Animation is Animation, Right?

Animation is Animation will be a series that goes over the different animation styles, cost, and lastly covering what ‘3D’ really means.

To start us off I thought I’d cover the common misconception that movie animation and video game animation are the same. Creating animations for video games is much different from creating animations for the big screen. One major difference is that movies are meant to entertain by simply being viewed, whereas the purpose of a video game is to entertain by character interaction. For this reason animating for video games can be much different challenge.

Let’s start with the largest difference, in my option, the 3D environment. For movies, they don’t necessarily have to be as complete as a 3D environment for a video game. Movie animators only have to worry about what’s going to be on-screen and in the field of vision. This would require the modeling of a full room or just the side that is going to be featured in that scene. Also, because it is not interactive like a video game they do not have to worry about making anything in the environment interactive. With video game environments everything must be modeled within the players 360-degree view. It’s not often, with the exception of a few solid indie titles, you will ever play a “side-scrolling” game where the character’s view doesn’t encompass a full range of motion. If animators left out parts of the environment you’d see black, empty space and it would kill the immersion factor.

Additionally, 3D video game environments also have to be connected, at least visually. If a player is going in and out of doors or from inside to outside those need to be acting as separate pieces of the environment. They cannot be static images placed in a door way to give the feel of depth like in an animated movie. That flat image wouldn’t be believable from every angle so building interconnecting environments as far as necessary is a must in game builds.

Now for the elephant in the room every gamer has to deal with, yes even you PC gamers, system limitations. Games have limitations that 3D animated movies hardly every have to face, the power of the rendering engine inside a console or what’s available for PC. Some may not know but as you move a character though the virtual environment, the rendering engine is constantly creating output based on the angle of the camera, the character data, and the environment factors that are included in the game. It’s close to rendering digital output to video when creating an animation, however the digital output has to keep up with your user controlled input and has to render as fast as you alter the motions entered via controller. To battle this, most games will have various levels of model detail. For example, a game may have three levels of model detail form a low detailed, highly pixelated model used in the background or during fast movements like combat. To highly detailed, smooth models used in non-interactive cut-scenes. This render limitation isn’t apparent in movies; animators will however “scale down” some models to avoid a 200 hour ender time for five minutes of animation.

All in all, these are just two factors that hardly scrape the surface of differences between video game 3D and movie 3D. Each has a team of animators with one goal, to captivate and entertain it audience.

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