Learn about the exact steps you should use when approaching character animation in Blender!

While the previous posts teach you what is required in general when doing character animation, in this post I aim to show you the exact steps when going in and animating your character! I learned this technique from reading books and some online tutorials. The one that caught my eye in particular was Keith Lango’s Organized Keyframe method. You can find a link to his tutorial here: http://www.keithlango.com/tutorials/old/popThru/popThru.html. I highly encourage you to read this even though it isn’t specifically targeted to Blender. It certainly opened up my eyes and realized exactly how I can go about character animation in Blender.

We will follow a similar technique to Keith Lango’s throughout this series. I will now summarize the process below briefly:

Get some good references of the shot you want to recreate. Whether it is a walking sequence, a dance sequence or even a fight sequences. Have a couple of good real-life sequences that can help assist you in your character animation. What I do is take a video recording of myself enacting the same shot. I’m no world class actor but what I do is try to exaggerate the expressions a bit more than usual. I mainly look to try and enact the most important poses/expressions. The idea is that later on when I animate the character, I will further exaggerate from what I have from the video recording to add more interest.

Draw some storyboards of the entire shot you want to animate. The references can help you with drawing the right poses. Make sure you decide on good camera angles and movements as well as staging/composition of the scene. I won’t discuss how to do this as that requires another post on its own!

We can now load Blender and import our rigged and ready-to-animate character. We then start off with one of the principles from the 12 Principles! At this point we block in our main poses. In Blender, you can do this by setting the Active Keying Set (found in the Timeline window near the red button named ‘Automatic Keyframe Insertion’) to “Whole Character”. Now when you press i (to animate), every bone and animatable property of the character will have a keyframe set. When you block in all poses, you need to make sure that you have nice long straight lines in the Dopesheet Editor, this way it looks more organized!

Next, we need to get the timing right! We do this by moving and shuffling the all the keys in a frame until you are happy with the timing. You can tell good timing, when movements look smooth and somewhat realistic.

Refined Blocking
Here you go in and add more poses in between the main poses. This phase is sometimes called “In-Betweening” or “2nd pass”. The idea is that you refine the animation with more poses so that your character animation looks even more realistic. You can keep doing this until you are happy and have all your poses blocked in.

Key Shuffling
With blocking, you get character animation where all poses hit and land at the same time. This can be boring and very robotic. With Key Shuffling, you aim to imbue life and bring about a more organic look to the animation. This is where you go to each individual key and shuffle it (intelligently) by offsetting or even deleting to make certain parts of the body land a pose at a different time from the body. This is very much the case in real life as well!

Once you are done with the key shuffling, you should have some nice looking character animation. At this point, you can usually call it a day and throw it out there for the world to see! But the truth is, polishing your character animation can make it look a lot more professional looking. If you want to reach that Disney Pixar or Dreamworks standard of character animation, then you should polish your character animations. You can do this by going to the Graph Editor window and playing around with the f-curves.

We will be using these steps (loosely) when we get to doing actual character animation throughout this series.