Bungie Talks the Art of First Person Animation in Destiny

This week at GDC 2015 Bungie took to the stage to talk specifically about the first person animation in Bungie and how the animation department tackled this unique type of animation. They discussed some key principles of first person animation like the need for immediate feedback from the player controller input, and the fact that the player should have visceral satiation from the first person animation. We've broken down the talk into some of the key points they made that can be a great takeaway for anyone perusing animation. David Helsby is a Senior Animator at Bungie and has been there for about six years with his game credits at Bungie being Halo Reach and Destiny. One of the first things David asked to the audience was, "What makes a Bungie game feel like a Bungie game?" he went on to explain, "A lot goes into creating the first person experience, but first person is something that's going to affect how the game plays and feels on a moment to moment basis." Next David went deeper into what exactly first person animation is, "First person animation is just the movement of the avatar from your perspective as the player, including the player camera. Doing this content well is something that's going to help playability of the game, and more importantly the replay ability of your game." A big challenge between design and art is that art and design do not always see eye to eye. "Art wants to make an amazing player attack that has like three seconds of anticipation. While design wants an attack that hits one frame after the player hits the button." When working at Bungie and a sandbox game like Destiny David needed to understand how to best support goals of sandbox design and build enough trust with the designers to try and push the artistic side of Destiny's first person experience. So the team came up with a set of design directions they called "Design Pillars" These are pillars the team actually came up with after the design of Destiny was finished, and is something they'll know for future projects.


1. Immediate feedback from the player controller input The first pillar is immediate feedback from the player controller input. David went on to explain this pillar further, "This just means when you hit a button you get an action, and if you think about it your brains already told you what you want to do. So if you hit the button and don't get an immediate response it feels wrong, and it feels like there is a disconnect between you and the game. The minute that button gets pushed you want to start seeing motion on the screen immediately." 2. The preservation of motions between actions The second pillar is the preservation of motions between actions, "Everything has to flow smoothly from one motion to other. You need to be able to design animations that chain together effectively." David stated. 3. The player should have visceral satisfaction from the first person animation The third pillar established is that the player should have visceral satisfaction from the first person animation, "Now this doesn't mean just make a cool looking reload. This means think about each thing as a player experience. If I'm going to make a really cool melee or reload I need design, sound and effects all on board, because if we're all not working toward the same goal it's not going to be as good as it could be." 4. Motion should serve to ground the player in the world The fourth pillar is about making sure that the animation being presented is believable, "First person is really an immersive experience so the animation should be very physical, it should feel like there really is a body behind the camera." David explained. 5. No speed bumps, don't take control away from the player or slow him down The final pillar is about making sure the player stays in control, David put it like this, "We don't want to take control away from the player or slow him down in the sandbox as much as possible. An analogy of that is if you have a really fast car the last thing you'll want to do is go over a speed bump. You want to be on a straight away, because that car is meant to be driven fast." One of the main things the team at Bungie wanted to do was support fast fun and responsive gameplay, and they always wanted to ensure that a body, the players body is behind the camera. Make it feel physical. Trying to do both of these things at the same time can sometimes seem impossible. You also don't want to get in the way of the players experience, your content is not more important than the players fun. That's one of the main things to remember about making first person animations.

Animating the Knife Melee

If you've played Destiny at all you're probably familiar with the knife melee with the Hunter class. David went into detail on how he accomplished this attack move, "I start with the key poses, I can get pretty much the entire timing of the action, and what that action is going to be by really defining mine key poses." David didn't worry about the idle pose, and that is not actually the first pose of the animation. On the timeline that pose would be around frame -2. Instead, the first frame of the melee attack is with the hand raised with the knife, visible on screen. That is the first pose. The gun should really be off the screen by the time the player hits the button. The reason you would want to do that is because this animation is going to be reused over all weapon sets. "I'm actually bringing up the knife in this line of action to go into the anticipation of the animation." The anticipation pose hits on frame three, because it usually take at least three frames on the screen to describe the line of action or where the movement is going. On frame five was the hit pose, the pose where the knife is extended out and stabbed into the enemy. "At this frame we are actually going to hit right at the center of the target reticle. To make a first person melee really feel powerful you need to almost have the pose stay there for a few moments. To give the communication that they actually hit there." After the knife contact pose there is the pull free motion, where he pulls the knife out, and this takes about five frames including the overshoot, and then there is a moving hold for about seven frames. On frame 25 is one the hand and knife start transitioning off screen. The total length of the melee knife attack is 28 frames, which is just over one second. As you can see, with game animation and first person animation you really don't have many frames to work with, David had just over one second of time to complete the animation. That's why is so important to make sure that you're putting the holds in the right spot, and using your frames wisely to ensure that you're capturing that power and strength, and well as making sure it reads properly, all while maintaining the idea that the animation needs to be immersive and work well with the gameplay.