Hi everyone, I’m Koji Hamada, the Animation Director for KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep!
What does an animator do?
An animator's main duty is to breathe life into the characters and gimmicks in the game by giving them movement. This includes everything from crafting the motions for the main, Disney and enemy characters (like the Unversed), to objects like jumping platforms and street lamps that shake when they're hit.
Giving the characters some personality
When creating the character motions, we start with written descriptions from the planner. Things like, Ventus should be speedy, Aqua should be graceful and Terra should show powerful strength. From there we put together several stand-by poses and simple attack motions. For every motion we created about ten variations for the planners to choose from, and the characters' qualities were narrowed down one motion at a time. There was a different lead animator in charge of the battle animations for each of the three protagonists, and I think this helped to create a very diverse and unique set of characters.
Setting the Unversed apart from the rest
Our initial goal in designing the movements of the Unversed was to differentiate its motions from those of the Heartless and the Nobody. As with the main characters, we prepared about ten variations of simple stance, travelling and attack motions. From there we discussed the specifics with Supervisor Kando and Co-Director Yasue to decide which movements to implement, ultimately creating a brand-new style.
One of the stand-out characteristics of the Unversed is that they demonstrate very sudden movements. Contrary to the fluid motions of previous enemy characters, the Unversed will jump much higher than expected or stop very abruptly, sometimes to the point where you might think "are they really supposed to move like that?". We’re very happy with how they turned out, and feel that they have a lot of personality.
I remember some tough times during development, as I was working so hard to make something new and different. In retrospect, however, I can say I definitely had a lot of fun working on the motions for that very first Unversed!
How does the animating process work?
We used a 3-D tool to set up action points (called keyframes) within a given timeframe to implement the animation.
The modeling team provides character models with skeletal structures, and because these are difficult to animate as-is, the animators usually add a rig and reconstruct the model to make it easier to apply the movements.
In terms of specific motions like the swing of a sword, animating the swing itself is a pretty simple procedure. It's reflecting the character's personalities in the action that presents the real challenge.
When crafting an attack motion, we would use the 3-D tool's ghost function to verify the sword's trajectory. The subtle waver of the sword once the swing is complete, the movements of the free hand and the character’s stance and footwork are all details that we pay close attention to.
It's all about the details
Every last detail in event scenes, from the character's motions down to their hair, clothes and facial expressions, were crafted manually. Through all of our efforts, we were able to achieve high quality visuals on par with that of the KINGDOM HEARTS titles on console platforms.
Sometimes when the Unversed are in their stand-by mode, not attacking or traveling, you might notice a difference in their movements. We've added many subtle details like this to areas you may not be paying too much attention to when playing through, so it might be fun to take a minute and observe the actions of the Unversed a little more closely.