In order to help reduce fears that I wasn’t about to screw up Ubisoft’s flagship title, I created a presentation for the executives that explained exactly who the Assassin was and how we would maintain consistency.
Who Is The Assassin?
Before he left, I had the foresight to ask the outgoing animation director “Who is the Assassin?” – to which he answered “The Assassin is A WWE Wrestler”.
Now I don’t know about you, but this is not the image I had in mind. He was, thankfully, much more descriptive on who he is NOT. The Assassin is not gymnastic. He is not acrobatic. He is not flamboyant or flourishing, not extravagant and most of all not inefficient. The last one especially describes the difference between parkour and free-running – a common misconception by many people, even on the team.
One of the core tenets of parkour is about efficiency of movement – getting from A to B in the least amount of effort possible – the polar opposite of free-running with all its backflips and somersaults. This is a core differentiation between the Assassin and made other videogame characters that keeps him grounded in the world – and most importantly stops him overlapping with his origins as the Prince of Persia.
Weight & The Assassin
To illustrate how we would maintain this, I created the image below, (simplified for executives), breaking down animation into three component parts:
Anticipation: The crouching pose builds the power of a move.
Action: Frames 2-4 show the actual action performed, be it a jump or a thrown punch.
Follow-through: Upon landing, this part reinforces the weight. This is where we would concentrate our efforts. But of course, in videogame animation this can lead to unresponsiveness in characters if held too long. As such we looked to create technology to specifically handle this as we shall see later.
The Assassin Model
Again, not willing to tackle weight as only an animation issue, I took a healthy interest at this point in the Assassin model. We only settled on the final Connor model in the last year of the project, (the same is true for most projects I’ve worked on), but kept revising him throughout. Below is a small sampling of the myriad options explored as we looked for the perfect balance of native, colonial and classic Assassin – all the while aiming to keep an attractive silhouette for animating.
Initially, with the final design, (below), I was afraid of losing much of the cloth previously used to cover Ezio’s upper-body. This greatly helps procedurally create lots of secondary motion which is essentially the great secret of AC animation. We instead put the physics into his weapon attachments, fringes, feathers, hood and coat-tails which had both physical bones and cloth layers.
His solid silhouette with tight bands around the arms and legs evoke musculature – a good direction in my opinion for any strong character with or without armour. In bulking him up so, The Assassin was no longer a regular man in armour, but now a much bulkier and heavier one in a tight suit. This change greatly informed the motion from now on – allowing us to justify many of the more brawler-esque moves in combat, such as picking up and throwing opponents. Perhaps he could be a WWE wrestler after all. The Assassin is referred to internally as the “Agile Brute” – this allows him to perform parkour moves while still pummel his opponents.