Animating Cernos


By Joel Finney, Lead Animator
Nov 8th, 2021



The first of the Tall Ones you meet in The Pathless is Cernos, the Elk. He was also the first that I worked on during development, so I have a bit of a soft spot for him. It was so fun to slowly figure out his personality and how he should move. I’d like to take some time to show a little bit behind the scenes of the animation work that went into bringing his encounter to life. As such, here is your friendly warning that there will be some light spoilers ahead.



The first thing I always try to tackle when working with a new character is the idle animation. It’s really important to have a very strong, readable pose that answers the questions of “who is this?” and “what is their current mood?” I wanted the arena encounter for Cernos to feel like he had been cornered with nowhere left to run, but still very menacing and threatening. The other reason I like to do idle first is a technical one: usually most other animations transition from or into the idle posing.

Eight legs!

Here is his stalking movement cycle. You may have noticed that Cernos has eight legs! This was quite a challenge for me to figure out how to get them to move believably without getting all tangled up in each other. We used this animation not only during stalking events, but also a slightly sped up version for walking around the arena during the boss fight. Work smart if you can!



One of the biggest challenges was making such a large creature look like he was running fast without completely outpacing the Hunter during the chase sequences. If I moved the legs too fast, he would feel too light and weightless, while if I moved them too slow, it wouldn’t feel like he was putting effort into his run. It took a lot of different approaches, but I finally wound up with a gait that felt really epic to be chasing through the forest.



During the chases, the impacts from your arrows needed to feel really punchy because of how fast you both are moving. Since the hit reaction could come at any point in the cycle, a big pose change was needed, but I also had to keep the forward movement speed the same. Having the impact force Cernos off his line, staggering to recover for a brief moment, really helped sell it.


Uh oh, he’s mad now!

I originally made this frustrated animation as a one off animation, but it worked in so many contexts we used it in several places! With a team the size of ours, being smart about how many animations are created and where they can be reused is an invaluable asset.



In the arena battle, we found that strafing movement looked better than having Cernos turn to walk to the side around the player. This was even more challenging to figure out because the distance he needed to cover was pretty large and all those legs weaving in between each other!



We needed a quick way for Cernos to back off from the player, so I came up with the idea of this leap backwards. With how well it worked, it somewhat informed the decision to make his character more bouncy and energetic. The distance he covers in his jump back is variable and can be controlled with adjusting the amount we translate the root in code.

All of the leaps shown above are actually the same animation! The only difference is that during the part of the animation he's in the air, we allow the translation to be stretched or shrunk. It's really versatile and efficient!

Big cat wiggle energy.

Cernos is a mix of lots of different animals in terms of how he moves, obviously this pounce has some big cat wiggle energy. It gave the attack lots of personality while also giving a clear tell to the player to move out of the way. We also used the same variable translation trick as the leap back.



One of my favorites is his big slam attack! I thought it'd be really fun to push this as far as I could. I liked the idea of Cernos slamming down with so much force that it bounced his butt up in the air. You may not be able to see that detail clearly from the gameplay camera, but you certainly feel it!

Light spoilers ahead, beware!
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After defeating Cernos in his arena, his cleansed form emerges! Like before, I started off making his idle animation first. I really played with the contrast here. While cursed, very jumpy and high energy, but when cleansed, very calm and stoic. This was such a cool character to animate!



I really wanted to give an ethereal, almost weightless quality to the cleansed Cernos walk. I played around with slowing down the feet just as they’re about to touch the ground, it was a fine balance to find the right spot. I turned up the sass a bit as well in the walk. 

Okay, okay. Maybe I cranked up the sass more than "a bit!"



And finally, here is the cleansed Cernos gallop. I kept the same ethereal feeling, but combined it with the bounciness of the cursed version. This is probably one of my favorite cycles I made for The Pathless! I was really happy with the flow and grace I achieved.

Thanks for following along! There were many more small details and technical tricks that went into the animation of Cernos than I was able to cover here, but I really hope you enjoyed reading about this small glimpse into the process. Animating Cernos was a blast, and it makes me really happy how well received the animation in The Pathless has been!

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