Blender For Dummies
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If you’re already used to object animation and the basics of Blender, using armatures to animate in the Dope Sheet extends naturally from that process. The following is a common process for animating with Blender.

Blender animations with armatures ©Shutterstock/FrameStockFootages
  1. Plan the animation.

    This point can’t be emphasized enough: Know what you’re going to animate and have an idea about the timing of the motion. Act out the action. If you can, record yourself acting it out. Video reference is key for seeing subtle movements. Sketch out a few quick thumbnail drawings of the sequence. Even stick-figure drawings can be really helpful for determining poses and figuring out camera framing.

  2. Set your timeline cursor at frame 1 and create the starting pose for your character by manipulating its rig in Pose mode.
  3. Select all visible bones (Select→All) and Insert a LocRotScale keyframe for everything (Pose→Animation→Insert Keyframe→LocRotScale).

    Granted, there’s a good chance that most of the bones can’t be moved or scaled, but only rotated, so setting a location or scale keyframe for them is kind of moot. However, setting a keyframe for all the bones is faster than going through and figuring out which bones can be keyed for just rotation and which bones can be keyed for some combination of rotation, location, and scale.Alternatively, if you’ve set up a keying set for your character, you can pick that keying set from within the Keying rollout in the Timeline. Then you can insert keyframes for every property in that keying set just by pressing I.

  4. Within the Dope Sheet, make sure all your recently added channels are selected (they should be by default) and change the interpolation type to Constant (Key→Interpolation Mode→Constant).

    This is kind of an optional step, but it’s really helpful for the blocking pass of your animation. With Constant interpolation set, you can focus exclusively on your character’s poses and the timing between those poses without the distraction of seeing how Blender generates the in-betweens for you.

  5. Move the timeline cursor forward to roughly when you think the next major pose should happen.

    It doesn’t really matter which editor you use to adjust the timeline cursor. It could be the Timeline, the Dope Sheet, or the Graph Editor. In fact, using ←and →, you can even adjust the timeline cursor from the 3D Viewport.

  6. Create your character’s second pose.

    If the next pose is a hold, or a pose where the character doesn’t change position, you can duplicate the keys of the previous pose by selecting them in the Dope Sheet and choosing Key→Duplicate or by pressing Shift+D.

    The Shift+D hotkey combination also works in the Timeline.

  7. Select all visible bones (A) and Insert an Available keyframe (Pose→Animation→Insert Keyframe→Available).

    Again, if you’re using a keying set, you can just press I. If you wanted, you could also switch to the Available keying set in the Timeline before inserting keyframes.

  8. Continue with Steps 5 through 7 until you complete the last major pose for your character.
  9. Using the Dope Sheet, play back the animation (Spacebar), paying close attention to timing.

    At this point, hopefully your poses are acceptably refined, so you should pay even more attention to timing than to the accuracy of the poses.

  10. Go through the keys in the Dope Sheet and tweak the timing of the poses so that they look natural.
  11. Continuing to tweak, go back and start adding additional poses and keyframes for secondary motion between your major poses.

    Somewhere around here you’ve migrated from the blocking phase of animation to the refining phase. So at this point, you may want to select all the keys in your animation and switch back to Bézier interpolation (Key→Interpolation Mode→Bézier). Now you can focus on perfecting the

  12. Continue on this course, refining the timing and detail more and more with each pass.
One luxury of computer animation is the ability to continually go back and tweak things, make changes, and improve the animation. You can take advantage of this process in Blender by training yourself to work in passes. Animate your character’s biggest, most pronounced motion first. Make sure that you have the timing down. Then move to the next pass, working on slightly more detailed parts of the performance.

For example, animate your character’s arm and hand bones before you get into the nitty-gritty details of animating the fingers. The biggest reason to work this way is time. It’s much easier to go in and fix the timing on a big action if you do it earlier.

Otherwise, you run into situations where you find yourself shuffling around a bunch of detail keys after you find out that your character doesn’t get from Point A to Point B in the right amount of time.

