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. vlad's Avatar
    Walt Disney would be proud!

    WoW used to be edgy and geared toward the older nerd but its looking more and more like its going for the 12 and under audience with all these friendly happy character appearances. Blizz does a great job with the artwork. Now that they chased away it core audience though and we all have families now they want to get our kids playing or something. Hopefully whatever replaces the dead "Titan" project is geared toward grown ups.
  1. ProphetFlume's Avatar
    Oh they gave tauren the farting cloak look of male orcs when casting. =l
  1. Vaeladin's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Baronthefirst View Post
    I am sorry but this version of the Tauren looks like it has no place in the Horde. They look like big cuddly animals. Not fearsome members of the Horde. Still they are very nice and I can see they have come along quite a bit.
    If that's what you think then you have ZERO idea what the Horde is even about. The tauren are a race of peaceful nomads. Not blood-thirsty mongrels. And the horde isn't just some faction made up of 'fearsome warriors'.
  1. mstieler's Avatar
    Wow. This is the first revamp that appears to have done something drastic, but if a very good way. The face looks less... I dunno. I want to go with "less like a line drawing", and that's close but not quite. The hair looks so much nicer.
  1. Yelmurc's Avatar
    Does anyone else feel like it would be awesome if they made a few variations for the animations and assign them randomly to your character upon creation? I'm not saying drastic changes just enough to notice my guy runs slight different from the guy running next to me. Would be a easy way to add some variation to the characters.
  1. OneSent's Avatar
    This is really amazing work!

  1. Alphric's Avatar
    Man, these really put the cataclysm models(goblin but especially worgen) to shame. If worgen were cleaned up and given that much expression and liveliness, I just don't know what I would do with myself...most likely race change!
  1. alabaster jones's Avatar
    Tauren being my favourite race, the race I've spent more time playing than all others combined... I think this goes too far. Tauren were always understated, quiet but strong, never wordy... all my conceptions and familiarity go out the window when I see something that looks like it just walked out of a Shrek movie simultaneously moving 11 different parts of the face while saying two words. I mean when was the last time the art team listened to a Tauren (male) speaking? They sound like they're talking out of the side of their mouth, reluctantly, not like they're enunciating and wiggling their eyebrows while darting their head left and right faster than a being of that size comfortably could (without pulling a muscle in the neck). It was absolutely possible to update the look without changing the character, but this... thing just looks alien.
  1. feellucky's Avatar
    I've played a Tauren warrior for years and I do like these new models, definitely a huge improvement but I would like to see perhaps a few things to give them a bit of a fierce edge.

    1. Scars or body paint/tattoos, to go with broken horn. I'm sure some of the other color variations will look more menacing than brown though.

    2. Smoke/breath coming out of the nostrils at certain times, like cold zones and when enraged/angry, maybe even a reddening of the eyes. Cartoon bull like but not over the top.

    Just a couple ideas, overall amazing job so far, keep it up!
  1. Fog's Avatar
    Tauren's my favourite race, both appereance and lore. Now they are even more awesome. Awwww yiss.
  1. Mormolyce's Avatar
    Can't wait to get my hands on it. Really want to see it in armour.
  1. xanos's Avatar
    Love it, looks great!
  1. Mormolyce's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by vlad View Post
    Walt Disney would be proud!
    If we're talking art style here it's closer to say Pixar or Dreamworks. Which is not a bad thing.

    Quote Originally Posted by vlad View Post
    WoW used to be edgy
  1. Roxx's Avatar
    /sigh back to horde side again.
  1. Aerofluff's Avatar
    It looks remarkably close to the original, just upgraded, so I can say they've definitely hit the mark there. I was actually very impressed when I saw how the cloak drapes over the shoulders, under the mane hair, and ends with the circles closer to the collar bone. That's a nice addition. The animated faces were impressive, too.

    I agree with the changes they intend to make, such as bending those fingers inward more, knee position, etc.
    My only, only "complaint" is that I feel like the neck hump is too exaggerated compared to the original. If you look at it in the side-by-side rotating videos, it's actually taller and more camel-like angled... the original was a nice rounded slope.
  1. Ohforfsake's Avatar
    Aaaaand here we go again, the bandwagon of "but mo-om, me wantey dem to be FIERCE, BAD, ANGRY and vewy vewy evil!". Go away pests, shoo! It's because of you we have "mad chihuahua" female worgens instead of perfect beta version, perma-snarly lockjawed bears and other stupid crap like that. Quit trying to mess up the game with your childish obsession for ugliness. Like WoW isn't grotesque enough as it is >.<
  1. ColbaneX's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Ohforfsake View Post
    Aaaaand here we go again, the bandwagon of "but mo-om, me wantey dem to be FIERCE, BAD, ANGRY and vewy vewy evil!". Go away pests, shoo! It's because of you we have "mad chihuahua" female worgens instead of perfect beta version, perma-snarly lockjawed bears and other stupid crap like that. Quit trying to mess up the game with your childish obsession for ugliness. Like WoW isn't grotesque enough as it is >.<
    Uh, I don't know what you are smoking, but the Alpha Female Worgen(they changed it IN beta) WAS more Fierce and Savage because it was more lupine than canine.
  1. Roulette Kneebasha's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Darkblade95 View Post
    I believe he said in a "future artcraft".
    Ah, thanks!
  1. Mormolyce's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by ColbaneX View Post
    Uh, I don't know what you are smoking, but the Alpha Female Worgen(they changed it IN beta) WAS more Fierce and Savage because it was more lupine than canine.
    Not really.

    But they didn't change the female Worgen model to appease EITHER camp, they changed it because they weren't happy with the earlier models.
  1. De Lupe's Avatar
    So...beautiful... That is a hell of an upgrade.

    I have high hopes for the Fem Tauren now.

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