Category Archives: Animation 1

Animation – Assessment 1- Process Diary – Week 13

Finally I arrive at the polish stage of my strut cycle. Because I had been quite detailed with the previous steps, there was not alot to do here. I still had some problems with knee-wobble which my teacher helped me diagnose. It turned out that the center of gravity was sitting a fraction too far back, so translating Z slightly forward partly solved that issue.
The other contributor to the knee wobble was that the ball roll on the feet needed to happen slightly earlier in time. Shifting those keys from frame 9 to frame 6 (and the reverse) helped to avoid ever having the knee ‘lock out’ in a fully straight position.
I am still being amazed by simple timing changes and how well they can fix things if you get an eye for diagnosing the problems.
So with everything happening much smoother, the last thing to do was to to get the global control moving in Z and taking him forward. You could refer to this process as taking him off the treadmill 🙂
Maths can be used effectively for this. The essence is to find the total distance that the foot travels in a complete step. This can be done by adding the z translate value for the rear of the contact position and adding it to the z translate value in the front of the contact position. This tells you how much you will need to move the global control in Z to match the forward momentum. So once you have that value, you can key the global Z translate at frame 12, make the tangents linear and cycle with offsets. This is the first step in getting the foot to not slide when it is in contact with the ground.
The other important step is to make sure that during the ‘contact’ period, the foot translates in Z in a very linear way (no easing in or out). That way the backward motion of the foot will ‘cancel out’ the forward motion of the global control which is moving in a perfectly linear tangent.
The foot can have an arced shaped Z translate tangent while in the air, but when in contact with the ground it must be linear to truly not slide.

Anyway, I learned on lot on this little project, here he is in all his glory. Remember to sing ‘stayin’ alive’ while viewing this –

and here he is from the back so you can check out his sweet booty!


Animation – Assessment 1- Process Diary – Week 12

Straight Ahead Animation,

Today we took a look at the ‘straight ahead’ method of animation. Rather than having a strict plan or a storyboard like you would normally require if doing a pose to pose sequence, straight ahead can produce spontaneous results that are more fluid looking and unique.
The simplest way to describe the process is to start at frame 1 and just animate forward. Using the ‘Moom’ character rig, the aim for my in-class project was to animate a simple jump from a box.
The first step is create a pleasing start pose and setting up the camera in a way that would aid in the story telling. It is helpful to tear off a camera panel to view as reference while animating, it is important to keep track of what the audience will see and how they will see it. You can then make decisions about things like the shape of the character in silhouette, strong gestures, arcs and line of action.
Then progress forward animating every 5 frames or so, making up the action as we go. You can ignore timing and spacing and just focus on strong gestural poses and action. You don’t need to use every control on the rig at this early stage – keep it fresh and fast.
Then when you have gotten to the end of a logical sequence, a place where it seems a natural termination point, you can go back and adjust the timing and spacing. There will be actions that you want to feel snappier so you will usually want to select all keyframes from a certain point and drag them backwards in the timeline. Conversely, there will be moments where a pause is required to allow the audience to breathe and create anticipation. Then you might decide to do another pass using some different rig controls that you didn’t touch on the first pass, adding some more subtle movements. It is important to add slight movements when the character is stationary. Characters should never be fully still. Making trivial secondary movements like breathing, eye movements and blinks or maybe scratching an ear. These do not contribute  directly to the story but can add believability and slow the pace.

I enjoyed this method. After the strict uniformity of a walk cycle and always having to double-check symmetry and copy-pasting frames, there is an element of fun to just going for it.
I AM a bit of a control freak too at times though so I am sure in time I will come up with a method for combining the structure and uniformity of pose to pose with the freedom and flow of straight-ahead.
Anyway, here is what I ended up with –

Animation – Assessment 1- Process Diary – Week 11

This week, again working with our class ‘standard’ walk cycle we started on the 2nd animation pass.
This was mostly about getting feedback from classmates and the lecturer and making more targeted refinements. The first things I noticed was that the toes were penetrating the floor slightly while moving through the passing position. Even with the use of plateau tangents on the feet, this can still happen due to the x rotations. So the feet needed to be lifted slightly in Y.
We also looked at timing and spacing in more detail.
Timing can be referred to as ‘the time it takes to move from one pose to another’ while the spacing is more like what happens in between those poses – like ease in and outs. Our timing was more or less done already- I knew how long the cycle should take determining the speed of the walk. Its the changing of tangents that changes the spacing and this can bring alot of personality to animation.
We did an experiment making the spacing inconsistent and asymmetrical through the cycle to imitate a limp. If someone has a sore ankle, knee or foot they will move quicker through the passing position with the opposing leg to reduce the time that the weight is on the bad side.
So at this ‘2nd pass of animation’ stage, we can use the shaping of tangents to effect the flow and personality of the action.
I noticed that the hips rotations of my character where very constant in speed which was reducing the amount of character in the walk. I liked the ‘type’ of movement, this had been firmly established in the previous passes, but I needed to change the dynamic of that movement, adding ease in’s and out’s by making the tangents more S-shaped and adding interest to the walk.
The other aspect I worked on today was to add ‘pre and post infinity’ to all the controls. Sometimes tangents need adjusting after you do this to make sure the flow in and out of the the ‘cycle’ is smooth. It is easy to see by viewing the dotted line and making sure there are no harsh breaks in the tangency.

