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Developer Blog: Animating the T-Rex

By Julia (nitocris83) | Fri 14 Jul 2017 10:00:00 AM PDT

Hello dedicated Neverwinter Fans! I’m Ben, and I am back for my second animation dev-blog installment loosely based on how to make things jump. It’s a recurring theme (You can read the Flail Snail Dev Blog). I’ll first give you a brief walk through on how I become the T-Rex and then give you a run down on what our process looks like, how we were able to hit a high bar, and the most challenging aspects of animating this legendary D&D creature. 

Becoming the T-Rex

I very much enjoyed the process of “tuning” myself for the T-Rex. I try and envision what it looks like, what is sounds like and, to the best of my ability, what it moves like. My first step is to try on different roars, to internally feel what it might be like to have your guts rumble. I envision little creatures running away from me in assured demise. Then I single one out and corner it, keep it contained, shift my weight and go in for the… I digress.

The sound is crucial and it affects how I interpret the motion of a creature. A deep sound denotes a wider degree of weight shifting, from the left to right for instance, or the hips might move more vertical as its immense mass is being caught by each leg. Conversely, a higher pitched screech might bring the movements more in line with a bird, in which case it would be lighter, up on the toes more and head stationary using very deliberate movements.

While I do love me some feathered dinosaurs, this dino is mostly of the classic variety. If we had proto-feathers then it would have been hard not to add more bird like animation. However, this goose was plucked and I couldn’t justify such a departure from what the overall message this T-Rex would be sending: Big, Fierce and Nasty. From design to audio to the final geometry sculpt to animation to FX, we all have to be on message to deliver the most consistent experience possible.


Development Process

Our process of developing the T-Rex experience starts with communication about its role in the game, getting approved design concepts, and then character meshes. A large part of my contribution is to collaborate with the Character team for the most functional skin possible as well as the FX team to how best support awesome effects with animation. When it comes to combat development, the most important part is to have a dialogue with Design. Together we influence the final pacing and feel of combat, the design for the powers mechanics, and how best we can showcase that through motion.

We quickly do a blocking animation pass and have something in-game for Design to iterate with and, from there, “find the fun.”

When the design side of the power feels good, I will do a second pass to finalize the animation and bring it up to the quality bar we aim for. This process involves hard work from the most talented and dedicated group of people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. The end result of which is a dynamic, engaging, and visually satisfying encounter with a devastating T-Rex.  


Challenges and Wap-Up

Every creature combat encounter we do unveils new and different challenges to overcome. The T-Rex was no different. One of the major combat aspects to this fight was the ability for it to utilize the combat space by jumping. Now, I have never imagined a T-Rex to be as agile as that, but it made for a more unpredictable aspect to the combat and an animation problem to be solved.

The combat stance of the T-Rex was already pretty low and didn’t give me much room to move the hips down before jumping. Rather than a more vertical trajectory, I kept him close to the ground so the anticipation was more horizontal and I could stretch him out lengthwise to get a nice dynamic pose during flight. The landing was the most fun, with a slide at the end adding to the immense weight that the T-Rex had thrown into the air and a great spot for FX.

Another challenge was with our engine taking over so it was no longer my animation doing the moving. After getting all of that great motion looking just right in my 3D program, I had to then “mess” it up by locking it into place during the in-flight portion allowing the engine to take over, only to then have the engine stop and re-engage the animation for a landing slide into place. The end result is a reassembly of animated parts from what was once whole.

In the end, the final T-Rex is amazing to fight against and looks and feels great doing it. The Neverwinter art team deserves kudos for arguably one of the best zones and critters in the game to date. D&D, animation, and dinosaurs…it really has been a special module for me. 

Enjoy our hard work!

Benjamin Norcross

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