Book Image

Unity Animation Essentials

By : Alan Thorn
Book Image

Unity Animation Essentials

By: Alan Thorn

Overview of this book

Table of Contents (14 chapters)
Unity Animation Essentials
About the Author
About the Reviewers

Animation types

The previous section defined the core concepts underpinning animation generally. Specifically, it covered change, time, frames, key frames, tweens, and interpolation. On the basis of this, we can identify several types of animation in video games from a technical perspective, as opposed to an artistic one. All variations depend on the concepts we've seen, but they do so in different and important ways. These animation types are significant for Unity because the differences in their nature require us to handle and work with them differently, using specific workflows and techniques that we will cover in the upcoming chapters. The animation types are listed throughout this section, as follows.

Rigid body animation

Rigid body animation is used to create pre-made animation sequences that move or change the properties of objects, considering those objects as whole or complete entities, as opposed to objects with smaller and moving parts. Some examples of this type of animation are a car racing along the road, a door opening on its hinges, a spaceship flying through space on its trajectory, and a piano falling from the side of a building. Despite the differences among these examples, they all have an important common ingredient. Specifically, although the object changes across key frames, it does so as a single and complete object. In other words, although the door may rotate on its hinges from a closed state to an open state, it still ends the animation as a door, with the same internal structure and composition as before. It doesn't morph into a tiger or a lion. It doesn't explode or turn into jelly. It doesn't melt into rain drops. Throughout the animation, the door retains its physical structure. It changes only in terms of its position, rotation and scale. Thus, in rigid body animation, changes across key frames apply to whole objects and their highest level properties. They do not filter down to subproperties and internal components, and they don't change the essence or internal forms of objects. These kinds of animation can be defined either directly in the Unity animation editor, as we'll see in later chapters, or inside 3D animation software (such as Maya, Max, or Blender) and then imported to Unity through mesh files. Chapter 3, Native Animation, covers rigid body animation further.

Key frame animation for rigid bodies

Rigged or bone-based animation

If you need to animate human characters, animals, flesh-eating goo, or exploding and deforming objects, then rigid body animation probably won't be enough. You'll need bone-based animation (also called rigged animation). This type of animation changes not the position, rotation, or scale of an object, but the movement and deformation of its internal parts across key frames. It works like this: the animation artist creates a network of special bone objects to approximate the underlying skeleton of a mesh, allowing independent and easy control of the surrounding and internal geometry. This is useful for animating arms, legs, head turns, mouth movements, tree rustling, and a lot more. Typically, bone-based animation is created as a complete animation sequence in 3D modeling software and is imported to Unity inside a mesh file, which can be processed and accessed via Mecanim, the Unity animation system. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 cover bone-based animation in greater detail.

Bone-based animation is useful for character meshes

Sprite animation

For 2D games, graphical user interfaces, and a variety of special effects in 3D (such as water textures), you'll sometimes need a standard quad or plane mesh with a texture that animates. In this case, neither the object moves, as with rigid body animation, nor do any of its internal parts change, as with rigged animation. Rather, the texture itself animates. This animation type is called sprite animation. It takes a sequence of images or frames and plays them in order at a specified frame rate to achieve a consistent and animated look, for example, a walk cycle for a character in a 2D side-scrolling game. More information on sprite animation is given in the next chapter.

Sprite animation

Physics-based animation

In many cases, you can predefine your animation. That is, you can fully plan and create animation sequences for objects that will play in a predetermined way at runtime, such as walk cycles, sequences of door opening, explosions, and others. But sometimes, you need animation that appears realistic and yet responds to its world dynamically, based on decisions made by the player and other variable factors of the world that cannot be predicted ahead of time. There are different ways to handle these scenarios, but one is to use the Unity physics system, which includes components and other data that can be attached to objects to make them behave realistically. Examples of this include falling to the ground under the effects of gravity, and bending and twisting like cloth in the wind.

Physics animation


Downloading the example code

You can download the example code files from your account at for all the Packt Publishing books you have purchased. If you purchased this book elsewhere, you can visit and register to have the files e-mailed directly to you.

Morph animation

Occasionally, none of the animation methods you've read so far—rigid body, physics-based, rigged, or sprite animation—give you what's needed. Maybe, you need to morph one thing into another, such as a man into a werewolf, a toad into a princess, or a chocolate bar into a castle. In some instances, you need to blend, or merge smoothly, the state of a mesh in one frame into a different state in a different frame. This is called morph animation, or blend shapes. Essentially, this method relies on snapshots of a mesh's vertices across key frames in an animation, and blends between the states via tweens. The downside to this method is its computational expense. It's typically performance intensive, but its results can be impressive and highly realistic. We'll see blend shapes in detail later in Chapter 7, Blend Shapes, IK, and Movie Textures. See the following screenshot for the effects of blend shapes:

Morph animation start state

BlendShapes transition a model from one state to another. See the following figure for the destination state:

Morph animation end state

Video animation

Perhaps one of Unity's lesser known animation features is its ability to play video files as animated textures on desktop platforms and full-screen movies on mobile devices such as iOS and Android devices. Unity accepts OGV (Ogg Theora) videos as assets, and can replay both videos and sounds from these files as an animated texture on mesh objects in the scene. This allows developers to replay pre-rendered video file output from any animation package directly in their games.

This feature is powerful and useful, but also performance intensive. Chapter 7, Blend Shapes, IK, and Movie Textures, describes video animation in more depth.

Video file animation

Particle animation

Most animation methods considered so far are for clearly defined, tangible things in a scene, such as sprites and meshes. These are objects with clearly marked boundaries that separate them from other things. But you'll frequently need to animate less tangible, less solid, and less physical matter, such as smoke, fire, bubbles, sparkles, smog, swarms, fireworks, clouds, and others. For these purposes, a particle system is indispensable. As we'll see in Chapter 3, Native Animation, particle systems are entirely configurable objects that can be used to simulate rain, snow, flock of birds, and more. See the following screenshot for a particle system in action:

Particle system animation

Programmatic animation

Surprisingly, the most common animation type is perhaps programmatic animation, or dynamic animation. If you need a spaceship to fly across the screen, a user-controlled character to move around an environment, or a door to open when approached, you'll probably need some programmatic animation. This refers to changes made to properties in objects over time, which arise because of programming—code that a developer has written specifically for that purpose. Unlike many other forms of animation, the programmatic form is not created or built in advance by an artist or animator per se, because its permutations and combinations cannot be known upfront. So, it's coded by a programmer and has the flexibility to change and adjust according to conditions and variables at runtime. Of course, in many cases, animations are made by artists and animators and the code simply triggers or guides the animation at runtime. You'll learn more on programmatic animation in subsequent sections of this chapter.

Programmatic animation is controlled through script