Gameplay Animator

The role, salary, software and skills of a gameplay animator

Image: Microsoft Games 

What does a gameplay animator do?

Using key-framing and motion capture, gameplay animators bring digital humans, creatures, props, and vehicles to life in a game engine, focusing on character performance and gameplay. They are also responsible for also implementing NPC (non-player character) movement, performances, and behaviors, which are controlled by AI (artificial intelligence).

A gameplay animator must work in a way that makes the most of a game engine’s technology and maximizes the opportunities for gameplay and interactivity.

Gameplay animator job description

Gameplay animators help to bridge the gap between compelling animation and responsive gameplay. They work closely with game programmers and designers, from generating the initial design of character movement and technical constraints to planning and implementing the final animation.

They must work in a way that makes the most of a game engine’s technology and maximizes the opportunities for gameplay and interactivity, taking into consideration the animation can change depending on how the character is moved by a player and how camera angles are controlled (either by the player or through AI).

Because of the cyclical nature of a lot of game character movements, game animators also maintain large libraries of all the movements they create, so they can be reused as animation cycles for each character. 



Role & responsibilities of a gameplay animator in the video game industry:

  • Use animation fundamentals to craft game motions ranging from stylized to hyper-realistic using both motion capture and hand-keyed techniques
  • Work with game designers to ensure that they achieve responsive and immersive gameplay that feels rewarding to players
  • Design animation systems with gameplay team members
  • Coordinate and direct motion capture shoots
  • Edit and clean up motion capture data 
  • Work with other depts. to improve character visuals, such as mesh deformation, facial animation, and cloth and hair dynamics.
  • Work together with other animators and riggers to establish both core and secondary functionality of a game's characters
  • Contribute to efficient pipelines and procedures across the animation team

Skills required to become a gameplay animator

Gameplay animators will need to have excellent 3D animation skills as well as some game development and programming knowledge.

Video game studios may look for the following skills in gameplay animators:

  • A great understanding of realistic body mechanics as well as animation principles.
  • Ability to execute hand-keyed animation
  • Highly proficient in Maya
  • Demonstrate a strong understanding of camera animation and cinematic framing, as well as shot continuity and facial animation
  • Familiarity with the animation integration process and animation state machines
  • Knowledge of cinematic and motion capture editing and cleanup
  • An interest in participating in live previs shoots to help clarify tone, choreography and pacing for mocap actors
  • Familiar with the game production pipeline process
  • Knowledge of animation implementation and debugging techniques
  • In-depth knowledge of human and animal anatomy, body language, and emotions
  • Experience with combat system animations

What software and tools do gameplay animators use?

Along with having proficiency in a 3D animation program like Maya, gameplay animators must be able to work within a game engine. Scripting experience is also useful.

Gameplay animators may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Maya
  • Unreal Engine
  • Unity
  • Motion Builder
  • Vicon Blade
  • 3DS Max
  • Experience with scripting languages (Mel, Python, Lua)

How much does a gameplay animator make? 

Video Game Animators in America make an average salary of $81,133 per year, ranging from $48,000 to $135,000 per year (USD). *Source: Zippia

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