Post 4 - Breaking Down a Taunt Animation with Jaina Proudmoore on Heroes of the Storm
*The contents below are my own opinions and not that of my employer*
As soon as I started on the Heroes of the Storm team, I was itching to mess with their character rigs. The first few weeks were devoted to FaceFX, but there was an opportunity that came up and I threw my hat in for it. This opportunity was in the shape of a deadly frost mage named Jaina. The task simply read: "New Taunt: Jaina,"
The goal of going back to these legacy heroes animations are to amp up the previous animations and make them even better; raise the bar while preserving the essence of what the character is about. This taunt animation had been public since her release, almost a year by the time I started on the Heroes team. That alone made this, my first character animation task, even more nerve-wracking.
I began looking at her character traits. I read a lot of descriptions that pegged her as a sassy, witty, and strong-willed personality. At one point, she becomes the leader of a huge group called the "Kirin Tor." With just that information alone, I knew I needed to add a little bit of regality to this movement.
Blocking: When are you pushing it Too far?
I knew from the start that I wanted her staff to be a focal point in this action. With Jaina belonging to an assassin class, I also wanted her to be aggressive. I decided to have her take a couple of steps forward, making her taunt more assertive and forceful.
As I started to block in the major poses (as seen in the above video), I quickly noticed how far this first attempt was moving her away from her starting position. This was apparent when looking at it from the game view camera. I sought feedback from some of my co-workers, who detoured me away from this. They told me, "Moving Jaina too far away from her zero causes issues with the design side of things." Which meant, I needed to pull back the aggressive nature of Jaina's move.
First Pass: Reeling in the action
In this iteration, I focused on reeling in her entire motion, keeping it as close to the zero position as possible. I kept my two major beats from my first iteration: slamming down the staff, and the hand gesture, mocking the enemy. Instead of the long step forward, I created a small shuffle step backward that transitions Jaina into a defensive posture. I attempted to get her into this squared off position, or maybe sub-consciously a "you shall not pass" pose from our favorite Grey Wizard in Lord of the Rings.
At this point, it was time to get some fresh eyes on the animation. You can only stare at your work for so long before you hit a wall. The notes I received from my team really help push the animation to the next level of polish. Since these notes were positive, I continued to work with this version of the taunt.
It was time to iron out a lot of the creases and really make it shine. Cloth bits needed to be animated, which entailed a transfer of this animation to all of her skins (she has a total of five). Each one of those skins also came with it's own set of different cloth bits and staff bits that had to be animated. I had my work cut out for me.
The Final Result
This is where all the detail and polish came into play. At this stage, I had tightened up my timing, staggering individual pieces of her body so nothing looked like it was hitting at the same frame. I animated a pass on her cloth and shoulder pads, most of which were overlapping, but the shoulder pads gave me another opportunity to sell the force at which she slams the staff down. Also, I added a little more character on the hand gesture by bouncing the shoulder pads on top of the hand motion. Then last but not least, her hair.
Sadly, players do not get to see the animation from this angle, so here is a render from the actual game camera:
All of the skins
Now the final result...all of her other skins! Each one of these skins had different controls to animate, aside from her standard base controls I used to animate with; something I did not consider when I was first approached to complete this taunt. Sometimes I'll need to transfer animations to multiple skins, and touch up the animation on each skin, just to make sure I don't miss any special controls a skin might have.