We have an awesome “how-to” tutorial from our veteran mentor and Hybride Lead Animator, Steve Cady! From preparation, blocking, to clean-up, learn Steve’s workflow on how he would animate a quadruped walk cycle. Read, get inspired, and animate that creature!
– The Animation Mentor Crew
Having worked on several films that require realistic creature animation, such as Narnia, Avatar, The Waterhorse, I believe it is essential to not underestimate the importance of PREPARATION!
My first step: I take the time to study the basic anatomy of the animal in question; paying attention to how its body parts are connected to help me understand how to move the body in an accurate way. I use references. I would shoot the reference myself, or use references that are available online. “The Animal Motion Show” from Rhino House has a great collection of DVDs that help you study animal and human motions from various angles and levels of detail.
Keep in mind that, in my experience, most studios have a library of video references available for you to use. It will only improve your animation.
My next step: I take the time to sketch and thumbnail my ideas on paper before committing to the computer because setting down poses in Maya can be time consuming, more so with a very realistic creature. Thumbnailing will save you lots of time and frustration down the road.
For this example, lets use a quadruped walk-cycle. I begin by identifying the main keys, just like a human character. The first poses I block are the full and mid-strides; I have noticed that whenever the front legs are in a mid-stride position the back legs are in a full-stride position, and vice versa.
Hips are very important, they act as the engine or driving force in a walk. The head and shoulders are mainly used for steering of the character. Remember to lead with the eyes!
I apply the same mechanics to each pair (shoulders and front legs and hips and back legs) as I do to a human character. Each pair is dealt with as a individual one. For “mechanics”, I am referring to rotation in the hips, center of gravity, the arcs, etc.
As I block out my poses in Maya, in stepped mode, I duplicate the geometry of each pose and I assign them individually to a layer (so I can hide and “unhide” them later). I do this because it gives me a visual aid (targets) when it comes time to refine the curves in the graph editor. As I translate the animal forward to the next pose, I make sure that the placement of the body and feet make sense. See picture below. The translations and rotations of the hips are similar to the human walk; remember that the hips may have a bouncier translation than in a human walk.
Continue with the steps mentioned above; translate, key major poses, focus on full and mid-stride poses. After I’m done with that, I add my breakdowns, which in this case would be the extreme high and low positions of the hips and shoulders.
I like my tangents in the Graph Editor to be weighted. I also unlock them. Weighted tangents and having them unlocked give me greater control. Afterwards in spline mode, I trim down the timeline to the first couple of keys to begin refining (see image below). I do this because it helps me focus on the first key poses and not worry so much the animation further ahead. I “unhide” the duplicate geometries that I need, created at the beginning of the blocking phase, this will give me visual targets when I refine the curves. When polishing I always begin with the core (hips spine and head). Here’s a tip: I will hide other body parts in my perspective window to keep things uncluttered ex; tail, legs, etc. When I am happy with the first pass of polish in that section, I extend the timeline to the next few keys and I repeat the process.
Steve Cady graduated from Classical Animation at Sheridan College, in Ontario, Canada and has been a professional animator for 18 years. Steve worked on video-games, TV, and feature films for various studios such as for WETA Digital in New Zealand. Some of his film credits include: Jurassic World, Tomorrowland, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Pacific Rim, The Smurfs 2, and Avatar. Steve is a veteran mentor since 2005 and taught Animation Basics, Body Mechanics, Introduction to Acting, and the Creature Courses.