Last week we built a cartoon profile of ourselves. This week, we'll use Adobe After Effects to help our character start walking.
Step 1. Create Folders
To be a successful animator it helps to have some degree of creative talent, but it also helps to have decent organizational skills. With this in mind, let's begin by creating two organizational folders in the Project panel. At the bottom of the panel, you will see a little icon that looks like a folder. Click this folder icon (two separate times) to create two separate organizational folders. Click on the untitled name text and then rename each folder COMPS and SOURCES.
*Helpful Hint: Be careful to deselect the first folder after you make it, or you will end up putting one folder inside the other.
Step 2. Import your Source file
Now that we have made our organizational folders, lets bring in our character assets. At the top, select File>Import>File... and then locate your cartoon profile character (Adobe illustrator file) which we built from scratch in the previous blog.
Once you find and select your .ai file, make sure you bring it in with Composition - Retain Layer Sizes as your choice for document Import.
Step 3. Place assets into appropriate folders
To utilize the organizational structure we set up in Step 1. Place your newly imported character's comp file (notice the filmstrip-like icon) into the Comp folder you made, and then place the appropriate layers folder into the Sources folder you made.
Next, change your Timeline to display Frames rather then seconds by holding down you Control Key and Clicking on the Time Display.
NOTE: If you ever need to Scale your Keyframes in a Timeline. Select all of your Keys and hold down the Alt key while dragging in your Timeline window. This will keep the relative distance between keys while either spacing them closer or further away.
Now, review you Composition settings under Composition>Composition Settings.
Select the Preset drop-down and pick the "HDTV 1080 24" preset.
Step 4. Pivot your parts
Thanks to our proper layer hierarchy from the character buildout phase in Adobe Illustrator, we can easily see all our character's body parts in the Timeline. Now select the Pan Behind (Anchor Point) Tool (Y) and prepare to move the anchor point of each body part to the proper position where that body part should pivot from (the arm should pivot at the shoulder, etc). Select a body part in the layer list below in the Timeline Panel, then move into the Composition Panel and drag the anchor point of each limb to the best pivot location for that particular body part..
Step 5. Parenting
Before we start setting keyframes and making body parts move around, we'll want to be sure all the limbs are parented correctly, or body parts might "fall off." You can use the Pick Whip tool to parent the head and limbs to the Torso. The Torso is kinda like the nucleus of everything. You may need to parent to other body parts on the way to the Torso. For example, the feet should be parented to the legs, and the legs should be parented to the Torso. The hat should be parented to the head, and then the head should be parented to the Torso.First select the body part you wish to parent to the Torso. Next, select the pick whip tool and drag to the Torso layer. The word "Torso" will show up in the Parent column that corresponds to the Head layer.
Step 6. The Power of the Puppet Pin
Next, we are going to utilize one of the more interesting tools in Adobe After Effects. The Puppet Tool.
Select the leg you wish to start with , then select the Puppet Tool. Your cursor will look like a mini version the Puppet Pin tool icon. Click to set points at the very top of the leg, the kneecap, the heel, and the ball of the foot. Do the same thing for the right leg.
Helpful Hint* If you hide the arms you will be able to see the legs better. Click the eye icon to hide (and reveal) the intended layer.
Step 6. Rulers
We need a ground level to walk on, so either we build a ground asset or use some rulers instead. In the menu at the top, select VIEW<Show Rulers. Your rulers will appear at the top and sides of your composition panel. Click on the ruler at the top and drag a marker line down to your character's feet. Drag a few more rulers to indicate the pelvic area and the head on both the horizontal and vertical axis.
Step 7. Posing & Keyframing the Torso
There are 4 distinct keyframes/poses that are needed for a standard walk cycle. In most cases, the most important of the 4 is the Contact pose. It is the fundamental building block of a walk cycle. The placement of the torso (and by extension the head) for the Contact pose helps us determine (and maintain) the average height of the character on the Y axis throughout the walk cycle. You will also notice the feet are at their furthest extension when correctly positioned for the Contact pose.
