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3D Character Animation Tips

Posted: May 09, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
I would like to create a free resource for people to learn 3d character animation. Lets post here all 3d character animation tips and tricks. Character animation principles and methods as well as best practices used in Character 3d animation are welcome here.

OK. I will start:

Importance of Animation
The animation is one of the most important thing when creating a 3d movie... The rendering and even the 3d model or texture might have glitches and unfinished parts that will be less noticeable in an animated, motion blurred, movie where everything is dynamic while the tiniest glitch in animation, like a jerky or unnatural movement, will instantly be visible in the same movie. The rendering and the models can be perfect if the animation is not smooth and realistic all the work done by the 3d modeling and texture artists will be spoiled by bad animation. While a totally unrealistic character if animated well will look very interesting.
Posted: June 03, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
Arc movements in 3d character animation
In human and other organic characters almost all the motions are following arcs otherwise the character will look too robotic. There are almost no straight or linear motions in the movements of a living organism.
Posted: June 03, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
The Integrity of Character
The character body is an integral system so even seemingly separate movements involve the motion of other parts of the body. For example during a head turn in dependence of the situation the character will slightly move his shoulders and his centre of mass. During a walk the entire body will be involved in the animation not only the hands and the legs, even the head will have specific movements.
Posted: June 08, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
Acting the 3d Animation to show Personality
The animator is first an actor and only then a technical guru that knows how to put 3d models in motion. With present animation tools, animating a 3d model of living being is relatively easy from a technical standpoint, but showing a distinct personality that has a long history and character that's where the art starts. That's why it is called Character Animation and not Human or Creature Animation. Smile

When animating try to understand your character personality and feelings.. Spend time acting the animation you work on in front of a mirror until you can achieve believable results only then start animating your character... This is the way to create appealing and interesting 3d animation.
Posted: June 11, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
Using Traditional Animation Principles
Generally a good idea, especially if you want to create expressive 3d character animations, is to use Traditional Animation Principles in your work. But be careful, when creating ultra realistic animations with photo realistic characters these principles should be applied in a very subtle way to avoid the cartoony feel of the characters. If you want to study the animation principles used in traditional animation I would recommend reading "The Illusion of Life" by Disney.
Posted: June 22, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
Rigging the Limbs of a Human Character
Everyone is rigging the Humanoid Characters in a T pose but few know why this is the best pose to rig a human character.
The answer is simple the arms and legs of the character ideally should be rigged in a position that is in the middle of the limb motion amplitude. This way you will have less unwanted distortions on your model during animation. Also it is a good idea to create the 3d model in a relaxed and natural pose so that you could bulge the muscles in extreme positions.
It is wise to choose a motion range for your character that you will be really using in your animation. If in your animation the hands will not move above the shoulder it may be helpful to rig your 3d model with the hands slightly lowered like this: /T\ Smile

Bellow are some images illustrating this concept.

arm_rigging_position_top.jpg arm_rigging_position.jpg
Posted: August 27, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
Pose to Pose method of animation

This is a classical method used in traditional animation where the animator will create the key poses and the assistant will fill the gaps between them.
Don't confuse this process, with computer filling the gaps between key frames. Key poses are not key frames and the traditional animator's assistant does much more than that. The idea is to create the key poses that will tell the story without the in-betweens. Unless the poses are good enough to tell the story it is not worth continuing the animation.

This method is really good for fast and predictable results.

After you have all the key poses done correctly, you can start working on the intermediate character poses, only after you have done a lot of them this will allow the program to fill in the gaps and render a smooth and correct animation.
Posted: September 04, 2009
3d artist gallery Andyba
3D Animation Masterclass: Acting Tutorial Highlights
This is not a step by step tutorial (that's why I did not post it in the 3d animation tutorials section) but it is an amazing overview of advanced 3d animation creation process containing mostly an effective strategy of creating 3d character animations. I enjoyed it very much and found it very useful. I hope that many new animators can learn a lot from it.

Posted: June 07, 2010
3d character animation
Let it be conventional animation or computer animation, what mesmerizes audience is the fact that the animators use a set of skillful tricks to create the illusion of motion and life. We employ both the techniques of the traditional and computer animation at web3Dservice to come up with the best results in the business. The following will offer some useful insight into the tricks of the trade to any aspiring animator who is aiming to create animation using computers and using any quality software for the purpose.
Posted: June 07, 2010
The Difference Between 2D and 3D Animation

It goes without saying that the most prominent difference that you can tell in the computer animation from the traditional hand-drawn animation is its three-dimensional characteristic. When I first started to work on computer animations, I had to adjust myself to the three-dimensional aspects of the animation model. Although the model looked almost perfect when viewed from the side angle, but all that changed when I switched to the front view, as the character had its arms and knees bent in totally the wrong way, other than what I had intended to create. After that I always took care to work on the animation with a two-side view in focus.

Although many people do not realize how computer animation is made in 3D, since most work is rendered for a 2D version screen, the 3D characteristic can be truly explored while working on the animation model. You can see the model with different perspectives with different camera view angles. Due to this quality, you can hardly tell a difference if you are using a particular scene again, unless viewed from a different angle. But in case the animation looks similar to another scene, the movements and their timing are altered to create the distinction from the original source of the scene. This technique could be particularly useful while depicting crowds in the scene and helps make them look realistic.
Posted: June 07, 2010
What are Keyframes?

Keyframes are found on almost all the computer animation software. The term Keyframes is usually referred to the same concept among traditional animators, who prepared them by drawing them with their hands, but in the case of computer animation, it is not really the same thing and should not be confused with the keyframes being mentioned here with it.

Keyframes in hand-drawn traditional animation worked in a completely different manner than computer animation because of the different technique. In Traditional animation, the animators only focus on developing the end poses, which mark the significant change of action in the animated character. Once they are worked on, the animator proceeds to fill in the in-betweens with the minimum number of drawings required.

In the case of computer animation, keyframes refer to the values which are used to control the expression of an animation model, arranged in a hierarchical order. The computer recognizes and computes these values on the basis a spline curve, which is formed by joining these values. In other words, the manual in-betweens are filled by the computer automatically.

Although they sound pretty much the same, but when you get to work on keyframes on computer animation, it is a whole different story. You can work on a keyframe in one medium in computer animation and think that the job is done, but would find the results to be totally different in another medium.

That was the problem that I faced when I started working with computer animation, and given the ineffectiveness of the in-betweens generated by the computer, I actually ended up making a keyframe for every single frame, as I worked on different poses. But that depends on how satisfied you are with the results.

As you go on to work on computer animation, you can find that you can actually make separate keyframes for various controls for each level as you move down the hierarchy. Some of the controls only require a few keyframes, while the others require a number of keyframes for every single frame.

You will also find that as you use fewer keyframes overall, the more useful will be the quality of the in-betweens that the computer can generate, a luxury that traditional animators never had. All you need to do is to be sure what you want to get out of the animation process and make a plan of what you are going to make with the help of thumbnail sketches and plot timing ideas drawn on exposure sheets. These will act as guidelines for the rest of the animation process, and it is useful if you always keep them at an arm's length.
Posted: June 07, 2010
The Relation of Weight and Size with Movement in 3d Animation

Another important aspect that adds to the superiority of computer animation over traditional animation is the fact that you can actually create an animation model with the right texture and size for it to appear realistic. With the availability of latest rendering tools like, ray tracing, texture mapping, global illumination, ambient occlusion and radiosity, you can offer any shape and texture to your animation model, whether you want the model to look like marble or wood or any other material.

Well, that is only the rendering part of the job, but remember you have to make it look as realistic when the object moves, and that is where the actual animating part comes in. In fact, the way you animate a 3D model and how you time its movements is what determines how it will look in the end to the viewer and how its weight and other physical properties will be perceived.

Animation tips can be gathered from nowhere else than real life, and that is how a computer animator makes a difference to the weight of two seemingly identical 3D models just through the perceived dimensions and timing of the movement. By altering the time one of the models takes to move can make one appear heavier than the other. Since a heavier body would require more force, and therefore, more time for movement, the same effect can be created in the animation to give the right impression to the viewer. Furthermore, while the body moves at the same speed, it will require much more force to stop the heavier body from moving. It's all basic physics.