Animation – Assessment 1- Process Diary – Week 10

After getting the OK from my lecturer on blocking stage 2 of my walk cycle, it was time to move into the first animation pass.
The first pass of animation is basically about moving from stepped tangents into animation curves.
Before doing this, you need to make sure that the walk is perfectly symmetrical and that the key positions are exactly where they need to be. Then some decisions need to be made about which type of tangent to use for which controls. The main types of controls we use are spline and plateau. The difference is easiest to explain with a screen shot. In this case I have plateau on the left and spline on the right. You can see that the spline overshoots the tangent handles –
Tangent decisions –
Plateau tangents are great when you have to work within certain parameters. The tangent will flatten out at its most extreme point- in the case of the y translates on a foot control it will ensure that the foot does not drop below ground level.
Spine tangents on the other hand are more expressive and are great for things like hips where the goal is to look as fluid as possible.
Tangent conversion –
So in the case of this walk cycle, I grab all the foot controls and convert them tho plateau and all the hips control and convert to spline.
Manually smooth curves –
The next task is to go through all the animation curves and check for anything that look like it might cause jerkyness. If there are keyframes that are not changing the direction of the curve then delete them. If there are tangents that are causing bumps in a curve for no apparent reason, then smooth them out. In some cases you may need to break tangents or free tangent weights to get it looking smooth. Remember to make these changes to all mirrored position so that everything stays symmetrical.
View the playback carefully and make any tweaks to ease-ins and outs to make the motion look the best that you can.
Arcs –
At this point you can select a controller and create an editable motion trail. This gives you an image of the arcs of motion as though you have traced it on the screen.
In maroon colour you can see the arc for the hips on the left (making a figure 8) and the for the right foot on the right –
I have to admit that this is the first time the value of these arcs has occurred to me!
A handy technique is to create motion trails for each of the feet, then look in the side orthagraphic view to see if there are any differences like in this case where the arcs are not perfectly aligned –
you can then fix this by selecting the frame number ON THE ARC and shifting if the match. Once you are visually aligned, it is probably still best to copy and paste the exact values but it is still a great diagnosis tool!
Go cycling!
Now that you are happy with playback, you can make your animation cycle.
Make sure that you have infinity ticked on in the view –
Choose the curve you want to repeat to infinity and go to curves- Post infinity- Cycle
Now it repeat the frames in dotted line

As usual, I am following all the steps for my assessment Travolta strut which you can read about here:

Animation – Assessment 1- Process Diary – Week 9

We continued on with the ‘standard’ walk cycle in class today following along with the teacher and completing the second blocking pass.
The new theory is that we are only focused on the lower half of the body and may not even get to the top half at all. That theory is starting to make sense – it forces you to think very thoroughly about the hips – the foundation of any walk cycle. It also seems a lot less daunting as you can hide and forget about all the controls apart from the hips (cog control in the case of package man) and the feet. In this ‘blocking pass two’ we got a bit more involved with the custom feet attributes like taps, rolls and twists – forcing us to think more precisely about the mechanics of step. Which part of the foot contacts the ground and when? We all ‘acted out’ our own particular walks and noticed the peculiarities, like for instance how my own walk is so lazy that I don’t lift my foot high enough off the ground to avoid dragging my heel. I have the worn shoes to prove it!
The other benefit of today’s class for me was a few simple but breakthrough time-saving techniques. They will seem simple for experienced animators but being so new to the graph editor, I am still learning methods to do things faster and more efficiently. This is really important when it comes to animating because it is such a repetitive process.
Anyway, here is a summary of 2 simple things I learned today

Copy and paste key values inside of the graph editor – a walk cycle is about symmetry. Once you have decided on the rotate X value you want for the back foot at frame 3, select the key and the value is displayed (circled below). Copy it, then select the other foot and paste it into the ‘mirrored’ position – in this case at frame 15.

drag values together – once you have set up the basics of the cycle and you are now experimenting with values on a control, lets say the translate Y value for the hips, do it for all the mirrored positions at the same time! The Y position of the hips is the same at frame 0, frame 12 and frame 24 – you can easily see that without even thinking about it because they form a straight line in the graph editor. Shift select all 3, then shift-drag them up or down together to change the value. If you have the time slider positioned at one of these frames, you get instant feedback in the camera views. Then you are done, you don’t have to think “OK that looks good at frame 0, now I need to update the values at 12 and 24”. To illustrate this below, I have colour coded the values that can be adjusted together – the keys circled in pink can be adjusted as a group, same for the ones circles in green, cyan and red –

for homework, I progressed through blocking pass 2 on my own, more strut-like cycle.

