Character design is one of the most rewarding and fun processes in the motion design world. It becomes even more fun and rewarding when you learn to animate them. Here’s how.
Creating and animating a character almost makes one feel omnipotent. There are so many ways of infusing your own personality and design sense into something that can truly invoke emotion, tell stories, and make people in the world feel less alone. Characters are powerful, especially when you designed them with heart and intentionality.
The same, in a lot of ways, is just as true for when you make them move and animate them. You can add personality and further tell the story that way too. There are many ways to animate a character, and some of them are easier than others. However, Audrey Stemen made this video that will get you off on the right foot using After Effects and Procreate to make thoughtfully designed characters and animations.
As with most things in the creative realm (and really everything in life in general for that matter) the best way to learn is to just start trying. Just make your first character and make it move. You’ll find that it’s somehow not as hard as you thought, but also one of the hardest things you’ve done. The animation part specifically can be a truly grueling process, but if you put the right thought into various aspects, you’ll find that it’s one of those skills that gets easier and easier over time. Here are some tips that will get you there quicker.
Design Comes First
If your character doesn’t look good when in still form, then it’s probably not going to look any better animated. You have to put the right amount of thought into your design and how you want your design to move and feel. You want your design to look better in motion, but still look great when it’s static.
Your character design should evoke the right emotions and feelings that you’re intending to convey before you’ve ever laid down a single keyframe. You want the motion to enhance those aspects, not be the only saving grace of your design.
You’ll want to pull reference imagery and get a good idea of they types of things you want to use to inform the design of your character. Are we going for Spider-Verse or are we going for Charlie Brown? (Probably couldn’t have come up with two more wildly different examples.) Then you can start to sketch out the anatomy of your character and get a feel for the way they might move. Consider the proportions of your character and the world they’re living in.
Design And Joints
When you design your character, you absolutely have to put thought into how you want the joints to move. For example, leaving full circles worth of space on elbow joints makes is so that the arm can articulate the way that it needs to fully, and the shapes won’t warp or show edges in unpleasant ways.
Think about the head and the neck, all the things that you need your character to do. If you don’t really know yet how you want your character to move, just go ahead and create a rounded joint area for every articulation point of the character. Shoulders, knees, fingers, everything should have it’s own layer and joint. Make sure name everything as you go! This will be very important later on.
The first and most tedious task is setting up the anchor points for each element. You want the anchor point to be in the center of the correct area for each joint, and you’ll need to think about how each piece should move in relation to each other, and where each part has it’s center of gravity or articulation point.
Then you’ll have to go ahead and start parenting things. This is also a bit tedious, and you’ll probably want to start color coding things where possible. For example, each part of a hand/arm rig will need to be progressively parented upward toward the shoulder, so that you can move everything at once but then also go in and add more granular detail.
Then, the biggest next big step is to rough in your full animation. Make all of the big movements and general frame-out of your main animation first. Then you can go back and add little small tertiary movements like wiggles or adding my physics to an object or joint. The little details will make your animation look more pro, but you want to rough in the big stuff first.
Learn Character Animation
If you’ve ever tried to animate a character in After Effects, you know how difficult it can be. In Character Animation Bootcamp, you'll learn key character animation techniques in After Effects. From simple movements to complex scenes, you'll be confident in your character animation skills by the end of this course.