[Dev Blog] Poppy’s New Animations
Poppy’s rework features facial animation tech that’s never been used in League before. Check out how it all works:
Hey everyone! Paul â€œPartiestCatâ€ Jarvis here. I was in charge of driving the style and direction for how Poppy moves and wanted to give you all a little behind-the-scenes look on how we approached the animation for Demaciaâ€™s tiniest hammer delivery service.
Okay, quick animation history lesson. Thereâ€™s a set of animation principles that most animators follow that dictate and drive the choices we make when building out the motion for characters and they cover topics like posing, exaggeration, and visual/emotional appeal. One principle in particular — squash and stretch â€“ is something weâ€™ve adapted as a fundamental aspect to Leagueâ€™s in-house animation style. Broadly speaking, squash and stretch helps a character feel organic and alive. Itâ€™s used to emphasise weight, momentum, and speed of objects by warping and distorting their shape. When we use more extreme versions of these distortions to connect our most important â€œkeyâ€ poses, we call them smears or â€œsmear frames;â€ single distorted frames between broad actions. Using smears helps to sell impacts on spells, attacks, or any super-quick motion. A championâ€™s animation needs to feel awesome in fractions of seconds, and smears help by adding texture and flavor between exaggerated motions.
Back to Poppy.
Yordles are squishy. I donâ€™t mean that literally, but their short stature gives them lots of wiggle room for us to exaggerate how they move. Poppy has a tiny frame, so itâ€™s also important that we can make her motion broad enough to not be hidden under her big Yordle head. Ideally, she should never LOOK like sheâ€™s made of rubber, but her motions should have a certain extra snap to them to keep her feeling energetic and punchy.
We kept the same mindset with the motion of her hammer, but Iâ€™ll get to that below.
Historically, League isnâ€™t the kind of game that normally needs facial animation. The camera angle and distance from your champion normally means a characterâ€™s face only takes up a handful of pixels on-screen at any moment and extra detail actually makes it harder to understand what is happening. As animators, we wanted to challenge that idea, and our early tests actually showed us that her expression changes were fully readable and felt like they added a lot to her personality.
In terms of her character rig (the set of bones that allow us to move our characters around), Poppy is the first champion in League to be built from the ground up to support such a wide range of facial expressions. Every champion has a budget in terms of rig complexity, so we had to be smart about how we fine-tuned her model and facial setup. Many high-end character rigs in modern games have more bones in the face alone than all of Poppy combined, so the challenge was to give us the widest control with the least amount of resources.
Just to get technical stuff out of the way, Poppyâ€™s face is only 11 joints in all:
- 3 per eye (pupil, upper eyelid/eyebrow, and eye shape)
- 3 to shape the mouth
- 1 for the upper bridge of teeth
- 1 for the jaw
After working closely with our tech artist (and waves and waves of iteration), we landed on what you see above. We were able to get a surprising amount of flexibility out of such a simple setup!
The first thing I did with Poppy was to carve out a set of base expressions to feel out her emotional range, and then develop them until that we all felt confident about the direction. Once we had a solid foundation, we were able to focus on the expressive timing â€“ finding punctuated moments during and after her abilities and attacks where the expressions could be clearly seen. When you only have a fraction of a second to sell an attack, communicatingÂ a clear change in mood is really important.
Poppyâ€™s hammer is just as important as she is and we really wanted to reflect that in her animations. Why not give her hammer the same degree of personality that we give to the Yordle that wields it? We spent some time going back and forth about what kind of shapes we needed the hammer to make, which parts we wanted to push and pull, and which parts needed to twist, distort, or grow and shrink.
Squashing, stretching, and smearing is just as important for the hammer as it is for Poppy, so we needed to crank it up to 11. The head of the hammer scales to cartoonish sizes for single frames so you can really feel the force behind the swing, and the neck of the hammer bends to compensate. With a little sorcery and a lot of clever rigging we were able to build really clean smear trails for the hammer that gave us a nice, stylised alternative to motion blur. Itâ€™s a more traditional animation method that meshed really well with how we normally animate our champions.
Lastly, take a look at the most extreme case that brings everything together: the swing of her fully-charged Keeperâ€™s Verdict.
Thatâ€™s about it! Weâ€™re always looking for new ways to improve champion experiences and bring out the best in every single rework we do. The whole team is extremely excited and proud to see Poppy out in the world, and hope you enjoy playing her as much as we enjoyed making her!
Thanks for reading!
If you have any questions, feel free to ask me atÂ @NoL_ChefoÂ or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.