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7 Common Mistakes in Animating Walk Cycles

February 5, 2020
Ihor Karas
Ihor Karas Head of Motion Design School

Creating a believable walk cycle for your character can be a real challenge. At times it seems that you are doing everything right, but the result is still totally disappointing. You are not alone in this, we know your struggle. This article is a guideline for you to follow to ensure your characters walk as they should.

Character animation is the most difficult task in motion design which requires an integrated approach and a lot of basic knowledge. If a character looks unnatural, it will be difficult for a beginner to spot a mistake because it’s hidden in one of many actions. The list of common mistakes we have complied for you will help you limit your area of search.

So, let’s see what can go wrong and how to make sure you are creating convincing walk animations.

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1. Phases from hell

Arms and legs on the same side of the body should move in opposite phases. When the right leg is in front, the right hand moves backwards.

2. The simultaneous movement of the parts of the body

All main movements start in the pelvis or torso, while the rest of the body is ‘”lagging” behind, so the movements should not be synchronized. Hands should be 2-3 frames behind the leg.

Note!

When animating, you should remember that the path of the body is an arc, not a straight line. The basis of the movement is the point of rotation. For example, a wave with a straight hand is an arc coming from a shoulder joint.

3. Moving around a scene is not a cycle offset by the Position

We’ve demonstrated this mistake in the lesson. There are two types of walk animations: when a character walks in place and the background shifts, and a walk with a static background and a moving character. When there is a task to create a walk cycle for a character that moves from point A to point B with a static background, many beginners try to solve it by moving a looped walk by the Position. But it doesn’t work that way because it results in a very smooth movement and it feels like a character moves on the ground like in the old platform games.

In such cases, you should draw the key poses first (Passing pose, Contact pose), mark positions for the future steps in the scene, for the key poses, and create some intermediate poses between them. That is, you should right away take into account the character’s position in the scene in order to move it. You can cheat, of course, but ideally, it is better to do it exactly this way, so that there are no problems and the character doesn’t float around the scene.

4. The difference between the upper and lower positions is not prominent enough

When we walk, our weight shifts from one leg to the other, thus our body is constantly moving up and down.

It happens that you animate the legs and you animate the arms, but you forget that the body also should be going up and down. It results in a character that simply goes straight, it doesn’t move anything and it looks inanimate. If there is a vertical movement, but it is barely noticeable, a viewer will perceive the character as weightless. The character will look like it’s being pulled and its legs and arms are simply dangling.

5. Asymmetrical poses for the two sides of the body

Asymmetrical poses for the two sides of the body that make the character walk with a limp. That’s what we mean by this: usually students begin to animate a walk by creating one step, they create one step, and then they flip the same poses for the second step. This technique will work only if the character is exactly in profile or full face. If your character is drawn in three quarters, the poses won’t be identical because the legs are in two separate planes of movement and their position will not coincide. You can’t simply copy and paste the pose here, since the coordinates won’t match. In this case, each of the legs is animated separately, while the paths will be the same, the location will be different.

6. Uneven movement of the supporting leg (abrupt shifts)

In this case, a character also starts to limp and twitch. While it’s on the ground, the foot should move linearly in a straight line and without changes in speed. No Easings should be applied. When a character raises a foot, the graph may be not linear. You should remember that in the Contact phase our body has the least balance, we basically are falling, so to say, the body is strongly inclined forwards.

In the Passing phase of the leg we seem to pick ourselves up and are in the maximum balance, the supporting leg must be almost in the center under the body. The correct positioning of the leg in this phase allows us to avoid the feeling of an uneven walk and gives the necessary accuracy.

7. Wooden feet syndrome

Our feet take the most active part in walking and should be animated with maximum details, because a foot can be very elastic in different conditions. The character rises on its toes, thus it needs to be bent here if you don’t do this, the foot will seem wooden and, in addition, it will go below the floor level. When animating the foot always take the floor into account.

Walk Cycle Animation Checklist

To make sure that your character looks cool, pay attention to these details:
  • Passing pose. It’s the pose in which the maximum of balance should be felt. The character can be tilted forward if we want to convey a certain mood, but stable at the same time, the supporting leg should be positioned under the body.
  • Contact pose. It’s the pose of falling, the character is tilted forward.
  • Up and down poses. In the up and down poses, in the highest and lowest points of the character’s movement, we observe movement along a sinusoid. This movement gives your character weight.
  • The movement of a body. The movement of a body can be compared to a chain reaction. All its parts are subsequently connected. There cannot be a situation when they move synchronically if you choose a natural approach. This can be only applicable to the animation of robots or technical objects.
  • Don’t forget details. Always remember about details that convey movement, like hair, tilt of the head, clothing items.
  • Effective Services. Check the position of the character’s feet and arms. They should be well-animated.

These are the basic rules. However, animation is not always about following the rules. Try to make your character look natural but remember that in animation we often hyperbolize emotions and traits of character, so we can experiment with the way they are expressed. Animation is rather about feeling of what is happening than just 100% reproduction, animation is about expression and exaggeration of some parameters.

Good luck with your animations!

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