3D Character Animation

Planning My Animation

When given the assignment brief I was recommended to use my character I created from the 3D character design module. This was my animated pumpkin character named Wacko Jack’O. My original idea was to animate this previously designed character in a graveyard scene and have him rise from the ground and run around the graveyard causing mayhem. However I ran into my first problem very early on. My designed character was created in Z-Brush and myself along with many others on the course were unable to export my character from Z-Brush to allow the file to be used in maya, the software I will be using to animate. This forced me to rethink my design straight away, I still want my animation to have appealing 3D assets. After speaking with Richard it was made clear that the focus of the module was based more on the actual animation rather than the characters or textures used. So I have decided to use a basic human model to animate with. Although I still want there to be appeal and demonstration of what I am capable of in terms of 3D design and textures which is why I am going to use my Marvel Guitars I created in my first year, in the animation. The plan for the animation so far, is a character walking down the street towards a guitar shop when something obstructs the path. The character then has to fly into the guitar shop and picks the Thor guitar with an outstretched arm and the guitar will fly off the wall into his hand, this is to replicate how Thor’s hammer would fly.

Preparing for Animation

Today in Richard’s workshop I learned how every character in an animation has to be prepared in order for it to move in the way you would expect it to. This involves creating a skeleton, skin and weight painting. I first imported a basic human model from the Maya presets into Maya to see what I was working with. The character was a basic human male mesh with nothing else attached. The first step I took in preparing this mesh for animation was creating a skeleton to attach to it. Although Maya has the option to add an auto skeleton rig, I decided to do this manually so in the future I have this skill when working with something more complex than a human skeleton. The way I did this was by inserting a series of joints and using the alternate camera views to place them in the correct position. I started with the most important joints such as the spine, neck and legs. After this I inserted a joint for each limb ensuring they had a joint at the elbows, knees and ankle so that I could manipulate my character into any pose I choose. This took me the entirety of the workshop due to it being my first time doing it and having to ensure every joint was connected to another and each joint was labelled correctly and had the correct controller. When I got home I experimented with weight painting. This process is essential as it controls what each joint has control over. I was shocked to see that when I began weight painting, my character needed a lot of work. The upper body was the worst as each shoulder, when moved, moved the neck, head and spine all in the same motion. After a few hours every joint moved exactly what part of the mesh it was supposed to.

Setting the Scene

After preparing my character, I decided today that the next step would be to create the environment that my character will interact with. I didn’t want to spend too much time on this as I can be a perfectionist and I have to keep telling myself to focus on the actual animation of the character rather than how pretty it looks. I think I am still frustrated I can’t use my character Wacko Jack’O that I spent so much time on. I firstly created the path my character will be walking on as this is where I plan to start the animation. I created a basic path with slightly raised curbs and then added lamp posts all the way down either side. Initially this was to make it look more aesthetically pleasing but now I have realised they could come in useful in the animation as I need something to obstruct the path. So the plan is for one of them to fall in front of the character startling them into flying instead of walking. I then created a basic looking guitar shop consisting of a desk and a till. After this I imported the assets I had previously mentioned from my first year into the scene. I used four of my guitars and then also had a sudden additional idea for my animation and imported a car from turbo squid. I decided I will animate the car so that the wheels turn horizontal and the car floats and flies away. I do not yet know whether I am capable of this but I am excited for the challenge. After creating the main parts of my environment, I then went through the scene and decided what else I would animate apart from the character, lamppost and the car. I have now added sliding doors to the guitar shop and hope to animate them to make them look like regular automatic doors and they will both slide to the side when my character is close by. However as I previously stated I don’t know if I am giving myself too much work when taking into the fact I have never animated before.

Starting to Animate

This was the day I had been dreading, beginning to actually animate my character. At the start of the day, I had no idea how to move my character in a scene and now I have a fully walking model and this is how I got to this stage. In a few workshops, Richard has shown us how to insert key-frames on certain aspects of your model however I had no idea how to use them to make my character walk. After some research and many hours of experimenting I finally got an arm to move. This may not seem like a big step but for me it was a massive break through as I had realised that in order to get something to move I had to insert a key-frame on the start pose and then select a different frame, move the object in whatever way I wish and then insert another key-frame. However the transition from doing that with one movement of an arm to an entire body was not easy. I had seen sites that allow you to insert your model and the site will make it walk for you however even if my walk was not perfect I wanted it to be something I had done as this is a skill I need to have. After moving each limb with key-frames and making my character take one step I realised I had made a series of mistakes meaning I would have to redo the walking animation if I wanted it to work. I had not made a realistic walk due to two factors. One the characters torso and lower body did not rotate to either side making the walk look oddly unrealistic and two, I had placed the frames too close to each other so the character took the step at a speed so fast it was hardly even noticeable. I was so frustrated I did not even save it. I just restarted the full animation this time with a body that tilts realistically and evenly accurate spaced out frames.

