Hello. You may have noticed me posting on a topic here/there on these forums, and that my last character releases for Mugen were on May 2012. Does this mean I've been idle this entire time? Not really...
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I've been working on this project for the past 3 years or so and currently have no plans of releasing it publicly, but I'm not here to talk about that. Some of you have probably aspired to create characters in this style for MUGEN, but have not had a decent tutorial in which to reference. This is where this topic comes in. Since I've produced so many characters in this style for my project, I've learned quite a bit on some good methods for streamlining the character creation process.
Without further ado, let's begin the tutorial.
Designing the Character
Before you go attempting to film something, you'd do well to have a character design. Some questions you will want to answer are:
Write down your ideas in a design document. This will also serve as your animation checklist for when you film your character.
- What kind of character is this?
- What sorts of moves do I want the character to perform?
- Who do I know that would be the best actor to cast as this character?
- What should the character look like?
Aside from the moves you want your character to perform, there are a number of required sprites/animations that must be in every MUGEN character for universal use. To make this easier for you, here is a list of the animations I normally film as detailed in my own character design documents:
Normal Attack Animations
- Stand turning
- Stand to crouch
- Crouch turning
- Crouch to stand
- Walking forwards
- Walking backwards
- Jump start (ground)
- Jump neutral (upwards)
- Jump forwards (upwards)
- Jump back (upwards)
- Jump neutral (downwards)
- Jump forward (downwards)
- Jump back (downwards)
- Jump landing
- Run/hop forward
- Hop back
- Start guard (stand)
- Start guard (crouch)
- Start guard (air)
- Guard (stand)
- Guard (crouch)
- Guard (air)
- Stop guarding (stand)
- Stop guarding (crouch)
- Stop guarding (air)
- Guarding a hit (stand)
- Guarding a hit (crouch)
- Guarding a hit (air)
- Lose (time over)
- Draw game (time over)
- Win Poses
- Stand/Air hit high (light)
- Stand/Air hit high (medium)
- Stand/Air hit high (hard)
- Stand Recover high (light)
- Stand Recover high (medium)
- Stand Recover high (hard)
- Stand/Air hit low (light)
- Stand/Air hit low (medium)
- Stand/Air hit low (hard)
- Stand Recover low (light)
- Stand Recover low (medium)
- Stand Recover low (hard)
- Crouch hit (light)
- Crouch hit (medium)
- Crouch hit (hard)
- Crouch recover (light)
- Crouch recover (medium)
- Crouch recover (hard)
- Stand/Air hit back (to fall)
- Stand/Air hit transition
- Air recover
- Air fall (fall down). Make sure to fall backwards on this animation.
- Air fall (coming down)
- Fall forward
- LieDown hit (hit on ground; stay down)
- LieDown hit (hit on ground; hit up into air)
- Hitting ground from fall
- Bounce into air
- Hit ground from bounce
- LieDown (KO). The actor should close their eyes for this one. It makes the character look more "dead-ish". Stay down for a few seconds.
- Get up
- LieDead (first rounds)
- LieDead (final round)
- Fall-recover near ground
- Fall-recover in mid-air
- Continue? screen
- "Yes" to continue
- "No" to continue
- Select screen portrait
All of the normal attacks that your character will perform are next.
Special Attack Animations
All of the special/super attacks that your character will perform are last.
You can cheat on some of these animations since for filmed characters, the animation can reach a point where it plays backwards for the retraction of the animation. Some examples of these are crouching, jumping, blocking, get hits (film the "hard" version of each animation and have the "light/medium" versions use some of the frames of animation, but not all), etc.
For the .SFF and .AIR indices these animations will fall under, please refer to the spr.html and air.html files in the docs folder of your MUGEN install.
Setting Up the Filming Area
You will want to have plenty of space to film your actor performing the moves. The following items are essential for a decent video shoot:
These are the basic concepts. There is a pretty good tutorial at http://openmortal.sourceforge.net/Character_HOWTO.html which covers similar concepts in more detail. There are also plenty of tutorials on YouTube which discuss green screen setup/filming.
- A green screen. You will want this to be as wrinkle free as possible to make the chroma key (green screen removal) process much easier. I would recommend a wrinkle free muslin fabric. This can get pricey the better quality the fabric is. Make sure that your screen is large enough to cover some floor area.
- A way to mount the green screen. Before I purchased a green screen stand, I used to pin a large piece of green cloth against the wall. My new setup is much more efficient with use of the stand and clips to pin the sides of the green screen and reduce wrinkles.
- A digital camera. If you want high quality sprites, I would recommend getting a digital camera that can record in 1080p HD resolution.
- A tripod. You want to keep the video as steady as possible.
- A lighting setup. I use a 3 point lighting setup myself. The idea behind this is to reduce the harshness of the shadows against the green screen. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube which explain lighting in more detail.
- An external hard drive. The more space, the better. You want to back up your video, right?
