Choreography creation

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Please note: Orange Box mods/games require your choreography to be compiled into the scenes.image file.

This tutorial covers the creation of choreographed scenes (or simply scenes) in Source engine games or mods. It intends to carve a path through the choreographing process, and when it is complete enable you to create a scene from scratch.

Note, however, that it is not a one-stop solution. Not all techniques or interface features are covered, although you can be sure that anything omitted is optional.

Faceposer's interface icons are not currently included in the SDK. You will need to download them separately; extract this .zip file to:

  • SteamApps/<account name>/sourcesdk/bin/ep1/
  • SteamApps/<account name>/sourcesdk/bin/orangebox/


Episode One introduced version 2 of Source's powerful facial animation system.
A set of instructions stored in a .VCD file that dictate scripted or semi-scripted behaviour for NPCs, including speech, facial expressions, body animations, and map or AI triggers. By combining some or all of those components, we create a choreographed scene.
Хареография должна быть использованна для всего, but the very simplest of NPC speech. A scene defines when the Speech Event takes place, which is vital for synchronizing expression and animation data with dialogue. Speech files should be 4-bit Microsoft ADPCM ("MSADPCM") mono .WAV files at 44kHz (44100Hz).
Синхронизация речи (синхронизация губ)
Lip synch data (Phonemes) are stored in the raw .WAV speech file rather than the choreography VCD for portability, reliability and localization reasons, but are still created with Faceposer. While Faceposer can automatically extract lip synch data, better results can usually be attained by hand-tweaking its output.
Facial expressions
Much effort has been put into the Source engine's facial animation technology, and the result has been a flexible, portable, slider-based system. Facial expressions (Flex Animations) are created in Faceposer and stored either directly in a scene's .VCD, or in an external .TXT file as reusable Expressions.
Body animations
Faceposer is used to control the animations of a scene's NPCs. Animations can be seamlessly blended, have their intensity altered, and even have their playback speed changed at any time (Gestures), or take complete and uncompromised control for their duration (Sequences).
Blend animations
While implemented identically to full-body animations, blend animations (Blend Gestures) are small movements that only make sense when overlayed above a Gesture. They add easy depth to an animation without problems with conflicting movements.
An example of a Blend Gesture is Dr. Breen's laughing animation from the climax of Half-Life 2, b_bg_laugh. Viewed in HLMV it can be seen to be no more than the upper body jolting slightly.

Before you start

Faceposer playing back a complex Half-Life 2 scene.

There are several limitations you should be aware of before you begin creating choreography:

  • You are a slave to your voice actor's talents. Unless you are mixing it up a little and having recorded dialogue follow choreographed animations, or making a scene without speech, you will always be following your voice actors' cues and delivery. If the written and/or recorded dialogue is bland, you will have a hard time creating choreography that isn't either ridiculous or bland itself.
  • You are limited to your digital actors' animations. While Faceposer can manipulate Gestures with aplomb, it cannot create new ones. Valve's stock actors in particular suffer from limited animation sets: their libraries have been designed around what Valve used, not what third-party choreographers might need. Prominent actors like Alyx will probably have what you are looking for, but minor or generic characters will present problems without custom animation work. Until and unless Valve provide a wider set of stock animations, serious choreographers should learn animation skills or join a mod team.
  • You will need a big enough screen. Faceposer's interface elements are quite large, and a lot of the time you will want to have several on display at once to be able to see what you are doing. 1024x768 is the absolute minimum window size for choreographing.

Tutorial structure

This tutorial will cover all aspects of choreography creation, from the drafting of basic structure to its implementation in a gameplay environment. There is a menu in the top right of each page for navigation, but this introduction also includes a complete tutorial map for quick reference:

  1. Introduction
  2. Setting up your scene
  3. Creating Events
  4. Lip synching
  5. Implementation
  6. Community Showcase