The job of an animator is to make the movement of the object seem realistic in relation to its weight to the viewer, and that is where your animation techniques of applying greater time and force to initiate the motion of a body, and the same for stopping it, come into play. Remember, it is all very simple only if you use common sense.

You can easily imagine that greater time and force is used to move or stop heavier objects and all the opposite is true for light weight objects. It does not require a lot of force to get a balloon moving, and you would have often observed that even air friction can greatly affect its motion, which already had not a lot of momentum. Creating similar effects can make your animation look very convincing and realistic.

Timing of the movements is more important than movements themselves when it comes to developing the sense of weight of an object on the screen. This is why while concentrating on certain poses, you should also concentrate on the intervals between the poses, which affects the perception of weight of the object the most in an animation. The perfect rendering of an object or character would not count a least bit, if it does not act realistically on screen.

The animator should concentrate on the timing of the movement of an object to offer the right idea to the viewer of its size and weight, since it is among the central factors contributing to it. If you are creating a giant or a very heavy character, then you should keep in mind the physical properties of the character, namely, slow motion due to a greater inertia, owing to his or her weight. This is why the giant is animated with a much slower change in movement.

One the other hand, a small creature is animated with much quicker change in movement, due to the much lower inertia because of his low body weight.
Posted: June 07, 2010
Create the Effect of a Thinking Character while Animating

As in the words of the father of animation motion pictures Walt Disney himself, "In most instances, the driving forces behind the animation are the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character" or all three. We think of things before the body does them."
Every single movement of an animated character creates an impact on the audiences, and that is why it is there for a reason, and is an essential part of the story. It is needless to explain that the very purpose of an animated picture is to tell a story and to make the viewer believe its characters. Unless the movements of a character are not related to each other, the flaw of the animator would become obvious to the viewer and the fact that an animator is behind the characters of the story reveals itself, which takes all the fun out of watching your movie.
According to Walt Disney, a thinking character is what can help make its actions look life-like, due to their connection with a thought process. This also makes these movements look believable to the viewer, who can relate to them. You should understand that it is the mind and personality of the character which is behind his or her actions, which the character thinks of something before he or she does it.
The best tools for an animator to convey the emotions and thoughts of a character are the eyes and the heads of the character. If you need to give the idea to the audience of what a character is thinking and what move he or she is going to make, then make sure you convey the message to them through the eyes by focusing on their movement.
But sometimes you have to deal with 3D models with no eyes and when animating objects like these, the head of the character becomes even more important, when it comes to the movement of the character.
The animator must create the animation while keeping in mind what the character is thinking, and his or her job is to convey the message from the eyes and the head of the character.

For instance, if you are working with the character of a mouse who needs to make a decision on whether or not he should take a chance of plucking off the cheese set on the mouse trap you should allow the character the time to think, and the eyes of the character will be the key to conveying the message while deciding whether the cheese is worth the risk or not.
But head and eyes will not be your primary leads for movement when the character reacts to an external stimulus, such as a bear dodging a large ball. And of course, when the ball strikes the tummy of the character, the impact it will create will cause the body of the character to move backward and so on.
Posted: June 07, 2010
How to Use Character Emotion in Animation

The emotion of a character is the greatest tool at the hand of the animator through which he or she can tell the story. Emotion also plays a vital part in determining the kind of action the character is about to make. For example, when a character is happy, his or her motion will be much faster than when he or she is sad. A sad character with a frowning face and drooping shoulders will more appropriately stroll in a slow and dragging pace.

Remember, movements of the characters were all the animators had to tell the story to their audience. Even the slightest of movements were critical, which was why it was important that the animator was making the audience look where it mattered and when it mattered. The way the character moves is a classical example for any animator on how movements can play a key role when it comes to characters with no eyes and facial expressions.

But the movement of the characters are not only reflective of their emotions, but they can also be used to create their personalities on the screen, that is, as they will be perceived by the audience. In order to build the personality of a character, it should be made to look and/or act in a unique manner, different than the rest of the characters in the film.
Posted: June 07, 2010
How to use Moving Holds in 3D Character Animation

Another of the differences between the traditional animation and computer animation is the fact that in traditional 2D animation and even in claymation, you can actually create a sense of movement by using the same pose for a number of frames, but you cannot afford to do that in computer animation. In fact, the moment you attempt that in computer animation, this will spoil all sense of action on the screen. This is one of the most common problems that animators face who switch from hand-drawn animation to computer animation.

The reason why using the same pose for many frames does not work in the case of computer animation could be the realistic rendering and the flow of motion, which does not allow any room for "interruptions". Maybe that is the cost of the realistic motion that computer animation is known for, that the viewer can pick even the slightest of motion interruptions, which will kill all the impact of the realistic motion of a character. But this can be a little inconvenient for the animator.

In order to overcome this problem, you can use "moving holds" instead of holding the same pose for many frames. This is accomplished by not allowing every part of a character stop as in the case of traditional animation, but making slight changes in the movements of one or more of the body parts, such as the head, to move in the same direction of the motion of the character. But the key to do so is that the motion should fit in well according to the character and its environment. Unless there is a special story requirement to do so, incorporating classical cartoon-like animations in a realistic looking animation may not seem convincing to the viewer.
This incompatibility is the major drawback of using motion capture devices for creating the final animation. Although the motion capture devices work just fine when it comes to human movements, but when you use it to apply to the movement of a lion, what you end up doing is that you create a lion acting just like a human being. Most of your viewers may not find it acceptable. The trick is to use the information from the motion capture device, and twist the timing of the movement and the poses of the character to make it more fitting for the design of the lion character and apply them. This will make the motion of the lion believable and realistic.
Posted: June 07, 2010
How to Make the Actions Readable in Animation

In order to help the viewer read the actions in a better way, pay attention to the timings of the action. The point has been emphasized earlier, but it is important to be careful to allot just the right period of time for every particular action in order to create the impression you want. You have to devote just the right kind of time to let the audience look forward to the next action on screen, but make sure that it is not too long to bore them and lose concentration, or too short for them to miss it out altogether, which will kill the entire point of the animation.

If your story requires a quick sequence of actions, then it is even more important to be careful about the timing you devote for the audience to read and understand what is going on. You will agree there is no point of showing even a single action on screen if it were not to be noticed by your viewers, or were not to play its part in telling the story.

This is why you need to divert the attention of the viewers where you want at the right time to enable them to read what is going on and not to miss a single thing. The timing and making people anticipate the action hold critical value when it comes to getting your message across to the audience. If you have not worked well on the timing, even a perfectly executed staging of the anticipation will prove ineffective.

If you are having a trouble putting it the right way on the screen, then the simplest way to make it work is to present one idea at a time for the audience to observe and absorb. It is often the problem with many animated motion pictures that so much is happening in such a short time, that you can never expect the viewer to concentrate on what is happening on screen.

The best animation strategy to single out something for the audience to concentrate is to contrast it from the rest of the scene. In a fast action scene, the viewer will be too distracted to concentrate on the entire scene, but will instantly notice a still object or subject amid the confusion. On the other hand, in a scene with everything else still, the viewer will pick up even the slightest of the movements.

But you should pay good attention to each detail that you want to be noticed by the viewer and stage it properly to be anticipated one at a time. In a way, that would not be too different to showing each and every action in a slideshow, prompting the audience to give their attention to and to observe each action on the screen. But despite that, it is equally important to keep in mind that a particular action should be overlapped by the next one. By starting the next action before the first one ends will offer the viewer a sense of continuity in the whole sequence of actions.
Posted: June 07, 2010
Ask Yourself Why You Should be Doing Something in Your Animation?

Everything should be there for a reason and a purpose, and that is important if you want the animation to be interesting, meaningful and not boring. So ask yourself why whenever you decide to include a particular scene, a particular action, a particular light-and-shade combination and so on. You should ask yourself this question to be sure of how a particular object, animated action or effect could play a role in the story and what difference will it be making. Ask yourself whether it is needed at a particular point at all and whether it would be appropriate to include it, so that it does not offer any distractions.

In order to be an animator with an impact, you should know what you are doing. Knowing why something is moving is more important before you know how you should execute its movement in animation. And as far as character animation is concerned, it is not about creating a person-like object with body parts, face and eyes, but it is about making an object move and act as if it is alive, is thinking and has emotions.

The purpose of the movement of the character is not plainly to create an illusion that an object is moving on the screen. But the movements are actually used to depict on screen that the character is thinking and is about to make a move, and that it has emotions, and all these effects create the illusion that the character, even if it is just an object, is alive and has feelings. If the audience would not consider the character to be alive, the expression of the character would become meaningless. If the audience can be engaged by an animation to see the story feeling that way, the animator did a good job.

This is why every single movement of the character of your story is important and has a meaning and purpose to it, and has an effect on the minds of the audience, even when you are not too careful about it. In fact, each move your character makes builds on the image of his or her personality in the minds of the audience and develops your story further. Although the kinds of movements you depict are limited to your imagination. After all, it is animation and you could possibly create any effect you want. But before you actually go on to do that, make sure the movements seem coherent, believable and convincing to the viewer, or they will end up ruining your hard work.

The key is to synchronize the movements of the character with his or her personality, the story and its overall environment. It will not do your story much good if one of your characters, such as Woody of Toy Story would start flying on its own all of a sudden. Your audience will not be impressed, and will not find your story interesting. We have just talked about ways of captivating the attention of the audience, and a movement out of the context of your story will actually do just the opposite. Such a movement will be instantly noticed as something odd and you will lose the focus of the viewer.

In the end, to be a successful animator, you should keep in mind that it all comes down to story-telling. This is where the entertainment has been found for centuries and centuries in the history of mankind, but the reason why animation is important is that we have come up with a more entertaining way of entertaining audiences. That is why you should focus and build on your story-telling, your characters and the effects that can help you keep your audiences on the edge of their seats.

If you are able to do so, your audiences will find themselves lost in the story that your film is telling, and this will make them forget about all their worries and concentrate on the magic on the screen. Now that's entertainment!
Posted: June 07, 2010
How to Use the Timing of Action for Story Telling

We have discussed how important timing can be when it comes to story telling in animation. And just like every good story teller, your priority should be to captivate the attention of your audience as well, and that is where the timing can make all the difference. You can time the animation to either stay ahead of the anticipation of the audience of the action, to fall behind it, or to actually stay with the audience. As the story teller, you are the best judge in determining what kind of timing to use.

If your animation is timed to be fast enough to be ahead of the audience anticipation, this could end up confusing them about what is going on with the story. At the same time, it could add thrill, adventure and even suspense to the story. This would really make them wonder and wait anxiously for the next move.

However, if your animation is timed to be slow enough to be falling behind the audience's anticipation of the next action, this could possibly bore the viewer in some cases. But at the same time, this can be used at a point in the story where what is about to happen is revealed to the audience before it actually takes place on screen, or to put it another way, before the character experiences it. Whatever suspense remains in this case is the anticipation of the audience of how the character will react by discovering what they already know. In fact, this technique can be used to create a variety of effects on the screen, such as depicting a character that is slow in figuring things out.
Posted: July 28, 2010
Thank you for sharing such a helpful information.
Posted: January 27, 2011
wow! ur amazing! I saw a software that really helps in making 3D animation. Its really easy.. your knowledge can be implemented to create a great animation.=) thanks!
Posted: March 12, 2011
Wow that was great! Thanks for sharing!
Posted: February 29, 2012
Andyba wrote:
I would like to create a free resource for people to learn 3d character animation. Lets post here all 3d character animation tips and tricks. Character animation principles and methods as well as best practices used in Character 3d animation are welcome here.

OK. I will start:

Importance of Animation
The animation is one of the most important thing when creating a 3d movie... The rendering and even the 3d model or texture might have glitches and unfinished parts that will be less noticeable in an animated, motion blurred, movie where everything is dynamic while the tiniest glitch in animation, like a jerky or unnatural movement, will instantly be visible in the same movie. The rendering and the models can be perfect if the animation is not smooth and realistic all the work done by the 3d modeling and texture artists will be spoiled by bad animation. While a totally unrealistic character if animated well will look very interesting.

Thank you for providing free resources, before I have to learn a little bit of 3D effects, but are just some basic things, I hope you can learn from your tutorial to more.
Posted: March 15, 2012