A motion designer does this stuff

From character design to animation - practical tips



Before we start with the Character design up to animation you should have internalized the basics of animation. It helps the standard work "Illusion of life", which is about 'Animation Principles'. If you don't want to buy the book or don't have time to work through it, you can also get the wonderful Youtube video by Alan Becker, or THIS Contribution by Walt Disney.

With us we give you an insight into how to make a figure in practice developed, for animation prepared and ultimately animated. Of course we are at your disposal for questions and support! You can find contact details at the end of this post. Have fun!




What to expect:


Step 1: preparations
Step 2: character design in practice
Step 3: motion design or animation for my character?
Step 4.1: character rigging in after effects (motion design)
Step 4.2: frame by frame animation
Step 5: 10 animation tips from practice!







Step 1: preparations

Whether a customer order or your own project, you should always consider at the beginning whether a character is necessary at all. Why do you want to use it? What should he tell? Is it worth the effort (additional costs)? A figure that is used sensibly is definitely a person who is popular, a figure to identify with, and can bring difficult or complex topics to the fore. For some companies it is even the mascot that should be brought to life. In addition, figures, or explicitly faces, generate greater attention and increase the acceptance of films.

If you decide to do it, you should think twice WHAT the figure must be able to do everything. Is she just standing there or should she make spectacular karate moves? The more complex the required or intended movements, the higher the effort and the associated costs. The next point is about the figure design, but before that you have to be aware of one thing: What should your figure look like? And there you can put it simply:


Character animation vs graphic style!

This means the simpler the graphic style, the faster (i.e. cheaper) complex animations can be created. Conversely, this naturally means that the more details such as shadows, outlines or a complex hairstyle, the more expensive. Take your time to research and look for comparable styles that you like and look carefully at the complexity of the illustrations. Every shadow, every line and every detail means one more work step.




Step 2: character design in practice

You now know what your character has to be able to do and have you agreed on a graphic style? Well, then you can start sketching. If your drawing skills are limited, get professionals on board! Everything that is not clearly visualized here can become more expensive in the animation!


If you pick up the customer with your vision early and show them the possibilities of movement of your figure as a sketch in advance, you can implement change requests with a manageable effort. Later you may have been working on the animation for several days, which the customer doesn't like after all. This is annoying for everyone involved


2.1 Get to know your character!

Of course, there are countless books and online courses on the subject of character design. In our opinion, the most important thing at this point is to get to know your character fully! And not just graphically! Think about what drives your character, where it comes from or what state of mind it is in right now. What kind of fears does she have? Wishes? Aims? And another very important tip: VAVOID PREJUDICE! The more opposites a character combines, the more exciting it becomes. You can find more tips in the last chapter of this post.



2.2 Experiment with your character!

Experiment extensively with your character and sketch out what it takes! For now, leave out details and try everything. See if all the poses in your design work, play with perspectives and just let them experience all imaginable emotions. Pay attention to a clear silhouette with every pose! Ideally, this alone can clearly identify your figure and your mood.



2.3 Character illustration

If you have a good gut feeling and you now know your figure, you should now consider how to proceed. Do you want them as pixel or as Vector graphic implement? But to make that decision, it is not only important to know where and how the graphics should be used (advertising material, on the website, etc.), but also HOW you want to animate your character! That brings us to the next point ...




Step 3: motion design or frame by frame animation for my character?

What are the differences between motion graphic design and animation? And when do you use what?



3.1 What is motion graphic design?


Motion graphic design basically works with graphics that you can use with the help of keyframes in programs like Adobe After Effects can move and distort. To put it simply: like a puppeteer operating a jumping jack. In practice this is of course much more complex and, combined with effects, offers a multitude of possibilities.

This method has the advantage of being able to change and adapt the movement at any time. Very fluid movements with a high refresh rate can be created and it is possible to work with pixel and vector files. In After Effects, we recommend working with Photoshop and illustrator. We have the exact definition of motion graphic design HERE summarized for you.



3.2 Motion Graphic Design Examples:





3.3 What are animations?


The term animation we have detailed on THIS Page described for you. In this post we focus on the classic animation technique Frame by frame. This technique is also known as animation, e.g. in the old Disney films. These offer an infinite spectrum of possibilities to move your figure, but are also significantly more complex than the motion design variant. We would even go as far as to speak of the supreme discipline!



3.4 Frame by Frame (animation) Examples:





3.5 What about 3D animations?


Of course there are also the 3D character animations, but we'll deal with that in a separate blog post. At this point, I would just like to say this much: for the 3D workflow, it is usually sufficient to create the figure drawings in the so-called T-pose from different sides, since these are then used as a template for the further 3D process.


