I'm working on a fangame project as an animator and I got a list of animations to make that looks like this:

  • Idle
  • Run
  • Punch
  • Swim
  • etc.

Now, an anim like Idle or a walk cycle will be fairly obvious in how should it look like without further description, but a "Punch" will need to be defined by something more than the word itself, while run animations can have multiple variations depending on character's speed (which is notable in TPP console games due to to them using analog stick).

So this list automatically raises the following two questions:

  1. How do you establish what animations will your game require? I know they will be based on the animation states, but that's all I can guess - unless I answered my own question right there and that's entirely dependent on whatever system is designed with the animation state machine in the game.

  2. Is there a standard for describing gameplay animations to an animator so that he knows how should they look, and especially what are the limitations and expectations, like how long should it be, what animations should precede it and succeed, etc. In other words, in the above list, what information should each animation contain before it is handed over to the animator? Is there a industry-standard template or term for that? I'm assuming there isn't one, but I would expect some factors/data to appear over and over again, kind of like with Game Design Docs.

This is my first time making an entire set of animations for a video game, so I don't really know what questions should I ask.


2 Answers 2


If I'm understanding correctly, you are an animator, but are writing your questions from the perspective of a project manager or team leader, rather than from your own perspective. So my answers are written from the same perspective as your questions.

  1. How do you establish what animations will your game require?

With planning. Sit down with a notepad or your word processor, and write down all of the actions you want players to be able to take and what animations will be required.

Next, draw a state machine flowchart which includes all of the actions/animations, and any necessary transitions between them. Not only will this help you, but you can give it to the animator so they understand how everything fits together.

Later on, you'll most likely realize there are additional animations that you need which you didn't think of. That's fine; just update your flow chart.

  1. Is there a standard for describing gameplay animations to an animator so that he knows how should they look?

With illustrations. Depending on the skill set of the team, you might give the animator storyboards, or you might even draw a rough 2D animation that conveys the motion you want the animator to reproduce in 3D.

If you don't have anyone on the team with any illustration experience, but the animations are for a humanoid character, you can record a video of someone acting out the animation. Or, you can search the web for similar animations to use as references. If you absolutely can't provide any better form of reference, you can try a detailed description, though some artists don't make much effort to follow the details of a complex description.

After working with an animator for a while, you'll most likely get into a rhythm where the animator has a good idea of how you want things to look and doesn't need as much reference material to nail down an animation.

Additional thoughts for you as the animator:

In some cases, an inexperienced team won't have much idea what kind of animations they'll need, and won't be able to answer many questions or provide flowcharts/illustrations. In that case, you should have a serious discussion with the team to figure out what kind of workflow they're looking for. They might be happy for you to come up with a set of animations that you think are adequate and then they'll tweak gameplay as needed to work with those animations. Or they might want you to throw together a bunch of sloppy placeholder animations and later they'll decide what they really need and ask you to refine it.

The worst case scenario is that the team is very hands on but has no idea what they actually want. In that case, you're likely to waste a lot of time making animations that never get used, or making endless revisions to certain animations (which still might never get used). In this type of situation, unless they are paying you hourly and you don't mind the work, you'll need to set some ground rules about how many animations you'll make and how many revisions you're willing to do per animation.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Basing the anims off the anim state machine and knowing it will change is a good starting point - what I'll do now is just research the existing state machine we have and base my work on it. Thanks a lot! \$\endgroup\$
    – Delano762
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 15:50

I'll be focusing on game play animations. Also, I'll assume there might be things they haven't figured out (given that it is a fan game, I have no idea how well organized the project is).

Before we get into that, I want to mention that cinematic animation is probably story-boarded and blocked out in engine. And also that you would have stronger direction for it (what the characters want and feel), and there is a known camera shot for every animation. And it might require to animate to voice recordings.

Also know there might be animations that don't get used, and animations that don't get done in time. In general we should minimize those cases... But don't see animations unused as wasted effort. They might still use them in an expansion of the game, and you are gaining experience. And as long as you get paid, that is all good. Also unused animations might still be portfolio for you.

The job of game play animation is to communicate

What do they communicate?

  • The state of the character to the player. So you will have animations for different states, and they ideally they should be easy to read - usually that would mean good silhouette, but since the camera might not be fixed, you need to look at them from many angles and make sure it is understandable what the character is doing.
  • The personality of the character. So you will have some global direction about the character that applies to all the animations. Caveat: Animation might be reused between multiple characters, so it is often key characters that get special treatment.

