Choreography creation

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Please note: Choreography must be compiled into the scenes.image file before it can be used.

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.

Bug:
Faceposer's UI icons are broken. To fix them, extract this file to:
  • sourcesdk\bin\ep1\
  • sourcesdk\bin\source2007\
  • sourcesdk\bin\orangebox\

Definitions

Episode One introduced version 2 of Source's powerful facial animation system.
Choreography
A set of instructions stored in a .VCD "scene" that dictate scripted or semi-scripted behaviour for NPCs, which may include any of the items below as well as interactions with the world in general.
Actor
An NPC involved in a scene.
Speech
Choreography should be used for all 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.
Files should be 4-bit Microsoft ADPCM ("MSADPCM") mono .WAV files at 44kHz (44100Hz). You can also use uncompressed PCM if you don't mind large filesizes.
Lip synch
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.
Skeletal animations
Faceposer can be used to play and tweak the skeletal animation of its actors. They either can be blended together and manipulated (Gestures), or take absolute control (Sequences).
Note:Faceposer cannot create skeletal animation - that requires a 3D modelling package. See Category:Modeling.
Blend animations / Blend gestures
Small skeletal movements that only make sense when blended with another animation. They are often used to add variety or character to bigger animations.
Tip:Dr. Breen's laughing animation from the climax of Half-Life 2, b_bg_laugh, is a blend gesture. 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