Animation Strategies – Walk Cycles and Body mechanics

The beginning of things…


The one thing that I will never get the hang of is making an intro to what the hell I am actually trying to make.

Anyway.

For this section of the Animation Strategies Module, myself and the class are tasked to animate walk cycles. During week one we made poses. This was to help us get experience of using a much more complicated rig.

What are Body Mechanics?

Body Mechanics is how the brain interacts with the body and the movement.

Examples:

The breakdown of a shot by Peter Warbis’ character animation project. Showcases that reference is important to understand movement of the human body, paving the way for much more fluid motions.

With the inclusion of the 12 principles, video reference, his own reference and inspiration from other animations themselves.

Peter’s work has been influenced from a degree of different sources, so much so that he has created a fluid animation timing and character animation wise.

Although I have this in mind, it is nice to have his work reiterate the importance of the these principles.

Still, it is interesting to see his workflow, including the reference, the pencil test, the block out and camera placement, final touches.

Whats also a good take away is the thought process on how the character is feeling and how it impacts his actions and movement.

This may also come in handy when looping the animations.

Now that I have this experience, I believe I am capable of starting the walk cycles.

Understanding the Rig


Once, I jotted down all of my notes, I ran into some problems using the rig. Therefore, I decided to watch tutorials with an explanation on how to use the rig itself.

This video by Joe Daniels explains how to use the Body Mech rigs (which is the one the class and I are using.)

Within this video, he talks about the different controls and how they work. However, the little tips that stood out to me where:

  • IK/FK switch
  • Use of the channel box to control feet instead of the control (Also Alec gave me a heads up and said that it would be easier to control it through the channel box, instead of rotating as, which I found out the hard way, it screws up the knee

I wanted to start off basic, at this point in time I just want to learn a good bit of techniques when it comes to animating within Maya.

Learning about walk cycles


Within this video Miss “Biankadonk” guides through her steps of making a walk cycle tutorial.

Step 1: Posing

Go through the Key poses. Contact, Down, Passing, Up and Contact. Below I have created my own version of the poses through the knowledge that I have gathered through the Animators Survival Kit.

The reason I wanted to create this diagram is to show the stages of the walk cycle, the positioning of the legs. However, I added in a motion trail to understand the flow of the up and down movement. This will help me later.

walk cycles - motion path
Walk cycle diagram with motion trail

Last year, Mike Bass and Alec showed us a neat trick to use in Maya, however not all the time. This trick was using a motion path. (Animation – Constrain – Motion Paths) 

Although, I will not use it within the animating process, I will instead utilise the Graph Editor instead. This is most effective when animating anyways. (I FIND)

In the first step, I followed what Alec and Miss Biankadonk used within both their tutorials and used stepped.

 

Using Stepped
How to open the Graph Editor : Windows – Animation Editors – Graph Editor

 

You select all of your spline tangents and click on Tangents – Stepped.

Once this is done it will be easier to use when animating because you aren’t stuck on the details just yet and it does not show any in-between’s, only main poses.

Step 2: Refine Posing

Go in to the model and add the details of the positioning of different limbs like fingers and such.

Rough out the timing of the walk cycle.

My walk cycle will be on 6’s. 

Step 3: Spline Time

Smooth and polish animation. This will be the used to add in little details like fixing the hips, legs, feet and arms.

You can add in little pieces of exaggeration here.

Step 4: Refine Spline

Animators Survival Kit

 

 

walk cycles - Rough positions
My illustration of the main walk cycle poses

The reason I wanted to create this diagram is to show the stages of the walk cycle, the positioning of the legs. However, I added in a motion trail to understand the flow of the up and down movement. This will help me later.

walk cycles - motion path
Walk cycle diagram with motion trail

Last year, Mike Bass and Alec showed us a neat trick to use in Maya, however not all the time. This trick was using a motion path. (Animation – Constrain – Motion Paths) 

Although, I will not use it within the animating process, I will instead utilise the Graph Editor instead. This is most effective when animating anyways. (I FIND)

In the first step, I followed what Alec and Miss Biankadonk used within both their tutorials and used stepped.

Using Stepped
How to open the Graph Editor : Windows – Animation Editors – Graph Editor

You select all of your spline tangents and click on Tangents – Stepped.

Once this is done it will be easier to use when animating because you aren’t stuck on the details just yet and it does not show any in-between’s, only main poses.

Step 2: Refine Posing

Go in to the model and add the details of the positioning of different limbs like fingers and such.

Rough out the timing of the walk cycle.

My walk cycle will be on 6’s. 

Step 3: Spline Time 

Smooth and polish animation. This will be the used to add in little details like fixing the hips, legs, feet and arms.

You can add in little pieces of exaggeration here.

Step 4: Refine Spline 

Refine the newly added key-frames, smooth, cut and add if needed at this point. This will be the last touch before doing the walk cycle.

I then decided to look at reference video’s to help me understand how people move.

I found a few videos that showcased the movements of a man walking. There are two versions of this, moving in real-time and a slower version, showcasing all of the movements.

Watching these videos amplified what Richard Williams discussed within his book.

  • The arms sway

Final Walk Cycle here

Jump Mechanic:

Jumps are an interesting body mechanic as you can play about with style, timing and motion.

I decided that I wanted to focus on the motion of the jump, the anticipation and the squash and stretch.

I first looked inside of The Animators Survival Kit. On page 214 and 215, Richard showcases two jumps that take roughly around 1 and a half seconds each.

The first is a normal, jump with no stretching or body distortion of any kind. In his words its “Simple, clear and Solid.” Although this is nice, I wanted to play about with motion as I stated above.

The second allows the animator to loosen up and focus on making the character move in a much more fluid way. Using this method you can incorporate:

  • Stretch
  • Compression
  • Delayed parts, could delay a foot or an arm

I left out the bits that a 2D animator would take away from the information. However, I am using a pretty bare bones rig with no clothes so the only secondary action I might need to think about is the movement of limbs.

I decided to go with the second jump mechanic instead because this allows for motion, in fact heavily utilises it to help the animation come out as believe-able.

More curvature on the spine, stretching before the up poses, more air.

I filmed a reference jump.

Add here.

Add comments.

For difference in movement I decided I wanted to find another jump reference.

First pass

I placed the animation on stepped, allowing me to complete my jump mechanic pose-to-pose, which in this instance worked quite well. Although you can really notice the squishy bits.

I showed it to a few people in the class, the spline version at least and the comments that I got back was that he needs to hunker on the ground much longer. Also distance is a problem.

Fix Delay and timing. The motion is good, but I still need to fix some of the movement.

Final Mechanic Video:

I worked from the side, the front and used the perspective to easily get around the controls.

The one thing that sticks out to me in this final version is the feet are still a little rigid, however, the distance is still short. I thought maybe this was hard to see without an obstacle for the rig to tackle.

As you can see with the obstacle in the way you can see the distance and I actually believes it makes the animation look better. I think it was too hard to tell if he was jumping over nothing.

I noticed that the anticipation/ delayed aspects of him shine much more from the 360 view we get of him.

I did go in and slightly fix the delayed parts (anticipation) however, I find that the arms are whats been causing me problems. The feet are still being a bit of bother, I am not very satisfied with any of the adjustments I made, so I had to settle on the way the feet are.

Thinking about the movement more has allowed me to improve since the first walk cycle. Also the addition of using stepped and animating pose to pose does allow for a smoother animation over all.

Running Mechanic:

For the run, I want to focus on the movement more so than timing. Although, timing will also be focused on, it will be less so than the movement.

I want to look into how the brain looks at the different parts a run. I want to consider the centre of mass on the contact, and how that resonates throughout the body. Therefore, I will be focusing more on the realistic and heavily referenced movements of someone running.

Add in video of myself.

Within the book the Animated Survival Kit, Richard talks about doing run cycles in 4’s or 3rd’s. I decided that I will stick to 4’s, as it gives me more room to add in extra bits of movement in the shoulders, hips, arms, wrists, hands and fingers.

Although I did not know where to start the run so I consulted the survival kit.

On page 180 Richard talks about a traditional cartoon run. At first he begins to talk about the timing of the run, as this is important. I will be doing mine on 4’s.

For the extreme positions we can either start off with the contact of the run, the down position or the up position.

I believe a mid run will guide me in understanding the motion a little better. Allowing me to work with him coming down into the passing position first.

Another interesting tid bit from the Survival kit is on page 181, in which Richard discusses fast runs.

It is good practice to create some slight overlap in positions as he runs. Also, the contact poses should have some variation to them. Also some foot slippage can be allowed on a fast run.

Richard talks about a 4 drawing run, in my case it will be a 4 pose run. He merges the down and passing positions.

Richard moves on to talk about forward running, and the different ways he can be positioned to run i.e On page 182 he runs more with a hunch.

I will be focusing more on an upright position, just to make things easier on myself, as I want to focus on shoulder placement too.

Alan Becker’s video introduced me to the timing aspect as well as the positions of the character.

It is interesting to see how he breaks it down. He mentions that animators (Like Richard Williams) like to merge the down and passing to create a lower pass, which will be crucial in the spring of the kick-off pose.

Run Cycle
Screenshot from Alec Becker’s Run Cycle Video

He mentions within the video that the character should get more air after the kick-off pose.

I looked into pinched as there is part of the animation in which the main character is being chased by an agent. I used the close up of the run as well as roof top running parts to animate too.

For the running it is similar to the walk pose although some things have been shifted around.

The first pass has a few flaws in it. I am having trouble with the arms, as they are not completing the drag/ swing that they need too. This needs more adjustment.

I have began to move the shoulders, however they seem to be out of time with the swing of the arms.

The legs are snapping a little, this means I will have to go in and adjust the movement.

I want to find a reference that showcases movement, better than my reference video  can.

As you can see within this video, I changed the way the shoulders move. I notice that they go up in a slant dependant on the arm that is raised.

I began to add in the hip movements. Analysing the reference video allowed me to see how the shoulders and waist work in contrast to one another. I also noticed that the shoulders are at their highest and lowest when in the UP position.

Using a reference without clothing to distract you, I can focus on the movements of the other limbs and joints. I notice that there are little bounces when he lands on his foot. Showing the distribution of the weight.

After, I studied the reference video and my own run cycle, I realised that I might need to offset the arms from the legs. May make the arms lag behind the legs?

With a closer inspection with the video, I decided to go back into the animation to animate the swing back into the arms. Which can be shown below.

Reflection


Although, I am understanding the way people move and the way it can be animated. I am struggling to put all of this knowledge into the animations that I have created. Although, I proud of the progress I have made, especially from earlier on in the year when we began walk cycles and animating to a style. With this project we where allowed to focus on the actual movements of a person instead of think about style, although this would be good to incorporate to make the movements a bit more nuanced.

Over all, I believe the research I have done has impacted these animations. Also, figuring out Peter’s workflow helped as well. Although there are a few things I would do to improve these. I would spend more time in the graph editor, I would also spend more time thinking about the animations and planning them out better.

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