I recently debated on YouTube with another fan on the subject of whether RT has ruined RWBY or not since Monty's passing. He argues that decisions are being deliberately made which sabotage the combat choreography of the show and have made it worse. My counter-argument was that while volume 4 had some VERY lacking combat it was part of RT's efforts to experiment with different styles and methods in order to find something that works and can replace Monty's style.
Upon conclusion of the debate it was asked that I post this on RWBY's forum and so I shall honor their wishes and put it up here. Please be aware that I do make a few assumptions about RT's methods and am a novice animator in Blender 3D so some of my interpretations might be dead wrong.
I will explain 3 main issues with combat choreography in CGI and RWBY specifically, both from Montys animation and RTs new methods. These are not the sole subjects on whether RWBY fights will be good or bad but simply two things I've noticed changes to that might be causing people to get upset even if they dont realize what this stuff is as they watch it.
Camera angling in a fight scene: In a 3D program you can create multiple "cameras" that then follow the scene as it plays out. These cameras can be animated to move in the same way the actual characters are, allowing motion shots to be recorded. You can also have the camera being viewed jump back and forth between different cameras if one camera cant sweep over to the action on the other side fast enough.
Monty typically used camera sweeps that pivoted around the cameras to add an additional piece of motion to the action. This also kept the scene from becoming bland due to the characters often being in one spot trading blows with no actual motion or change in their location. The characters were often locked close together with very little motion (Sun vs Roman or the close range phase between Yang and the twins). If the camera motion stagnated the scene would look boring.
RT is now using a more "Hollywood" style of camera angling with jump cuts or swapping to the perspective of another camera instead of using a lot of motion through one consistent flow. They switch between several scenes at once to keep things fresh or will switch from a close up view to a camera further out to prevent stagnation. They also dont lock characters in place and trade blows like Monty did and instead are often flying all over the scene (resulting in the heavily criticized "floatiness" of volume 4) gravity kind of got tossed out the window and ruined a lot of the fights.
One thing I never saw either Monty or RT use is simultaneous camera zooming and sweeping. This would produce the same desired result of keeping the scene from stagnating visually but with an animation style dramatic effect you might see in a cartoon. This would further cement RWBYs status as a blend of Japanese and American animation. I dont get why animators lock their camera axis's when a full range of motion produces dramatic effect without even moving the subjects. No matter what though, RWBY needs to NOT use floaty combat in volume 5 or even Im giving up on the combat of this show because stuff like what went down between Blake and the water dragon were horrible. What is are your opinions on camera angling?
Weapon collision and prevention of clipping: A core problem with any combat animation is how to show the connection between the two characters' blows because the models will actually clip through each other unless you program a very in-depth dynamic system to teach the weapons how to respond when their models connect.Common solutions include camera angles that hide the point of collision (and the subsequent clipping), jump cuts (at the moment of collision), post effects (motion blurs of spark effects to hide slight clipping errors) or even simply viewing the scene from a zoomed out perspective to hide the clipping event.
If you watch the fight scenes that came out WITHOUT Monty involvement you will see that the camera often freeze frames the two characters right as they collide so the animators can take time to make the weapons connect without having to hide the issues of clipping through each other. An example of this is pretty much every fight Qrow has been in. Half time they freeze frame and the other half they hide the collision off camera. This is very jarring and visually unappealing (it feels lazy and looks stupid).
Monty's combat seemed to use (again as a novice animator its possible Im not seeing this correctly) motion blurs and spark effects to hide clipping during a collision such as the sparks in Sun vs Roman or the motion blurs he used for almost every time Blake fought something. This seemed to work very well especially since with some characters like Yang the spark effects actually coincide very well with the weapon type making the issue of hiding collisions a mute point since Yang's knuckles were always being hidden by a fire effect.
The freeze frame collisions seem to already be getting phased out thankfully but I want to see RT put more stock into motion blurs instead of screwing with cameras to avoid showing clipping errors. That really limits your tool set and hurts the value of the scene.
Combat Choreography in CGI The way a scene is being created dictates what kinds of animation is viable to create the fight scene. The two core means of animating are to either load up a mo-cap recording and then use slight adjustments to fit it into the scene OR use classic key-framing where you set the character up in a position and then jump ahead in the timeline and put them at another key point in their motion and then the program fills the gaps to get the model to move to that position. Keyframing is time consuming but allows a wider baseline to begin with because mo-cap, while editable through keyframing is still utilizing that mo-cap motion as its basis. Please be aware that I have NEVER been able to use mo-cap myself and do everything with keyframes since Im just a noob with a computer in my house LOL.
Monty used keyframes in his early work due to a lack of mo-cap capability, at RT he seemed to quickly grow fond of mo-cap and began using a lot of it at least from what Ive heard from people as well as seen in RT's videos. A lot of the stuff that characters would do in Monty's animation cannot be simulated in mo-cap and instead had to be painstakingly done out in key frames to make a reality. I believe this is th ekey reason for people's distaste with the new combat. They notice there are a lot less dramatic movements or over the top choreography because now RT appears to prefer mo-cap of human fighters (which brings with it human limitations)
RT seems to rely heavily on the mo-cap of pro-fighters as well as regular people that hop into the suits to record a walk cycle since key framing a walk animation is an absolute nightmare. Keyframing has taken a backseat and is only used now for slight motions like a hand or head movement when the character is standing in one spot. Since GOOD keyframing and mo-cap are kind of hard to tell apart I might be mistaken in saying that RT uses a bit too much mo-cap.
RT should experiment with creating combat that a real life fighter cannot produce and utilize its larger number of animators to take the time to do the long process that is keyframing. RWBY has always suffered from people who wanted quantity over quality both before and after the loss of Monty. RT's animation team is now HUGE compared to the first 3 volumes. They should have the manpower for people to be divided up and set to the long process of keyframing combat instead of just popping in mo cap and doing some touch ups. Granted the new complication with a large team is that it is hard to keep everyone in sync on what the desired effect or method of delivery is going to be. It might be hard to make a Monty style combat choreography when the fight is dived into multiple people (which might explain why Monty and Shane often did the combat themselves and spent long nights on them instead of dividing it up among the team).
In conclusion: I love RWBY and am adamant that the failures of volume 4 were due to experimentation into developing something better. I cant blame a company for crap combat animation when their two leads combat animators were for one reason or another lost. RT is not at fault for trying something new and failing, they will be at fault if volume 5 comes out and no changes have been made in a full year of animation development. I expect either A. to see a new series of ideas being tested in response to volume 4 experiments failing or B. they try to re-create what Monty often did in his works. Some of the stuff in his animations that RT is not doing can be VERY easily done by any animator worth their salt. Why some of these methods were abandoned or never used is beyond me but Id hope that animators with far more skill and experience than me would have something in the works for volume 5 rather than keep doing what they pulled in volume 4.
Thank you for your time reading this and please feel free to debate my analysis with respect to all parties.