Flying Through the Animation

The biggest learning curve so far has definitely been the flying animation I decided to create for my character. I first started by just making the character jump, rotate 90 degrees and just move across the scene in one big motion. However this did not look realistic at all and I decided to look at film scenes in which superheroes take off for flight. I noticed that in most of these clips the hero always gets lower to the ground before taking off and leaves one leg to push as the other lifts up. I then replicated this style with my model by bending the knees before flight, lowering it to the ground and using only one leg to push off the floor. To make the flight path look even more realistic, I tilted the toes downwards and created a second pushing off motion mid-air to make it look as if the character needs a boost to propel him towards the shop. I have also started to animate other assets in my animation although this was harder at first due to them not having a rig, eventually I found it easier than animating my actual model. I carefully selected the key frames so that other assets would move exactly when they should interact with the main character. I have made a lot of progress with most of my interactive assets. The lamp post now falls perfectly in front of the character obstructing his path and bouncing from the floor, and the guitar flies into his hand when walking into the shop. I have also animated the doors to open at the same time and speed as soon as the character lands near them. However I am struggling to smoothly transition the car from the normal car position to a floating futuristic vehicle.

Polishing off the Animation

Since my last blog entry I have made a lot of progress and the character now fully walks down the street and flies into the shop. I also managed to work out how to smoothly transition the car from the ground to a floating position. I have made each wheel of the car turn sideways and move upwards with the car to give it a hovercraft style. The car also bounces for a few seconds before flying off to simulate hovering. Now that all of my problems have been solved and I have overcome all of the difficulties I originally had creating my animation, today I have focused on preparing for rendering. After doing a few test renders I noticed that I have not yet placed lighting or decided on any camera angles. Therefore today I have inserted various light sources in order for the animation to be visible when rendered. I inserted directional lights into the lampposts facing downwards to give the effect of a well lit street. I also added an area light in the shop ceiling in order to give a realistically lit shop floor. One other light source I had previously forgotten to add was the emissive texture on my iron man guitar, this gives off a blue light from the center of the guitar and gives the shop a more aesthetically pleasing look and atmosphere. I also took a large amount of time experimenting with different camera angles to determine what view of each scene I want to render. After doing so I inserted a new cam and named it rendercam, I then used key frames along with the move and rotate tool to have the camera follow my main character whilst also capturing every other important aspect of my animation. I decided to use one camera that changes with the character as I was inspired by the one shot camera style that gives films a more realistic feel. I am now ready to begin rendering and putting the video together.

The Rendering Process

In previous modules and my own personal work I have always fallen at the last hurdle and have a lot of complications with rendering. When rendering my guitars for a previous module I had to spread my rendering across 20 Macs in the Mac Lab and sit until 6am for them to finish, so this time I thought nothing worse could happen. Then a worldwide pandemic hit. Due to repercussions of this and not having access to the University this set my work back quite a large amount and my rendering process became less of a priority. However due to help from lecturers I was able to gain remote access to the Macs I had previously used. Although after a few failed attempts I could not get my work to render correctly with this method. As a last resort I decided to see how long it would take my laptop to render the animation, I set it up for rendering and left it for 2 hours and to my surprise when I returned it had fully rendered my animation. Due to the fact that it had been months since I had rendered anything it took a while to get all my settings exactly as I wanted them for the rendering process. In my render settings I had to choose my ‘rendercam’ camera to be the view my animation was rendered from and also the size. I chose 1024 as it is a HD size but also is quicker than a full 1080p animation render, especially for a less powerful machine such as my laptop. At the end of this process I had 800 rendered frames ready to put together in a video.


I have now put all of the frames together, added suspenseful music and a title scene to make the whole animation look more professional. In this conclusion I will say what I think I did well and what I would have liked to have done better. Overall I am very pleased with my animation, I am proud that I have gone from not being able to animate at all to having a video with every frame animated by me. Even something as basic as the walking cycle took me a while to create but I am now glad that I can say I did it. Another aspect of my animation that I think went well was the animated assets that run alongside my character. Not only was I able to animate my character but also numerous other assets in the scene, at the start of this module I did not think this would be achievable especially with my level of experience with animation. On the other hand one thing I would have liked to have done better would be the overall visual style of my animation, although the module is focused on animation and not texturing and lighting, I would have liked to still go back and texture everything in the scene exactly the way I wanted it to. One other aspect of my animation I would say that I need to improve on for the future would be the precision of every frame such as the walking cycle. I started the walk off very slowly and then sped it up for dramatic effect however I am not sure that this is, at first, easily noticeable. If I had more time I would go back and redo the full walking process and experiment with ways and making it look more realistic. However as a whole I am very pleased with my animation.

My Rendered Animation