25 January 2011

Adding Weight to Your Game Design Part 9: Timing - by Michael Jungbluth

      Posted 01/24/11 10:43:00 am   Part One - Squash and Stretch : Part Two - Anticipation : Part Three - Staging

Part Four - Straight Ahead & Pose to Pose : Part Five - Follow Through & Overlapping Action

Part Six - Slow In, Slow Out : Part Seven - Arcs : Part Eight - Secondary Action


Weight is a physical and emotional sensation that people feel everyday.  And conveying that in a visual way can be incredibly challenging.  But it is something animators do all the time, and the principles they use can be applied to game design. 

In fact, it needs to be, as many of these principles are sacrificed by the animator for the good of playability.  Thankfully, since both animators and designers have to juggle multiple disciplines to bring their creations to life, they speak much of the same language.  They just use a slightly different alphabet.   

Each part will lay out the 12 principles of animation, and how they are not only used in animation but how they directly relate to game design.  Both animators and designers will realize quickly that many of these are unspoken truths, but the benefit comes in knowing that they can now speak to each other on a deeper level.  A level that takes animation and design past being purely functional, but now fully functioning towards creating an honest experience. 

It is how both can add an extra sense of weight and purpose to the game and the characters within it.  Many of these fundamentals are inter-connected, and it is through a combination of all of these working together that you will have characters that move with weight and emote with weight.  And that is what will stick with players.

 “It is important for the animator to be able to study sensation and to feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation.” – Walt Disney


Applied to Animation

The literal definition of timing in animation is how many drawings or frames it takes to complete an action.  But that simple definition betrays how deep this principle truly is.  Yes, timing controls the speed of an action or object, showing how it respects the laws of physics in the world it inhabits.  And that helps to define its specific weight.  If its big, it moves slow, if its light it moves fast.  And if your timing is too fast or too slow, the player will miss what it was that just happened.  But when you drill down deeper into the principle of timing, it shares a lot in common with music. 

Music is the universal language of what good timing is all about.  There is nothing more boring than the same note being played over and over in perfect time.  What people love to hear is a rhythm.  It moves them to tap their feet... dance... sing.  This is also true with how someone moves.  Don't just make them go from pose to pose, one action right after the other.  Make them HOLD on a pose if you want them to slow down and feel the moment.  Because much like squash and stretch, you want the contrast.  And those holds are the anticipation everyone waits for.  You want to keep the player interested in how and when the movement is going to happen. 

Animators break their timing down into a few different steps, most obviously seen when using pose to pose.  First, you find your key poses.  These are the fewest poses you can use to get across the action or emotion you want.  These are the most important, and the ones you want to make sure are the clearest.  These are the ones you make sure have the best staging, weight and expression.  Once you have those, you figure out how long each should be held, and shoot it as an animatic.  This is where you figure out your timing.  How long one pose should be held, how quickly one should transition into another, etc.  If done properly, not only will the actions and performance read, but you can already start to feel the character coming alive.


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