DICE’s Animation Director Erik Söderholm calls it the most important part of camera animation: “Getting the player to understand, and almost feel, what your character is doing.” And when that character is on a ledge 50 stories high that feeling better be perfect.

According to Animation Director Erik Söderholm one of the biggest challenges in a first person game like Mirror’s Edge Catalyst is trying to make Faith, the protagonist, feel alive and agile: “We worked hard to remove the feeling of her simply being a box that glides around the game-world. Getting the shadow to read, showing Faith’s limbs interacting with objects at the right moments and good camera-animation was key in creating immersion.”

Simulation sickness

Getting the camera right took a lot of iteration, says Söderholm: “It’s so easy to give players simulation sickness by over-animating the camera, while it is still one of the most important tools we have for informing the player what Faith is currently doing. What we ended up doing was to have the camera be as still as possible any time Faith is doing basic locomotion, running, crouching, sliding etcetera to keep the simulation sickness away. We allowed ourselves to be more creative with it when she’s climbing, vaulting or fighting. You can be a lot more crazy with the camera if you have a fixed point where you naturally lock your eyes, as in combat. You usually look at the enemy you’re fighting and in small short bursts of combat attacks we can jolt the camera around a lot more.”

Feedback loop

“We never really tested camera movement on people”, says Söderholm. “But we had a majority of the animations set up early on in the project, so we could get a good feedback loop from the rest of the team. If anyone got sick, or felt that something didn’t feel right or didn’t understand what was happening in the first person view, we knew we had to iterate on it.”
Motion capture was used as a basis for the majority of Faith’s animations. Söderholm explains: “One of the benefits for this was that we didn’t have to recreate every animation in first-person and third-person for reflections and shadows, but could use the same animation.

Mocap

One of the problems we faced by mocapping in first person was that arms and feet aren’t necessarily visible enough when simply slapping the data onto Faith’s rig. We had to massage every animation to get the feel just right, same thing with the camera. We also did do a lot of hand-key animation for Faith as well. Especially for some of the more extreme animations, like flying down a skyscraper holding onto a Drone. It’s kind of hard to mocap something like that.”

This Micro Mortem is based on an interview that Eric Bartelson did with Erik Söderholm. Söderholm has been with DICE since 2007 when fresh out of Luleå University of Technology he started working as an animator. He worked his way up from senior animator to Animation Director on titles like Battlefield, Bad Company and Mirror’s Edge.