Without breaking immersion (so the animation needs to convey physicality and work in context with the rest of the game).

Sure, there are animation states. But before there are animation states, there might be states (i.e. the character controller is implemented as a state machine, and they know in advance which are the states and which are the transitions between them).

And to be begin with you want to communicate in which state the character is with animations. But also, the animations must blend together well... So they might tell you to start or end the animation in specific poses.

In fact, they might also decide it is better to create blending animations, which are not attached to a state, but to a transition between states.

I'm assuming this is beyond your role, so they would have decided this before it gets to you.

How to describe animations

I'm unaware of an industry standard to describe game play animations (and being a fan game, I don't know if they'd follow one if there were). Thus, you need to talk.

Ideally they give you animation references for what they want you do to. They might not have them, and instead convey the animation via descriptions, and gesturing in the air. But references is what you want, ask for references.

Here being a fan game is likely to have a strength: They probably have references, because they are fans of the thing they are making the game based on, so they can reference that thing.

Perhaps they don't know what they want, or nobody knows how or has put the effort to get a good reference, or whatever. In which case you would have to find - or make - them yourself. I would suggest to consider them as proposals, because it might not be checking if the references match what they want, but discovering together what to do instead.

What kind of references? They might be animations in other video games (if it is a fan game of another video, that should not be a problem). Or something sketched on pencil and paper - as storyboard or even a flip-book. But nothing beats video of the actions being performed (which will have correct and realistic physicality).

Barring live action video, I submit to your consideration: toys. Put a smartphone on a base, have it record video, and do the animation with a toy in front of the camera, and use the resulting video for reference.

With that said, don't expect references to be perfect. I remind you that they are not a replacement for the actual animation. So they come with notes attached (e.g. "it is like that, but faster", "like this, but keeping the head upright", you get the idea).

Be aware that they might be expecting to iterate with you on the animations. So you make animations that do what they ask, and you show them, and they tell you tweak them one way or the other, and repeat.

Yes, there might be a duration requirement. I want to put emphasis that there might not be an animation length specified for every animation. Because sometimes they don't know and will work around what you do, and sometimes the plan always was to speed it up or slow it down in engine according to what they need. But, I assure you that if you ask for a duration range (how short is too short, and how long is too long) they have a good idea.

As I was saying above, they should tell you if the animation needs to start or end in specific poses.

They should also tell you if the animation is a cycle. And I don't just mean if they loop (e.g. they start and end on the same pose), but if they represent an steady continuous motion.

In fact, they might want to break animations in three. For a run animation, it might be:

  • Speed up
  • Cycle (and this part should loop)
  • Slow down

For an attack animation, it might be:

  • Windup
  • Strike
  • Recovery

This not necessarily mean to split the animation and give three instead of one (unless they ask for that), but there will be specific times in the animation (e.g. they tell you how much time the windup should last, and so on).

And, yes, some animations will have variations. For example, there might be different idle fidgets that will be played at random.

It is a good idea to agree proper names to the variations, so you can communicate better. For example, in the case of running at different speeds, English has plenty of movement verbs to use, such as: stroll, walk, jog, run, sprint, dash.

Is "Punch" a good description?

"Punch" might be OK as description. It depends on the game. You have a wide range from tactic games to fighting games.

For some games any kind of hit forward is OK - even a kick might be OK, as long as it conveys that the character is hitting forward, and works well with the character personality. But, I'd stick with what they said. They said punch, then it is punch.

For other games you would need a description of the kind of punch... Is it a hook, an uppercut, a jab...? They probably mean a jab, but you might ask.

For some games it might even matter if the punch is skewed up or down, or even left or right. Either because there are different mechanics attached to that, or because this allows them to blend them to make the character punch in an specific direction.

However, given that they just said "Punch", it is likely that the specific kind of punch does not matter. Because in the cases it matters, there would likely be multiple punch animations, each with a different description. But, again, you might ask.

Addendum: Consider the case where it does not matter as an opportunity to inject the personality of the character.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the detailed answer, this will help for sure as well! Figuring out if each anim requires a breakdown into more anims is definitely something I'll have to consider, and I'll look into states as well. \$\endgroup\$
    – Delano762
    Commented Aug 2, 2023 at 15:58

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