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I need help with workflow suggestions for a flash game. (although the concepts would apply to other game engines, too).

In a game like: Hero Academy

There are several different character models each with a multiplicity of animations (walking, standing, getting hurt, attacking, etc.). I am certain that each of these could be manually animated and a sprite sheet generated and used, but when you add up how many animations and core drawings would be needed...that would be near insanity to complete.

So, in research I found that some are creating character models in Blender, Maya, a 3d engine of some kind - setting the camera angle to 45deg, etc. animating and exporting that sprite.

In each of these examples however, the character models were 3d looking i.e.: 3d to 2d

When I look at Hero Academy, they still look like a 2d drawing.

If I am looking to re-create a similar art style to Hero Academy and need several animations per model what is the most efficient/correct workflow to creating the animation? Manually creating each animation sprite in Flash? Or utilizing 3d and texturing it to look 2d?(if that is even possible)?

EDIT: Thank you to all those who have posted great answers. To add information to the concept, one 'issue' I am contending with is the modeling/view of our desired game. To further clarify, if you look at Hero Academy's grid system (a la chess board) if you wanted an entity to be able to move vertically or diagonally this would need it's own sprites. However, is this still a simple 2d side scrolling game since the camera is fixed? And they have simply designed the background map to have the EFFECT of perspective?

If that is the case, then using Nuoji's comments, a 2d skeleton would then again be possible.

The base question is: if we are looking at close to 100 different character entities all with their own movement animation, long and close range attack animations, taunts, etc. what is the most expeditious method of doing this?

Note that I have experience in programming but no design/modeling experience. Whether we went the flash animation route or 3d modeling route I would be learning from scratch so any previous skill or preference is nullified.

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Note that by using isometric view you also need at one image per facing, unlike the side-view look of HA where simple mirroring works. The perspective also makes animating a 2D skeleton like in HA pretty much impossible. –  Nuoji Jul 19 '12 at 1:37
    
Nuoji, how does vertical/diagonal movement work in side-view? Is it just handeled by a new sprite animation? See edit for entire criteria. –  w00tw00t111 Jul 19 '12 at 3:46
    
HA does not have vertical facings, so diagonal/vertical movement uses the horizontal movement animation. With mirroring, this ensures that they only need to construct a single version of the animation. The reason why mirroring doesn't work is obvious from this: i35.tinypic.com/ncifwh.jpg Basically if you mirror then it will look like they attack each other from the side... –  Nuoji Jul 19 '12 at 12:05
    
So if vertical and diagonal movement animations were wanted we could still mirror the attacks and left/right movement but would need to animate vertical/downward movement and left-up/right-up and left-down/right-down movement. Again, greatly increasing the animation need. So for efficiency purposes making the character stay facing the same direction and just moving their x,y coordinates vertical/diagonal would be much more efficient (animation-wise)? –  w00tw00t111 Jul 19 '12 at 16:26
    
It's not a matter of animations as much as angles. For isometric, using two sides facing each other are completely different (one is character front view, the other back view), whereas in the HA perspective the two sides facing each other may be mirrors of each other. Secondly, skeletal 2D animation like in HA is hard if not impossible to do in a isometric view. –  Nuoji Jul 19 '12 at 20:05
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2 Answers 2

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After looking at the trailer in your link, they are indeed hand-drawn sprites. The animation seems smooth, so I wouldn't be surprised if they used some sort of skeletal 2D animation. This style involves drawing the movable parts of the character separately, so limbs, head, etc are separate sprites and they are posed and rotated accordingly to create keyframes, and tween the animation by code.

The other method as you mentioned, would be to make 3D models and export their animations individually for use in a 2D medium. If you are familiar with 3D modeling, this approach can be a lot quicker. You'd make your keyframes and tween them as usual but you will be able to export the entire animation as a sequence of images ready to be used in your game.

Ultimately, it depends on the aesthetic you want to achieve. Skeletal animation isn't suited for complex deformations.

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Yes, Hero Academy probably uses a 2D skeleton. Also, it uses the old 2D fighter trick of mirroring graphics when changing facing. –  Nuoji Jul 19 '12 at 1:33
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3D models are certainly a possibility. A 3D model with the combination of cell shading could easily achieve this effect. Project zomboid, while not really cartoon looking, doesn't look very much like 3D models when their animations are playing. However, as they said in a post about animation, they indeed use 3D models to generate their animations.

However, from the looks of it, Hero Academy looks like 2D art that's been attached to a skeletal system and animated. For example, their appears to be no 3D rotation of any of the limbs or head. They only rotate around an axis normal to the screen.

Using the 2D skeleton will allow you to attach the same animations to multiple characters.

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