Animation – Assessment 2 – Animated Character Walk

The requirement is to create a walk cycle with some personality. When I think of collecting walk cycle reference, what comes to mind are 2 classic walking scenes I remember from films –

• the ‘group walk’ at the opening of reservoir dogs – the ‘coolness’ of this scene is enhanced by the use of slow motion which gives the audience time to think about the camaraderie of the group. Each has his own walking style but they all take very long strides –

• Travolta’s famous ‘strut’ walk at the end of ‘Stayin Alive’ – notice the technique of close-cropping the frame on the actors head. This re-enforces the bounce of the head within the frame. It is very deliberate to emphasize the rhythm of the movement –

So I take one for the team, put ‘Stayin alive’ in the headphones and try to act out the strut I am looking for….turns out I am the whitest man in inner western Sydney! I went through the frames and pulled out the key positions
So from right to left we have the
• Contact
• down
• passing
• up
• mirrored contact

and here it is with just those frames strung together as a gif –

My ‘acting’ is pretty poor to use as proper reference so using the rough proportions of ‘package man’ (who will be our actor) I sketch out the reference poses.
Reading through the walk cycle section in the Animators Survival Kit (2009) I find a tip on making a walk cycle bouncier. It suggests that if the character remains ‘down’ at the passing position, it can give the character more bounce. So I guess more like this-


Blocking Stage 1

So based on the drawings above and some class lectures about building walk cycles (see my class process diary), I jump into maya with package man and begin blocking in my key poses –
Here are the snap shots from blocking stage 1
Side View
Front View
At blocking stage 1, I am just using the centre of gravity control and the basic rotates and translates on the feet, none of the fancy foot controls like taps, rolls and twists. I pose out the keys for 2 steps spanning 24 frames. This feels like a good pace and if not I can adjust that later.
He does not have a great deal of character yet, but his movement is fairly fluid. He takes quite large steps and has quite a lot of up and down bounce and hip rotation. I save this one out as a playblast and leave any more personality exploration for blocking stage 2.

Blocking Stage 2

I have been doing some experimenting I have had a light bulb moment! The essence I want in this character is ‘rhythm’ and strut as I have discussed above. I want him to have a dance-like quality along with the exaggerated bounce and I have figured out how to do it!
I actually have to break the walk cycle ‘rules’ for the hip rotations. Normally when a character walks, the hips rotate in Z to favor the leg that is forward. For this dance-like stayin’ alive strut, my hip rotation in Z needs to favor the leg that is BACK!
I can explain it better with front view screen shot –
I have subverted the usual rule and made the hips rotate down toward the BACK leg! It doesn’t make a huge difference from the side view but when I looked from the front I realized it was what I had been trying to get all along. This was confirmed when I looked from the back and the butt had the kind of catwalk wiggle that Travolta’s character has. This hip movement is a bit feminine but I have combined this with the masculine ‘stay down on passing position’ action that I played with in the drawings and it is the perfect combination. Here are the screen snaps-
Side View
Front View
You can really see from this front view the difference this makes! You can almost feel him lunging forward with each step.
Here is a side by side comparison of Blocking Stage 1 and Blocking Stage 2, look out for the change in hip rotation it kind of pops in a very danc-y way and also keeping the hips staying down longer into the passing position-
Considering it is still in stepped tangents, I am really happy with it!

This week moved from block pass 2 into Animation pass 1. I converted all the stepped tangents to spline and plateau. I wont explain because I posted all about the process in my class process diary here:
but here it is the latest playblast-

Some more fine tuning in the 2nd pass of animation stage this week.
• Adjusted the feet through the passing position so that the toes did not penetrate the floor.
• Adjusted the tangents on the hip rotations to give it some follow through rather than just a smooth action.
• added pre and post infinity cycles to all controllers so that it loops seamlessly.
You can read more about this stage in my week 11 process diary entry here:

and here is the latest playblast –

References –
Williams, R, 2009. The Animators Survival Kit. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury.

Animation – Assessment 1- Process Diary – Week 8

Week 8 is all about walk cycles. Leading into the next animation assessment, we start to explore the steps required to create a character walk cycle. There are certain aspects to keep in mind for a successful walk cycle –
• the arms and torso opposing the hips
• the up and down motion
• the balance of the character

other things that we must keep an eye on -• the center of gravity
easing in and out of motions
timing – is the cycle slow and lethargic or is there a bounciness/energy?
• the consistency of speed – is the character in a hurry?

Other tips we learned today –
• Use strong poses
• the key to a walk is the hips – the hips will generally make a figure of 8 motion
• beware of subtlety of follow through, don’t going overboard


Key positions of a walk cycle
Contact position – a lot of the characters ‘personality’ comes from this pose. It is the where both feet are in contact with the ground and the character is at the middle height
• the down position – where all the weight is down and ready to start the spring up. The head will be at its lowest point
• the passing position – sometimes called the breakdown – the mid-point in the motion, where one leg passes the other
Contact – basically a mirror of the first pose

There will be plenty more talk of walk cycles in my walk cycle assessment post.