Hi there.

I recently discovered a really fast way of adding some variation into your levels without too much hassle and felt like sharing it.

Here is the gist of it: You use really simple animation on a mesh, place that in the level then use the initial position slider (the start position of the animation) to add the acquired effect/variation to the object or scene.

All done by using one asset.

This is a relatively simple setup without too much hassle to rig and set up and ideally, gives you unlimited choices and variations when set dressing the scene. I discovered this workflow while updating myself on some animation exporting and setup.

 

So here is the A-Z of it:

First of all, you need an animated item. Here I created some boxes in 3DS Max and animated them accordingly. I wanted a “simple yet complex to look” at animation. I animated a single box and copied that out. I then offset the keys while timing it accordingly. The effect looks something like this:

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Export this out from 3DS Max and import your animation into UE4 and drag it into the scene. Instead of having it set animation blueprint, we change this by saying “Use Animation Asset” and then picking the animation we want it to use.

Test it out by using the initial position slider:

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now that you know the item is working, remember to uncheck “Looping” and “Playing”  so it won’t play in the game. Now you can easily copy it out and set the desired state:

Animated GIF  - Find & Share on GIPHY

And there you have it.

A quick 15-minute task that can add a multitude of variations on your scene. This can be really handy for art installation/fancy office scenes or perhaps a crowded level where variation is key.

 

Pros: Let’s take this scene from “Watch Dogs 1” for instance:

“Watch Dogs”, Publisher: Ubisoft. Release date: May 2014

Here I would have animated the office chair to rotate 360 degrees. I could then add them all into the level and I could use the slider to rotate them to at more life of the scene. Or perhaps use this for the laptops. I could animate that some of them are half open, closed or in use (fully opened). Just by using the same item. This would add lots more personality and life to your scenes.

Con: This might seem easy on paper, but requires quite a lot of planning as to not over animate/complicate the scene. There is also the question about physics and collision if you bump into to it which I have not looked into.

I have not actually tested this out in a proper scene so I have no idea if this will take up more memory thus damaging performance. I suspect you would only do this for some item, a small selection at best.

 

Solution: I would suggest sticking to primarily modular assets, as they are less of a strain on the system and gets the main chunk of the level up and running, but would spice it up with a selected few animated items.

Like this sequence from “Deus Ex Mankind Divided”:

“Deus Ex Mankind Divided”, Publisher: Eidos. Release date: August 2016

While most of these robotic limbs seen hanging from the roof would be static meshes, some could contain a simple animation on them, perhaps animate the fingers gripping or arm flexing and then scatter them around the level for variety thus breaking up the scenery and playing more into the themes of the level also.

The added bonus would be that since they are already animated they could, for instance, play the animation when you got near them while exploring the scene thus adding, even more, life into the robotics lab/experimentation scene.

For more gameplay-centric assets, let’s take “Mirrors Edge” as an example:

“Mirror’s Edge™”, Publisher: EA DICE. Release date: April 2010

As you are jumping and running on the cranes in the game, what if we animated it extending/raising and lowering the lattice boom, or rotating the slewing platform? Just one set up can yield in a lot of variation and flexibility in the choices. Again because they are animated they could be repurposed as animations in the scene or in a cinematic even.

Food for thought, but a nice little thing anyway, so please use it and comment back what you think of it. Could there be other uses for this for instance?

4 thoughts on “UE4 Tip: Animated meshes for quick level variation.

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