A significant portion of my work at Kognito is focused around our internal tooling for our content team. Our products typically vary primarily in the focus of their content rather than their features, and so most of the work that goes into building a new product is centered on simply creating all that new content.
My background in film, animation and Unity3D development has provided me with a ideal perspective from which to approach designing an artist-driven pipelines for cinematic content in Unity.
Character Animation Pipeline
Our in-house team of 4 animators is frequently tasked with authoring feature film length amounts of animated character content, for upwards of 12 new products every year. For context, a feature film animator at say Pixar might spend 1 week animating a 3-4 seconds of linear animation. Our team needs to produce, on average, over 5 minutes per week per person.
To achieve this level of output, I worked with one of our senior developers to design and build a non-linear, re-usable clip based workflow that allows them to re-mix a small library of animations over and over to produce seemingly unique linear content extremely quickly. Our system leverages the Unity3D Mecanim’s layering and animation blending features to achieve this seamless mix of discrete animation clips.
In addition to concepting and prototyping the animation engine, I also designed the user interface for the system.
Motion Graphics in a Bitmap World
Our in-house team of Instructional and Motion Graphics Designers work closely together to create compelling, educational motion graphics to educate our users in the core concepts they will be practicing in each simulation. The problem was that there is no established workflow authoring scalable, performant (i.e. non-video) motion graphics in a real-time engine like Unity3D.
Initially our Motion Graphics team authored these graphics by hand, re-constructing layouts they had previously created in Illustrator again from scratch in Unity’s UI tool. After that they animated those layouts with Unity’s extremely rudimentary animation tool, which was both difficult to work with and did not provide any audio scrubbing features. They relied on essentially a guess and check method to time transitions to the narrator’s dialogue. As you can imagine this was both an incredibly slow (redundant), way to create and iterate on layouts, as well as a painful and error prone way to time their animation to the audio.
Before moving to Unity3D as the core technology for our platform, all Kognito products had been built in Adobe Flash, so that was an environment our team was extremely comfortable in. Working again with our internal Dev team, I designed a workflow that allowed our Motion Graphics team to convert graphic elements in Flash to bitmap assets, and then re-create their layout and animation in Unity3D’s UI framework by leveraging the open structure of Flash’s little used XML file format and Unity’s animation API’s.
This allowed our team to iterate quickly and focus their efforts on producing more complex and engaging animation for our didactic content. Over the past year this workflow reduced the implementation time of motion graphics content by over 50%.