- A large enough SD card for the digital camera. Since we're filming in HD resolution, the total size of the videos can total up to at least 3-5 GB easily.
- A microphone (if you want to record the actor's voice for character audio).
Filming the Character
So you have your character design, your actor, and your environment set up. Great. Now it's time to actually film your actor performing the moves in front of the green screen. It helps to have at least two people during the video shoot (the actor and the director). The director will have the animation list handy for reference to check off each animation as it is filmed and is also responsible for starting/stopping the digital camera during the video shoot.
Make sure that you follow these guidelines:
For my project, after all of the video is captured, I take photos for the select screen slots and VS screen portrait. I then record audio for each character. A good audio program to use for recording is Audacity, which you can download from http://audacity.sourceforge.net/.
- Your actor always faces right during the video shoot, as this is where the opponent will be.
- Mark where the "focal point" of the character is. This is the spot where your actor will always be centered around when performing the animation. This is important because any shifts from the focal point will result in the character changing sizes for certain animations.
- Make sure that your actor starts/ends each animation using the same idle stance from their standing state. For crouching/air moves, this will be the crouching/air idle animations respectively.
- Film every animation slower than it is executed in real life. You can speed up the animation inside of MUGEN. This will also help eliminate unnecessary motion blur. Some attacks such as kicks will be difficult to slow down. Do this at your own discretion.
- Film multiple takes for each animation. You want to have plenty of footage to choose from so you can pick the best video to use in your final sprite set. I tend to stop the camera after each take so I have multiple video files (one for each take).
Now that you have all of the video for your character, the long process of post production begins.
Labeling the Videos
You will want to go through each individual video file and label the ones you want to use for the character sprites.
Break Up the Video into Frames
Split up the video into the key frames that will be used as the character sprites. I usually skip between 3-4 frames of the video for each key frame. You don't want too many frames for each animation, as the more video frames you use, the longer the clean up process will take.
Background Removal Cleanup
This is the longest process in post production. There are a number of ways that this cleanup process can be done:
For this process, I use GIMP in my cleanup. After the background is removed, I perform the following steps to further clean up the image:
- Through use of a program that can perform the chroma key, such as Adobe After Effects. This is the "automated" way of green screen removal. You'll want to make sure that when you key out your green screen,, your background is a bright color commonly used in character sprites in MUGEN. A common color that I use is #FF00FF (bright pink): http://www.color-hex.com/color/ff00ff. This color will serve as the transparent color in your sprites.
- Manual removal. This is the longer and more tedious process that involves using an image editor such as Photoshop or GIMP and manually cleaning each frame. Use of the Magic Wand or common color selection tool with a high enough threshold to select the common green color is highly recommended. Again, make sure that the background color you swap out for the removed background with is a color that will not be used as part of your character.
Also of note is that I always leave the image size as the exact size it was during filming. The character sprites can be scaled down in MUGEN using the xscale and yscale constants. This will produce a higher quality character appearance in game.
- Using the Select by Color Tool, select the background color.
- Press CTRL+I to invert the selection. This selects the character only.
- Go to Image > Crop to Selection. This will resize the image canvas to the exact dimensions of your character sprite.
Creating an Indexed Image (Palette)
Now we need to generate a common palette for all of the character sprites. Again, I do this in GIMP by performing the following steps:
- Go to Image > Mode > Indexed...
- If you are creating the palette for the first time, select Generate optimum palette with a maximum number of colors of 256, then click OK. This will change the sprite into Indexed mode with the palette assigned.
- Go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Colormap. This will show you your current sprite palette. We want to place the background color in the top left corner of this color map. Using the Color Picker Tool, select your background color. The selected color will appear on the Colormap box as a color index. Remember this color index. Right click on the Colormap box and select Rearrange Colormap... Click and drag the color index that you just found for your background color to the top left corner, then click OK.
- Next, we want to save our palette for use in our other sprites. Go to Windows > Dockable Dialogs > Palettes. This shows us all of the palettes GIMP has saved so far. Right click in this window and go to Import Palette. Select Image and under Palette Name, choose a name to give this specific palette. Click Import. Now our common palette is ready for use in our other sprites.
- For all other sprites you will be assigning this palette to, when you go to the Indexed image mode as specified above, this time you will choose Use custom palette and choose the palette you just created. Repeat this for all of your character sprites.
This concludes my guide on how to create character sprites in MK style. The fun part of actually developing the MUGEN character (sprite file, animation file, sound file, move coding) begins next. I would highly recommend using Fighter Factory Ultimate in your character creation. This tutorial was not made to teach you how to actually create the character from this point, so I would recommend doing your research so you can learn this process.
Hopefully, this tutorial provides a bit of direction for MUGEN creators that wish to create characters in this style. It's a long process, but a rewarding one once you see the efforts of your hard work.
I will answer any additional questions in this topic. Have fun creating!