Unless you’re really lucky the Script will probably come from an outside source. Scriptwriters are mostly isolated from game development. They won’t have any technical knowledge other than a basic game overview. It’s your job to pick holes.
Read the script and familiarise yourself with the entire story, not just your scene(s). You need to be aware of the bigger picture.
Pay attention to…
|b.||Research||Watch movies and media related to the subject matter, even if you don’t like it. Get yourself in the zone. Don’t be ignorant!|
Each level will have at least one Designer and Environment artist working on it. Find out who and play through the level with them. They probably have requirements. Find out everything you can about your scene.
Most important are…
|d.||Storyboards||We usually skip this stage as things change so much and we’re limited on resources.|
Record yourself and your peers reading the dialog. In-character if possible. Use any media you can to make a rough Animatic of your scene, including:
This is a really good way to estimate scene length, timing and discover potential problems before you start.
Raise any problems that emerge with the relevant department Lead(s). Pay attention to the list in Stage a. because you’ll probably encounter all of these. Get the script altered if necessary/possible.
Create your source file. Everyone should use the same structure and naming conventions (ideally you should be provided with an automated way of doing this). Check what the conventions are – don’t just start creating files willy nilly.
It’s really important to set up your main source file sensibly. It’s not about being anal, just good practice, as someone else will have to use your file. Clearly name your content and make sure there’s at least one main control/object above everything in the hierarchy. You will have to move the whole thing at least twice.
Your main source file should contain the basic content for your scene:
If any of the above are missing let the relevant department Lead know.
Using your Video Edit as reference do a really rough blockout of your scene. You’ll need to make sure you have the latest assets before you start. It’s your responsibility to make sure you’re up-to-date. Play around with camera angles and character positions until you’re happy. A few variations won’t hurt.
This is the first thing other people might see so it doesn’t have to be perfect, just presentable.
Review with your Lead and peers. This is your second chance to make changes to the scene content if anything still isn’t working.
You’re in a really good position here as you’ve not done a tonne of final quality work but have a pretty clear idea of where you’re going with it.
Ideally, all problems should be ironed out before proceeding.
Record yourself (or someone who’s better at acting) performing your scene. Try to film from camera angles you’ll actually be using. You can use movie clips or YouTube videos but it’s better to be original and make your own acting choices. Edit the videos together and it’ll be great reference to animate with.
(Those points, and more, also apply to filming/recording motion capture)
Share with everyone. This is the last chance you (or anyone else) will get to make changes to the scene content before it becomes a real pain in your ass. No-one else’s ass, just yours!
Changes are still inevitable, but from here-on-out they’ll eat into your schedule and mean re-doing work. As your scene progresses this becomes more time-consuming and complicated.
Using your new Reference Material animate the key character poses in your scene. You should also be able to animate final quality cameras based on the key character poses.
Your blockout should be a good, clear representation of your final scene.
|m.||First Signoff||Share with your Lead and peers.|
Ideally you want to get your blockout scene running in-game. Either as a video or (preferably) a real-time Cinematic. This will raise any problems with your setup or how your scene fits into the flow of the game. Which Game Engine you’re using will define the amount of work you need to do for this.
This usually involves…
|o.||First Test||Play through the game until your scene triggers. You just need to make sure it plays without breaking the game. This is really important – you can fix bugs later!|
Switch the keys to ‘Auto’ and animate your scene to a good standard. It’s normal to ignore facial animation at this stage.
|q.||Second Signoff||Share with your Lead and peers.|
|r.||Second-Pass||Further animate your scene to an excellent standard. Again, it’s normal to ignore facial animation at this stage.|
From this stage you should be able to easily re-export, re-build and re-test your scene in-game. It’s important that you do test to stay abreast of any recent gameplay changes that affect your scene.
It’s highly likely (nay, guaranteed) that things have changed and you’ll have to spend time re-doing work. This is usually due to a breakdown in communication between departments, or individuals not going through the correct channels. This isn’t great, and is extremely frustrating, but something you have to deal with.If something’s broken let someone else know. Find out who broke it. Chase it up. Submit a bug. Tell on them.
Don’t worry about fixing bugs at this stage, unless it breaks the game. And don’t check-in or submit broken content.
This is also the stage where other departments (e.g. VFX, Audio) may start working on your scene. Be sure to let people know if you make changes that might affect them. Letting them know beforehand is best but not always doable.
Start and finish the facial animation to an excellent standard. Reference is extremely important here as it can be tempting to animate every single mouth shape. Which ends up just looking wrong.
Eye animation tips…
|u.||Third Test||Re-export, re-build and re-test.From this stage your scene should be >90% working, and looking good, in-game.|
|v.||Third Signoff||Share with your Lead and peers before Polish starts.From this stage your scene content should be >90% final. No further animation tweaks necessary.|
Some people see lights as a luxury. I think they’re a necessity. Adding and animating lights will set the mood and further ground characters in the world around them. Remember that the game itself already has lights put down by Environment Artists. Adding more can slow down the game so be vigilant. If your target frame-rate is 30fps and your lights bring it down to 20fps, you might have to do without.Saying that – in my experience – level lights never do the trick. Adding 3 lights per-scene is a good starting point if you can use them to good effect. Sometimes you’ll find yourself fighting against the level lights. In this case you might be able to switch them off (or talk to someone who can) for the length of your scene.
3 types of light…
Of course you can use more/less lights, depending on circumstances.
These are also really important and can add some much needed visual/filmic fidelity to cameras. They include Depth-of-Field, Film Grain and Lens Flares (where only Depth-of-Field is absolutely necessary.) DoF lets you to guide the eye and focus out background/foreground nonsense. As with lights it can slow down the game so be vigilant about your settings.Unfortunately, good foreground DoF isn’t common in game Engines. But it’s used in the same way as background DoF.
The final stage is to make sure that your scene is perfect. Fix any bugs. Clean-up any small glitches, errors or mistakes before shipping.
|z.||Final Signoff||Don’t do anything else. Apart from fixing bugs.|
Done. This is where you send your baby on to the VFX and SFX departments. This doesn't mean your responsibilities are over... you must still keep an eye on - and periodically test - your scene(s) to make sure each still works as intended. Right up until the last day. Testers will usually find most problems as they occur, but only you have the depth of involvement to properly notice everything.