Following Abbey’s sole nun Marlies and musical talent Joni’s footsteps (or finger presses, I guess?), it’s now up to me, Abbey’s labeled Ninja Monk and Eating Champion, to write an article about my main duty on Reus; the art and animation of the giants themselves!
When I first joined Abbey Games, they’d been working on Reus for some months, but there was very little to show for in the art department and just about zero percent animation present in the game. There were just some basic shapes and layouts, and Maarten (and I think Adriaan as well) had drawn some early concepts of about 8 giants. Yup count’em, 8! Sadly some of them never saw the light of day, but in the end it’s probably for the better.
Now, please follow me through the progress on the Forest Giant (Which I think is still my personal favorite).
(left) Maarten’s very cute initial concept. This little ET/shaman-looking guy just didn’t have it going for him (although personally, I still think he has ‘something’ about him).
I believe he was still called the Wood Giant back then. Which would only had alluded to profanities, so this was changed to Forest Giant later on.
(right) My first take on revamping Maarten’s concept. I know, it doesn’t look like much right now! But you can already see the direction it was going. I tried to keep most of the key elements of the design, like the wood theme, the shamanic mask and the leafs. He did became a little more humanoid in overall shape. Since he became a lot taller, his ‘poncho’ became his skirt.
(left) Here are some more sketches which defined that concept. I came across these when browsing through my art folder (with actual paper/not digital), it was a bit like finding a treasure chest!
(right) The finalized concept. The Forest Giant amazes the humans with his stunning Forest Raising ability! To emphasize his life-giving and peaceful nature, he became a big wooden monkey. The monkey head was actually supposed to be a mask, but gradually it became accepted as his actual head.
(left) The first version of the Forest Giant how he appeared in the debug builds of the game. Sadly I don’t have any clean images of this iteration anymore, so you’d have to do with an old screenshot. His ‘hair’ and skirt were also separate pieces that could animate. His ‘elbow leafs’ were also separate and animated, but this proved unsatisfactory over time and I decided to make them static (it became a small bush, not a single blowing leaf). He ALSO had animated ‘ chin leafs’ but for the same reason, these were removed in the revision.
(right) A few alterations, complete reshading and some minor recoloring later, and thanks to trainee-Monk Mitchel, the addition of animating eyebrows, this is the Forest Giant as he’ll appear in the finished game (OR WILL IT BE?). Also thanks to trainee/sensei Rick for the rough reshades!
(left) Bonus art! A nice close-up of the most handsome giant around! Don’t you just wanna cuddle up those big bushy sideburns?
Since the sprites of the giants are very high-res (at least compared to the humans/houses/nature assets), this was completely understandable, since otherwise, if we’d worked with frame-by-frame animation, some PC’s might not be able to keep running at the preferred frame-rate and might cause overheating! With the skeletal animation, this means that every giant’s sprites only have to be loaded into the game once, as there are no actual ‘frames’ of animation. As you can imagine with skeletal animation, the giants had to be cut up into separate parts for limbs, otherwise there’d be very little to animate.Now let’s talk a little more in-depth about the art. I was made aware from the start that we’d be using a skeletal-animation tool to animate the giants.
I had to keep this in mind from the very start of drawing the giants; even in the design process I had to deal with thinking how I’d separate certain parts. This actually game me quite some frustration, as I’d never be able to draw one big nicely detailed piece, because the shading and detailing would always be broken up by the animation. So yeah; each body part is shaded with a light source from the top, but when a giant rotates his arm around, the darkened part would be facing up, and the lit part would be facing down!
Being a perfectionist (I’m pretty positive EVERY artist is), I had trouble accepting this and had to think of ways of minimizing that sort of thing happening. But then, we’d be restricting the animation itself! Can you understand my double-sided blade dilemma going on here yet? But, that’s the path that was layed out for me, and I’d just have to suck it up and walk it. In the end I think we did alright.
When I was introduced to our custom-made skeletal animation tool, hilarity ensued. Because the tool was named Boner. (skeletal animation – bones – you bone ’em – GET IT!?) And yes, you better believe it’s still funny even after nearly a year.
Boner was created by our lead-programmer Bas, with then-Abbey-helper Jacco tweaking and fine-tuning the program and basically making it more user-friendly for me. The fine chap was our Boner-assistant.
Sadly Jacco left us to focus on his studies and the two-thousand hobbies he has and I was left with something I could work with, but wasn’t perfect. There were a lot more features and short-cuts I’d have liked to have, but alas. Bas did answer my occasional plea to fix and/or include one or two features, just so I wouldn’t dive through the window in utter agony.
One of the biggest changes I suggested early on was the inclusion of a separate timeline for each joint, so the animations could be a lot more dynamic (It’d take another 4 months before I was granted with an additional feature to insert a keyframe on a specific point for all the joints simultaneously. But hey whatcha gonna do (I STILL DIDN’T GET ONION SKINNING THOUGH!!)).
There were a handful of tweening features, but to be honest they all didn’t work that well, so about 99% of the animations are a simple Linear tween. The Giants are enormous creatures though, so I think it works best for them. Can’t have them moving too swiftly or you’d lose the idea of them being, well, giants.
Looking back, I think I didn’t do to bad, keeping in mind I was working with a custom-made tool and I’ve never really done skeletal animation before (I highly dislike Adobe Flash. Yeah I’m one of those people).
Well that about wraps things up, hope you enjoyed my little insight on how the giants came to life!