Character Animation Fundamentals: Developing Skills for 2D and 3D Character Animation

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Expand your animation toolkit and remain competitive in the industry with this leading resource for 2D and 3D character animation techniques. Apply the industry's best practices to your own workflows and develop 2D, 3D and hybrid characters with ease. With side by side comparisons of 2D and 3D character design, improve your character animation and master traditional principles and processes including weight and balance, timing and walks. Develop characters inspired by humans, birds, fish, snakes and four legged animals. Breathe life into your character and develop a characters personality with chapters on acting, voice-synching and facial expressions. Expertly integrate core animation techniques with your software of choice featuring step-by-step tutorials, highlighting 3ds Max, Maya and Blender workflows. Adapt the tips, tricks and techniques for unique projects like character design for rotoscoping and motion capture. Advance beyond the fundamentals of 2D and 3D character animation with the companion website which includes short demonstration movies, 2D and 3D exercises and fully rigged character models.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780240522272
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 11/21/2011
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 456
  • Sales rank: 1,259,320
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

has animated and directed movies for over 50 clients in his 25+ year career. Clients include the BBC, Channel 4, Tesco, Marks and Spencer, BT and Electrolux. His movie "Electrolux Home products - Why?” has won two IVCA awards and a New York Film and Television award. Steve has taught animation for 12 years among some of the UK's leading Universities. He is currently Senior lecturer in Character Animation at Central St Martins College of Art and Design.

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Read an Excerpt

Character Animation Fundamentals

Developing Skills for 2D and 3D Character Animation
By Steve Roberts

Focal Press

Copyright © 2011 Steve Roberts
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-52228-9

Chapter One

Introduction to Animation Working Practice

Chapter Summary

• How Animation Works

• Frames per Second

• What You Need for Your Studio

• Let's Get Animating

• Flipping, Flicking and Rolling

• How to Use a Line Tester to Help Your Animation

• Exercises

• How to Relate Your 2D Animation to Your 3D Animation

• The 13 Things You Need to Know About Maya

• The 13 Things You Need to Know About 3D Studio Max

• Overview of the 'Ball Drop' Exercise in 3D

• How to Animate a Basic Bouncy Ball in Maya

• How to Animate a Basic Bouncy Ball in 3D Studio Max

• Drawing

• The 12 Principles of Animation

In this chapter I'll take you through two things: the equipment needed to make a basic animation studio and some simple animation. We will look at X-sheets and how they help timing, flipping, flicking and rolling; how to use a line tester; and how to put the lessons learnt from your drawn exercises onto a 3D computer animation program. By the end of the chapter you will have learnt how to organise yourself and how to plan and execute a piece of animation.

I make no apologies for taking you right back to basics. You may know much of this but bear with me – it is worth refreshing your knowledge and reinforcing the basic principles behind animation.

How Animation Works

The Basics

2D drawn animation consists of a series of drawings shot one after another and played back to give the illusion of movement. This animation can be played back in a number of ways:

• In the form of a 'flipbook' (basically a pile of drawings in sequence, bound together and flipped with the thumb).

• Shot on film one drawing at a time with a movie camera and played back using a cinema projector.

• Shot on a video camera and played back with a video player.

• Shot with a video camera attached to a computer and played back on the same computer using an animation program.

• Scanned into a computer and played back.

Frames per Second

Animation shot on film and projected is played at 24 frames per second. Animation for television in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australia is played at 25 frames per second. These countries use a television system called PAL, which plays at 50 fields (frames) per second. Animation that plays at 25 frames per second is compatible with PAL, but if we played an animated film at 24 frames per second on a television we would see a black bar rolling up the screen. The Americas, the West Indies and the Pacific Rim countries use NTSC, which runs at 60 fields per second. This means that for this system you should be animating at 30 frames per second (60 is divisible by 30). Quite often some sort of digital converter is used to transfer one speed of film to another speed of video, allowing 24-frames-per-second film to be shown on a 60-fields-per-second (NTSC) television. If you stop-frame through a video of an animated film, you will find there are points at which one frame will blur into another. This is how the incompatibility of the two systems is overcome. (Stop-framing through animated movies is a very good way of learning about animation.) The most important thing to find out when animating something is what speed the animation will be played back at. All the animation taught in this book will be played back at 25 frames per second.

