Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Business of Animation Logo

15 Animation Character Exercises to Improve Your Skills

ben marvazi 2020

Make More Money as an Animator

Check out our FREE TRAINING on How Animators Can Make Over $10,000 Per Month

“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.

1. Weight

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."

2. Posing

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).

understanding movement of the chest and arms with character exercises of a girl walking with a pink back pack and a graph as a background

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.

blue boy type character walking up to a ball and picking it up and throwing it with two trees in the background

GIF by Chrisler Soares via Dribbble

7. Thinking

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.

9. Anticipation

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.

10. Compensation

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.

11. Reversals

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.

human like character made from shapes throwing a ball on animation editing software

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.

14. Staging

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.

a scene of people sitting on a bench on their phones and laptop and the camera pans out and reveals a lady holding her dog on her phone and a boy sitting under a tree reading a newspaper and lastly a boy character skates past on his cell phone

GIF by Ryan Rumbolt via Dribbble

15. Appeal

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.

character exercises for understanding squash and stretch of a ball bouncing up and down

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.

2. Anticipation

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.

two human characters jumping but the one has a heavy hiking pack on its back showing the weight of it by the jumping movement it conveys which is slower and requires more effort

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.

character exercises showing ease in and ease out of a blue ball running along a timeline

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.

4. Arcs

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.

a red ball going down an arc and bouncing back up another arc

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.

character exercises of a girl jumping with overlapping and follow through and the other girl jumping without

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.

circles showing pose to pose animation

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.

8. Timing

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.

character exercises of balls going along a timeline at different speeds revealing the different timing

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.

2d blue ball character playing a game of leveling up by getting over obstacles

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

4. Simple character head turn

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)

17. Laughing

18. Sneezing

19. Reaching for an object on a shelf overhead

20. Quick motion smear/blur

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

Level up in yellow orange and red colors with stars and the sun popping up behind 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."

different emoji faces that are animated revealing all their emotions

GIF by Cli on Dribbble

As an ambitious animator, you should take full advantage of our experience by downloading a copy of our free marketing handbook. Join the Animation Business Accelerator to make six to seven figures as a studio owner, even if you lack experience, money, or confidence.

This blog is the tip of the iceberg; you can discover How to Start an Animation Studio by reading our inspiring blog for business-minded animators. You can also watch our free masterclass to get your foot in the door to a life of creative prosperity.

rocket for boa

Lacking Business Skills as an Animator?

Transform your animation skills into a profitable business with our expert-led free training.
Business of Animation Footer Logo
Helping Animators Succeed

Feeling Stuck in Your Animation Career? Learn How to Break the $10,000 Per Month Barrier!

crossmenuchevron-down linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram