Every so often the internet turns up a gem. It may have been around for some time now in its original form, but below I’ve provided an animation-related analysis of SCE’s original “Making of Shadow of The Colossus” presentation – a technologically impressive game with one or two valuable lessons on getting the most out of a console in its golden years.
Looking at the image below, they at least animate using Lightwave, though how much of their pipeline relies on it is unknown. Perhaps the Japanese industry is different as a whole, as in the West we mostly use either Maya or 3D Studio Max. Lightwave is more favoured among high-end artists for it’s renderer, not its animation system.
The rig below includes the wireframe mesh of the shadow-casting model, but otherwise displays fairly standard IK/FK limbs, with an aim constraint to animate the head, (presumably also able to be turned off). This aim-target is of interest if it is actually exported with the animation and used in the real-time target system as is the case in HalfLife 2’s “Source” engine.
I like the cute 3D hands on the floor that presumably denote all the finger controls, but still prefer to have those controls seperate in a Channel Box (Maya) or Modifier Panel (Max). Note the boneless cloth garment, showing that they have a seperate system for that element rather than being bone-driven.
What really intrigues me though are the long bones at the extremities – possibly something to do with their real-time IK system, but more probably with the standout feature – the deforming collision of the Colossi themselves, whereby they calculate the player’s position on the collision as a single spherical point making it easier to react to the deforming mesh, (below).
The aforementioned real-time IK system appears to support a fairly standard 2-bone setup (affecting just the last two in the horse’s leg), save that it not only affects the limbs but also raises and angles the whole character in one solution. In past games I’ve encountered these as two seperate systems, with the latter affected by a check on the ground normal rather than an average of the various IK limbs. See below for a comparison – first without, then with the root being affected.
Finally, the most impressive (and hopefully soon to be widely adopted) element of the entire movement system centres around what they call their “motion-addition” system – essentially the combining of procedural and animator-created motion to give true fluidity without the sloppiness of purely-procedural movement, or rigidity of keyframes alone.
A physical simulation drives animation of the bones, causing the character to rotate around his single handhold, and presumably to arc the body and delay the limbs based on that motion as seen in the image below. This was not only used to afford the flailing motion of the player character while the Colossus violently attempts to shake him off, but also for the natural movement of the horse.
This combination of procedural calculation that drives motion tweaked by an animator, (or even better, purely procedural systems that are simply fed data in the form of exported animations) is the next step in more natural-feeling motion in our in-game characters.
“Movement becomes wooden if purely controlled by a program, but also a pre-made animation won’t fit in right. It is the combination which makes it work. When I saw this working in real time, I was more than a little impressed! I think it has become a truly wonderful system to combine the animator and programmer.” – Fumito Ueda, Director
UPDATE: Below is the original pre-visualisation of Shadow of The Colossus, ‘NICO’, created by Ueda, a designer and around 10 animators – the biggest omission from the final game being the multiple players.