This is one of those workflows that is always a bit fiddly to get right so I’ve documented how to do it here in case I forget! One of the downsides to being a solo developer is that your skillset is always being stretched by the available time so you can end up getting proficient in once aspect of game building and then by the time you get back to that phase you forget everything you’ve learned and all the tricks of efficiency and process. Also, in case someone else needs it.
Blender Workflow for Saving the Animations
Start with a new project. Select everything (the default cube and lamp) x –> delete.
In this case I’ve imported an existing fbx of a hand with supporting armature ready for animation. I won’t go over the modelling or rigging procedure there is plenty of help with that out there – but if you need it I would recommend the Riven Phoenix courses because they are so dense (these tutorials are no quick start or tricks videos but deep deep dives into the process and reasons behind it and how stuff works in Blender at a very technical level).
Get your animation window set up and make sure the timeline is available at the bottom.
Making a Pose Library
In the Outliner select the Armature and make a Pose Library.
We can use this to set a few basic poses to make the animation process run a little easier.
The poses will be major key frames that we can interpolate between.
It’s not the best workflow but in the tech preview for upcoming Blender versions is an enhanced workflow for the animation process which looks really exciting – google it.
Add the default pose as the first item.
Go to Pose Mode. Get the model into your default position and save this pose. (Important – this will be the pose that the model is exported as by default so try and make it your idle or standing pose).
Save several other poses (make sure you save all the bones you want the pose to effect – usually this is all the bones).
You can overwrite poses if you get it wrong.
Also, when a pose is added and a pose marker is created the whole keying set is used to determine which bones to key. But if any bones are selected, only keyframes for those bones are added, otherwise all bones in the keying set are keyed (this is why I usually have all the bones selected).
It’s a good idea to set and select the poses a few times for each one to make sure you got it right. I’ve found that sometimes it’s a bit glitchy or I do something a little bit wrong and it doesn’t save properly (actually it’s probably not glitchy it’s probably just me).
That Book icon with the Question Mark is useful when you have all your poses completed. Pose libraries are saved to Actions. They are not generally used as actions, but can be converted to and from them. If you use this icon to “sanitize” the pose library it drops all the poses down to an Action with one pose per frame. So you can go into the NLA Editor window and select this track and sweep/scrub through them. Maybe this is useful as a clip in Unity if you want to split it up using the timing editor and make custom animations in Unity (never tried it).
Making the Animations
Go to Dope Sheet – and switch to the Action Editor View.
Make the animation (ie. start on the first frame – Assign the pose from the library – Shift + I save rotation and location. Go to last frame – assign the next pose – Shift + I and save again).
In the Timeline make sure you are on the beginning frame. Set the pose you want to move from (first keyframe) and save the required parameters.
Shift – I
Insert Location and Rotation
(make sure the Armature is Selected)
Move to the next frame at a suitable scale and change the pose to your ending pose in the editor. Save the Location and Rotation parameters (if that’s all that’s changed).
Pushing the Animation down the Action Stack
Once you are done hit the “Push Down” button. This is the magic button.
Next move over the the Nonlinear Animation Window.
Your animations get made as Actions in the Non-Linear Action Editor Window: NlaTrack, NlaTrack.001, etc.
In the NLA Editor you can click the Star next to the NLA Track (rename them to make it friendlier) to scrub through the track. Make sure you got the right animation under the right name etc.
I make a few more animations and hey presto. Each one of those NlaTracks is an animation that we can use in Unity. Also the PoseLib track is marked there with orange lines – one for each pose on a frame which is a good reference track if you need it.
Export from Blender
These are the settings I use to export. It’s safer to manually select only the Armature and the Mesh here.
It’s useful to have Forward as -Z Forward for Unity.
Import Into Unity
This is what it looks like when I import the .fbx into Unity.
The animations come out as duplicates but you only need one set. Work out which one’s you want and delete the others using the minus button when you import. This bit can be a bit fiddly and sometimes I’ve had to do the process of exporting and importing a couple of times to get it to work. Sometimes what works is to drag and drop all your animations NLA Tracks into one track in the NLA Editor and select it with the star before exporting. Sometimes it works – sometimes not. Not sure why.
After that I drag the model into the scene and add an animation controller. Then you can just drag the animations from the imported model into the Animator window like below and set up transitions as you see fit. Below I’ve made them all come from an Any State and added some Triggers so I can play with them in the Window for Testing.
You can see the result of that testing in the .gif at the top of the article. (Apologies for the quality of that .gif it seems to have picked up some ghosting artifacts around the fingers – promise it looks awesome on the screen).
So there are a few limitations to this workflow that need to be mentioned. Some people like to save their whole .blend file into their Unity Assets so they can make updates on the fly while modelling etc. This won’t work with that set up. The animations need to be saved down to a *.fbx file so that Unity can find them when it’s imported as an asset. So if you like to have access to your .blend and use animations like this you need to export the *.fbx and import it again and have both .blend and .fbx in your asset folders which can be a bit confusing and messy and makes for a bigger project.