Any tips on creating basic "voxel-art" animation?

Hello all! I’ve been using Blender to create game assets, and I’m at the point where I need to get my feet wet with animation. However, given my limitations and end goal, I’m not sure how to go about it.

Despite having used Blender for over a year now, my knowledge of it is very limited due to the specific way I am using it. For the games I am working on, I use another program to create my meshes, which are done in a very “blocky” voxel-art style (think Lego). I really only use Blender to import my meshes, apply textures, and export them in a format that works with our game engine. The style of animation we’re striving for is difficult for me to describe, but the best example would be what’s used in Picross 3D for the Nintendo DS. Here’s the best video I could find, sorry the animated bits are so short…

In any case, keyframe animation would certainly be easier for me, but it seems that it only records the Loc/Rot/Scale of meshes. Our game engine requires that I keep the number of meshes to a bare minimum, as in 1 mesh per character, and in order to get the effect we’re going for, it seems that each moving part of a character would need to be a separate mesh. Unless there is a way to track parts of a single mesh, or a way to animate individual meshes and combine them later, I don’t see this working.

Skeletal animation would give us more flexibility, but most of the tutorials I’ve seen focus on smooth deformation of meshes, and we would deliberately want parts of our meshes to clip and tear.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

It is absolutely possible to achieve robotic or mechanical animation with a single mesh. What you need to study: Vertex groups, bones and weight painting (which describes the percentage at which a vertex will follow a specific bone). Actually, any tutorial about animation with bones would do, especially one focused on weight painting. The only difference with the usual smooth deformation is in the weight painting. If you set all the vertices of a group to follow a bone at 100% and all the other vertices of your mesh to 0%, when you animate this bone, you will see a whole block moving, without deformation and the rest of the mesh remains unaffected. You do this for every bone and, in the end, you get a skeleton which animates blocks. If the blocks are simple disconnected cubes, you’ll get the kind of animation that can be seen in the video.

And don’t worry, this can be done only with some simple selection and a few clicks, no actual (fiddly) painting. :wink: