Artcraft — Running of the Bulls
The new male Tauren character model is here!

Originally Posted by Blizzard (Blue Tracker / Official Forums)
Hey there everyone, I’m Steve Aguilar, lead animator for the World of Warcraft animation team. Today we’re showing off the male Tauren, and with some help from the rest of the animation team, we’re going to give you a look at the animation processes we use to bring this big guy to life.

Before we even started animating him, we already knew the Tauren was going to be a blast to work on based on all of the detail the character art team added.

As we begin applying animations, we’re extra careful not to stray too far from the original. It’s important to us to retain the essence of the original animations, because how a characters walk, move, and carry themselves help to define their personality. We use all of the original animations as a starting point, and then go through the process of cleaning them up and adding additional articulation. Let’s delve into what that process looks like.

The Re-Animator (Steve Aguilar)
The normal “stand” animation is one of the most important animations because this is what you, the player, see the majority of the time. When you stop moving or walk up to an NPC, the stand is the key pose that is being used. A huge chunk of animations also rely on this pose so they can easily transition into and out of it.

When we import the original stand animation onto the new model, we then look to see if there are any weight shifts, odd rotations, or hitches that we need to fix. After we’ve cleaned up the pose, it goes through another sanity check to see if other animations will still be able to transition into and out of this new stand pose. If we happen to change the pose too much, it can cause a domino effect and possibly harm all the existing animations.

After touching up the pose, we move on to re-animating the standard idle motion. Slight changes on how muscles move, limbs are carried, or feet hit the ground can get across a better sense of weight for whatever creature it is we’re animating. Tweaking the male Tauren was a lot of fun because we were able to add a lot more weight than the previous model had and make the Tauren feel bigger and beefier. Another thing that stood out was the lack of motion on the nose ring, braids, and especially the face. With the addition of a facial rig, we were able to get his brows, nostrils, ears, and cheeks to react with his breathing motion. Getting these subtle motions to work added so much to the simple standing pose, I imagined the Tauren looking up at me and saying "thank you."

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old and new models.

Next up is Kevin to talk about the face rig and what that process entails.

Face Off (Kevin “Snap ‘n’ Point” Rucker)
Since the facial animation system worked so well with the Pandaren in Mists of Pandaria, with the updated models we wanted to add the same life and emotion they deserved. In the past the character models only had a jaw bone that could be animated, but now we’re able to add movement to the brows, eyes, cheeks and mouth. We’re able to properly make them smile, look angry, and talk.

We start with a base mesh and add joints to specific spots that will allow us to mold the face. We then add influence, or “skin” the mesh to those joints and shape them into poses: jaw open, eyebrows down or furrowed, for example. We hook up those poses to main controls to make the process of animating the face faster and more cohesive between several animators. For instance, instead of having to move 9 individual joints to shape the eyebrows, we just need to touch 2 controls which include a sub-set of attributes for more detailed shaping. After that if we still need to tweak the poses, we can always go back to the original sub controls for additive fine tuning.

We also create a “face file” with several preset expressions the animators can use while working. It’s a lot faster than creating a new pose from scratch. If they need a sad or angry face, they can start from the preset ones, and then adjust from there to make it more unique.

We also create several mouth shapes, or phonemes, for use in talking animations. Again, posing the face is time consuming, so having a jump start is extremely helpful. It also makes the character feel like it was animated by one person, when there’s actually a big group of us working on them at one time.

Body Movin’ (Jeremy “Goonies never say die” Collins)
On a certain level, how you move in the game is one of the most important things you experience as a player. It’s your main interaction with the world around you. For Warlords of Draenor, we wanted to improve the locomotion of WoW’s player characters with brand new rigs. These new rigs are capable of doing so much more in terms of fidelity of motion for our characters, and we wanted to showcase that as much as possible.

Everyone who plays WoW is familiar with their character’s idle and run animations—those are the two you see the most. We wanted to really take a look at what made the old player model animations successful, and what made them so iconic. Our job was to then retain the spirit of the old animations, but clean them up so they would look epic on the new rigs. That proved to be a really fun task. Part of the joy of cleaning up an animation like the Dwarf male’s run is going back and seeing what the original animators were thinking about when they first worked on these characters. Some of these runs and walks were animated over 10 years ago!

