the Gnomes?

A: I expect that all of the races will climb similarly, but we've yet to determine the details on that.

Q: Can you give us a hint about what you’ll be working on in the near future?

A: I'm working closely with Chris Perkins on fleshing out animations for an epic boss battle, but I can't say more than that. I will say that it's going to be awesome!