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Right-Foot-Left-Foot? Not So Simple!

Walking! Easy enough for most of us, right? We do it every day without thinking. Knees bend, feet lift, eyes scope the route. But if you’re a character animator mimicking real life, it’s a different story. Simulating a human walk is a particularly challenging task, since everything is connected, from the toe bone up to the head bone, just like the old song says. You walk heel-to-toe; your shoulders shift; your head moves. But it can also be very satisfying to bring a stationary object to life with a personality of its own.

There is more than one way to create and animate a character; for instance, drawing it frame-by-frame or key-framing specific parts. Markers are placed – say, on a shoulder or wrist – to define where that element should move, and that becomes the data point for positioning a certain asset. If a shoulder moves, the elbow moves, too; and the ‘rig’ dictates the linkages so that it acts like the person or animal being built.

The sky’s the limit

Yes, pigs CAN fly! And talk. And leap tall buildings. Reality never interferes in animation. People respond well to it, perhaps because it brings back happy memories of the cartoons we watched when we were kids.

Moreover, there’s a practical case to be made for using animation in a video. Projects can often change direction mid-way, but there’s no need to head out and re-shoot a live-action scene. Animators do take care, however, to clarify the client’s look and message in advance, determining company guidelines such as colours or tone.

Smile at the birdie!

Performance-based software, such as Adobe Character Animator, turns animators into a type of puppeteer. The camera shoots their face or body, and then the character copies their movements. The initial set-up is the most difficult, requiring stringent rules to be established for directing the action; but after that it’s pretty limitless to attach any sort of asset to the rig. Watching an animator apply this technique can be quite entertaining: the movements have to be exaggerated, so there is a lot of bizarre grimacing and gesticulating at the screen.

Running the gamut

Much of the gratification of working in motion graphics is the variety it offers: character and 3D animation, text design, green screen, overlays, or matting to remove elements. And it’s not always about capturing authenticity. Many cartoons for young kids use basic, unsophisticated animation, but it’s the right look to connect with their audience; and this can be effective for some corporate projects as well.

Innovation in animation is never static, of course, and Big Red Oak is currently signed up to be an early tester on new software. With a mobile device in everyone’s hand and a flood of online video games and apps appearing every day, motion graphics artists can anticipate many interesting developments on the road ahead.