Dino Diaries #18 – Sarcosuchus

June 12, 2024

The developers behind your favourite Dinosaur Ranching game are delighted to introduce the latest species to the herd! The Sarcosuchus has been an eagerly anticipated addition to the Valley and a firm favourite among many of our creative team since its initial conception back in 2020.

Initial concept of the Sarcosuchus by Jordan Bradley

In this Dev Diary, Animator Rachel Dixon is going to share her insights into building the character behind our dinos, the challenges she faced with this particular new species and how the Sarcosuchus has become her favourite dinosaur to animate to date!

How the Process begins

The key word that should be on every artist’s mind when designing game assets is ‘efficiency’ and how we can implement optimization techniques across every aspect of the pipeline early in development. Designing, creating, rigging, animating and implementing almost 40 dinosaurs has been a real push on the creative pipeline to develop, maintain and evolve efficient practices across the board. And if you’re not familiar with the animation process you might wonder how an animator might implement efficient practices. Where a modelling department faces challenges of exploring ways to minimise polycount and efficient texture maps, surely a necessary animation has less room for cutting back?

Time is the biggest priority for an animator. Whether it’s the timing of animations or the time we spend animating, efficiency is balanced around how we can achieve the best quality in the shortest time possible. And now with 39 dinosaurs in game with up to 50 animations assigned to some, timing really is everything. This is where thoughtful concept design comes into play. By designing some dinosaurs to be of similar proportions and scale, we can group our dino-friends into ‘family trees’. A great example of this are the Ceratops…

Concepts: Centrosaurus, Triceratops & Styracosaurus by Jordan Bradley

While each dinosaur has its own unique design and characteristics, the general scale and proportions are similar enough for our brilliant riggers to produce some versatile rigs that can be shared across a number of families. And the great thing about animating lots of the same rig? You can share animations across the lot! This means that for complicated animations such as walk or run cycles, we can completely utilise one dinosaur’s animation set as a reference and solid foundation for other similar dinosaurs, saving time on pacing, foot placement and animation clip length while allowing more time to focus on adding detail in weighting, stride and opportunity to focus on bespoke character based animations.

The Sarcosuchus

Occasionally, we are faced with dinosaurs who don’t share any similar components or traits to other dinosaurs in the game. Enter: the Sarcosuchus. For me, I love the feeling of being able to design a character’s personality from scratch. There’s a massive opportunity for creative freedom but it’s definitely not without its challenges. While I would love to go wild with what I can animate, I still need to be cautious of the limitations and ensure everything is designed thoughtfully with gameplay in mind. In addition to that, animation style consistency is vital to maintain to ensure no character feels out of place. This can be challenging, especially when you are working with a character that is able to achieve some really creative expressions. Sometimes you just want to push it to its very limits but in doing so would run the risk of a character standing out negatively amongst the otherss. The same mindset works in reverse too. There are a handful of characters that can’t be animated just as easily for various reasons and it can be a challenge to ensure they are expressive enough to fit in with the rest of the world.

What makes the Sarcosuchus so unique is its bulky body shape and long, strong tail. This character design really screams ‘sturdy’. Being of the crocodile family, this is the first of its kind in Paleo Pines and so that gave me lots of room to explore how we can turn one of the world’s deadliest creatures into a farming companion with the challenge of working around this very dense body shape.

The first thing I like to do with a fresh rig is stretch its limbs to see how far we can push the poses and figure out any unique properties. For example, this character’s legs and joints have a unique placement outside of the body line. This could have an impact on how joint rotations work as well as how weight should be distributed to give a strong sense of the heaviness of this creature.

Screenshots of front & side view of 3D Sarcosuchus modelled by Abigail Gelston

If you have explored our various dinosaurs in the game, you might have noticed the impact many of the tails have on a character animation. A tail is a window into a personality and character type (they can also be very satisfying to animate). There is a thin line between bold, quick movements and how they can tell you if your dinosaur is happy or getting annoyed, much similar to how our real life pet companions use their tails to communicate their emotions. This Sarcosuchus tail however, has been designed and modelled to have a natural curve in its tail. Keeping that curve while also rotating the joints to have correct and fluid overlap proved to be a more surprising challenge than I had anticipated.

Sarcosuchus Happy animation by Rachel Dixon and character: The Fire Spirit, Frozen II

It didn’t take long for me to find out why I loved this rig. When tackling its happy animation I was pleasantly surprised by the rig’s flexibility and I was able to push for this lovely, playful pose. It was this animation that allowed me to see similarities in one of my favourite companion characters- The Fire Spirit, Frozen II. Despite its dense feel and the massive difference in scale, the Sarcosuchus rig allowed for a similar flexibility to that of the Fire Spirit, meaning that with some thoughtful animation tactics, I could tackle some usually bulky animations such as turns, to be a little more slick rather than clunky.

Challenges Beyond Animation

No matter how careful we try to be, with so many animations to keep track of and so many rigs to oversee, often some animation bugs get caught up and pushed into the game. More often than not, the animation bugs flagged are a result of accidental keys being keyframed (or not), transform channels that have been forgotten and are still hidden or exports not including all of the necessary animations. But sometimes it takes a little more brain power to figure out..

Animation bug: player coming out of harness

The animation team are all too familiar with this type of bug. Luckily for us, it doesn’t crop up too often. Unfortunately for us, it also can be caused by a variety of issues and rarely do we have one method to fix them all. In this scenario, the issue came down to the root motion of the player vs that of the dinosaur. And by this I really mean- how the two characters physically move forward within the 3D world. When animating the player on a dinosaur within Blender, my scene looks much like you see in game- where the dino goes, the player goes. We call this ‘parenting’ and the same process must be implemented by programmers when characters are exported into the game engine. In this scenario, my mistake lay in accidentally keyframing the player’s transform information (i.e. its position in the 3D space) and so when it came to baking out the actions, Blender documented that when the dinosaur moved forward for a walk or run cycle, the player did too. In theory this sounds right, but when adapted into Unity it works a little differently. In this software, parenting is already directing the player rig to follow the dinosaur, the then additional animation information of the player moving forward in space acts as something we call ‘double transforms’. In a nutshell, the character is being told to move in the same direction twice, resulting in them soaring into the distance. 


Thank You!

Thank you for following along and I hope you enjoyed this sneak peek into some of the inner workings of my animation mind! Over and Out!


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