Motion graphic has given rise to artists and animators creating innovative content. New trends in motion graphics have increased the competition across the world. This is where creating perfect walk cycles is important. The market is saturated with good content, customers would quickly lose interest if the walk cycles were not believable.
It is a challenge for designers and animators alike to create the perfect walk cycle. Even if they get everything right, something may seem to be amiss. The result of the walk cycle should be perfect but more often than not, it is truly disappointing. Luckily, there is a solution to this problem faced by many designers across the world.
This article discusses the common mistakes designers can avoid animating the perfect walk cycle for a character. Working on character animation is a huge challenge even for professional designers as it requires knowledge and an integrated approach. An animated character looking unnatural is the result of tiny mistakes, which are difficult to spot. These mistakes are hidden in the many actions of the character.
The following mistakes are commonly found in unnatural walk cycles. Designers who avoid these common mistakes can produce perfect walk cycles that look and feel natural.
All body movements start either from the torso or the pelvis. The rest of the body parts follow suit. This means that when animating a walk cycle, the upper body lags. Each movement has to be simultaneous instead of moving at the same time. The arms, for instance, should move at least 2 to 3 frames after the movement of the legs.
By being cautious of this trick, animators can create a more natural walk cycle that looks smooth and captivating. Cartoon walk cycle artists also use the same tricks when creating characters. Similar techniques are used for creating animation run cycles.
Arms and legs move in opposite directions when a person walks. When the right leg steps forward, so does the left arm. When the left leg steps forward, so does the right arm. The same goes for the backward direction.
A common mistake when creating walk cycles is the synchronized movement of the right leg and arm and the left leg and arm. The opposite sides should be synchronized instead to move back and forth. When this does not happen, the walk cycle looks unnatural.
If designers see a walk cycle animation and it does not feel smooth, this could be the issue. Any animation problem gets easy to resolve if the problem is identified. A good way to understand and learn about correct phases is by noticing the tiny details of a human walk. The same should be copied in animation for the most natural walk cycle.
During a walk, the weight of the body shifts from one leg to another. This results in the body going up and down simultaneously and consistently. When artists animate walk cycles, this tiny detail is often overlooked.
Usually, animators focus on moving the arms and legs properly but forget the fact that the entire body weight shifts. Therefore, to avoid this common mistake, the movement of the entire upper body should be consistent with the movement of arms and legs. Both the upper and lower body should move up and down at the same speed and distance. The most prominent feature in this walk cycle will be the bob of the head.
When this trick is overlooked, the character feels like a robot or weightless in most cases. It looks at the character’s arms and legs being pulled with a string. Most often than not, the character will look like a stick figure with dangling arms and legs.
Usually, animators have to create two types of the walk where the scenes change. The first one is the character moving from one point to another while the background stays the same. The second one is when the character is static while the background shifts.
When artists try to create an animation where the character needs to walk from point A to point B, the usual technique is a looped walk using one position. This is a common mistake, which makes the character walk cycle unnatural. The animation using this technique results in a smooth movement of the character on the ground that looks like a scene from old games.
The trick of getting this walk cycle right is by drawing and fixing key poses. Key poses are contact and passing pose. The second step is to mark the upcoming steps of the character to the end of the frame. It is also advised to draw a few poses in the middle of the entire walk to ensure consistency.
By doing this, animators can ensure that the position of the character within the scene stays the same while it moves. This will further ensure that the character is not floating around the frame but walking naturally. Walking is humanly clumsy as the body bobs up and down. These tricks will ensure the same for the character being designed.
In a walk cycle, new artists and animators design one step and flip it to create the other one. This technique only works when the character is in its full profile or with a full visible face. However, when the copy and paste technique is being used on a character that is drawn in three quarters, it fails. The asymmetrical poses will result in the character walking in a limp.
This is a huge mistake since the poses of the character walk will not match one another because the legs are in different planes of movement. Both the legs will need to be created separately for the movement to match. However, the paths will remain the same, only the location will change.
Feet are the most important part of walking and therefore, should have maximum animation details. The elasticity of the feet and the movement of joints in the toes give off separate motions. These motions, if not taken into consideration, can result in unnatural walk cycles. It is safe to say that foot animations are highly important and often overlooked.
The rise of the entire body on toes needs to be incorporated in the animation. If ignored, the character will appear to have wooden feet. Moreover, the animation will make the character's feet go below the ground level. Animators should always consider taking into account the level of the floor.
When the supporting leg moves in sudden motions like changes in speed or different angles, the character will appear to be limping. The trick to make this look natural, the foot on the ground must move in a straight linear line. Speed is another important factor, which must not change during these movements. When the foot is in the air during the change of steps, the graph will be non-linear.
Animators should keep in mind the important factor that the contact phase of the human body does not have balance. The body inclines forward, giving the notion of falling on the ground due to gravity. This also considers the weight of the body.
Similarly, when the contact phase ends and the passing phase starts, the human body picks itself up. This is the time when the body is in full control with maximum balance. At this time, the supporting foot is in the centre of the body underneath.
This can bring clarity to animators and walk cycle artists to position the foot correctly. The right positioning allows the animation to look accurate with the character having an even walk around the frame.
The following checklist can help designers and animators to create the perfect walk cycle and to avoid making common mistakes. The trick is breaking a natural human walk into bits and pieces or watching someone walk in super slow motion. This can help in dividing and understanding the poses and creating the perfect pieces joint together for a smooth and natural walk cycle.
This pose is highly important and difficult to master. The character will be seen in a balanced position with the supporting leg placed right in the centre of the body. This leg will be placed under the character’s body. The head can be drawn to tilt forward if the animator wishes to convey a certain mood.
This is the pose where the character seems to fall forward. An important step that gives the walk cycle a natural feel. The character will be tilted forward as the step changes and the character moves forward.
The up and down poses of the character’s movement create a sinusoid. It is an important part of the movement as it adds weight to the character. The highest and the lowest point of the movement determines the walk cycle looking natural or unnatural for that matter.
When one part of the body moves, other parts move along. Consider this like a chain reaction where all the movements are connected subsequently. When creating a walk cycle for robots, this point will not apply. However, when animating a character’s movements, this point will ensure that the walk is smooth and real-life.
Other details play an important part in the character walk. Things like hair flying, head tilting, clothing items moving along are essential details that cannot be ignored. The character’s facial expression will also be important if other factors like the wind are included in the walk cycle.
A good example of walk cycle animation can be seen here. Another example of an animation run cycle can be viewed here.
Paying attention to the character’s feet and arms will determine the quality of the animation. Their position will show the character’s phase of movement and in some cases the mood. The facial expressions are also an important part of the animation.
Experimenting with the character’s emotions can also lead to better animations. Moreover, the animation is all about the exaggeration of certain traits of a character. Expressions like anger, sadness, excitement and fear can be shown in an animation vividly. Even when these expressions are animated in an unnatural way, the walk cycle needs to be natural.
Considering a character walking in a cartoonish way in addition to an exaggerated expression would lead to loss of the objective. Too much animation on a single character at the same time would lead to confusion by the viewer. No designer wants to create a piece that looks cluttered to the extent that the actual message is lost.
Walk animations are difficult to master, but once they become perfect, artists can play around with other complicated things.