What is your preferred way of doing animations in 2D?
Most of you will probably answer “spritesheets”, and you’d be right. Creating animations using spritesheets is quick, easy, there are helpful resources on the net and if you work with an external artist, he only needs to give you the individual frames of the animation (which also makes his life easy).
You would want to have a framerate of at least 12 for your animations, and you soon end up with something like this:
And with minimal effort, you can write code that loads this and displays it as an animation [SpriteSheetAnimation.zip]
All is well in the world, until you realize your game needs LOTS of animations and the memory consumption goes way up, together with the time required to load all the data. Also, to limit the size, you need to limit yourself to a low FPS for the animation (like 12), which also means the animation doesnâ€™t look as smooth as youâ€™d like. This is where skeletal animation comes in.
When using skeletal animation, the animation is composed of several bones which are connected to one another. Affecting a bone also affects all of its children. By composing different transformations on each bone, you obtain different poses for the skeleton.
Now, if you define keyframes with certain transformations for a point in time for each of the bones in the skeleton, you can interpolate between the keyframes to obtain a smooth transition and thus animate the skeleton.
In the attached code, I used a class named Transformation, which contains data about 2D transformations, like translation, rotation and scale. Then, a Keyframe is defined by a frame number and one such Transformation. A collection of Keyframes defines a KeyframeAnimation. Finally, a SkeletonAnimation is a collection of KeyframeAnimations, one for each bone in the skeleton.
Separately, I use a Skeleton, which keeps a list of Joints that define the hierarchy of bones in the skeleton. Each bone is then assigned a certain texture, like the ones below:
Each of the parts are individually animated relative to their parent bone, and thus the animation is obtained. In the sample, the animation is stored in two XML files that are loaded directly into a Skeleton (see machine_skeleton.xml ) and a SkeletonAnimation (see machine_animation.xml ) using the ContentPipeline at runtime. Hereâ€™s a video of the sample using skeleton animation:
As you can see, it runs much smoother than the initial frame-based animation. Also, looking at the resources used, the amount of texture data loaded into memory is significantly reduced (from 5.12 Mb to only 73Kb).
A word on how the XML file was generated. There are multiple options here.
- make a tool for editing animations, where you would set-up the positions of each frame and serialize it to disk using the IntermediateSerializer.
- let your artist create the animation in a software of is choice that can output the keyframes to XML, and then write a small program that converts that XML in the suitable format to be loaded by the Content Pipeline. For the animation above, I used a Flash animation created by a friend, exported the keyframes to ActionScript3 XML, and then converted that XML into the one you can see in the sample. (I wonâ€™t release that mini-tool however, since its code is a mess thrown together in about 1 hour).
A word of warning: while skeletal animation helps solve some problems with memory, loading times, smoothness, it is not a silver bullet. The amount of detail that can go into a normal sprite-sheet animation far surpasses what can be done with a skeletal animation. In skeletal animations you are limited to certain transformations on each â€˜pieceâ€™ of the animation: translate, rotate, scale, flip. Meanwhile, frame-based animation allows the artist to add any kind of effect he likes.
I hope you enjoyed this sample. Feel free to leave any feedback and questions below.
Until next time,