Back in the early days, we only had a few elements locked we knew we wanted to play with. Like AC I & II before it, ACIII was to be set at a pivotal time in human history – The American Revolution. This also gave us our location of the North Atlantic coast of America, from which naturally came variable weather like snow and storms, (which we know a lot about here), and the beautiful organic terrain of the forest wilderness.
In order to avoid taking sides in the conflict, our character was to walk the middle line as a Native American, who anyone with even a basic knowledge of history can tell you does not have a happy ending for their culture. When considering the movement style of our new Assassin, his native heritage and the tree-filled American frontier environment informed his character the most.
Above is an early concept video using very little new animation, and already we can get a sense of the actions he will be required to perform in his new environment. It also contains part of the diorama we created, (actually less expensive to do with models than in CG), used to sell the location and time period to those outside the team as well as new recruits as our numbers grew.
Target Game Footage
At Ubisoft we always pitch new projects with what we call Target Game Footage, something I agree with as I have always used videos to sell ideas. It’s something we alone as animators have a unique opportunity to do as a video requires no design or programming input if you have a model to animate.
At this point in late 2010, AC: Brotherhood was in full production so with many animators busy finishing up there we grabbed a rabble of misfit animators from various other non-AC projects. This proved effective in bringing new ideas and style to the table, getting our project off to a great start. Below are two excerpts from that initial video highlighting new directions in navigation on varied organic terrain and the brutal combat we wished to take.
Obviously, the project was green-lit. However… the feedback from Paris was that the animation quality was their #1 concern. They said the Assassin was lacking weight and wasn’t grounded enough in the environment – even going so far as to say he “looked like an elf.” As such, I took these criticisms on as my primary motivation – tasking myself to alleviate those concerns.
But I wasn’t ready to admit it was all on the animation. In my eyes, it was also the perception of the model also. I believe every animator should take responsibilty for the characters they are animating to ensure they have the correct dimensions and most of all an interesting silhouette, ( the #2 most important element of the AC brand). To that end, I created the video below to highlight the differences in silhouette between our Assassin and Brotherhood’s Ezio, who by now was covered in armour. Not only was our Assassin overly thin, but his arms were forming uninteresting tubes and his legs were unflatteringly always visible – all combining to affect the volume of the character.