Planet Zoo’s animal animation tools are “too good for games”

Never work with animals or children, that’s what they tell you in the ‘biz. Too unpredictable, requires a lot of attention and cannot be controlled. But Frontier took a closer look at these seemingly negative attributes with the new Planet Zoo management simulation, and displays them as proof of each animal’s authenticity.

The many birds and beasts featured in Planet Zoo are incredibly detailed, and to get them to this point the studio had to get all eyes on them. While telling us about how Planet Zoo is a wild and endearing hybrid of the studio’s previous games, Planet Zoo game director Piers Jackson pointed out the research and work that goes into creating each of these believable creatures. The way animals move, look, and behave was a top priority for Frontier, and solving that challenge was to capture the unpredictability of wildlife.

Much of the responsibility for nailing this fell on the shoulders of the animation department. While at the studio, we took the opportunity to talk to Planet Zoo lead animator Chris March and lead animation programmer Ollie Powell about the challenge of creating something so organic and natural using tools. which are based on structure and code.

PCGN: You said that part of your job at Planet Zoo is “bringing animal animation to life”. Could you explain the process behind this?

Chris Marais: Everyone has an expectation when they see something. They have a subconscious expectation of how something is going to behave or if the weight of something feels right, or if the timing is right. When it comes to animals, people think they are experts. They’ve all seen the nature of documentaries and they’ve all seen David Attenborough’s shows. For us, it’s about doing what their expectations are.

The animation is saying, “Are people really going to believe what I put in the game?” “

Chris Marais

Principal moderator

This is how something is believable or not and game development has an extra layer where sometimes something amazing happens in real life and it’s like, “If I put that in the game, folks. are not going to believe it “. There’s that constant judgmental cry of “If I put this in the game, are people going to buy it?” “.

The animation is like, “Are people really going to believe this thing that I put in the game?” Is it credible when they see it happening? ‘. So for animals, it’s about measuring whether people are expecting it. People have seen chimpanzees grooming each other and they have also seen lions roar …

Ollie Powell: Yeah, people are experts because they watch documentaries and they have a lot more knowledge than they think about how certain things behave like what the manners of a chimpanzee are.

CM: I think if you asked someone pointing at something and saying, “Oh, that’s a bad animation.” They might not be able to give the reasons, but the real reason is that nothing they saw in the animation is believable. When you choose to put an animal in your game and give animations, it’s a constant balance between “This thing that I put in this game, will the person playing it believe it and understand it?” “. Sometimes you can go too far, you can choose behaviors that are too obscure.

animal antics

animal antics

We’ve all wondered what the new Frontier game would be like and now that Planet Zoo has been announced we’ve spoken to Game Director Piers Jackson about what we can expect from the new studio management sim.

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Can you give an example of a behavior that surprised you in your research on animals?

CM: We do a lot of social calling and animal vocalizations, and we work quite closely with the audio team. We have a very good relationship with them and we will often bounce things back and forth. Sometimes we say, “I need to make this social call for this animal, do you have the audio for that? “. And they’ll play something for us and we’ll say, ‘No, that’s not useful’, and they’ll say, ‘No, that’s what’s happening!’.

With the big cats there is a lot of noises they make and then the low vocalizations. It’s very like, ‘Okay, that’s very interesting. I did not know “. With Planet Zoo, the balance we’re trying to find is education, and maybe there’s something that someone hasn’t seen or heard before – then you educate them. I think there is a limit where you don’t want to ask them to extend their belief too far.

OP: A big goal in general has been to find the time and space to do all of these nice animal frills because it’s such an expensive thing to do. These identity animations and sounds really convey the character of the animals, and that’s what we tried to do.

We want to meet a chimpanzee which is presumably a chimpanzee. They do chimpanzee stuff

Ollie Powell

Animation programmer

We want to meet a chimpanzee who is presumably a chimpanzee, like a chimpanzee grooming another chimpanzee. You put them in your habitat and when they do, you’re like, “Yeah that’s what chimpanzees do, chimpanzee stuff.”

What are the smallest details that went into animal animations?

CM: The animation rigs that we have on some of our creatures, it’s crazy how detailed they are. They’re too good for all games, really. We have a whole additive partial system to spice up certain walking cycles for animals, for example. We will have an additive animation that is on a random trigger. So you will never see the same walking cycle twice as the eyes will always do something different or the ears and tail movements will be different.

OP: When you layer all the things we have like the look of the head, the planting of the feet, and the ragdoll – in the animation layers you start to see a lot of things emerge that you weren’t expecting, even though we test it over and over again.

Were there any big challenges in transitioning from the animation of rigid and metallic roller coasters to the natural movements and behaviors of animals?

CM: The way we handled it, I don’t think Planet Coaster would have been as successful as if we hadn’t done our homework on the roller coaster. We had to become roller coaster experts in a way that you have to become an expert on anything if you are trying to make it convincing and believable. We really learned about the hinges, the wheels, the brackets, everything, and it wasn’t so much of a change of pace to suddenly do that for the animals because it’s a similar mindset where you go, ‘ Okay, these animals are our roller coaster for this game, I have to put the same level of research, depth and detail ”.

So in terms of the change in mindset, it wasn’t much of a difference in terms of work and practice. I’ve been on a roller coaster in this game and now he’s a lion – that’s what fans are going to pick up. It’s another thing with our games, is that they’re still so anchored in the community and we have to live up to their expectations, we can’t just cut corners.

OP: We were lucky because Jurassic World gave us this feeling for creatures. Although they are absoutely very different creatures from animals, but yes we had a creature mindset and were ready to move to Planet Zoo after Jurassic World.

CM: I’ve been here for 10 years now, so I go back to the days of the Kinectimals. So a lot of our games that we’ve made are creature-based. So moving from Planet Coaster to Planet Zoo was very natural for us, as a lot of us in the animation department are well versed in creating creatures.

Do either of you have a favorite animal that you enjoy working on?

OP: I love the elephant, just the walking elephant. They are so weird, you look at their feet and their toes and their toe starts where you think their ankle is. The anatomy of an elephant is crazy.

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CM: When you look at the cross section of an elephant’s foot, it’s actually very similar to that of a human. They just have this big, spongy lump under the heel where a human heel would be, but the actual skeletal structures are very similar. I think my favorite is the peacock, mainly because I didn’t think you would expect to find a peacock model in a game with the level of detail we put into it. Also, as an animator, birds are really very enjoyable to animate because they are very nervous and have a lot of character.

OP: A lot of things happen when they flourish.

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