Featherbrain

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For those who create and animate their own sprites, how do you go about doing it? What software and techniques do you use? Feel free to post examples!

I have access to Photoshop and use that for my entire workflow. I usually start with the middle frame of the most neutral position (e.g. idle battle animation, or down-facing map direction). As much as possible, I keep each moving component on its own layer--not just arms, legs, and head, but upper arms, lower arms, hands, etc. Once that frame looks good, I duplicate it (separate layers and all) and use Photoshop's timeline feature to create a new frame. The separate body part layers can then be re-positioned to the new frame's pose. Since I'm using pixel art, I try to minimize "transforming" the components at first, like stretching or rotating them, as this distorts the pixel arrangements (although you can rotate at 90 degree angles). Instead I focus on "repositioning" at first by simply moving component layers around, often subtly--sometimes just shifting the component a pixel or two higher is enough to convey the desired movement. Next, I'll use Puppet Warp tool for components that need to change shape or position even more--although this will start to distort the pixel arrangements. After I do what I can with these methods, then it's down to manually redrawing components where necessary, cleaning up distortion, or what have you. Once I have all three frames like this with the timeline feature, I copy all the frame groups to the spriteset file and arrange them in the RM format.

Here's an example of what this looks like:
RaptorMapSprite_PreviewGIF_Boomer.gifRaptorRevolt-Demo-2021_07_10.gif

This eventually works and I'm able to create sprite animations that I'm satisfied with, but it's an extremely manual process.
One three-frame animation, produced as described above, takes me at least a week. Multiply this times many different animations needed (maps and battles), times many different characters and enemies, and we have a formula for a game that will never get finished.

I'm also not necessarily satisfied with only the default three frame animations. They look okay, but very retro. This limitation is easily overcome technically with plugins, but actually creating the "inbetween" frames with my current method would just add to an already insurmountable amount of work.

These factors got me looking into other, perhaps more technology-assisted techniques for creating 2D sprite animations, preferably with a pixel style.
There are proprietary software packages like Live2D, Spine, Dragonbones, etc, but they seem to lean more toward vector art.

I've also seen folks using 3D modeling and animating software like Blender to build a simplistic 3D model, rig and animate it, apply pixel filters, and take still frames of the animation to create either the finished product or the starting point for manual retouching of the sprites. (Example here.) This seems... potentially useful but maybe even more work than it's worth?

Anyway... what do you all do? Anyone have some advice or secret tactics for streamlining production of this stuff?

P.S. Here's someone's thesis paper about their techniques using Adobe Flash to interpolate between keyframes:
 
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Sharm

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Something I learned that sped up my process by a lot was to stop looking for or using shortcuts. It's counterintuitive, I know, but it really did make a difference. Editing things that already exist can work in some situations, but it's not as helpful as it seems. I've found that when animating with pixels, especially any big motions, you're going to redraw everything anyway. Sometimes just doing it from scratch is way faster, and the result is smoother.

As for my process, I start with blobs for my keyframes. I don't detail anything, just try to get the motion looking good. Then I'll do a pass to refine things for consistency, making sure the limbs are the same length or whatever. Next if it needs any tweening I'll add them at this point. Then, after the motion is looking good, I'll go in with the details and allow myself some copy, paste, and transformation. Then I'll do a final pass to make sure that the details flow nicely too. The final pass tends to take the longest, things can be refined infinitely if I let myself.

Starting with 3D is only faster if you're better with 3D than 2D. I don't do any 3D myself, just dabbled, but I do know that modeling is the easy part, and everyone has a nightmare story about rigging a figure. Then you have to redraw anyway if you want the pixel art to look any good, no algorithm is going to get you good results on it's own.
 

gelboy

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I really like sketching things out first. I have more experience drawing, so doing loose drafts of how I want things to look like always help. I find my "doodles" on aseprite take hours for some reason so I draw first to prevent that from happening :p

I like "painting" out shapes once I start. I used to exclusively use the line tool, but after learning painting the mindset helped me speed up my workflow immensely. Always do the biggest shapes and work down to the details. After that I let the sprite rest for a day then go back to it, then cringe :kaosigh:and revise!
 

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