And should you be interested in learning about the techniques I used to create the works above, I’ve taught some courses in Flash animation for Lynda.com. If you’re a customer, and want to learn character animation in Flash, those courses are the best way to do so.
My third Lynda.com tutorial is up. It shows how to create an advanced face/head setup in Flash. Though it was recorded in CS6, it’s backwards compatible for the most part. I used the old Macromedia v8 to build the course files.
In this course, author Dermot O’ Connor offers experienced Flash designers a step-by-step guide for creating and animating a full-featured cartoon face in Adobe Flash Professional. The course begins with some best practices for setting up the rig and moves on to building facial features such as the mouth and eyes, sculpting the mouth to simulate dialogue, and creating a range of expressions. The course also shows how to rotate the head using poses, move the rig along multiple axes, and incorporate audio.
After many months of puzzling and thinking, a production title for my work finally suggested itself. The following is the first pass, but it’s extremely close to the final product. This was animated in Flash:
In Flash Professional CS5: Character Animation, Dermot O’ Connor explains the process of character animation in Flash, using nested symbols and motion and shape tweening to create believable characters. The course covers the process from start to finish, from rigging a character to creating a walk cycle animation. Along the way, Dermot demonstrates techniques such as animating eye blinks, head turns, and mouth movements during dialogue. Exercise files accompany the course.Topics include:
Rendering in SWF or AVI
Creating vectors for the the character body
Coloring the body
Rigging a mouth in Flash
Posing the rig
Animating head and body movement
Understanding facial expressions
Making the contact poses
Creating passing poses
If you’re looking for a way to learn how to animate in Flash, without having to draw poses frame by frame, and without the huge learning curve of a 3D program like Maya or Max, this is for you.
The principles explained in this tutorial can be applied to 3D or Flash animation. For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll deal with six basic static shapes. Using these shapes, you’ll be able to animate any line of dialog.
NOTE: The AF system of dialog animation was developed by companies like Hanna Barbera on the TV shows of the 1960s.
The shapes are labelled A, B, C, D, E and F.
NOTE: These letters do not correspond to the sounds of the spoken words; they are simply labels, nothing more. To show you an example of how they would be used, here is an average line of dialog, with the corresponding mouth shapes:
Follow the shapes across the page. You’ll notice that the action is very smooth – from closed to open to closed as in “B C D E F” to make “Hello”, to A C D B for “My”, to E C D C B to make “Friend”.
Most of the work done while speaking is done by the tongue – the lips do quite litte…otherwise, we’d tire of speaking very quickly. Most animators over-think the process, whereas it’s really quite simple.
NOTE: It’s common to see dialog tutorials talk about “phonemes”, and to see illustrations of up to twenty different shapes – this is overkill. It’s not necessary to animate the character’s tongue or tonsils in order to create believable speech.
The basic approach to dialog is to correctly place closed mouths (the “A” mouth) whenever you hear a B, M, or P. Next in importance is any sound that would need an o-shaped mouth (the E or F mouth). Third, and lastly, is the placement of the chewing action – which can vary from BCDCB to CDB to as little as CB.
Here is a longer example:
In the above line, the A and F mouths are placed first, as their position is “non-negotiable”. If you look between the A and F mouths, you’ll see a consistent pattern: C D C and B shapes, opening and closing into one another, hopefully matching each syllable.
Note that in the example above, the words “in the” are described by CDCB – a single, fluid motion suffices for two words. you don’t always have to have a separate motion for every word or syllable…be watchful for occasions when you can simplify the sequence of shapes.
To see the effect of the technique, here is a dialog line where all the frames are shape-tweened into one another for a smoother frame-rate (24fps):
Most sane people have a fear of animating walk cycles. Many events are happening at the same time, and it can seem overwhelming. A single mistake on your first drawing can wreck the rest of the scene. However, the process can be broken down into a series of steps which can go some distance in simplifying the process.
A walk cycle can be described by four distinct poses:
CONTACT, RECOIL, PASSING and HIGH-POINT.
These four poses and a handful of inbetween drawings constitute a walk cycle. The single most important frame of the four is the contact pose. Once you draw it you have already determined 80% of the rest of your walk. If you make a mistake on your contact pose, it can be very difficult to correct later on. Therefore: pay close attention now and save yourself a world of pain.
Here is the contact pose in front and side view.
Look at the pose carefully. You will notice some very important details: The feet are at their furthest extension in the walk. That is their most extreme position in the cycle. That alone makes this the most critical pose in the sequence. You can plan an entire walk sequence just by laying out all the contact poses as they work into one another.
Some animators think that the recoil and high points are the most important poses because the head is at its highest and lowest positions. This is wrong. The contact pose is the fundamental building block of a walk cycle. If you do not start your cycle with this pose, then you are doomed. It’s as simple as that.
When the right foot is forward, the right arm is back, and vice versa. This is called “counterpose”. This is how nature keeps everything in balance when you move: one side of the body “opposes” the other. Good animation has these “opposing actions” all the time. If animation seems weak or unnatural to you, it is frequently because it lack opposing action. You can think of a walk as a series of “falls”. The character propels himself forward by leaning into the walk as he moves forward. His trailing foot constantly swings forward to catch himself before he moves on to the next “fall” in the sequence. It shares many attributes with the bouncing ball in tutorial 1. Look at the front on view.
I have drawn in imaginary cylinders to illustrate the orientation of the shoulders and hips. Again, as one is thrust forward, the other is thrust back. As one tilts up, the other tilts down.
Another name for this is “Torque”. It is a fundamental principle of good posing. It should be an element of almost every figure drawing that you do. Michelangelo always used torque in his sculptures, creating dynamic poses, even in ones that were standing still. One hip takes the weight, while the other passively provides the balance.
The body is very rarely symmetrical: indeed, symmetry can be your enemy.
Now look at the recoil pose, the second main pose in the cycle.
This is the frame where the character impacts the ground. It is also the lowest point in the cycle. The characters arms are furthest from the body as a result of the force of hitting the ground. The front foot is fully in contact with the ground; the rear foot has just lifted up from it.
Note that the leading foot is directly beneath the body, supporting the weight above it. Too many beginners produce recoil poses where the foot is not beneath the body, but several inches ahead of it. Try to avoid this.
To keep things simple, let’s skip the passing pose…it’s closer to being an inbetween. Let’s look at the high point.
This is the highest point in the cycle. The character’s body is stretched to the maximum as he lifts his leading leg forward to reach the next contact position. The heel of the trailing foot is just beginning to leave the ground.
Those are the three most important poses to remember when creating a walk animation. If you can wrap your head around them, you will have a much better chance of completing a satisfactory walk cycle.
There are two basic ways to animate a walk cycle. You can animate the cycle “in place” or across the screen. Here is the same scene shown in each style.
Why animate in place? There is one main advantage:
You only have to draw a single stepping cycle, then you can reposition it across the screen, saving time and paper.
The main disadvantages of animating in place:
1.It can be confusing.
2.The “arcs” on the character can look weird when the character is moved across the screen.
3.It can be difficult to match the character properly to the background, if he has to register to something on it.
I am going to show you how to animate a character walking across the page. Once you feel comfortable with that, an in-place walk cycle should be slightly less intimidating.
Look at this image:
This shows the keyframes of a walk cycle moving across the screen. The most important pose is the contact pose. Use this image as an overall guide to your scene.
On a clean sheet of paper, draw two parallel horizontal lines moving across the bottom of the page.
These are the lines that the feet will follow as they walk across the page. Without these lines to guide you, your character can drift either too high or too low on the page.
2.Draw the first contact pose.
Put a clean sheet of paper down over the guideline drawing. You are going to draw the first contact drawing.
Position the heel of the right foot on the lower line; position the toes of the left foot on the upper line. Name this drawing #1, and since it is a contact pose I usually write the letter “c” in the top right of the page, above and away from the frame number. (This is a habit of mine, I don’t know if anyone else does it….you will find that it helps to reduce confusion when you have 12 drawings flying all over your drawing board.) Don’t forget to circle the drawing number, since it is a key.
3. Draw the second contact pose, drawing 7.
If you have a backlight then switch it on. Put down a clean sheet. Number it #7. Circle the number, as this is a key frame. Write the letter “C” above the frame number, to remind you that it’s a contact pose.
Note that the second contact pose occurs about half a second after the first. Here’s how you position the second contact relative to the first: The leading foot on #1 will be the trailing foot on #7. In this case the right foot is about to contact the ground on #1. In frames #1 through #7 it is going to hit the ground and more or less stay there. By frame #7 it will have begun to lift off the ground. Look at the picture below to see how #1 works into #7:
The right foot (the leading one) has touched the ground and the entire body has moved forward. The left foot (the far one) has now swung forward and is now about to contact the ground.
Lightly sketch it in, keeping the overall attitude as similar to #1 as possible. The only differences will be the arms, legs and orientation of the hips, all of which will be reversals of #1.
After you have roughly sketched in the second contact pose, you’ll have to check it against the first. Lift #7 off the pegs, and position it over #1. Flip #1 against #7 to see that both drawings have the same volume and attitude. You don’t want either to look bigger or smaller than the other. Also, both should be leaning forward into the walk at the same angle. If not, your walk will look more like a limp.
Now that you have drawn these two poses, you can begin to block in the main keys between them. First, an overview of what is going to happen.
Here are the main keys. The contact, recoil and high point drawings. Remember these positions when you begin to draw them in on their own sheets of paper. If you were to positon #2 too high for example, it would make #5 very difficult to draw properly: the overall action would be too “tight”…not enough bounce in the walk.
This would feel like a very stiff cycle, unnatural for a cartoony character. See what I mean below:
The opposite is also dangerous: moving the recoil too far down can result in a wildly exagerrated action, too unbelievable for all but the weirdest characters:
Just bear in mind that after the first contact, the character works down into the recoil, then up into the high point, then back into the next contact where the pattern is repeated:
4. Draw the recoil pose
(Bear in mind my rant in the previous paragraph). Put down a clean sheet, number it #2 in the top right of the page, write the letter “R” beside that, and draw the character as his foot hits the ground. The character will be at his lowest point in the cycle. Don’t move the head and body too far forward or you can inadvertently cause any number of arcing problems later on.
I find as a general rule of thumb that the body should fall by half a head to one head in height to keep the walk “bouncy” enough. (It’s a common beginner’s mistake to keep the figure at the same height throughout the entire walk.)
Remember…the recoil position will be almost identical later in the walk, on the subsequent step:
This is what will determine the overall arc pattern, and the positions of all the poses inbetween the recoil and the following contact pose. On the recoil pose the character impacts the ground. The rear foot lifts off, and the arms are extended to their maximum from the body because of the force of hitting the ground.
Now a brief note on the overall timing of a walk.
The most general type of walk cycle is completed over the course of one second. This means that the character makes a single step every half second. This is known as hitting beats, and luckily two beats a second is a typical musical pattern, or so I’m told. We’re animating this scene on the typical 12 frames per second, therefore the overall sequence of drawings so far will look like this:
#07:contact (much like #1, but for the reversal of the legs and arms).
#13:contact ( a duplicate of #1, only further to the right).
As you can see, a complete cycle works from #01 to #12, beginning its repeat on#13. I put the recoil immediately following the contact without an inbetween between them because an inbetween frame would make it look “mushy”. The contact should usually snap into the recoil immediately, without an intervening drawing.
I have not named the frame that the high point will go on. I could assign it as #4 #05 or #06. A different frame number will make quite a difference to the properties of the character. Here is why:
If #04 is the high point the walk will look like this:
As you can see above, this makes the character “bounce off the ground very quickly, making him light footed.
If #06 is the high point the walk will look like this:
This timing above slows down the character as he rises from the recoil pose, making him seem a lot heavier.
I will take the middle path and name the high point #05, resulting in this:
This is a more even timing: it should make the character seem like an average weight, without any extreme attributes. These are the kinds of decisions that you should make before you begin animating. Now we can look at our overall exposure sequence again:
#07:contact (much like #1, but for the reversal of the legs and arms).
#08:recoil (like #02, arms and legs reversed).
#11:high point. (like #05, arms and legs reversed).
#13:contact ( a duplicate of #1, only further to the right).
Now we have our 3 main key frames, #1 #2 and #5, and their near twins #7 #8 and #11. The empty spaces in the sequence above will all be inbetweens. Don’t worry about them yet.
For now we will focus on #1 thru # 07, finishing a single step.
5. Draw the high point.
Put down a clean sheet. As explained above, this will be drawing number #5. Write the number in the top right of the page. Circle it. Write a small letter “H” above the number. Now begin the drawing:
You have a little more freedom when drawing the limbs on the high point than on the recoil, as the leading foot is up in the air, and the arms are swinging over a pretty wide space. That gives you a number of different possibilities. The example frame that I have included is fairly typical.
The most important thing to get right with this drawing is the arc path of the head and body. A mistake on this one frame will effect all the inbetween frames around it.
Once that is finished, you are ready to move on.
6.Add the timing charts.
Before you do anything else, you should add the timing charts to describe the correct positions of the inbetweens. Here are the drawings we have finished so far:
#07:contact (much like #1, but for the reversal of the legs and arms).
Timing charts need to be added to #2 and #5. The timing chart on #2 will describe the positions of #3 and #4 as they work into #5. The chart on #5 will describe the position of #6.
Put #2 on the drawing board. Underneath the frame number in the top right corner of the page, you will add the chart. Here’s what it should look like:
As you can see, #4 is the main inbetween halfway between the two keyframes. #3 is a smaller inbetween which will completely smooth out the motion.
The next timing chart to be added is on #5. Put #5 on the drawing board and write a timing chart beneath the drawing number in the top right corner of the page. It should look like this:
This shows that #6 will be a single inbetween halfway between #5 and #7. Now it’s time to draw the inbetweens.
7.Draw #4: the main inbetween.
Be sure that you have the guideline drawing on the drawing board.Put #2 on the pegs. Now put #5 above that. Put a clean sheet on top of all three. Switch on the backlight. Now you must draw #4, also known as the “passing position”. Some treat it as a key also, but to simplify things, I’m treating it as an inbetween. I’ve never really found it to be as critical as contact, recoil or high point poses.
You have to flip between #4 and the two key frames beneath it. You should remember that from the bouncing ball tutorial:
Again, be sure that your character follows the arc path as he walks. When you’re finished the drawing, remove the drawings from the pegs and place #2, #4 and #5 back on the pegs in that sequence. Now you can roll them to see if they move properly. You’ll also remember that from the bouncing ball tutorial.
If you see any errors in your inbetween, then you must lift the drawings off the pegs again, then place #2 on the bottom, #5 above it, and #4 on the top. Then you can flip again, correcting any errors that may have crept in. It’s tedious, but it’s the only way to do it.
8.Draw the remaining inbetweens.
Repeat step 7 with #3 and #6. If you do them right then you should be finished with the first half of the walk cycle. I hope you had fun, but I doubt it.
You should be looking at a stack of paper, numbered #1 through #7. If you put all those drawings on the pegs, you should be able to roll them and have a rough idea of what your scene will look like when it’s shot. If anything catches your eye, chances are it’s wrong. Go back in, repeating the process described in step 7, until you’re happy with it.
9.Finish the rest of the cycle (or else).
Repeat the steps above to complete the rest of the walk cycle. You’ll have to draw #13 (the third contact pose) to work into. Simply trace off the pose on #1 onto #13 in its new position, further to the right. If it took 2 inches to make a single step from #1 to#7, then slide #13 over 4 inches to the left and start tracing…
I hope that makes sense.
The second half of the walk is identical to the first, except that the arms and legs will be on the opposite sides of the body.
Indeed, you can refer to the first half of your scene to help you with the second. The recoil pose on #8 should be as similar to the recoil pose on #2 as possible, otherwise the walk may seem uneven, or even more like a limp.
10. A general note about arcs.
Every joint of the body has its own arc path. It’s a good idea to check them all. Here’s how.
Place all your drawings on the board. If you have a backlight switch it on. Pick a body part, e.g. the right wrist. Place a clean sheet over the drawings and draw a small dot on it at the position of the right wrist on frame 1. On the same sheet draw a dot for the position fof the wrist for #2…and so on.
By the time you’re finished you’ll have a sheet of paper that looks like this:
That’s what it looks like if it’s done properly. If you’ve made an arc mistake, it’ll look like this:
If your walk is to look smooth and natural, your arc paths must also be smooth, curved, natural shapes. You should repeat this process for every part of the body to make sure they all move properly.
If you’re new to this: draw simple cartoony characters at first. Don’t even think of attempting anatomical designs until you’ve gotten comfortable with the simple ones first.
NOTE: I wrote this tutorial in 2000, and intended it for students learning traditional, hand-drawn animation. Nevertheless, the principles can be adapted to Flash or 3D animation. The main tutorial page is here (there’s a walk cycle tuturial, and I’ll be adding Flash lessons soon).
This exercise will teach you the most important priciples of animation, namely:
Squash and Stretch.
This is the first lesson taught to any animation student. It may seem boring, but by following it you will grasp most of the principals used in animation. Study the bouncing ball scene above: Look at it again with all the frames superimposed.
Now some of the techniques used become easier to see.
1. Arcs. The ball falls in an elliptical arc through space. Most things move in an arc of some kind. If the ball were to move in a straight line between the high and low points of the bounce, then the action would look very unnatural.
2. Timing. (or Spacing). As the ball falls it is accelerated by gravity, the gap between each frame growing all the time until the ball contacts the ground. As the ball bounces from the ground the opposite happens: as the ball hops up it moves very fast at first, then slows down by gravity into the high piont of its bounce. Note that at the high point of the bounce the ball is weightless…perfectly balanced between the force of gravity pulling it down, and its own momentum moving it forward.
3. Squash and Stretch. As the ball falls it stretches. When it impacts the ground it squashes. When it bounces off the ground it stretches again. Note how quickly the ball regains its circular shape. Too much squash and stretch can make an object look “mushy”.
4. Volume. The ball should remain the same mass as it squashes and stretches. If the ball were to squash too much it would seem to be growing physically bigger. This is very eye catching, and looks weird.
How to animate the ball. The process of animating the ball is straightforward. On a single sheet of paper, draw the arc path that the ball will follow.
On this drawing, tick off the position of each ball on the arc path with an X. Be sure to number them. In feature and tv animation, frames are usually numbered 1,3,5,7,9 and so on. To simplify things here, let’s number them 1,2,3,4, etc. For an explanation of why odd numbers are used in animation, see the appendix at the bottom of the page. It’s really boring, and should be a really nice cure for insomnia.
If you have a backlight, then switch it on. Put a clean sheet over the arc path drawing. Now you are ready to begin drawing the “Key” drawings of the animation: the points where the ball is at its most extreme. In this example, its highest and lowest points in the bounce.As you can see, frame 1 is the first and highest point in the sequence. It is therefore an extreme drawing. Frame 7 is the squash drawing where the ball hits the ground. It is also an extreme, as are drawings 12,17,21,25,28 and 31.
On seperate sheets of paper, you should draw the different key frames as named above. If done correctly you should have a series of drawing numbered 1,7,12,17,21,25,28 and 31.Be sure that you write the frame numbers on the top right and bottom right of each drawing. If your drawing is a key frame (as these are) then put a circle around the number.
Place them on the peg bar with the lower numbers on the bottom and the higher numbers on the top. Now you are ready to “roll” the drawings.
How to Roll the drawings:A lot of people working in animation seem to forget how tricky this is. It is a fairly easy skill, it just takes a little practice. Do it slowly at first, as you progress you’ll begin to do it instinctively. There are people working in the industry who aren’t smart enough to chew gum and fart at the same time, and they can do it. So don’t worry. It takes a little time, but you’ll get the hang of it.
Back to the ball: Now you must add the inbetween frames. These are the drawings that go between the keys in order to make the action look smooth. It’s common for these to be called “tweens”, thanks to digital animation programs – but traditional animators call them “inbetweens” (the correct term).
All frames are equal, but some frames are more equal than others. You must determine which is the most important frame to draw next. Which has the most important action?
In this case, the most important is frame 6. It is the most stretched frame in the falling sequence. Therefore I would consider this almost as much a key frame as 1 and 7. If you have a backlight, switch it on. Put the arc path drawing on the pegs first. Then put down 1. Put down 7. Then put down a blank sheet. You should see something like this:
Now you are going to draw frame 6. Begin to sketch in the stretched ball. When stretching the ball, keep the volume consistent. The overall mass of the ball must be the same. Position it around the x drawn on the arc path. When you have finished, you will have to flip the paper to see if it moves right:
How to flip the drawings:
Flipping is similar to rolling, but whereas with rolling you move through the pages sequentially, here you move from the bottom drawing, to the top one, then to the middle one. “WHY?” you ask….because this way you can see the inbetween in motion and make subtle corrections as you work. Incredible as it seems, this method is far more accurate than a lighttable.
Watch the paper closely. Notice that both index and middle fingers are wedged between the top two layers. You begin flipping by holding up both top sheets of paper towards you. You are now looking at the lowest frame, frame 1. Then you drop the two sheets down to the board, revealing the topmost drawing, i.e. the inbetween frame. Then you lift up the top drawing to reveal the one in the middle, i.e the final keyframe. It takes time to get the hang of this. It will be well worth the effort if you do.
Now you will need to add the remaining inbetween drawings between 1 and 5. The easiestway to do this is with a timing chart. Lets look at what we’ve got so far:
You could “eyeball” all the remaining frames, but the surest way to do them is by writing a timing chart. It will look something like this:
The timing chart will go on frame 1, beneath the frame number on the top right of the drawing. This chart tells you that the next most important drawing is 5. That’s why it’s underlined. Note how the spacing on the timing chart relates to the spacing on the arc path above. The chart can determine the position of all the inbetween frames, and also their weight, mass, speed, etc.
Now you have keyframe 1 with a timing chart, and keyframe 6. Simply follow the chart, place the arc path on your drawing board, then 1, Then 6, and proceed to follow the timing chart. Draw 5.
Note: see how quickly the ball regained its shape…if you were to inbetween the shape as well as the position of the ball then the ball would feel very mushy…by drawing 5 as circular, the scene will be much snappier. Repeat inbetweening until the first arc of the bounce is complete. Repeat the process for all frames of the scene.
I have included all the original frames for this scene as digital files. They should print out onto regular A4 printer paper. You can print them out and peg them up onto strips of punched paper, allowing you to roll through the scene. You line them up with the crosshairs on the corners of the page. Simply paste up frame 1 as you like it, then put it on your drawing board. Then put down a strip of punched paper, and position frame 2 with its crosshairs lined up with frame 1.
IMPORTANT: all frames should be positioned against frame 1, otherwise the scene will “drift”.
You can find the files here: Bouncing ball image files . You’ll need winrar to decompress them (most zip programs should work on them).
Appendix: Numbering drawings.
Most animation is still produced for film and tv. Film is projected at 24 frames per second (fps). Early cartoons were all drawn with 24 drawings for every second of film, i.e. onedrawing for every frame of film. Some clever chap finally realised that the animation looked just as good if only 12 drawings were drawn per second of film. Each drawing would be shot twice, to keep the overall timing the same. Nobody noticed the difference, and a lot of carpal tunnel doctors went out of business.
This discovery can be attributed entirely to prohibition. Animators of the twenties were notorious alcoholics. Not these days, glad to say. Today’s breed are wholesome family men, loyal to their wives, good fathers, upstanding members of society, clean living wackos.
The practice of animating 12 fps is called animating “on twos”, and the practice of animating 24 fps is called animating “on ones”. It was still occasionally necessary to animate scenes on ones if a fast action was required, or if the camera panned over the background, i.e. move from left to right to follow a character across the screen. Such shots would look jerky if shot on twos.
When working on twos the animators usually number their frames with odd numbers. 1,3,5 and so on. Frame one is shot twice, frame two is shot twice, ad nauseum. If a point in the scene demands a fast action such as a punch or a shake, then the scene can be switched to ones at thatpoint. The numbering can then include the even numbers that will make the action smoother.
If all this sounds like gibberish, don’t worry. It’s not relevant to anything in the next few lessons.
One last comment about timing: Today a lot of animation is made on computers, and can be projected at any frame rate desired. 10 fps looks fine. Most Japanese animation has been animated at 8 fps for years…a method known as animating “on threes”, as each drawing is shot 3 times, producing 8 frames per second.