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Animation system for NPC walks?

polycounter lvl 6
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BTDarmstad polycounter lvl 6

Hey, everyone! I have some questions regarding animation systems for NPC characters walking around a scene, whether it's during gameplay or an in-game cutscene.

In my mind, I have put such types of animation into three categories.

Please correct me if my assumptions are wrong or inaccurate:

1: Long takes (in my case made in Maya) that have little to no animation system set up for them, so they basically play from start to finish. Walks could be animated manually (which I am currently stuck with), or using plugins such as Walking Bend tool to use walk cycles, which could be much more efficient and higher quality and consistency. This type of animation is almost completely rigid, and hardly leaves any room for interaction or fine tuning in engine.

2: Acting in place, walking along splines. This is a more flexible system that allows fine tuning, blending and reusing animations in engine, as well as using cycles again to shave off all that time it would take to animate that manually. Animating along a spline could also be aided with twist and lean additive animations depending on the speed and curve of the walking. With a more advanced setup, and IK system can also be used to counter foot sliding, similar to the Walking Bend tool that would be used in Maya. However, as far as interaction goes, this is still a quite rigid experience.

3: Acting either in place, or while navigating the scene independently, and reacting to the player. Now we are approaching an interactive experience. While splines may still be used for an NPC to go from one specific point to another, it can also navigate around the player, or react in other ways, depending on how deep you want to go with the interactions. The NPC could have a full set of cycles and blends, and could find its own way to a point without having to rely entirely on a pre-determined path or a baked animation.

The reason why I’m asking is because I’m currently stuck at number 1, and over the past few weeks especially, it has been driving me crazy how inefficient it is to manually animate walks, especially realistic ones that just end up as lifeless because the mocap data I have to work with is sometimes so awful that it’s almost completely unusable, so I end up doing most of it by hand. Hand animating realistic walks (not cycles) has been a truly awful experience, and nothing makes me feel more like an abject failure of an animator than that.

All that being said, here is my question: I am looking for the best way to move from type 1 to type 2. Where do I begin? Are there any plugins I should be checking out that are similar to Walking Bend (which I haven’t tried, but it would make my life much easier)? Type 3 might have to wait for now, one step at a time.

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