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How to animate characters - Chapter 1

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Date Added: 6th May 2015
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Take a look inside the popular Maya eBook, How to animate characters, with this free chapter sample...


As a professional animator, I can talk with some authority about some of the basic movements inside animation productions.

On a large-scale animation, you can use tools or cycles to develop a generic walk, stop or run, though if you want to add a little personality to your shot, you have to understand what's happening inside the curves.

First, it is important to have a clear idea of the process of movement, so I begin researching types of movement and the specific influences it has on body shape and muscle so as to make the movement as realistic as possible.

Personally, I prefer to make a video and interpret the mechanics in the pose, such as the relationship between the legs and hips. After that, we can cast some poses and play with the timing to add personality to the walk.

You need to consider the following, when designing your character:
  1. Where is the character coming from, and where are they going?
  2. What is the goal of the shot?

Once this is determined, you can begin to form an image of the way your character will walk. First, create a good reference sheet composed of three or four movement shots in order to understand what is happening in the hips when walking.

You can now begin to sketch out the basic line of action; this is an imaginary line that links the feet, hips, shoulders and head (Fig.01). It is important to recognize the relationship between the legs and upper chest, and how it rotates and shifts when accelerating and decelerating.


When working with a character, make sure to pay attention to its anatomical design. You may find that the proportions are not the same as the human figure you have made a reference sheet of. This means you have to adjust in each of the poses.

Now, with the character in Maya, make a quick keyboard shortcut that selects the whole body (Fig.02). This will make it quicker and easier to manipulate the image. Locate the Script Editor > Edit Clear History, then choose and select the keyboard controls you plan to use and drop to the main shelf to create a button.


Blocking Process

I tend to start the process with the hips and legs. Block the translations and rotations on the hips, specifically using X rotation, as we will use this to play with the balance in the body. You can tweak this curve to create an acceleration and deceleration effect (1?2) (Fig.03).

Fig. 03

Find the point of gravity of your character. It is important to get as close as possible to the center of the contact point in each pose, as any misalignment will cause your character to be off balance.

Next, create basic rotations in the upper chest. From observation, I have noticed that the chest rocks in sync with the lower body. To create a realistic walk, therefore, include a main rotation on the frame of your character (Fig.04).


You should also consider the shoulders; these should be thought of as the "brows" of the body, and the arms, and should be modified so as to get a nice arc in the movement later. Also, add X rotations in the head as this will complement the full body swing and make the whole animation more natural.

At the end of this process, check that the character has enough spacing for his body shape, and then play with the timing to make the walk more unique (Fig.05), (Video.01 ? 02).

continued on next page >

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