Hi all, I’m Vanquish facial animator, Masanori Takashima.
It’s been a month since the game was released, huh?
I suppose that those of you who have become captive to the exhilaration of traversing (gliding) across the battlefield are taking a crack at God Hard mode or possibly going after all the achievements/trophies. For those of you who haven’t played the game, I hope you make Vanquish a part of your holiday treats. We will be waiting for you on the adrenaline filled battlefield.
Anyways, that intro got a bit long in the tooth, so I’ll get to the topic at hand – facial animation in Vanquish.
Let me start by explaining the nuts and bolts of facial animation. I was in charge of making sure that the character model’s face could show expression by setting up a facial controller and then animating the face. It is a very specialized, almost geeky field; however, I am incredibly passionate about the challenge it provides.
When people try to understand other people, they rely on their appearance, the tone of their voice, their behavior, and their expressions. Amongst those, the face is incredibly important because it transmits expressions as visual signals. These signals show the depth of one’s humanness, from changes in feelings, to thoughts, personality, and even sometimes lies. Furthermore, humans are able to detect slight changes in expressions and guess at their subject’s feelings. It is truly a wonderful ability, and all the gamers have this trait, so to make sure that they understand each character’s individual expressions, you need to have the right animations, as well as an easy-to-use, robust facial controller. It’s a job that takes perseverance, perseverance, and then some more perseverance, but the minute you see life breathed into a character, it is addicting!
So here you go, recruits… Vanquish!
To make the player feel as if the characters in Vanquish are real, living human beings, we wanted to have a more realistic touch to the facial animations. Instead of trying to fill things with idiosyncratic animations, we decided to go with an approach that separated things into rough animation categories. Our plan was to come to grips with the general framework of all of the characters over the course of the game, then give them out of the ordinary expressions (or perhaps their true colors) at key moments, providing a hint as to where they were heading. Put simply, we wanted the characters to hit the beats in the story and turn things on their heads.
For instance, Sam is usually a cool, smoldering character, with a cigarette casually in one hand; however, when Burns doesn’t just forsake his troops, he smiles. On the other hand, his look of bitterness at seeing men left behind, or the shock when something emerges from a certain character’s chest, were all points where we wanted to lock down the ebb and flow of his character arc and give him a bit more human emotion.
Burns is normally a powerful, rough and tumble guy, and when he talks we wanted to make sure he reinforces the image of a tough as nails drill sergeant type at all times. Yet, his fiercely sheepish face when Sam jokingly welcomes him back from the dead, or the change in the look of his eyes when talking with Sam or seeing the battlefield, are interwoven with his desire to suppress his varied emotions from coming to the surface.
Elena calmly and indifferently explains the state of the battle during the game, and we wanted her to seem like the elite, convincing support role that she fills. She works to hold in her emotions, and is careful to make sure that to the best of her abilities she didn’t end up seeming sexy. However, there are places where her true colors shine through.
She gets irritated when Sam rants, and she can’t hold back when the danger continues on for too long. When Elena is verbally dressed down by Burns, all she can muster is a “Sorry,” but you can see in her face that she doesn’t really think she was wrong. Another one of the things we did for Elena, at my request, was giving her an animation during a scene where she runs her hands through her hair even though she is hard at work in her support role. I was looking for a place where a career girl would make sure that her hair looked good while she was working. At least that was my justification for it. And when I found the scene, it fit perfectly.
Even if you are playing through the game again, skipping the cutscenes, or if you’ve taken a step back after completing Vanquish once, I would love it if you took this opportunity to step back into the world of Vanquish once again. Until next time.