Meet the Spy - TF2 - Valve Software

The first year animators (Alice) showed me this clip and it was interesting to note that Jean-Denis Haas on the Spungella blog was thinking the same way. It's a clip made with games character assets for a game called Team Fortress 2. The animation students know of the game. And I was interested in the marketing through creating a high production quality and well animated short film as a way to promote it more widely (I love the music but not the violence). I like it when students present animation that interests them as it helps develop interesting lesson plans. Are there any more of these types of promotions with nice animation that people have seen? Tell us about them in the comments.


Kristi said...

Are you asking about TF2 promos? There were a whole set of them: The Engineer, The Demoman, The Heavy, etc. The Spy is apparently a new clip to advertise updates to the game this year. Wikipedia claims that the clips are machinima, but I don't believe it. There are a few pointy vertices visible, but these are clearly not "in game assets". They have full and quite nice facial rigs, for a start: a total waste of memory in a game asset, which has to render in real time. Same with the animation: it's too complicated to fit in a game system's memory, and it would be of no use to the game there either. Game animation consists of a few endlessly recyclable actions that can be strung together seamlessly, and no more.

Another interesting site using game assets is Blockade,
This is not machinima either, because they still had to to a lot of extra animation appropriate to the story, but it's a hell of a lot closer to it than the TF2 examples.

frank said...

Hey Kristi.

I need to learn more about games animation in general and this was a little bridge I found with the trailers that promote games.

I was looking at the Republic Heroes trailer, a game worked on by Krome, here in Brisbane, the other night as well. We then looked at it in 3D classes and the students started talking about other examples like TF2. So the interest has been building.

It seems my students are way ahead of me in knowing about these things and I'm hoping to catch up.

I'm just learning these terms. What is the definition of "machinima"?I take it, it is the use of games assets, characters rigged for games, and creating animation such as character animation, Is that close?

I was actually asking about any games promos. I was thinking along the lines of an animator with character animation skills finding diverse work/ offering up those skills, at a games studio to be part of promo trailer production to get the punters interested.

It is an interesting niche that I thought was worth asking more about.

Thanks for your knowledgeable reply.

I'll check put the Blockade link you point to now. :)

Kristi said...

I can't think of any other promos like the TF2 ones: that is, consisting of animation that isn't part of the game itself, or at least the game's cinematics. World of Warcraft recently did a trailer for its latest major patch, Ulduar:
but it's using in-game animation with some added lipsync and cinematic cameras. You'll notice an extreme lack of facial expressions, for example. I would be tempted to call this machinima, or at the very least a cutscene.

Kristi said...

Machinima: definitions vary, but I think that the most important aspect of it is that the movies are rendered using the game engine, that is, in real time. None of this two-hours-a-frame garbage, we'll have 24 fps thank you, or even more. Aside from that, my own strict view is that it should contain nothing extra that is not provided by the game itself, but when games companies start providing means to add extra cameras after recording the animation, ways to script animation, and new level creation by users, it starts getting hazy.
I think that if you start altering rigs and animating new actions from scratch then it's not truly machinima any more, but there are many who would disagree.

Kristi said...

Whoops, WoW link didn't work, let's try again:

Kristi said...

Republic Heroes trailer: The first half of the trailer is clips from the TV series, the second half is gameplay. No animation here that was done specifically for the promo at all, sadly. This is an editor's work.

frank said...

Kristi. You are wonderful! Thanks for your great replies. I hope it gets some others willing to make a comment :)

Kristi said...

The most common games promo consists of the game's opening cinematic presented as a trailer. These are possibly more the kind of thing you were thinking of, Frank. Commonly, cinematics are farmed out to studios who are known for their character animation, such as Blur Studio, and not done in-house by the games studio (which has no render farm of its own, for one thing, and often less accomplished character animators - no offence intended to any readers, it's just that you never get any practice animating emotions at games studios).

I thought that Ian had linked bundles of this kind of trailer here, but I can't find them now...

These are a couple of my all-time favourite cinematic trailers, which are quite old now.

World Of Warcraft: Burning CrusadeWarhammer 40k: Dawn Of War

frank said...

Ooo WoW! My eyes hurt. Do Gen Y brains really work that fast?

Reminds me of the time I dislocated my eye watching the Transformers movie on a megascreen.

Thanks for the Blur Studios refresh and I found Ian's old posts on cinematics, so I'll make a new post from all this.

Thanks for all this great discussion :)

Kristi said...

No worries, Frank. I'm glad that you think you're getting something useful out of my opinionated posts!
I am very fond of video games, and I think that a young animator can get a lot of useful experience in working within a studio system, and also in purely physical animation, by working in games proper. However, if acting is your real craft, you will probably have to hone it on the side, or go elsewhere.

Alonso said...

I agree with Kristi, game studios are good places to work. Game animation has it's own challenges and rewards. There are more game shops then film shops, and it's my impression that the game shops are a little more stable (tend not to dump everyone at the end of a project)

Kristi's right that most shops farm out the cinematics, which include trailers or cut scenes during the game.

