Yeah, Conceit, I think "puppet" animation is becoming very valid for 2D games.
Often called modular animation - one animated object consisting of multiple parts intelligently moving together.
Hand-drawn frame-by-frame animation is rigid and inflexible. Modular uses on the fly positioning and allows for fast, easy revisions to spacing and timing.
Not to mention bone systems. With bones, a single animation can be used for multiple characters - the pieces attached to each bone is simply swapped. Re-skinned by simply referencing different spritesheets.
As an alternative to Spriter, there is also:SPINE
| creator youtubes"Spine replaces traditional raster animation in games, providing smoother animations that are easier to produce.
Animations can be created without needing more art and are so tiny that games can make extensive use of them."
bonus vid - Spine + SpriteLamp
That Rayman Origins vid above doesn't work for me ("An error occurred. Please try again later."), but why study Origins when you can take a look at Rayman Legends, the latest Rayman game.
Legends uses an incredibly advanced engine.
Including modular animation tools all developed in-house at Ubisoft.
I found this just yesterday
: (first part has a character animation demo, showing spritesheets, too)
Notice the use of mesh deformations, orMorph Target Animation
which is something Spine is just about to officially add.
This adds a ton of more organic, lifelike movement, etc. The benefits (when used well) are obvious.
I personally do not care for this type of animation, at all. The benefits as I see them are purely logistical. Traditional frame-by-frame animation, when done well, captures the illusion of movement and becomes inherently entertaining to look at. With puppet animation, the shapes that compose a thing don't really change. This kills the squashing and stretching and deformation that are so important to the illusion. Also, it really locks the form into two dimensions. Even with a fixed camera in a game, the frame-by-frame animations can play in the 3rd dimension all they want by rotating, foreshortening, and so on.
Good counterargument. And I largely agree with you, but like you say - logistics. Not everyone is a Disney animator and the pipeline for modular animation is so much friendlier for developers than traditional frame-by-frame.
The Skullgirls creator claims each Skullgirls character required 2000 man hours:
Ouch. All drawn from scratch, frame-by-frame.
I prefer a hybrid - modular animation enhanced with some frame-by-frame tactics mixed in.
Like Rayman Legends - objects/character pieces can be switched out during the animation for change of shape/perspective, while using bones to keep everything connected.
There's still plenty of room for squash/stretch because the scale of pieces can be skewed/stretched. In addition, with mesh deformation, non-rigid parts are infused with extra life-like movement.
If all game animation was pro frame-by-frame, that'd be great, but what happens when the animation needs to change? All those frames need to be redrawn. Sketched, cleaned up, re-colored, etc.
With modular, you just edit your timeline. Modular animation is also subject to code. Code can't alter a set-in-stone frame-by-frame animation in the same way.
It's all balance. I think, if done well, modular can be nice.
Raw modular animation without deformation and intelligent scaling of pieces can
But frame-by-frame can look awful as well, if done poorly.