In practice, mixed forms from all areas are often used. Outstanding results are possible with all variants!



3.6 Examples of animation:






3.7 What is Adobe Character Animator?


This is software from Adobe which was developed explicitly for live character animations. The software detects its own movements via a camera and converts them to a graphic figure in real time. We experimented a lot with it in the beginning, but so far we haven't found any practical use for it. One of the few very successful applications was 2016 on Stephen Colbert's talk show.




Step 4.1: character rigging in after effects (motion design)

If your decision has been made in favor of motion design, there are now different ways to breathe life into your character graphics. The process of graphic editing in order to be able to animate with it later is called Rigging. We adopted the term Motion Designer from the 3D workflow. As a rule, one works with so-called BONES, i.e. bones that we place over our graphics and then link together. That works with After Effects PIN tool, but the options are limited and the quality is often unsatisfactory. Here are three of the best Character rigging plugins with whom we work here every day:



4.1.1 The DUIK plugin:

A powerful plugin from France! With that you can rig complex figures and then animate very easily (e.g. there are ready-made walk loops). Not only for people but also for animals. Can be done with bitmap images and vector files. It's complex, but if you have to animate characters a lot, the plugin is a great solution! This plugin also offers the option of creating keyframes and automated animations. It's worth taking a look! The plugin is also financed from donations; you can download it HERE. You can get an insight into how to rig figures in DUIK on the Youtube channel "Jake in Motion":





4.1.2 The Joy Stick’n Sliders plugin:

With this small but nice plugin you can e.g. very easily and comfortably face rig! All you have to do is create five keyframes for the different face poses STRAIGHT OUT, LEFT, RIGHT, UP and DOWN, and the plugin will do the rest. Then, as the name suggests, you have a joystick with which you can move your face in all directions! Works great with abstract graphics too! You can buy this plugin on aescripts.com and you can get an insight from the official YouTube video:





4.1.3 The Rubberhose Plugin:

The Rubberhose plug-in is great for simple legs and poor to create and to animate comfortably. To do this, the plugin creates a stroke that you can graphically adjust as you wish. With different settings you can adjust the mobility and the appearance (elbows round or square).

You can even set the so-called autoflop - that means you can define an area where the arm is bent down and an area where it is bent up. So an automatic change in joint rotation. The differences between Forward Kinematics and Inverse Kinematics are shown very well in this Wikipedia post explained! This can save a lot of work, time, and hassle. The plugin gives up Battleaxe.co, you can watch the promo film here:





Step 4.2: frame by frame animation

As already mentioned at the beginning, there is great literature and countless online training courses for classic frame-by-frame animation. If you really want to work with this animation technique, we really recommend a course! We work with the world changers with the program Clip Studio Paint (formerly Manga Studio). Widespread and highly specialized programs are also adobe animate and ToomBoom Harmony.

With it you can comfortably create frames on different levels, it has wonderful pre-made and customizable brushes (brushes), it is many times faster than Photoshop, the handling of onion layers is easy and it has a special filling function that also works when not closed Color outlines areas! We now also use this program for complex illustrations! The colleague gives an insight into animation technology Reuben Lara on Youtube:





Step 5: 10 animation tips from practice!

Finally, the animated characters are usually integrated into an animation project. With the classic cartoon animation you can now add particle effects or other graphic elements or adjust the look with filters and effects. If you've rigged the figure in After Effects, the actual animation work now begins. This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff! We have ten tips to improve the animation quality of your characters:


»Tip # 01: Get the standard work Illusion of Life or otherwise deal with the Animation Principles!


»Tip # 02: Pay attention to the right timing and the right speed of your movements.


»Tip # 03: Announces movements so that the viewer can follow better (before the little gerbil takes off, it takes a short momentum)!


»Tip # 04: Build in 'Secondary Actions' such as hair or clothing, this makes the animation even more dynamic!


»Tip # 05: Put yourself in your figure! What is she thinking? How would she react?


»Tip # 06: What is the mood of your character right now? How would that affect the movement?


»Tip Tip # 07: Play or record the movement yourself in front of a mirror.


»Tip # 08: Experiment! This is the only way to find exciting, novel movements.


»Tip # 09: Consciously use the option of starting and ending movements gently, but also have the courage to be fast or abrupt! For example, eyes are usually too fast to see their movement (unless one is reading).


»Tip # 10: Use the means of exaggeration if it suits the style and the target group! This can make your animation more exciting and interesting.




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Do you have any questions on the topic or criticism of our contribution? Do you need advice for a project or someone who can help you with the implementation? Then get in touch without obligation via phone or like to use our contact form. Until next time!