From static images to making art come alive; today we focus on Animation as the advent calendar returns to iGaming development and production.

From having a vision about the game, to getting all the details down in a design document, via making research and sketches to decide the theme, we have so far reached as far as the creation of art for the casino slot. On December 4th our calendar journey ventured into the world of art – all the different components, how they are created, with what tools and in what order. The next step in the process is animating the art into motion, which is a job where some tasks and steps are standardized, but most are not since working routines are affected by preference, habit, team composition and more. Here is how it is done at Gaming Corps, by our Senior Animator Juliano Castro.

At the very beginning of the art process Juliano is present but gives the artists their creative license, without posing any technical or practical limitations. This is to make sure that brainstorming, theme exploration, research, sketching and testing out ideas is not creatively hampered. He makes sure to be present; listening in and providing feedback, being an integral part of the process from the start. The relationship between artists and animators is extremely important, it needs to be close, open and honest, be built on great communication and structure.

Once the sketches are in that early phase where the artist needs a reality check, the animator steps in with the first feedback. It is an iterative process where the artist shares his/her work, the animator guides and makes suggestions, and then another round of sketching follows as details are pinned down. Once the art is near completion, the animator must provide more constrictions in the sense that within the framework created, there will be limitations to what can and can’t be done, and what will work best when turning art into motion and creating an attractive casino slot. The work of the animator is very technical and he/she must be proficient in conveying the technical and mechanical reality to the art team and thus help move the product along.

Juliano points out that his job is not to create the visual, but to give life to it. The task is to take someone else’s creation, set the mood and the style, and increase the effect of what is already there by making it come alive.

Communication is as mentioned very important, and with that also comes trust, and settling into a routine as an artist/animator team. Juliano will provide basic instructions and then the art team will deliver a component for animation. Depending on what is being animated (a background, a character etc.), and depending on the working routines of the art/animator team, there may be more or less room to play with it and add that extra shine. Juliano’s process is to first do the first basic version of the animation, called the blocking, consisting of basic poses and basic timing. If for instance the object is a ballerina the blocking might be to make her spin. Once the ballerina is spinning, Juliano consults the artists and if the animation is as planned and on track, he will add more of his own ideas into the animation, for instance adding visual effects, gold sparkles around her head, or something “extra” on top. How this type of work flows between artist and animator is very individual and of course the longer a team has worked together, the more they develop their own style of collaboration.

As mentioned in the entry on December 4th, the delivery of components from the artist to the animator is done in parts. Before the Ikea package of pieces is delivered, the first point on the agenda is to have a discussion with the art team about what pieces should be sent over to start with. Let’s say the component in question is the ballerina – Juliano will ask for the full image and a number of parts, which and how many depending on the purpose and visual of the component. Head, legs, arms, ballerina skirt, ponytail etc.

The work of the animator is done one small component at a time. If the art team starts by delivering the head of the ballerina, then Juliano cuts and extracts all the different details of the head – mouth, brow, chin, cheeks, neck etc. The hair will most likely need to be done in several parts as it will move when she moves, so it can’t all be in one piece. Juliano will also need to paint the space behind the hair when it moves, so that there is not an empty space. So from Ikea package the next step in the process is an even more detailed level of deconstruction in order to ensure that all the tiny parts needed to make the movement credible are in place. From one character there can be many animations, and several needed for the game, so the first batch of parts of the ballerina may not be sufficient. Then the animator goes back to the artist and asks for more parts in order to be able to cover all the needed animations.

Juliano works in a program called Spine which allows for the basic construction of animations, in which the characters are treated much like puppets. The process starts by building a skeleton, called a rig, and contours for all the parts. So if the rig is for the head of the ballerina, the skeleton is actually a skeleton to a degree and the contours cover the eyes, brow, the chin etc. Then the artwork of the parts are put on top of the rig which will allow the animator to move the character in the same way as a human would move. Once the parts are in place, the movements are created, and that is done pose by pose. Eventually Juliano starts timing the poses into finished animations, refining the movements to a composition that will be pleasing for the eye of the player. The pace and character of the movements need to match the overall flow of the game.

When it comes to timing and how long the animated segments are, it all depends on the needs. A casino slots needs to be very synchronized, hence that also applies to the animations. Take for instance the symbols and the way they react when appearing on the reels. They will all have some kind of movement or visual effect and that needs to have consistent timing, so if one symbol has a 2 second animation all symbols need to have a 2 second animation.

Animation work is very complex, qualified work where each component is time consuming. How long does one animation take? If we use the example of a simple one: a football symbol that spins around when on the reel. It won’t just spin, it will also have some light effect or glow or other effect so that it is attractive. Making that football spin, glow and more takes 1,5-2 days. If the animation is for a Wild symbol or Bonus symbol, which needs to really stand out and send the message to the player that “here is something of value”, it will need more effects and thus take longer.

The featured calendar video shows a short timelapse sequence of Juliano doing some testing of a finished character for the polishing of the animation. As one can see from the video the “skeleton” shows via the visible joints of the reindeer which can be manipulated in different directions.

Once all the assets are created for a game – static art and animations – the coding of the game can commence. We will return to that phase of the iGaming development process on December 10th when the topic is front end development. See you then!