Unity’s new Timeline and Cinemachine is exactly what animators needed

A couple of months ago, Unity launched two new features, released in Unity 2017, the first version of Unity to use a dating system rather than a numbering system; it is the successor to Unity 5.

The new features are separate to one another, but to get the best out of them, should be used together.

Timeline is a breakthrough in cut-scene creation. What once would have had to be animated fully in 3D software, or required a whole lot of work from a programmer whose expertise does not lie in timing and animation, can now be done entirely within Unity through an interface familiar to an animator. The timeline is reminiscent of a video editing timeline. Each object you drag onto it gains its own track, and you can add keyframe animation or, in the case of objects that are rigged for animation, drag those animation files into the track, order them, blend them together and basically choreograph a cut-scene right from the Unity scene.

Each timeline is saved in a “.playable” file which can be placed on a scene object, then activated via script or set to play on load of the scene. Multiple Playables can be active at once, so they don’t have to be used just for cutscenes, but for NPC behaviour or all kinds of other animated or timed events.

Unity’s example of Cinemachine

Cinemachine works great with Timeline. It’s an add-on you can get from the Unity Asset Store for free, and I highly recommend it if you want to get the most out of Timeline. It’s a camera tool that lets you set up natural, functional camera movements without the scripting you would have needed previously. It’s an incredibly visual tool that lets you create virtual cameras that you can cut or blend between using Timeline. The cameras have really cool features, like following targets, moving on a rail you create, movement damping, and a lot more. The interface for the cameras is completely visual, so it’s perfect for artists and designers to work with, and you can play it all back in the Timeline without having to play the scene – though if you do it in play mode, it lets you edit the cameras and doesn’t undo the changes when you stop play, unlike most other objects in Unity do.

Unity has really stepped up to the plate for artists in the past couple of years, and this is yet another accomplishment. As a non-programmer game developer, they’ve made it easier than ever to create stories and experiences in the game environment.

Hats off to you, Unity.

For more information, check out the Unity Blog.

Written by Natalie Kirk