Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail Release July 12!

Hey everyone! We’re happy to finally confirm that we’re releasing Echoes of the Fey: The Fox’s Trail for the PC on July 12, 2016. Up until now, we’ve stuck to the cagey “Summer 2016” because we weren’t done with the game and we didn’t know just how many bugs we’d have to squash as we wrap up our development cycle. But now that we’re deep in the QA phase, we can nail down our release.

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Initially, Echoes of the Fey will be available through our itch.io page at woodsy-studio.itch.io.  We’re still waiting on Steam Greenlight, so if you haven’t voted there yet, please head on over and give us a thumbs up! Once we’re out on Steam, any itch.io purchasers will receive a Steam key so there’s no reason to wait.

Leading up to the release, I’ll be publishing a short story, Echoes of the Fey: The Prophet’s Arm, in chunks on this blog. The Prophet’s Arm takes place before The Fox’s Trail and details Sofya’s first meeting with one of the side characters in the game. So be on the lookout for those posts, as well as additional information about our release as it is finalized!

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Animating Speech

*This post is from my Tumblr a  while back, but I thought it might be useful to re-post it here!*

After creating my Serafina’s Saga animation (20 friggin minutes of animated frames), I thought I’d share some of my knowledge thus far, particularly tips and shortcuts that work for me. The images I’ll use are from this scene of the animation; watch it to see my personal speech-animation style in action.

Any aspiring animator has probably seen a diagram of mouth shapes corresponding to every consonant and vowel. I found Preston Blair’s diagrams most useful when I started out. But personally, I wanted my mouth movements to be slightly more realistic than Blair’s, which are very exaggerated. At the same time, I didn’t want to go to the anime extreme of just making a mouth flap up and down with very little emphasis.

I don’t claim to be a top expert, but I suspect that what I’ve learned so far would be useful to other people starting out, or other animators searching for a medium between Looney Tunes and Japanese anime styles. Therefore, I have gradually developed my own speech diagram and I hope you will find it useful (please forgive the fact that my current examples are drawn at a slight angle).

CONSONANTS

The good news is that for most consonants, you can get away with using a single drawing: the gritted teeth.

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(K, G, H, S, Z, CH, J…)

This mouth position is my favorite because it can be the most expressive. You can turn the gritted teeth into a grin, a snarl, or a frown while the character is talking. For a sinister character, you can emphasize the jut of the canines over the bottom teeth. You can also leave the mouth in this position in between words, giving it additional exposure.

Due to the fact you will probably use this mouth position frequently and it has the potential to convey so much emotion, I suggest you put a lot of thought into how you draw hard consonants so you can use the position to its full potential.

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Once you have finished developing your hard consonant mouth position, make an altered version with slightly drooped lips for what I call the soft consonant. You will probably use this for a lot of the same letters, but in the context of different words. For instance, consider how the shape of your mouth making the K sound changes between saying “I kicked” vs “walker” (okay random examples but hopefully you get the idea). When saying “I kicked,” the vowels around the K make it a hard consonant. When saying “walker,” the mouth will be in a lower, softer shape, forming the soft consonant.

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Honestly, I use this position mostly for the letter L and hardly ever use it otherwise. The key is to show the top teeth and a little bit of tongue behind them. I don’t particularly like drawing it and I find that whenever I use it—for whatever reason—it looks like the character’s making the L sound, even if I’m using it for D or TH.  Of all the possibilities other than L for this position, I find that the hard or soft consonant drawings work better.

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Without a doubt, this is my least favorite mouth position to draw. It necessitates those awkward creases in the lip and it makes the character look like a chipmunk. But let’s face it, sometimes they need to make the F or V sound. In which case, just go ahead and draw the damn mouth position.

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This one is pretty straightforward, fortunately. The B,P, or Ms are basically just closed mouths. However, you might want to pinch the edges and narrow the lips from the neutral position (like they’re pursing or puckering) to give the sounds emphasis.

THE “OOH” (OR KISS-KISSY) POSITION

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I’m putting this mouth position into its own category because it can be used for W, R, or OO sounds. Personally, I find it very hard to draw, but I always end up using it far more frequently than I expect. The key to drawing it is to form an “O” shape in the middle of the mouth, but make it small enough so the character isn’t making an OH sound. If you still have trouble, just imagine that your character is about to give someone a kiss.

Kind of like the hard and soft consonants, I usually make two versions of this position, one more exaggerated than the other or even showing teeth. Alternate between the two depending on the word, or use the less extreme positions as transitions. A mouth moving from EE to OO can be far too extreme otherwise.

VOWELS

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Take your hard consonant mouth position, pry the mouth open, and you’ve got your basic EE or I sound. But before you claim victory, make sure to turn the mouth up at the edges, almost as if your character is smiling. This will distinguish it from the next position.

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When making the A or EH sound, the mouth pinches slightly at the edges, giving it a reverse slope of the EE position.  Occasionally, you might need to make more versions that are even wider or narrower. If you need to make this position more extreme, don’t show the bottom teeth, and maybe show a little bit of tongue in the back of mouth. In which case you’re shifting it towards the next mouth position…

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This position is another awkward one to draw, because either you show the tongue way in the back of the mouth, or you hide it and thus make the whole mouth look like a drooping black hole. I leave that to your discretion. But make sure you give that arching shape to the top and lower lip, implying the AH or UH sounds. Pretend your character is opening his or her mouth for a doctor’s thermometer.

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And at long last, here is the OH position, which basically forms a wide oval. Similar to AH position, you might want to show a tongue in this drawing so it’s not a huge black hole, but I usually choose not to, because the big black hole is partially what distinguishes the OH sound.

