Animators Schooled on Character Movement at GDC

Day two of the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Calif. was devoted to day-long tutorial workshops such as Leslie Bishko’s and Jana Wilcoxen’s seminar, “Making Characters Move: Expressive Character Acting Through Laban Movement Analysis.”

By screening clips from the Disney/Pixar CG blockbuster Monsters, Inc. and video games like The Getaway, Bishko and Wilcoxen illustrated how game character animation often lacks realistic, motivated movement. They believe that by applying the Laban framework for observing, describing and interpreting human movement, game animators and developers can endow their characters with the same depth of expression that the Disney principle has been able to achieve.

Laban Movement Analysis is based on the observation that human movement is a process of change that is patterned and orderly. The balance between function and expression, stability and mobility and exertion and recuperation is determined by context so that, for example, stomping on a bug and the angry stamp of the foot don’t look like the same movement.

All movement is effort, and understanding the subtleties of effort is important in motion capture direction and especially keyframe animation, according to the presenters. Bishko notes that effort is what gets you from one keyframe pose to the next, and that there is a natural flow that must be recognized in order to make the movement look natural and convey the intended emotion and attitude.

The tutorial included a lot of participation from the audience of animators, developers and art directors. The presenters got people up out of their seats to walk around the room, negotiate imaginary obstacles and engage in fencing duels. Each person was asked to create a character in their mind, become that character and apply the Laban principles to the way that character moved and reacted to the environment.

The study of kinesiology has long been an essential part of the animation process. As advances in game engines allow for more complexities in digital assets, Bishko and Wilcoxen feel it is time game animators began focusing on making their characters truly come to life in both gameplay and cut-scene cinematics.

For to learn more about Laban Movement Analysis and its application to all forms of character animation, visit Bishko’s website at http://www.eciad.ca/~lbishko.