What You Need for Your Studio

In order to complete the drawn exercises in this book, you will need the following things (all of which are available from the professional animation equipment suppliers listed at the back of this book):

• Animation paper

• Peg bar

• Light box

• X-sheets

• Line tester

• Pencils

Animation Paper

When animating, you often find that you are working with four or more layers of paper. A level of translucency is necessary in order to see all of the drawings. Professional animation paper is made with this in mind.

It also comes in different sizes, which are referred to as field sizes. 12-field and 15-field are the most popular. 15-field is 15 inches wide and 12-field is 12 inches wide. (I'll elaborate on this later in the chapter when I refer to field guides, the grids that measure field sizes.)

Most professional animation paper comes with three punched holes. It is possible to buy the paper with no holes (which is cheaper, but you will need a specialist animation punch, which is very expensive). Used with a peg bar, the holes allow accurate placing of each piece of paper with the next. This is important, as the slightest movement in a drawing will show when the sequence is shot.

It is possible to use A4 paper with standard ring-binder punched holes and a peg bar with two pins that fit the holes. This will work out far cheaper than professional animation paper.

Peg Bars

Professional peg bars, used with professional animation paper, are made up of a strip of steel or plastic with three pins. They are made to an industry standard. They are used to register each piece of animation paper against the next.

It is possible to buy two-pin peg bars – these are often called 'junior peg bars'.

It is equally possible to make your own, using a strip of wood with two pieces of dowel that correspond to the holes in your paper, or even to tape two 5mm counter-sunk bolts onto your light box. These can then be used with ring-binder punched A4 paper.

As with the paper, bear in mind that, if you want to use your animation professionally, it is advisable to buy a three-pin peg bar.

Light Boxes

In its most basic form, a light box is a flat sheet of opal Perspex over a light. Professional light boxes use a rotating disk. They should also have the ability to change the angle of the drawing surface. This makes drawing easier on both the wrist and the back.

Simple light boxes are relatively straightforward to make. You could use a wooden storage box with the top part cut off at an angle, mount a neon bulb inside and then fasten a piece of 6mm opal Perspex to the top with screws.


X-sheets are also referred to as dope sheets or exposure sheets. They are used by the animator to record all the necessary information relating to how the animation should be shot. A standard X-sheet consists of several columns that run from top to bottom and 100 rows that run from left to right (the illustration shows 50). Each row represents one frame of animation. If the animation is to be played back at 25 frames per second, 100 frames will equal 4 seconds of animation (or 2 seconds on the X-sheet shown).

The columns on an X-sheet are used as follows.


This column contains the sounds that are relevant to the animation. Very often this is the dialog spoken by the characters. For animation the dialog is recorded first. It is then 'broken down'. This means that someone, usually an editor, goes through the sound track frame by frame. They work out where each word starts and ends and where each of the major vowel and consonant sounds are. These are then marked on the X-sheet in the sound column, frame by frame. You then know that at a certain frame in a scene a particular sound is made.


This contains instructions on when a given piece of animation will start and end. An experienced animator will fill out this part of the X-sheet before they start animating. Sometimes the director will fill this out. The process is often referred to as 'slugging out'.

Frame Numbers

As the name suggests, this is where the number of each frame is inserted. One of the main ways of 'cheating' in drawn animation is to do your animation on 'twos'. This means that each of your drawings is shot for two frames. This saves a huge amount of work; for example, if you have to animate 4 seconds you only have to do 50 drawings, rather than 100, which you would have to do if you did a drawing for each frame (assuming a rate of 25 frames per second).

