“Every artist has thousands of bad drawings in them, and the only way to get rid of them is to draw them out.”Chuck Jones, American Animator, Looney Tunes.
The nine original men began animation with no books, blogs, or online courses, so they had to create, learn, and master animation character exercises to produce the classical Disney films we all love. These exercises improve an animator's understanding of the principles of animation and increase the level of familiarity with applying them while animating.
To keep your skills sharp, the 15 animation character exercises to improve your skills covers concepts to use when uncertain about what to animate, whether you have experience animating a bouncing ball or not. The principles of animation are exercises consistent with every realistic animation production; understanding them helps animators animate lifelike animated content.
Character Exercises All Animators Have to Know
In detailing how animators can use classic animation techniques with computer graphics, the exceptional book by Angie Jones and Jamie Oliff, Thinking Animation, mentions 15 aspects animators should consider and implement into all their animation character exercises.
Animators can show weight by squashing the feet, hip area, and the front sides of the quads of the upper legs. A little-known 3D animation fact is that using lettuce to structure your character is helpful in 3D. A keynote is, "When in doubt, exaggerate the weight."
This systematic approach to animation planning involves character exercises like creating, evaluating, and refining the key poses, in-betweens, and breakdowns. A keynote is to animate poses with exaggeration.
3. Leading actions and Follow through
An example to remember while practicing character exercises is when an animation character lifts their arms — one arm goes up (leading action) before the other does the same (follow through).
GIF by Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit via Mind Inventory
4. Overlapping actions
Using S curves to change direction is effective for the overlapping action animation principle. The character exercise is animating a character coming to a halt and the hair continuing to flow before settling.
5. Drag action
Usually occurring at the ends of a form, this shows dragging on a form as it moves through space. For instance, the edges of a rubber raft will bend and drag back, and the middle edge will be intact.
6. Motivational forces
The hips and legs are responsible for eighty percent or more of all character actions. To understand this character exercise, consider when a character throws a ball. The action starts with unfolding the front leg, thus rotating the hips to create torque with the torso, and unwinding the torso to spring the shoulder and arm through a throwing motion.
GIF by Chrisler Soares via Dribbble
Factor in time; for realism, remember even animation characters think before doing anything.
8. Primary and Secondary actions
Notice the sequence of walking, the legs treading the ground make the primary action, and the arms sweeping the air are the secondary action.
This pose prepares for the main action of an animated scene. Distinct from the direct action or the reaction, anticipation is thinking in terms of the natural backward jerk before a character moves forward.
For this character exercise, assume an animation character suddenly stops while running; the animator has to drive the forces up or down and then up to compensate for the forward momentum.
For as long as it is sensible to the action, animators should animate as many reversals into the spine as possible to enact the spine curving forward and then backward during anticipation.
GIF by Eeshan Kulkarni via ArtStation
12. Cushion or Settle
Move passed a keyframe from one extreme to another, and vice versa, and then cushion back into the initial keyframe.
13. A moving hold
This character exercise is a way to have the animation hold a key pose for long periods without looking uninteresting; for example, standing in the elevator.
The exercise of staging helps animators consider how the action is composed within the frame and convey the character or scene's attitudes, feelings, and expressions in a way that resonates with audiences.
GIF by Ryan Rumbolt via Dribbble
Ideate character designs and caricature them to appeal to your signature animation style, layout, and storyline. Animators should aim to balance simplicity and detail to achieve charm with their drawings.
The Role Of The Animation Principles In Character Exercises
The twelve principles of animation are crucial guidelines to comply with when animating. Although Disney originally defined them for 2D animation, they are still essential for 3D animation character exercises. Below is a brief overview of some animation principles to better grasp how to improve your artistic skills.
1. Squash and Stretch:
This principle exaggerates an unfixed body's deformation as it moves. Generally, squash is for showing the force of impact or anticipation, and stretch signifies the acceleration or velocity of an animation.
For example, a falling rubber ball elongates as it speeds up and then squashes upon hitting the ground. Its speed on impact determines how much it deforms, and the ball temporarily stretches again before gravity slows it down when and after leaving the surface from the bounce.
A critical rule of squash and stretch is for animators to keep the volume consistent, always. In the example above, the bouncing ball scales down as it squashes and expands outwards to retain the same volume. Similarly, it becomes slimmer during stretching.
GIF by Noman Ahmed via Pinterest
Animators may master animation character exercises for comedic effect but technically, animations look more realistic, alive, and appealing with squash and stretch, and it is not limited to deforming organic bodies. Its fundamental concept covers all posing and motion setups.
An animation's action consists of three separate phases, including preparing for the action, the actual act, and the termination of the action. In its most basic format, anticipation occurs in the direction opposite the primary action.
Anticipation is the observable preparation of the action and tends to be the longest and most important part of a character’s motion. It helps set up what a character is about to do and directs attention to where the movement will happen.
GIF via Pinterest
Animators should be wary that every significant action should retain some form of anticipation. This character exercise emulates that anticipation should be more exaggerated and longer the more eminent the move. Anticipation can also transition several shots using numerous minor actions to prepare for a more significant (or dramatic) one.
3. Ease In and Ease Out
A manageable way to fix character actions that start, stop, or change direction unexpectedly, leading to robotic movements, is to use the ease in and out, or "slow in and slow out," animation principle. A swinging pendulum is a natural model of this principle. The pendulum starts to slow down to a quick stop as gravity overtakes it until it begins accelerating in the opposing direction again.
