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Character Animation | Don Hopkins

Character Animation

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Automating The Sims Character Animation Pipeline with MaxScript

From: (John Wainwright)
Sent: Tuesday, May 05, 1998 1:31 PM
To: (Don Hopkins)
Subject: CGDC talk

Hi, Don.

Kinetix has roped me into giving a talk about MAXScript at the Game Developer's Conference in Long Beach on Friday. I wanted to see if its OK to mention your use of MAXScript at Maxis and if so, maybe you could give a few bullet points on what it's OK for me to mention. Of course, I remember the note track key stuff and the Access database interface, but I'm not sure if there were other things and how all that wound up coming together.


Certainly! Here is a description of how I'm using MaxScript to implement The Sims character animation pipeline:

Details on The Sims Character Animation File Format and Rendering

From: "Bil Simser"
To: "Don Hopkins"
Sent: Tuesday, March 21, 2000 7:17 AM
Subject: SKN format

Hi Don,

Is there any way you can just toss me a bone on the SKN files? Just a quick overview? I have most of it but just trying to figure out how the groups are identified. I know it's the 3rd section (after the faces) but not sure what the 4 numbers are for? Can you give me a quick rundown of the file? Thanks.


From: "Don Hopkins"
To: "Bil Simser"
Sent: Tuesday, March 21, 2000 12:10 PM
Subject: Re: SKN format

The thing that makes the mesh format weird are the blended vertices, attached to two bones at once. Here are some design documents I wrote, about the Sims file formats, and the animation system. It documents the binary file format, while the cmx files are text, but pretty much equivalent, but maybe missing a few weird fields. It doesn't document the far file format, but I can write that up some time, since it's pretty simple.


Sims Character Animation File Format

This is a description of the file formats and structures used by The Sims character animation system, by Don Hopkins.

Sims VitaBoy Character Animation Library Documentation

VitaBoy Documentation

By Don Hopkins, Maxis.

This document describes VitaBoy, the skeletal character animation system in The Sims, written by Don Hopkins at Maxis.

VitaBoy combines several different types of data together to render the animated characters in the game, including skeletons, skills, suits and texture maps.

Artists create the skeletons, skills and suits in 3D Studio Max, and the texture maps in Photoshop.

The CMX Exporter is a 3D Studio Max plug-in and MaxScript user interface, which allows artists to export skeletons, skills and suits from Max files into CMX files that the game can read.

Character Studio is another 3D Studio Max plug-in, that allows artists to animated a Biped skeleton, and to attach deformable mesh suits to it with Physique. The CMX Exporter knows how to support Character Studio Biped and Physique, but it can be used with other kinds of skeletons and suits as well.

The way the CMX Exporter knows what to export from a Max file, is by looking for note tracks on the bones, for keys containing tags that control the exporter. The artist inserts note track keys into the Max file, to mark up the skeletons, suits, skills and events. The tags in the note track keys tell the exporter what to export from the Max file.

The Access database tells the exporter which skeletons, skills and suits are defined, which Max files contain them, and where to export them. The artist can select the name of a skeleton, skill or suit from a scrolling list, and automatically load, validate and export the correct Max file to the correct destination. The exporter can also check the exported files out from and into SourceSafe. The artist can use the exporter manually without the database, but the database is extremely useful for avoiding accidents when there is a lot of content to manage.

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