Karel “pan Tau” Taufman is an Animator here at Warhorse Studios. He was born in Hradec Králové here in the Czech Republic. Check out what he has to say.
Do you have any questions to Karel “pan Tau” Taufman or his position? Please ask here!
You can find a Spanish translation of this interview here.
1) Describe your position. What is it about being an animator?
I work at Warhorse Studios as an animator/motion editor, which makes me co-responsible for motion of all characters and props in the game.
Almost all of our animations begin in a mocap studio, where we record actors playing out the required moves or acting out their roles for cutscenes. Although the recordings are very good and mocap itself has become an indispensable tool for any AAA game production, it cannot be used in the game as is.
Animations need to be looped, stitched or blended together, timing-adjusted, gestures enhanced or reduced, body language altered, and interaction with props must be corrected.
A good example from KCD is killing a person in a fight. We can’t really expect the actors to attack each other with deadly force and put mocap swords through their torsos. Actors record the motion as close to the intended result as possible and then the animator makes it look fatal.
As you can see in a photograph nearby, killing with a mocap sword is just not possible. We need to implement a workaround – the animator.
2) What’s the difference between an animator and a motion editor?
A traditional animator is responsible for the character’s motion and its concept from start-to-finish. He or she gets to choose when the character hesitates, what leg she puts the weight on, or how hunched she walks.
Mocap-based animation on the other hand, is a collaboration between a mocap actor and the animator. The better the actor’s performance the less work for the animator.
Sometimes the quality of the actor’s performance may pleasantly surprise you. Details like the blacksmith tossing the hammer into the air for a quick bit before getting to work make the animation more unique and interesting. Sometimes, on the other hand, you end up improving the actor’s performance by adding motion into an otherwise dead spot. In the end nobody knows who created what aspect of the final animation. If I do my work perfectly, everybody thinks the mocap was just that good
3) Is it beneficial to have an in-house mocap studio?
Mocap is a must for any game with a considerable amount of humanoid animation. The majority of game developers cannot afford their own mocap studio, so they need to commission one. Although a common practice, this presents many problems for the workflow in the ever-changing world of computer game development. It is not only about planning the mocap sessions to be as few and economical as possible, it’s also about the distance to a good studio.
At Warhorse the animators are separated from the mocap studio by some 2 meters. It is just across the corridor, which is a blessing. Whenever there is an issue we can quickly record a new motion. There is no ordering process or negotiation slowing us down. We can experiment and spend as much time in the studio as we want.
4) What are some of the difficulties of game animation?
Coming up with interesting motion is getting more and more difficult. In every game we get to see walks, lifting, or dropping items and random gestures during dialogues. The complication is, there just isn’t an infinite number of ways a biped character can pick up an item. Because of that, similar motions turn up not only in games but also in animated children television programs. This puts more stress on work of everyone involved with the recording in a mocap studio.
Technical issues also come into consideration. When the cameras in the studio cannot see the markers (little plastic balls attached to actors and props), no motion can be recorded. I confronted a very bad example of this issue when working on a cutscene, in which our hero finds himself in an intimate situation with a girl. Since both actors recorded the motion with their bodies very close to each other, many markers were hidden from the cameras and the actors’ motion could not be recorded properly. I took up the challenge and hopefully made the animation work. I admit that research for this particular animation was rather peculiar.
5) Is there any part of animator’s job that may be surprising to us?
I don’t know about surprises, but perhaps something that could happen unexpectedly. Being an animator is not only about moving objects by hand; the experience in scripting and programming also comes in handy. Our macro scripts may be as complex as the one depicted on a nearby screenshot.
I used a simpler one for the stone that gets loaded into a trebuchet. Considering the type of motion, it made really no sense to animate the stone by hand, so I used a script to move it along with the character and roll along the ground (trebuchet). It was fast and with a few polishing touches it worked very nicely.
6) Did you ever worked on Videogames before?
I started in the gaming industry as a journalist for printed gaming magazines. I got to play games, travel to trade shows, interview game designers, and I was well paid for it. Can you imagine? For a young kid that was a dream come true.
After that I was a game designer, screenwriter, project leader, 2d and 3d artist and animator on forty six games. Until KCD happened, the biggest game I worked heavily on was ArmA III. I also worked as a VFX artist, copywriter, TV commercials writer, and director.
7) Please describe Warhorse Studios.