The first thing we did when we cleaned up an animation was ask ourselves a series of questions. What are some of the areas that could use touching up? Does the center of gravity on the character feel skewed? Is the character leaning appropriately when moving in a direction? How can we shift the timing to give this animation a greater sense of weight?

All of our rigs are manipulated with the use of controllers. Controllers are curves that drive the joints the tech artists have placed that ultimately deform deform the model you see. When we open an older animation, we’re manipulating what is called "baked data." Baked animations have keys on every attribute on every frame. In some cases, it’s necessary for us to delete some keys to make the animation curves easier to manipulate. Here’s what we see inside of Maya. Every one of those colored curves represents rotation or translation of that foot controller.

Once we had identified what needed polishing we went straight into Maya and got to work. A popular method of cleaning up locomotion animations would be saving the contact poses, major breakdowns, deleting the in-betweens, and smoothing out the motion from there.

Emotes were also super fun to work on. We would often times shoot video footage of ourselves acting out emote animations for reference—and no you don’t get to see them. We’d then use that reference as a jumping off point for setting key frames in Maya.

Glass Case of Emotion: Part I (Carman“Boba Muscles” Cheung)
For the majority of the character cleanup phase, the team focuses on three main things: cloth, hair and the face. Cloth includes a front and back tabard and a cape. Hair can be anything from a back ponytail, a front ponytail, pig tails, beards of varying sizes and shapes, or a combination of all of these. We also add facial animation, which adds a lot of character and life to the model. Occasionally, we will also fix minor posing issues or any errors, like jittering.

All of our character animations are hand keyed, and not dynamically simulated within the game engine or created through motion capture. This allows us to have complete control in shaping the movement and style for each character, and it adds a unique life to the characters you can’t really get any other way.

Glass Case of Emotion: Part II (David “Coffee Corn” Edwards)
My favorite part of the entire process is adding the facial expressions, or fixing up the timing or posing of a character. It is astounding how adding a simple facial expression can instantly bring a character to life. It’s always incredibly rewarding to take an old animation and see what even small changes can do to vastly improve it.

As a contrast, the most difficult part of the process, at least for me, is having to hold myself back from wanting to fix or adjust every little thing for every single animation. Due to the sheer volume of animations that exist for player characters, our goal of having updated models in time for Warlords of Draenor, and the need to animate all the new creatures and objects going into the expansion, we have to prioritize our time. We’ve broken the cleanup passes on character revamp animations up into phases. Phase 1 has all of the locomotion animations (walk, run, etc.) as well as all the emotes and spell casts. Phase 2 deals with the combat animations (attacks, stuns, etc.), and phase 3 is a catch-all for the remaining animations (swimming, fishing, etc.). Regardless of the phase, every animation is touched in some form or fashion, but phase 1 gets the most love since those are the animations are seen the most.

At the start of each animation we always focus on cleaning up the body first, since this motion drives all of the secondary animation. Below is a video showing the finished product after it has gone through the cleanup process.

That’s All For Now (Steve Aguilar)
Thanks for reading and letting the animation team share this part of their process with you. I hope we’re doing justice to one of your beloved characters, and that you can see the amount of love we’re applying to not only the male Tauren, but the animations for all of the characters in the game. Have a great day, and you stay classy WoW players!
This article was originally published in forum thread: Artcraft — Running of the Bulls started by Boubouille View original post
Comments 232 Comments
  1. Stoobs's Avatar

    My computer just caught on fire.
  1. Aboubacar's Avatar
    Emote video was way too cartoony I hope they touch these up a little more because atm looks a bit ridiculous. Rest of the videos look really nice however.
  1. Buu's Avatar
    Tauren face is finally AWESOME!!!! BTW, "no ETA" never sounded like "just one week after the April's Fool Joke". That was one welcome surprise.
  1. cptaylor38's Avatar
    This is really boring. The animations are an improvement. But when we compare this Pixar character to something like the Taunka or Yangol or whatever, it's kind of difficult to have that much appreciation for the model.

    I feel like for a majority of these, they stayed far too close to the original design. I'm sure some people prefer that, but hopefully by their 20th anniversary they will get around to sub-races, not that it will matter for me by then.

    Would have been nice if they provided two completely different models, one that actually looks intimidating and then the Disney/Pixar children's movie characters that look like the old models with more animations. Just feel they could look a little cooler if they weren't bound to changing as little as possible.