If your eventual goal is film, games are still a great stepping stone for you. It will knock off your rough edges, so you can work at professional speeds and are used to working with others in a team. Also you'll most likely get really solid training in body mechanics which is essential to selling believable characters. But yeah, the acting stuff you're going to have to practice on your own.

If you are really into creating really bad ass action stuff, love working with cool creatures and things, and can't imagine working on a single project with the same characters for up to 5 years, then games may just be the perfect home for you. The bigger shops have really beautiful polished animation coming through and really high standards. As technology improves more and more games will be as high quality as movies, except the player will be able to choose which angle they experience it from, so the animation will also need to be as high quality.

Games can be a good stepping stone, or a great final destination.

Ian said...

Yup Yup Yup. The most important thing is that you get into the inim biz at all.

I remember think I wanted to work on specific things at first, but I've leaned that its the people you work with every day and the things you achive together that make for real lasting job satisfaction.

That means you can start work somewhere thinking its just a stepping stone and end up never wanting to leave, or get a job on your dream project and hate it because the culture at that studio dosn't suit you.

In tough economic times I think the best thing is look at your local industry and calculate the way you are most likely to get your first job. Hant that down like there is no tomorrow. After you are in who knows where things will take you, its a case of setting the ball rolling and letting the great adventure unfold before you. Much better than having no adventure at all because you let your predijices about this kind of work Vs that get in the way.

MattG said...

So much I need to say here. :) Lets start with the trailers.

The TF2 shorts are rendered in-game, as far as I've been told. The face rigs are special, with more detail than usual, and they can afford to do some one-time props and effects and such. It's all custom animation, but it is running in the engine. What makes them stand out is not just the awesome animation, but the attention to character, and the great direction. (The wonderfully stylized characters and lighting doesn't hurt either.)

A lot of cinematics and thus trailers are done as pre-rendered things, often by some other studio. Blur does a lot of great trailers & cinamtic work. Blizzard (WoW) has a whole internal team just to make these amazing pre-rendered cinematics, for example.

More and more games are doing more storytelling in-game, though. It's what we call "vignettes" at LucasArts... an in-game cinematic. They used to be small (hence the name) but we're making them bigger all the time. Games like Prince Of Persia, Metal Gear Solid 4, or Resident Evil 5 (I think) have few if any pre-rendered cinematics. It's all running real-time. This means if they want it to look good they need more complex rigs, but what can also be done sometimes is a rig swap, one rig made for speed and action in-game, and one for detail and lipsync in story moments.

(And then there's the trailer we made for Indiana Jones and the Staff Of Kings, which was rendered using our Xbox360 game engine, including faces.)

It still all comes down to telling a story, or bringing a character to life, in the best way that you can given any limitations you have. In games, the limitations may be the responsiveness required of the character, or the time you have to animate it in. but I think you get exposed to a lot of different stuff in games (depending on the studio, as with everything).

The trade-off from films to games that I have found has been prestige vs ownership. Working at ILM I was proud to work on films that would end up on the big screen, and it's great to be able to say "I did that!" and it looks wonderful and polished etc. But you are much more limited in how much you do and what (if any) input you have in a scene. In games I've had a lot more creative freedom, and ability to make suggestions or try new things. We have a lot more ownership on actions or shots, and so while less people may know what you did, or it may not look as impressive, I think we feel like we actually contributed more. I've also been doing the layout of my vignettes (or my trailer sequences), which is helping me to learn more about cameras and storytelling because I actually get to DO it, something I wouldn't be doing in film or effects.

Finally, on the topic of machinima, this is my favorite one ever but not because it's high quality or anything. It's just funny. :D

Ian said...

MATT!!!!! Long time no see one the ARC my old friend. I thought you weren't dropping by any more these days.

And great advice about the freedom you get in games, and something I hadn't thought to articulate since changing over to games anim.

Now that I think about it, I've been working at a game studio for 5 months, I've animated, contributes script changes, worked on layouts and camera moves, and I've even placed some FX (hehe lightabers and blasters, its a childhood dream!). The kind of input you would never get working on a movie. Well not in the first 25 years or so :P

Thanks for your input everyone! Great conversation. :)

Mitch said...

Not sure how this was animated, but the introduction to the game Left 4 Dead here
was very entertaining for me. Now it is owned by the same company that own TF2 so it might quite possibly be the same animation team.

This game is a personal favourite of mine and Nathans.

For those who don't like zombies and the such don't go to this link.

Kristi said...

This screened at E3 recently: a trailer for the new Rock Band Beatles game. Trippy... I love it! Such a shame that Rock Band never got a foothold here in Australia, due to being released so long after Guitar Hero.

frank said...

This is such a good discussion, I think I'll pop it to the top of the list again, so people can review the recent input. Thanks for all your comments.