The atmosphere at Warhorse is very good. Even after so much time spent working on one game, people are still enthusiastic about it. The interaction among colleagues is very pleasant. You don’t see any bullying, mobbing, or bossing going around as it’s been unfortunately reported in some other game development studios today.
8) What are you currently working on?
The whole animation department is currently back at work on cutscenes. We are doing another quality pass that includes (among other things) detailed hand/finger animations and most importantly, facial animations for all characters.
We use an in-house tool to procedurally build basic mouth animation from the dialogues. This is just as great of a help as mocap itself. I used to do such animation by hand only a few years ago, so I would know. There is no ay a game of this magnitude could be accomplished the old way in our lifetime.
After adding procedural mouth animations, we hand tune them in every cutscene. At the same time, we add all facial animation: smiles, frowns, eye movement or blinks. All cutscenes combined take more time than a very long movie, so there is a lot of blinking to add.
The secret to a proper facial animation is subtlety. Sometimes not so much though as you can see in a screenshot nearby. Also in the same screenshot, note our very secret rig for facial animation.
9) How, when and with what platform or game did you first get acquainted with videogames?
The first game I played was the first commercially successful game in the world: Pong. At the time, it was only available to me occasionally in traveling arcades. I was instantly hooked on the phenomenon just like all the other kids. Pong had no AI, so you had to find another kid to play against you. Sometimes no one was available so you had to stoop to playing against your sworn enemies! It made the game that more interesting.
10) What was your most touching video game moment?
Probably not what you might expect. It was actually when I animated the hero of “Evil Days of Luckless John” and his girlfriend. After escaping the bad guys in a deadly chase the couple finally got to share a kiss by the sunset. It was very romantic and pretty cheesy and it was the first time my own animation touched me emotionally. I created an illusion of love by moving bones of a character skeleton. It blew me away. I couldn’t wait to see it in the game.
EPILOGUE: There was a mistake in the design and I was asked to reanimate the whole scene for the opposing camera in a fraction of the originally allocated time. Oh well, sigh…
Things like this do happen in game animation though, and you must never take them to heart.
11) What game have you been really looking forward to but turned out to be a total disappointment?
I was a big fan of Ultima RPG series when Ultima IX: Ascension was announced. Considering the grand ending of the preceding Ultima VIII and the subtitle of the game, it promised to be a proud finale to the third trilogy in the series.
Use of a 3d engine in what was previously an isometric game, was supposed to give the player an unprecedented freedom and immersion. That’s in a game series famed for allowing players to mix ingredients and bake their own bread. Not that you had to but you could. Over the development of the game, Origin Systems would release sneak peaks at the prerendered cutscenes that were second-to-none at the time and hinted at a truly epic story.
The development of the game took five long years. In the meantime, with no new Ultima to play, I’d finished all of the series’ MS-DOS/EGA installments. I wrote walkthroughs for them that were printed in the Excalibur magazine along with the maps I drew (you can see one somewhere nearby).
When Ultima IX finally appeared it failed in every department except for the cutscenes.
12) How do you relax after a hard day at work?
I am a very digital person but lately I started to feel a need to create something I could touch with my hands, so I started working with wood. I built my first cabinet only a few weeks ago. Surprisingly it looks good. The door works and most importantly - it does not disappear when the power goes off.
I also write a little bit. In fact, I’ve been writing screenplays for a comic book series for almost fifteen years now. It brought me together with some of the kindest people in the world, so it’s a little treasure in my life.
The real challenge of writing for comics is telling your story with short bursts of text that can fit into the speech balloons. Forget graphomania, you cannot use any fancy sentences and you often find yourself deleting your best dialogue simply because it is too long for the balloons that are available. So writing for comics is definitely not for everyone.
13) Your travel tip?
Anywhere with someone you love. Still, maybe not Mogadishu.
14) What will be your famous last words?
You mean I get to say my last words now?!
15) Is it possible to buy you with candy?
Nope. You can try to be a nice person though. That should be enough.
16) What is your kryptonite?
I certainly have one, but you will never know.
17) If you could say something to the fans of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, what would it be?
With pleasure: Rictusempra, Tarantallegra, Levicorpus, Rictusempra, Liberacorpus, Molliare, Rennervate, Episkey, Erecto, Aguamenti, Obliviate.
Do you have any questions to Karel “pan Tau” Taufman or his position? Please ask here!