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And that pretty much wraps it up! But first, a few more tips:

  • One of my most frequent mistakes starting out was to close the mouth whenever the character paused between words. I soon realized this wasn’t very natural, especially when I put it VA recordings over it. People usually breathe or leave their mouths slightly open between words. When in doubt, use the hard or soft consonant positions to fill pauses!
  • Don’t draw every single letter in a word; it simply isn’t necessary, and will probably make the character look ridiculous. Watch yourself in a mirror saying the words and figure out which sounds your mouth emphasizes. Then pick which mouth positions to draw and utilize.
  • On the other hand, sometimes you will need to use two mouth positions for one sound. For instance, I provided one mouth position for “OH,” but if I actually animated the word “OH,” the OH mouth position would be followed by the OO position. Usually you just have to feel this out as you go.
  • Although I’ve provided most of the mouth positions I use here, sometimes I need to draw a lot of in-betweens. Stay flexible and be willing to draw more in-between positions if these just aren’t cutting it.
  • On a more technical note, I suggest animating the frames in Photoshop’s timeline and then bringing them into After Effects for timing. Right click on your movie and choose “Enable Time Remapping” to start matching the mouth movements to your sound clip. Once you do that, you might need to go back into Photoshop for tweaking, but it will save you the hassle of trying to figure out all the timing on your own.

All right, that’s all I’ve got for now! I hope you find this helpful!

Working on a Team vs. Flying Solo

More times than I can count, I’ve heard people say: “You can’t be the master of all trades.” While that may be technically true–no one can singularly master all trades alone–I don’t accept that motto as a general philosophy. I aspire to the ideals of a Renaissance woman: someone who seeks to achieve excellence in as many crafts as possible. I can’t help myself. I have a lot of interests, and I’m generally skilled enough to at least achieve competence in whatever I pursue, so I tend to keep trying!

As a result, I’ve often worked on my creative projects alone; not by deliberate choice, necessarily, but simply because I can. For someone with multiple interests, it’s often easier to go ahead and do everything yourself rather than take the time and energy to find other people to help you. Many times, this has saved me from failure; plenty of projects never would have been completed if I didn’t eventually do everything myself. I’ve recruited other people to help me in the past, only to find that they drop out or else vanish shortly into the project, never to be heard from again. This makes me reluctant to trust new people.

But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

Over the last year, I’ve made ongoing efforts to work on creative teams any chance I get rather than flying solo. Game Jams have been great exercises in this respect, forcing me to focus on one specific role for 48 frantic hours of cohesive production. But the games I make at jams are very different from the games I make in my own time, which are narrative-heavy visual novels. Therefore, it’s still difficult to take the lessons I learn at Game Jams and translate them into my ongoing work.

A better experiment was the recent 8-Bit Dev Pipe here in St Louis, where I worked on a small team to create a game in 8 weeks. Unfortunately, a couple weeks in, our programmer dropped out, forcing me and my one remaining teammate to completely reevaluate the project and our roles in it. He and I shared a lot of the same skills, so we were stuck in an awkward position. We couldn’t just split up the project based on our strengths and weakness. We had to really ask ourselves: which part of the project do we want to work on most, and why?

Altogether, I’ve come to the following conclusions about why working on a team can be beneficial or difficult, even to one such as myself:

TEAMWORK CONS:

1) Finding competent people to work with you costs time, effort, and probably money. Other people probably won’t feel motivated to help your project unless they’re getting paid *or* they feel like the project is theirs as much as it is yours. If you start the project on your own, it will be even harder (or simply impossible) to bring other people on board afterwards.

2) You must trust your teammates to work effectively. This is a big challenge for me. I find it very difficult to trust or rely on other people, due to how many times they’ve let me down in the past. But you must set your doubts aside and have faith in your team members for everyone to work well together. This is especially unfortunate if they do not, indeed, deserve your trust.

3) Different ideas can lead to a fragmented project. Most likely, every individual on the team will have at least a slightly different vision of the what the final product will look like. If not handled correctly, or if healthy communication isn’t constantly enforced, this can cause the final project to lose cohesiveness.

TEAMWORK PROS:

1) Two heads are better than one. Sometimes if you’re stuck, a second person’s perspective can help you out of the rut, even if they know less about the craft than you do.

2) Moral support. When you’re alone, it’s easy to get depressed about every failure within the project. You might start to feel as if you can never fulfill your hopes, or that maybe it was foolish to try in the first place. All of the weight lies on your shoulders. But if you have just one more person working with you, you can take turns feeling the lows and highs of success and failure. You can provide critical feedback as well as ongoing encouragement to each other. In a sense, the stakes are higher, because more people will suffer from an overall failure of the project. But this fact can also help motivate you to do your best at every stage in the process.

3) Different ideas can lead to … a better game! It turns out the third con of working on a team can turn into a pro if handled correctly. If everyone on the team remains honest about his aspirations for the project, and–yes–argues out the reasons to do something his way rather than another, you might find that you agree with him. If everyone remains open to new ideas and willing to discuss them until a consensus is reached, then you will probably find that your final product gets better and better as a result.

Moral of the Story?

I’m still learning how to work effectively with other people, and trying to expand my studio to include more creative people with new ideas and perspectives. It’s not easy by any means, shape, or form. But I do feel like I continue to grow and improve as an artist the more often I challenge myself by working with other people–not to mention forging fun relationships with awesome individuals in the process–so I do believe it’s worthwhile to keep trying.