Happy Mother’s Day! (Making a 3D animation)

I made a dance animation using my game assets to celebrate Mother’s Day, which occured last Saturday on 8 May 2021. Above is the video.

My mother was listening to this song on repeat some time ago so I made this for her using my game’s assets. Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!

Dance Choreography Design

I used to take dance classes, and I really enjoyed Dance as it was a way to express myself without having to use words. It also is a fun way to exercise and keep fit. I never would’ve expected that it would come in useful in my career as a game developer. Well not exactly related to games, but still.

It was really fun to ‘design’ this dance and you can see above that the dance has ‘layers’, which are animated with offsets. I learned about layers from my dance classes, and I integrated it here.

My favourite bit was actually syncing the camera angles to the music beats near the middle of the video.

The great thing about designing a digital choreography is you can keep going back to it and finetune the dance until it is perfectly how you envision it, and if the animation or timing doesn’t look right or feel great, you can very easily tweak it. You can duplicate more dancers, remove dancers just with a few clicks, it’s just insane. You can get the perfect timing, perfect moves and even their positions because everything is virtual and you just replay and replay until it matches your vision.

It is really surreal when you’re moving the dancers with a flick of your mouse, and making them dance faster just by changing an ‘animation speed’ property, and easily shift the camera angles virtually to get the perfect composition.

Technical Information

I built this cinematic using the Unity game engine, sequencing it together with Timeline, and using Cinemamachine to design the composition, the camera angles and shots.

The animations were obtained from Mixamo and its animation data was imported into the game engine as clips I could splice together in Timeline.

The entire animation is real-time rendered.

Total production time: 2 hours

I didn’t count exactly, but I started work on the night before Mother’s Day after I ended work that night and had my dinner, which was around 9pm, and I was done by 11pm. I had to keep my headphones on while working with the music and pacing as this video was meant to be a surprise. I managed to trick my mother into thinking that I was asking her for feedback on an animation instead of a Mother’s Day video, which was really funny.

Of course, the reality is that making animations is a lot of work and usually takes days and not hours. I am only able to build it fast because I’m experienced and am familiar with my workflow, and with help to the tools within the game engine that make this possible:

Using Game Engines to create 3D animations & Cinematics

Snapshot of Timeline, one of the tools I use in the game engine to sequence my animation

A lot of people have a misconception that game engines can only create games. And most people don’t use game engines to create 3D animations or cinematic content. That second part is true, but only because I think many people are still more used to the traditional technique of using Maya or Blender, as game engines were not built for this purposes until recently a few years ago. Additionally, it is rare to find the skillset for doing this in game engines, as it is currently quite niche from what I hear.

Screenshot of the viewport with the red icons representing the different virtual cameras in the scene that capture the different camera angles in the video

I however, have found several advantages to using a game engine for creating cinematic content.

The great thing about a game engine is since my game is already built with the game engine, I can just use it to also create animations without having to export the assets into another tool.

I can very easily create animations without going into Maya or another DCC. I also iterate extremely quickly because I am very familiar with game production tools and I have a separate set of scripts to assist in creating cinematics rapidly. And of course, the best thing about a game engine is it uses real-time rendering, so lighting is not just easily adjustable, but what you see in the viewport is the final lighting and effects which do not require compositing.

In terms of workflow, I find myself many times more productive and able to make many more creative decisions in a short time span. While it may seem like the quality isn’t directly ‘better’ than traditional techniques, the hidden costs saved is in how much more quality you get from having greater creative freedom and time expenditure wise, it is much better.

Snapshot of the Recorder window, which on the click of a button, renders the 72 second long video.

The entire video is a direct output recorded from Unity, including even the music and any sound effects, so the final render does not even have to go through Premiere or After Effects. I just hit render and upload it online. Amazing isn’t it?

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