    Especially when you think about the fact that you're not zoomed into your characters face for a majority of the game and most people wear helmets. There goes how many hours worth of animation ignored and pointless? And the rest you certainly won't see with gear on and will get old quickly. I feel like changing the overall silhouette of the characters could have made a larger impact. Upgrading the appearance, creating more animations, and adding more shading just won't be noticed that long.

    At the very least, perhaps if they had focused more on providing other kinds of customization, like adjusting height, weight, and giving more hair and horn styles with these updates THEN they would hold value longer. But nope.

    Still hoping for good Draenei, Night Elf, and Blood Elf. But not holding my breath on anything but old models with animated faces and more muscle definition despite how much I'd love to have Draenei males and females with longer tails and way more horn selections.
  1. Aeilon's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Alenarien View Post
    First model I don't really like. Reminds me of Sully from Monsters Inc.; big, fluffy and not very scary/intimidating at all.
    While I like it compared to what it is atm, I do agree that took the goofy animation style a little too far in general. I don't like the style, but putting my personal preference aside they did an amazing job creating these new models.
  1. Karot's Avatar
    Very impressive! Such a talented art team (as always)! I can't wait to see the male troll model revamp!
  1. StationaryHawk's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by officerlahey View Post
    Emote video was way too cartoony I hope they touch these up a little more because atm looks a bit ridiculous. Rest of the videos look really nice however.
    The emotes are going to be exaggerated. We've seen this in every new model and we're probably going to keep seeing it.
  1. Nightcrwler's Avatar
    I miss playing Tauren I'd roll so many Tauren toons if I were Horde. Looks awesome
  1. Amber Lemur's Avatar
    I love it, really. The amount of effort looks staggering and I love being able to see the process, the slightest tweaks make the difference and it's awesome. Cannot WAIT to see females, my hopes are raised Blizz, don't dash them ;P

    And yeah people calm down about the whole 'not mean enough' argument, Tauren are actually more or less a peaceful people but like any person have the ability to be savage by their own nature and not defined by race. So, stop being racists, I'm sure there will be calm faces and more angry faces, as each race in game pretty much has that if you look.
  1. jna's Avatar
    wow.. new models are so fluid and alive.. It makes the old ones look like robots.

    Still waiting for nelfs.
  1. Rustedsaint's Avatar
    I feeling so much rage, wheeere is my female Draenei!
    The only pics of tauren I want to see are them being served up with an baked potate, smothered in streak rub.
  1. Golden Yak's Avatar
    Spectacular. Gonna have to dust off my warrior when this model hits.
  1. voxTree's Avatar
    I LOVE it... I'm honestly most excited for female tauren, I really hope they give females more diversity when it comes to hairstyles and faces. Seeing the male's animations really blows me away though, they look fantastic!!!
  1. Merany's Avatar
    Amagawd the tail is no longer glued to the cape!

    I hope the female version will be as awesome, I like taurens, but I just can't stand looking at my druid...
  1. lolzsec's Avatar
    Awesome is an understatement. I'm glad they showed working movements for tauren, here, take my money
  1. Clone's Avatar
    I am really surprised by how well this one turned out.
  1. felixity's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by officerlahey View Post
    Emote video was way too cartoony I hope they touch these up a little more because atm looks a bit ridiculous. Rest of the videos look really nice however.
    More cartoony than the squares and rectangles they're made out of currently? ..Cartoony? The game full of bright colors, pop culture references, and poop jokes? Maybe you're in the wrong game.
  1. Sacrelis's Avatar
    I...don't understand the rage displayed in this thread. Even back in TBC when I look at Taurens, they were (still am) this big cuddly bull that stand between my squishy ass and all those that wants to stick pointy sticks at me. (Most taurens rolled warriors cause of OP stam buff back then, or druids cause they are the only ones who can). Taurens have always gave me the impression of the quiet gentle protector, now extra cuddly lol


    In my opinion, that old tauren model is without any expression, leaving room for imagination to fill in the blanks, that's where the difference in opinion comes from.
  1. mykro9's Avatar
    He is beautibull! Okay, I had to say it.
  1. delciotto's Avatar
    I felt a need to make this when i saw it in the first video, i don't know why

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