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Now that you have a character model, it is time to learn how to get your character to move. For this process you will use 3D animation. 3D animation differs from 2D animation because in 3D animation, you will be moving an object or character in a three-dimensional environment, similar to how things move in real life. Before 3D graphics became popular in games, all animation had to be drawn one frame at a time in 2D. With the advent of 3D graphics, a whole new world opened for animators. Now they could create animation in a 3D environment and view the animation from any angle. Animations became separate elements from the art, making it possible to do one animation and apply it to multiple characters. Unlike 2D animation that is stored as picture files in a game, 3D graphics are stored as motion files. Motion files can contain data on almost every attribute of a 3D model, including translation, rotation, size, color, and many others. For this chapter you will focus your attention on just a few attributes because not all game engines support the full range of attribute animations. First take a look at how animation is controlled in Softimage. From there, you will work on understanding how to get things to move around and react in a 3D environment. In the software panel, it shows the animation controls in Softimage.
Character animation is one of the most complex things you will come across when preparing art for games. The complexities can be overwhelming. In this chapter I have attempted to simplify the process so it will be easier to understand. I will be touching only the surface of all the controls and options for animating characters. Wherever possible, I will indicate where additional features are used, but it would be impossible to explain everything about 3D animation in one chapter. I want to start with your character that you built in the last two chapters, so go ahead and load Polyman. Characters are many times more complex than spheres. Simple shape changes are not good enough to get characters to move correctly. To solve this problem, Softimage and most other good animation programs have developed a system of joints and bones. These joints and bones work the same way that the bones and joints in your body work. In fact, studying your own skeletal structure is a good way to learn how to set up joints and bones in your characters. This was a somewhat complex 3D software, but we tried to keep it as basic as I could. Maya is a very deep software program with a rich animation system; we only scratched the surface of its power. I showed you how to control animation in softimage, and we covered creating skeletons and skinning characters. You created some basic animation controls in the IK chains. You are now armed and ready to start experimenting with the animation system. Try setting up your own character model. Create some animations of your model. The more you practice with the animation system, the better you will get. Study the way people move in real life as an example for your animations.
Many game engines require the creation of polygon models that are never seen in the game. These models are used for setting up boundaries, triggering special events, creating spawning points, and any number of other functions. These models are usually exported separately from the other models and are used primarily by programmers to store information for the engine to use when the game is running. The most common type of specialized geometry for games is a collision map. Collision maps derive their name from the early days of game development, when all games were created in 2D. In those days a collision map was a two-color invisible picture in which one color represented where a character could walk and the other color represented where he couldn’t. As games have advanced, so have collision maps. Now collision maps not only define the boundaries of character movement, they also can have other information, such as surface qualities or physics. In theory, game engines could use the model geometry from the game models for collision maps. The problem with the game models is that they often use significantly more polygons than necessary for a collision