Almost every character animator has come across these issues before! This article will show you some of the most annoying things you may come across when doing character animation in Blender!
Character animation is not necessarily difficult nowadays as the latest Blender builds make animation very simple. But it can be quite tedious at times. As a character animator, you may find the following parts of character animation just plain annoying and you hope that there would be a faster workflow for doing some of the perhaps more trivial-sounding stuff.
#1. Interacting with Props
You may have a scene where a character is needed to interact with some prop. For example, a businessman picking up a suitcase, a person on the street picking up and answering their mobile phone, throwing a ball, grabbing an item from the shop, eating, etc. There are countless scenarios where a character will need to interact with some object. Character animations would be relatively boring if it never had any prop interaction whatsoever. Thus, it is almost guaranteed that you will come across a situation where your character will interact with some object. Doing this in Blender is currently a bit of a pain. You would usually use a ‘Child Of’ constraint and then animate Influence values everytime the character lets go of the item. You would need to make sure the influence values are animated correctly and sometimes mistakes can occur here.
#2. Interacting with Characters
Similar to props, interacting with characters can be VERY annoying. Unlike props, characters move! This adds another layer of complexity! Suppose you have 2 characters shaking hands. Who leads the movement and who follows along. When animating a fight scene, you may have instances where characters regularly hold onto each other, then let go, etc and coordinating something like this in Blender takes a lot of work (and frustration). I use the ‘Child Of’ constraint to make this work but it isn’t as easy interacting with ‘dead’ props.
#3. Changing between IK and FK
In humanoid-based character animation, you usually have to switch between IK and FK. If you don’t know what IK and FK is, go to this post (not yet available, sorry! This might help for the time being!) where I teach you the difference! When your character is leaning his hand on the wall, you need to use IK, and when your character is swinging his arms, you need to use FK. Generally, you’ll need to regularly switch between the 2. You don’t NEED to, but it would be better to. Similar to the above, you need to manually key the IK/FK switch in Blender.
#4. Walk/Run Cycles
This can get really annoying when you have scenes where your character needs to walk (or run) a lot. Say you want your character to walk (or run) from Point A to Point B. How long would he need to take to get there? And how big a stride would he need to take to get there on time? Unless I put in the time to calculate all this mathematically, it can be annoying if I just want to get in a quick walk. I sometimes wished that character rigs would have an extra bone where if you moved that bone, the character would just “automatically” walk. As animators we need to be in control of everything. But I can’t help but feel there should be an easier way. We could use Mocap but that is too expensive.
#5. Facial Animation
This one is not as bad as the others but it can be a little annoying. I do all the facial animation work after I finish with the body. At this point, I’m already exhausted working on the body and have to regain that energy for the face. The most annoying part about facial animation is of course, lip syncing. It’s just boring and repetitive after a while. I tend to avoid this in my own animations as a way to save time. Blender now has motion tracking capabilities. We could add small white stickies on our face and pull expressions as well as talk to a video camera. That footage can then be imported into Blender and the motion tracking system will pick up the stickies and transfer it to your character. This might be a time-saver for longer works but maybe tedious to setup initially.
[ADDITIONAL] #6. Cloth and Hair Animation
I’ve added this as an extra step as I’m not sure this will really affect all animators. Generally cartoony type of animations might get away without no cloth or hair animation at all. But if you do require cloth and hair in your works, it can be annoying. I find Blender’s cloth and hair simulators to be quite powerful but a bit unstable as well. Settings that worked in type of scene, would sometimes not transfer well to another type of scene. Of course, using these simulators will make your .blend files pretty large. Having particle hairs may add heaps to the render times depending on how many strands the character has and how many characters are visible in the scene.