Deconstructing the impeccable animation of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Hey there, interdimensional travelers!

It’s been an incredible two months since launching Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and we’ve been truly humbled by your kind responses to our game. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart was designed as a showpiece for your PS5 console that delivers our signature blend of fun and over-the-top gameplay, all wrapped in a thrilling cinematic package. One way we accomplish this is through animation, so let’s discuss the work our animators did to bring our characters and world to life! 

Our Heroes

It’s no secret we love a hero at Insomniac, and we have quite a few in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Not only does the game star our titular duo, Ratchet and Clank, but it also introduces Rivet, a new Lombax fighting with the resistance, and nanobot hacker Glitch, as playable characters.

Glitch posed an interesting challenge for our animators. Because she’s navigating uneven terrain during her hacking missions, our animators worked closely with programmers on procedural locomotion to make her animations look natural with the environment. When she goes up a wall, her spider legs respond accordingly to the surface.

Introducing Rivet

While the animators had a rich history to reference for Ratchet, Clank, and Dr. Nefarious, we faced a much larger challenge creating a new hero that players would embrace in Rivet. With a powerhouse vocal performance from Jennifer Hale, it was up to animation to match it.

Our animators ran with this challenge and built a facial pose library and model sheet to keep the animation of Rivet intact. This proved especially beneficial as it streamlined our processes by allowing us to quickly snap expressions on Rivet, which let us know very quickly we had an endearing new hero in our franchise.

Personalities

The goal of the animation team is to keep the personality in each character with clear reads for every state. Therefore, we have multiple conditions for our characters in the game. For instance, Goons will celebrate with a selfie if they manage to strike our hero. The Grunthors, who are often asleep, are instantly ready for a fight when approached, which shows their aggressive nature. This applies to non-combative NPCs too: they’ll quiver in fear if they’re in the vicinity of a fight or run away.

Living Worlds

Designing each distinct area with purpose is crucial to our players’ experience, and it has its fair share of challenges.

For example, the parade-goers would be too heavy for rigged characters. As such, they’re made with a vertex animation that manages to plunge players into the world, making them feel like they’re part of the celebration.

Combat Heavy

Combat is a staple of the Ratchet & Clank series. Featuring a destructive arsenal at your disposal, it’s paramount that players connect to the world through weapons and gadgets. In combination with the character animations, the weapon animations make combat feel more dynamic and thrilling. These weapons are powerful, and we show it in multiple ways. 

The Ricochet, for example, helplessly knocks enemies around with each impact. Meanwhile, the Topiary Sprinkler stops foes in their tracks, turning them into beautiful front lawn decorations and leaves them vulnerable to attacks. And the Lightning Rod will make enemies convulse as electricity rapidly courses through them.

Capturing Spectacle

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart often throws players for a loop. One of the greatest lessons in crafting interesting experiences is setting players on a predictable path and then interrupting it with something unexpected, such as The Fixer sequence on Molonoth Gulch. The behemoth, who you originally sought help from, is now on a trail of destruction firing lasers at Rivet and toppling the environment around her. We also get up close with The Fixer to really show how massive he is in comparison to Rivet, adding a sense of scale to the action.

Rigging Animations

Rig is the backbone to our projects from character rigs to dynamics, to blend shapes and simulations. Think of rigging like a skeleton: it’s what keeps the animations together and dictates how characters move, including head swivels, arm motions and more. When you see armor chipping away and flying off characters, that’s rig doing the work. 

The Cinematic Experience

Cinematics place detailed animations at the center of the experience. The animators greatly enhanced the cinematics of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart on the PlayStation 5 console. Take the Zurkie’s scene with Rivet and Clank for example. There are a ton of background details: Emperor Nefarious’ assistant eavesdropping, characters dancing, the electric rodeo ride, Zurkon Jr. taking orders, and so on. These cinematics are denser and more alive than was previously done.

Raising the Bar

Our goal was to produce film-quality cinematics in Rift Apart that took advantage of PS5’s features. Rigging improvements gave animators even more control over facial performances, and the improvements to lighting, fur, and raytracing helped deliver the best cinematics in the franchise while also telling a deeper, richer story.

Seamless Transitions

We pushed to have seamless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay, and vice versa. Our introduction is a great example: one moment Ratchet is inside a room talking to Clank about his worries, then we reveal a grand celebration in honor of our hero packed with parade-goers. This is the first time we give the player control, so we added a few prompts like “Grab the Wrench” to let them know it’s time to play!

We also wanted to support the vanity system, so we came up with a solution for armor and helmets that allowed us to show the players’ armor choices in cutscenes. We also animated helmet removals so we can keep our facial animations in the game while still respecting players’ aesthetic choices.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart brings together over 25 years of Insomniac’s animation knowledge on PlayStation 5. So, while you’re blasting through hordes of troopers in Nefarious City or grinding through the Fixer’s trail of destruction, take a moment to admire our animators’ handy work!

Chris Thacker

Author: Izzy

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