This is the fourth episode of a series that will last for 12 weeks where I will learn Nightmare Puppeteer and attempt to create short animated scenes. Along the way, I’ll share with you my discoveries, my mistakes, and my successes using this remarkable game engine.
“Nightmare Puppeteer takes the approach of puppetry where you do something with your hands, but instead of using your hands, you are pressing keys on your keyboard….it’s an animation engine”
-M dot Strange
NP is a Game
It’s important to point out that Nightmare Puppeteer is a game and not a 3D application. The gameplay is focused on creating characters, animations and scenes within the game. And as M dot Strange points out “it’s an animation engine”. Also, the game is built upon the Unity Engine which means it has qualities that only a game made in Unity has (unique shaders and effects, for example).
Setting the Scene
Nightmare Puppeteer has 64 scenes included along with the Tutorial scene. You access each scene by clicking the forward/backward arrows which appear on the right side of the main menu table and then hit the red button in the middle to access the scene. It’s possible to save a scene you are working on by going to that scene, clicking return to access the level editor, and then click “save scene” on the right. You also load the scene from the same menu. I haven’t had much luck with this though and am stuck clicking through the scenes to access the one I’m working on. I think this will be improved in future versions of NP.
There are a wide variety of scenes in NP. Everything from a podcast studio to a house on fire. Every set has its own unique characteristics. I’d recommend exploring a scene you might want to use to find interesting areas. I’ve created an annotated list with pix of all 65 sets in NP. You can access that list here:
At this point, you can’t import new scenes, but I have a feeling it's something that will come in future updates. I’d also like to note that the level editor has tons of interesting scene material, so it is possible to create your own scene using pieces from the level editor. There is also a green screen scene where you can have your actor perform a sequence and then key out the background. This enables you to use NP characters in practically any scene created in another program.
Animating Your Actor
Animation is a key component of Nightmare Puppeteer. But before we get started there are a few settings you have to adjust before you start animating. On the left side of the main menu table is a clapboard that says “Scene Options”. If you click the clap-board it takes you to several menus. The first one has a series of boxes. You want to be sure the “manual camera”, “manual animations” and the “manual human effects” are ticked. I’m not sure why these are on by default, but you should always check these first. If you don’t, then NP will control the animations and camera cuts randomly. This can actually result in some interesting shots, but you have to wade through a lot of junk to get to the good shots.
Nightmare Puppeteer provides several animation sets to use on your actor. There are 11 sets of 8 individual animations. There are as follows:
- Dancer 1
- Dancer 2
- Dancer 3
You can try out each set by choosing the first set (Weirdo is first on the list inside the game), picking a character and then a scene. Go to the scene and press the letter A on your keyboard. This starts the first animation in the Weirdo animation set. The animation plays on a loop. You can freeze the character at any point in the animation cycle by holding the letter down with your finger. Once you release your finger the animation continues. There is a unique animation in the Weirdo style on every letter from A-L. If you want to change the animation set you can press Alt-A (previous set) or Alt-W (next set). Also, if you use your left mouse button and click on a location in the scene, your actor will move to that point.
The A-L keys animate the whole body, but you can also animate only the upper body (keys Q-P) or only the lower body (keys Z-M). Combining these animation combinations can produce unusual and strange animations on your character. Note that Nightmare Puppeteer is primarily meant for users to create surreal and strange scenes with actors acting appropriately weird. A music video is a perfect form for creation using Nightmare Puppeteer. Those wanting to have more realistic animations or scenes will have to work harder to create them, but it is possible.
Controlling the Camera
Camera control is built right into Nightmare Puppeteer and it’s surprisingly robust, but you do have to spend time working with the system to get the hang of it. You control camera positions by clicking the numbers 1-9 on your keyboard. Cameras 1-6 are static cameras; cameras 7-9 are Follow cameras that center on your actor and follows them wherever they go.
It’s easy to change the position of the camera by using the arrow buttons and +/- buttons. The middle mouse scroll button also moves your camera closer or further away. Here is a complete breakdown of camera controls:
One cool thing about the camera positions is that once you get one you like it stays that way until you change it. They are automatically saved. It would be great to be able to save camera positions for each scene you work on, but Nightmare Puppeteer doesn’t work that way. It’s not too much of a problem though.
Camera and Animation Workflow
There are a number of ways to combine actor animation and camera work. Here’s one that works for me: create your actor(s), find a scene, and go to it. Use camera 1 position as your “looking around camera” to find angles and parts of the scene you like. Place your actor where you want them. Then use camera 2 position to set the first angle and camera 3 position to set the next angle. At this point, you can start experimenting with animation to find the combinations you want. Once you are happy then use OBS to record your scenes starting from the beginning of the scene each time. You restart the scene by clicking enter then “restart scene”.
Next up: Lip-Sync and Audio in Nightmare Puppeteer