* Helpful Hint: You might consider turning off the visibility of the arms and legs so you can stay focused on just the Torso.
Click the stopwatch on the Torso's Position transform to start making keyframes. Following the diagram, position the torso (on the Y axis only) at frames 0, 3, 6, and 9. Then you can copy and repeat the same 4 keyframes for the Torso at frames 12, 15, 18, and 21. When copying a frame, be sure to click on the frame diamond; then select Copy; then place your CTI in the next frame and select Paste. The animation will loop after frame 24. Use your guides to help you position the Torso on the Y axis.
*Helpful Hint: Isolate your Timeline's work area to the first 24 frames and then press the spacebar to preview the position keyframes you just made.
Step 8. Posing & Keyframing the Legs using the Rotate Transform.
Next, we add keyframes to the Rotation Transform of each leg. We start with the "Contact" position in Diagram 1.0 above. Select the right leg and rotate it forward to the match the diagram. Then select the left leg and rotate is back. Now place your CTI at zero (0) in the timeline and click on the stopwatch next to the Rotation Transform for each leg. Since you want your walk cycle to loop, we want the rotation of each leg at the Zero mark on the timeline to match at the 24 second mark on the Timeline. So, select your key under the zero mark and copy it. Now, move your CTI to the 24 second mark in your Timeline and Paste the key. Do the same process for each leg.
Keyframe zero (0)
Next, place your CTI at 3 seconds in the timeline and rotate each leg to match the Diagram. These are general starting points for each leg and will be adjusted further in the upcoming steps. Again, move your CTI to the keyframe 6 and Rotate the legs. Continue this process until you have a keyframe for 9, 12, 15, 18 and 21.
Keyframe 12 - Opposite foot "Contact" frame.
Step 9. Posing & Keyframing the Legs Using the Puppet Tool
Now we can tweak the character's puppets pins to allow for better positioning of the legs. Place your CTI at Zero in the Timeline and we will fine-tune the animation with the Puppet Tool for each Leg. Twirl down into the Effects>Puppet>Mesh>Deform object in your current selected leg & locate the stopwatch for each Puppet Pin's Position transform. Note: Whenever you click a puppet pin onto an object, a keyframe is automatically made. In After Effects, zero (o) is a frame, so let's pose our character's first keyframe at frame zero (0) and do this walk cycle on 12's. This works out for us in a good way since we are animating at 24 frames per second.
Keyframe Zero (0)
After you have posed your character at frame Zero (0), copy the keyframes to frame 24 for each leg.
Create the contact frame of the opposite foot at frame 12.
Now that you have your "Contact" poses. Go back through the rest of your primary keyframes and adjust your Puppet Pins to match Diagram 1.0 above. For instance, at frame 3 notice the knee bends as the Torso comes down. The front foot is flat, too. Use your guidelines to adjust the height of the foot.
Continue to modify the leg position keyframes on frames 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, and 24 until your character's lower body animation begins to resemble a walk cycle.
Step 10. Setting up the Arms for Animation
Now that we have a handle on the process let's animate the Arms. First, here is your general reference for the Arm positions:
Turn your Arms on and let's start at zero (0) in the timeline.
Next, select the Right Arm and add Puppet Pins to the Shoulder, Elbow, Wrist, and Hand. Do the same process to the Left Arm, too.
Step 11. Animating the Arms
Now, select the Right Arm and Twirl down Tranform>Rotate. Click on the Stopwatch to add a key to zero on the Timeline. Rotate the Right arm back until and the Left Arm forward until they match Diagram 2.0 above.
You will notice that Diagram 2.0 is only up to Frame 12, so you will have to interpolate the next 12 frames. I found that if you left out frame 21, the flow of the arms seemed more natural.
Next, using your Puppet Pins, pose the elbows and hands at the zero (0) mark on your Timeline. Then Copy those positions to the 24 Second mark on your Timeline so the animation will loop. Tweak the middle keyframes as needed to get the animation to work. Remember "Less is More". Add some blinks and you are done!