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Get our first-ever guide about animation in Unity
SHANTI ZACHARIAH / UNITY TECHNOLOGIESSenior content marketing manager
Jun 13, 2024|6 Min
The definitive guide to animation in Unity e-book cover | Blog image

Animation is one of the most important parts of making a game. Things need to move and characters to react to their environment with nuance and detail. Each gesture and move, like feet landing on an uneven floor or a character reaching for and grabbing an object, contributes to the storytelling and helps build immersion.

Our new e-book, The definitive guide to animation in Unity, aims to provide animators and technical artists with an in-depth understanding of the animation features in Unity. It joins our collection of technical guides for developers, artists, and designers looking to create as efficiently as possible with Unity. 

The definitive guide to animation in Unity e-book preview
A preview of the animation e-book; cover art is by Sakura Rabbit
Download the e-book

The animation system in Unity has been powering many games for years, providing core features like:

- An easy workflow and setup of animations for all elements of Unity, including objects, characters, and properties

- Support for imported animation clips and animation created within Unity

- Humanoid animation retargeting – the ability to apply animations from one character model onto another

- A simplified workflow for aligning animation clips.

- A convenient preview of animation clips, transitions, and the interactions between them

- Management of complex interactions between animations with a visual programming tool

- The ability to animate different body parts with different logic

- Layering and masking features

Together with the e-book, you’ll also get a new tutorial on how to import and control animation clips in Unity:

What's in the animation guide?

Our comprehensive guide kicks off with a foreword by Dave Hunt, a technical artist for animation and rigging at Unity. After that, the main topics you’ll learn about include:

- How to import animations into Unity from motion libraries, Autodesk Maya, and Blender, as well as a look at working with FBX files

- Exporting animations, the FBX exporter, and Unity Recorder

- The Generic animation type, the Controller, settings, layers, blend trees, and character controller

- Shortcuts, animating UI, and events

- Advanced animation features, events in read-only clips, root motion, and blend shapes

- The humanoid animation type

Animation rigging, set up, rigs, and merging IK with animations

- The Timeline system for animated cutscenes, keyframing, track types, and sequences

- Using advanced physics, animating the movement of fur and hair, as well as particle systems and working with the Alembic package.

- AI navigation

- 2D animation, the PSD Importer, rigging, and IK in 2D

Runtime rigging in Unity
Runtime rigging in action: Left, a character holding a box; right, a character triggering splashing effects when it walks through a puddle

From the e-book: Tips for organizing your animation files

Enjoy these tips from the e-book on how to organize your animation files. Ultimately, every project is unique and the goal should always be to make a pipeline that works for your production.

Stages of character development with Unity characters
This image shows character development phases in a typical, large-scale game development cycle. The image shows characters from the Unity short Adam.

Naming conventions

Characters are made up of many objects, geometry, bones, and accessories. A good practice is to standardize names so everyone in the team knows how to navigate the hierarchies. Find a good balance between simplicity and readability. Standardized, easy-to-understand naming can also be useful if custom tooling has been created for the animators on your team.

Scene organization

If you are an animator planning to work directly in Unity, consider making a sandbox scene and/or working in prefab mode for common gameplay animations.

Asset version tracking and automation

The AssetPostprocessor class in Unity enables you to run code upon asset import or apply automated import settings with Presets. This can be useful to efficiently verify that assets comply with the team’s standards, enabling you to focus more on the actual content creation.

Mock up in Unity and use the FBX Exporter

Designers can mock up animations and cinematic sequences in Unity with systems like Timeline that make it efficient to express general intent and timing. Prototyped animations can then be exported via the FBX Exporter to the animator’s preferred DCC software for further polishing.

Visualizers and custom Editor tools

Unity offers great flexibility through Editor tooling, allowing you to create custom interfaces for your needs, like visual control rigs, or other tools that make it easier for artists to use many of the animation tools’ APIs in Unity.

IK in Unity with the Animation Rigging package

Enabling runtime rigging enables your characters to be in contact with the game world. Sweeping a hand across a surface or gripping and turning a door handle are just a couple of examples of subtle movements that require modifications in the bone chain to make them look realistic. Unity’s Animation Rigging package will allow you to create these detailed movements, making it a great addition to your character creation process.

Unity Recorder for capturing game footage

If you are creating an animated feature in Unity or need high-quality footage of your game then export out the final animation as a video file. Capturing raw footage while playing the game can be tasking on the resources of your computer making the game not run as it should for marketing or video content purposes. To ensure a stable frame rate, not stuttering due to frame skipping, and achieve the best possible recording quality Unity Recorder lets you create video or image sequences in real-time from inside the Editor.

Motion libraries

Adobe Mixamo and Reallusion ActorCore are motion library websites that feature thousands of small motion clips that can be downloaded into Unity. In addition to having a range of free characters to choose from, you can upload your own character, this is covered in the guide. The Unity Asset Store is also a great place to find premade animations. Search the animation category and download packages to Unity through the Package Manager. The animations should be set up automatically and ready to use.

Sakura Rabbit character animation
Sakura Rabbit, whose character and animation work is seen in the image above, uses Unity Asset Store packages like Final IK, Magica Cloth, and Face Capture to create rich animation.

Download the animation guide today and find all of our e-books for artists, technical artists, and designers in the Unity best practices hub.