As the lead animator for all Guitar Hero projects at Neversoft—and a 14-year video game industry veteran—Jason Greenberg knows a thing or two about the converging worlds of technology and home entertainment. He also oversees the development of the majority of Neversoft’s animation rigs and tools, which means he’s well versed in all the behind-the-scenes magic that’s invested in one of gaming’s most revolutionary franchises. Jason took some time out of his busy schedule to give us the inside scoop on how VEGAS Pro has played a key role in the development of Guitar Hero 5.
VCS:How did you come to incorporate VEGAS Pro into your workflow?
JG: We actually stumbled across it while researching ideas for developing a “performance creation tool.” On previous Guitar Hero games, our animators were really struggling with not having any sort of visual feedback to help them preview and precisely time their work. So we started looking towards video editing tools, since this was something almost all of our animators had some familiarity with. We needed something that we could customize to suit our very specific needs, so I started out by investigating open source video editing software. The majority of what we saw was pretty basic, incredibly unstable, and wasn’t really satisfying our needs. Then I stumbled across the VEGAS Scripting Developers Kit, and I knew right away I had found our solution.
VCS: And how does that work within the context of the game?
JG: The way the game works, you can have all different kinds of characters playing in different venues, so we can’t just output a video sequence. Instead the game uses a form of script to trigger animations on the real-time characters at specific times in the songs. We used to write these scripts by hand, but now we use VEGAS to export the scripted sequences. A process that used to take several days to do by hand we can now do in a few hours.
Here’s how it works. We create video previews for every move in the game. Each character on stage is represented by a video track in VEGAS. We drop previews onto each of the character tracks to represent the animation that will be triggered in the game. Using VEGAS, we can visually edit them to perfect the timing of moves to match the audio of the song we are working on. We add a track that represents our in-game cameras and place “camera cuts” down as clips in this track. We can also add additional script calls using command markers to trigger particle effects, screen effects, and other game elements. Because making the performance is easier and takes less time, we can spend more time making them look better. The performance animations in Guitar Hero® 5 and Band Hero™ will hopefully show a big improvement because of VEGAS.
VCS: Getting a little more granular, what are some specific features within VEGAS that help optimize your workflow?
JG: Well, the first is the scripting. The SDK allows us to create a completely custom interface, import game data from various sources, and export data back into the game. We can also debug our work using Visual Studio, which is a huge help in development. The second feature that really helps with our day to day process is the integrated Media Manager. We have a very large library of video clips that represent every possible animation in the game, and keeping them organized used to be a full-time job. Now the Media Manager handles our organization quickly and easily. By giving all our clips a series of customized tags, we are able to organize our library by any number of different parameters. If our animators want a clip that has the guitarist doing a big kick, they can search for clips tagged “Guitarist” with “Kick” in the filename. Then they can further refine their search by adding other criteria, like file creation date, camera framing, tempo, etc. The power of the Media Manager comes from the ability to add tags to your clips for anything that you feel you need. You’re not limited by the software at all. It’s very powerful, and we save tons of time not having to dig through hundreds of directories hoping to find what we need.
VCS: A lot of VEGAS newcomers are pleasantly surprised by the power and stability the software offers, given its price range.
JG: It was really surprising to see that VEGAS can do everything that much more expensive software does, and it’s really stable with some pretty hefty audio and video files. Almost every day, one of our animators will come to me and ask, “Can VEGAS do this…” and almost always we find that that it can. Because the software is so intuitive, our team was able to pick it up and start working right away. We definitely have some converts. Once you start using VEGAS, you’ll find yourself not wanting to use anything else.