https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpS3yslhu0Y (Spine and GMS2)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXIuizGzY2A (Unity skeletal animation for 2D)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkcJ5bjGPsg (UE4 skeletal animation for 3D)
What is a skeletal animation?
Simply put, skeletal animation uses a skeleton mesh for all animation, which is built up of different bones. The skeleton bones are transformed in real time (location, rotation, etc.) using simulated weight and relationships to warp the textures given to perform a task. This is how rag-doll physics works.
I was considering to use skeletal animation in my game, because it would help with the animation process, because I am slow at the animating side. With this in mind I looked at the software called, “Spine”. I found out Spine is a really good software for skeleton animation for GMS2, however it costs quite a bit (£80-£300).
I kept this software in mind, but I researched deeper and came across Unity. I was somewhat knowledgeable of Unity, but didn’t know it had it’s own skeleton system. Even better than a skeleton system and a game engine editor in one, is that it is completely free, as long as you don’t make more than £80k annually (approx).
I looked further into Unity and the code looks more simple than GMS2. I’m not sure of this, because I haven’t tried out Unity in a while and last time I did try it, I only did a small practice project in 3D.
To give some praise to GMS2, it is better than Unity if you aren’t a programmer, because it doesn’t require code, but Unity does. It is also better for quick prototyping, because you don’t need to code to get a basic setup.
After researching into skeletal animation in games and how it worked, it seemed like it would be a little time consuming to setup complicated characters, but it seemed much, much quicker to make multiple animation. On the other-hand when I looked into 3D skeletal animation for UE4, it seemed more complicated. The reason it seemed more complicated is that each skeleton requires more bones than a 2D version, which makes it much longer to animate. The animation process seems to be best done in Blender, because of the built in 3D animation.
Manual vs Skeletal animation:
Skeletal animation seems to take some time to setup, but once setup it looks like the animating process is much quicker. It seems to make animation easier to someone like me, who is good at programming, but not so much animating, It also seems to be a lot quicker to edit the animation, for example: The torso is pointing in the wrong position.
There is a downside to skeletal animation and that is shading. You can add materials to reflect lighting or stop it, but it is easier to get light to reflect exactly the way you want it by manually drawing it.
Drawing manually is also better for inexperienced programmers, because you need to understand exactly how the character bones will move and how much weight they should gave.
I am considering on making a 2D game next year that uses skeletal animation, so I can create an equipment system that show on the player and be able to create new animations with ease. I will have to reduce the graphical look of the character, because I don’t know how to add shadowing, but this may help to apply a shadow/lighting look: