Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Character Animation: Getting My Feet Wet

After making three or so simple animations involving lighting tests, basic geometric forms, and camera angles, I decided I would take my next baby step: humanoid mesh animation. I figured, 'Gosh, a humanoid is nothing but a bunch of cubes and spheres, right?' So I sat down with my sister and learned about armatures.

My sister has a real knack for armatures. The first time I tried to use them, I got stuck on the theory in a tutorial I was reading. They way the tutorial explained it seemed simple enough, but I just couldn't figure it out. So, it took sitting down with my little sister at her computer, watching her and asking questions, to get an idea of how armatures worked. With this basic knowledge, I jumped immediately into animating an armature.

Now, I use a book called 'The Essential Blender' as my main resource for learning how to use Blender. In the book, the provide a CD with some nice example files that you can experiment with if you want to skip over sections. On this CD is a humanoid mesh they call 'Hank.' Hank is silly looking, but good enough to get started with. The first bit of animation I tried with Mr. Hank was making him play a 'guitar' (a distorted cube). That was simple enough. Hank's arms were very easy to animate. After about five minutes or so of experimentation, I had a smooth, natural looking animation. It looked really slick.

My next task was to animate a second Hank. I wanted to have him walk towards the first Hank. This is were my challenges began to arise. You see, they way that Hank's armature rig was built, there were constraints applied to his legs so that you couldn't move them as easily as the arms. To move his legs, I had to select his feet, drag them around to about where I wanted them, and pray to the gods of Blender that his leg wouldn't do anything crazy. Sadly, his legs started behaving more like ostrich legs than human legs.

Having experienced this complication with the provided rig, I've decided that all future rigs will have armatures created by me. And I won't put constraints where they don't belong.


  1. It would be beneficial to briefly review FK/IK animation rig setups. Start with a blocking pass for timing.

    A review of the fundamentals of character animation is in order. "The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams will serve you for life. It includes many walk cycles.

  2. Thank you! I will definitely look into that. I have a lot of hand-drawn animation books I started out with. Also, I'm learning more about the rig as I go.

    1. Rigging is probably one of the more technical disciplines. Although it would seem you have an interest in those types of things.

      Most animators know quite about rigging, but major studios will have dedicated riggers with python knowledge. A thorough understanding of constraints will be necessary. It's not a very glamorous job, but it can be rewarding for people who enjoy a challenge and like programming. Definitely an aspect to consider while learning the fundamentals.

      Have you given any thought to lighting or any of the 2D disciplines such as compositing?

  3. I've actually done a bit of work with compositing, now. Lighting is something I'm still working on learning about. I'm still not sure what 'ray tracing' is.