GIF by RydanInk via DeviantArt
Reflecting the pendulum concept of gradual acceleration and deacceleration when timing out character animation is useful while practicing character exercises. Appropriately easing in and out of poses aids in creating smoother actions and reduce the mechanical start and stop feel of the animation.
A crucial principle of character exercises is keeping track of the paths the character and their limbs follow while moving on the screen. To help the animation look more natural and less robotic, they should have arc motions rather than moving straight from point to point in linear movements.
GIF via D’Source
5. Overlapping Action and Follow-through
Parts of an animation character do not all move at once; the resulting motions starting and ending at different times result in overlapping. This principle may apply to how a character's limbs move concerning the rest of their body and how broader actions blend into a sequence of motions.
Character exercises utilizing this principle make animations look more fluid since actions that flow into each other rather than happening one by one look more natural.
GIF via D’Source
Follow-through pairs with overlapping action and more broadly characterizes the ending motion of an action’s final, or termination, phase. It is also an example of the secondary action principle because the animation supports the principal move.
6. Pose to Pose and Straight Ahead Animation
The animation-defining key pose set, which represents a specific action's extremes, is pose to pose. Freeform character exercises fall into straight-ahead animation, which finishes subsequent frames one by one after defining the first frame until the end of the entire scene to produce seamless motion.
The ball falling character exercise is an example of key poses, noticed at the ball's highest bouncing point and each time it strikes the ground. After animating the key poses, setting in-between poses is necessary to define the motion more intrinsically.
Image by Pilar Newton via Tutsplus
Although pose-to-pose is the often used workflow in 3D animation, sometimes straight-ahead animation is helpful in the polishing stages. But animators should remember it is more difficult to devise, retime, and modify them.
7. Reference and Planning
An animator can transfer the poses to their character in animation software like Maya once they have a final planning sheet. Since timing will not be an issue from the onset, creating a pose every ten frames is fine. For every new pose, it is crucial to key all the character's controls on the frame comprising the pose to ensure consistency and more predictable movements when splining.
Once all the animation poses are in Maya, an animator can initiate timing them. Timing is one of the more demanding animation principles and character exercises to pin down. One or two frames can differentiate whether an animation is too fast or too slow.
GIF via Pinterest
Animators should remember to select all the character's controls when shifting poses, or they can offset keyframes and ruin the timeline.
In-between poses for defining movement arcs, adding overlapping action, and implementing squash and stretch come after getting the timing correct. Timing may require further adjustments with more poses added. Upon resolving the number of poses and timing, an animator can spline their animation.
51 Best Animation Character Exercises for Animators
Producing animations is hard labor, although rewarding. Animators can keep at the top of their game through continuous improvement and possessing better skills. In the order of how skilled an animator is, the below competency levels list the ultimate animation character exercises to improve your skills.
GIF via Saturday Kids
Level 1 Exercises
1. Ball Bouncing in place, with no decay (loop)
2. Ball Bouncing across the screen
3. A brick falling from a shelf onto the ground
5. The character's head turns with anticipation
6. Character blinking
7. Character thinking
8. Flour Sack waving (loop)
9. Flour Sack jumping
10. Flour Sack falling (loop or hitting the ground)
11. Flour Sack kicking a ball
Level 2 Exercises
12. Change in character’s emotion
13. Character jumping over a gap
14. Standing up from a chair
15. Walk Cycle
16. A character on a pogo stick (loop)
19. Reaching for an object on a shelf overhead
21. Taking a deep breath
22. A tree falling
23. A character hit by something simple (ball, brick, book)
24. Run Cycle
Level 3 Exercises
25. Close-up of open hand closing into a fist
26. Close-up of hand picking up a small object
27. Character lifting a heavy object with intent
28. Overlapping action (puffy hair, floppy ears, tail)
29. Character painting
30. Hammering a nail
31. Stirring a soup pot and tasting from a spoon
32. The character blowing up a balloon
33. Character juggling (loop)
34. A scared character peering around a corner
35. Starting to say something. but unsure of how
36. Zipping up a jacket
37. Licking and sealing an envelope
38. Standing up from the ground
39. Pressing an elevator button and waiting for it
GIF by Austin Saylor via Dribbble
Level 4 Exercises
40. Character eating a cupcake
41. An object falling into a body of water
42. Two characters playing tug-of-war
43. Character dealing a deck of cards out
44. The full process of brushing one’s teeth
45. A single piece of paper dropping through the air
46. Run across the screen with a change in direction
47. The sleeping character is startled by the alarm and then returns to a sleepy state
48. Opening a cupboard and removing something inside
49. Putting on a pair of pants
50. Opening a gift and reacting
51. Use a heavy object next to a light object. Enhance the differences the weight change makes.
The Ultimate Animation Character Exercises To Improve Your Skills
There are numerous character workouts that an animator can practice while animating. This compilation of 15 animation character exercises to improve your skills supplements the fifty-one practices coined by Animator Island. Animators can create their own exercises considering they respect the twelve principles of animation and present a worthy challenge.
Perfecting animation requires practice rather than only going through its theory. Animators should not overcomplicate these exercises and do their utmost to master them for lifelike and smooth animations, as in the words of Ollie Johnston, "You're not supposed to animate drawings; you're supposed to animate feelings."
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