Animation blending

In EMI, just like in many other 3D games the motion of a 3D model displayed on sceen may be a combination of several different keyframe animations playing simultaneously. For example, the animators may have supplied a ‘walk’ animation and a ‘hold object’ animation for a character in the game. The game engine may produce a ‘walk while holding an object’ animation by combining the lower body part of the ‘walk’ animation with the upper body part of the ‘hold object’ animation. This can be achieved with the animation priorities I described in the previous post. In addition, the engine can animate the transition between different animation states such as ‘walk’ and ‘stand’ by interpolating between them. This interpolation is what I refer to as animation blending.

With animation blending, the final animation that is displayed on the screen is the weighted sum of all simultaneously active animations. The weight of an animation (the “blend weight”) determines how much contribution the animation has in the final result. The total sum of weights should equal 1. For example, we could animate the transition from ‘stand’ to ‘walk’, by linearly interpolating a value α from 0 to 1 over time and setting the blend weight of ‘walk’ to α and the blend weight of ‘stand’ to (1-α) at each step in time. The interpolated transition may not look completely realistic, but in most cases it looks much better than instantly snapping to another animation.

In EMI, the game may request certain animations to be faded in or faded out. To support this in ResidualVM, I store a ‘fade’ value for all active animations. When requested, the value is linearly interpolated between 0 and 1. If animations had equal priority, we could assign weight=fade for all animations and simply divide the intermediate weights by the total sum of weights to get the final normalized blend weights. However, with prioritized animations this changes a bit.

For higher priority animations we want to assign more weight than for lower priority animations. An animation with weight 100% will always completely override anything with a lower priority. If the animation has weight 60%, lower priority animations will only get to distribute the remaining 40% of weight among themselves.

How is this implemented? The way I’m doing it now is I first collect priority-specific accumulated contribution to animation “layers”. Each animation layer contains the accumulated contribution of animation with a certain priority. For example, layer 0 contains the contribution of animation with priority 0, layer 1 contains the contribution of animation with priority 1, and so on. Within a layer we can assign weights for the animations in the simple fashion described before, with the exception that we’ll only divide the weights by the total sum if the sum exceeds 1. I also assign a fade value to animation layers, which is simply the sum of weights.

Once the animation contribution is split into layers, we’ll get the final result by blending the layers together. The blend weights are assigned so that the highest priority animation will contribute the most, and the remaining weight is distributed to lower priority animations. To be exact, the layer weights are calculated as follows for n layers:

weight_n = fade_n
weight_n-1 = fade_n-1 * (1 - fade_n)
weight_n-2 = fade_n-2 * (1 - fade_n-1) * (1 - fade_n)
weight_1 = fade_1 * (1 - fade_2) * ... * (1 - fade_n-1) * (1 - fade_n)

The end result is a system where each animation can be independently faded in and out, while still respecting animation priorities.