At times you will find that you want to 'hold' your animation. For example, at a given point in the action a character may move into a position where they stand still for a second or so. At this point you could just have one drawing 'held' for however many frames are needed.

There are two ways to number your drawings. The first way is to number them by the drawing. This means that drawing number one is numbered 1, drawing number two is numbered 2 etc. The other way is to number them by the frame. This means that the drawing on frame one is numbered 1, the drawing on frame three (if the sequence is shot on twos, this is the second drawing) is numbered 3, the drawing on frame five is numbered 5 etc. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages. As an aspiring computer animator, it is probably better for you to number drawings by the frame so that when you look at your drawings in order to copy their position with your computer model you know exactly what frame that pose should be on. All the exercises done in this book will be numbered by the frame.

The columns show the order in which the levels are placed: background at the bottom level (right on the X-sheet) and foreground at the top (left on the X-sheet) with the character in the middle.

Each drawing will have its own number. Each unit represents a frame. The drawing number is inserted to show where that frame of animation will be in the sequence. This varies depending on how many frames per second each drawing represents. The example right shows a sequence that is shot on twos; that is, each drawing is shot for two frames. When something is on twos, the first row has a number and the second is left blank. It is not necessary to fill in every frame. At the end of the sequence, the last drawing is held for 10 frames; that is, the drawing is shot for ten frames. This is indicated by the line that runs from the bottom of the drawing number to the last frame that the drawing is held for. If the drawing is held for more than two frames, it is necessary to insert a line to show how long the drawing is held for.


When a sequence is animated, even if there is only one character, the drawing for one frame of animation may be on several levels of paper. If the body remains still during the sequence but the head and arms are moving, there will be only one drawing of the body for the whole sequence. If the head is moving at a different rate to the arms, the head will be on a separate piece of paper and the arms on a further piece. If there is a background and the character is stood in front of a tree, for example, these will again be on separate pieces of paper. However accurate the final drawings are, if you have to re-trace exactly the same drawing 20 times or more (your background with a tree, for example), there will be variations between the drawings that will show when the animation is played. It also is an unnecessary use of time. Before the use of computers, the finished drawings were traced and colored onto Cel (cellulose acetate, or clear plastic sheets). This allowed for a maximum of six levels before the thickness of the cell made the colors on the lower levels look muddy. Today, each of these levels would be painted and they would then be assembled with programs such as DigiCel FlipBook or Toon Boom. This allows for infinite levels without any loss of quality.


Information in this column instructs the camera on how you want the scene to be shot and pinpoints the area within the artwork that needs to be in frame. The most important piece of information is the field size. The most popular paper is 12-field, which means that the camera at its maximum setting will shoot an oblong area that is 12 inches wide.

Traditional 2D animators use a field guide, also called a graticule, to work out the position of the shot. For example, for animation to be shot using the full size of the paper, '12-field center' is marked at the top of the camera column. As a 3D computer animator, you won't be using field sizes. However, it is worth understanding how they are worked out.

The field guide has 'North', 'South', 'East' and 'West' printed at the top, bottom, right and left. It consists of 24 columns and 24 rows in a grid. The columns are half an inch wide. By using these compass points and grid references you can specify any area on your paper that you want to be shot.


Excerpted from Character Animation Fundamentals by Steve Roberts Copyright © 2011 by Steve Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

introduction to 2D-animation working practice, matter and the animation of inanimate objects, the construction of a simple character, its articulation , and balance, timing, anticipation, overshoot, follow-through and overlapping action with an animated character, human walks and runs, animal walks and runs, animation of fish and snakes, animation of birds, animation of acting — body language, animation of acting — facial expressions, animation of acting — two or more characters, lip-sync. The DVD and companion website will include 20 fully built and rigged models to animate with; over 50 tutorials on how to build and animate these models; 140 2D and 3D animated movies as examples; 22 live action movies.

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