WoW's Character Model Upgrade Shows Vastly Improved Animations

WoW's Character Model Upgrade Shows Vastly Improved Animations

Blizzard is not about to go quietly into this dark night. It's new expansion is making big changes to the character models.

Back at Blizzcon 2013 in November, Blizzard Entertainment announced the next World of Warcraft expansion, Warlords of Draenor. At this point, World of Warcraft is coming up on a decade of operation and it's become quite clear that newer race models like the Worgen, Goblins, and Pandaren, far outclass the models for the original races. So with ten years of age behind them, Blizzard has decided to redo the old models.

We've seen previews of the new models for Human female and Orc female, while the official Warlords of Draenor page has looks for Orc male, Dwarf male, Dwarf female, and Gnome male. Today, Blizzard's art team gave players a deep look into the animations you can expect with these new models. The focus of the post is the new male Tauren model.

"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," wrote World of Warcraft lead animator Steve Aguilar.

"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."

Blizzard's animation team starts by taking the old animations and applying them to the new models. They then clean up any issues that pop up, taking care to not change the poses too much. A particular focus is taken for poses that players see often, like standing and walking, but the team also adds more detail in certain areas.

"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," said Aguilar. "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."

The Tauren will also benefit from the new facial animation system created for the Pandaren in Mists of Pandaria. There's a new face mold and a whole host of preset animations for facial expressions.

When it comes to the body itself, Blizzard is doing its best to "retain the spirit of the old animations," while keeping the epic feel.

"The first thing we did when we cleaned up an animation was ask ourselves a series of questions," explained senior animator Jeremy Collins. "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?"

"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," he added. "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."

For Blizzard, the character revamp is a huge process and the overall team has broken the entire thing into multiple phases. Phase 1 includes all movement animations, emotes, and casting animations. Phase 2 takes care of combat animations, while Phase 3 is set aside for everything else, like swimming animations. This explains why the character revamps are trickling out over time.

"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," said animator David Edwards.

The upgrade in the Tauren model is great, so I'm really looking forward to seeing the Blood Elf and Draenei models. This is a change that I'm surprised wasn't present during the overhaul of the world in the Cataclysm expansion, but it's one that Blizzard sorely needed. The company's getting better at changing World of Warcraft to stave off other contenders to the throne. These new models take the fight to the upcoming release of WildStar, while the Isle of Thunder was a half-hearted answer to the growing use of the public quest system that launched in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. It's interesting that WoW continues to try to be something to everyone, even if that means some veteran fans feel the game was lost its way.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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