Don’t be afraid to break out a stopwatch and act out the action to find out exactly how long it takes to perform and what the action feels like. Animation is very much like acting, by proxy. So it helps to know what some actions actually feel like when they’re performed. If you’re fortunate enough to have friends, have them act out the action for you while you time it or even record it to video. Getting animation to look right is all about having the proper timing.

Principles of animation worth remembering

As you create your animations in Blender, try to pull from a variety of sources to really capture the essence of some action, motion, or character expression. The first and most emphatic recommendation is to keep your eyes open. Watch everything around you that moves. Study objects and try to get an idea of how their structure facilitates motion. Then think about how you would re-create that movement.

Of course, merely gawking at everything in the world isn’t the only thing you should do (and you should be prepared for the fact that people will probably look at you funny when you do gawk). Studying early animation is also a good idea.

Most of the principles that those wonderfully talented pioneers developed for animation are still relevant and applicable to computer animation. In fact, you should remember the classic 12 basic principles of animation that were established by some of the original Disney animators.

These principles are a bit of divergence, but if your aim is to create good animation, you should know about them and try to use them in even the most simple of animations:

  • Squash and stretch: This one is all about deformation. Because of weight, anything that moves gets deformed somehow. A tennis ball squashes to an oval shape when it’s hit. Rope under tension gets stretched. Cartoon characters hit all believable and unbelievable ranges of this when they’re animated, but it’s valuable, albeit toned down, even in realistic animation.
  • Anticipation: The basic idea here is that before every action in one direction, a buildup in the opposite direction occurs first. A character that’s going to jump bends her knees and moves down first to build up the energy to jump upward.
  • Staging: The idea of staging is to keep the frame simple. The purpose of animation is to communicate an idea or a movement or an emotion with moving images. You want to convey this idea as clearly as possible with the way you arrange your shots and the characters in those shots. A good trick here is to use Solid viewport shading. Using the Shading rollout in the 3D Viewport’s header, you can change the Lighting setting to Flat and the Color setting to Single (and set the color swatch that appears to black). If you can still tell what’s going on with just a silhouette, then you’ve got good staging.
  • Straight-ahead action versus pose-to-pose action: These are the two primary methods of animating. Pose-to-pose techniques can be more organized and structured, but it may result in movement that’s cartoony or robotic. Straight-ahead action is generally a more open-ended approach and gives more freedom for improvisation, but the action may be less clear and more difficult to tweak on future passes. Most modern animators use a hybrid approach, blocking in the initial poses and then working straight-ahead between them.
  • Follow through and overlapping action: The idea here is to make sure that your animations adhere (or seem to adhere) to the laws of physics. If you have movement in one direction, the inertia of that motion requires you to animate the follow-through even if you’re changing direction. When a character throws a ball, his arm doesn’t stop moving when the ball is released. The arm follows through with its own momentum.
  • Ease in and ease out: Ease in and ease out, sometimes known as “slow in, slow out,” means that natural movement does not stop and start abruptly. It flows smoothly, accelerating and decelerating. By using Bézier curves in the Graph Editor, you actually get this principle for free, though that doesn’t mean you should just take the defaults. Depending on the type of movement, you often have to customize the degree of easing in your animation (for example, a bounce eases in and out very fast in a way that doesn’t necessarily look smooth).
  • Arcs: Along the same lines as the previous two principles, most natural movement happens in arcs. So if your character is changing direction or moving something, you typically want that to happen in some sort of curved, arc motion. Straight lines are generally stiff and robotic (and therefore good for machinery and robots), but they’re also very useful for powerful actions like punching.
  • Secondary action: These actions are those additional touches that make characters appear more real to the audience. Clothing that shifts with character movement, jiggling fat or loose skin, and blinking eyes are just a few actions that can breathe life into an otherwise stiff, empty puppet.
  • Timing: Timing is one of the most important of the 12 principles. Everything happens according to time. If the timing is off, it throws off the effect for the whole animation. This doesn’t just refer to the timing of actions to appear believable. This is also in reference to story-based timing — knowing exactly the right time to make a character give a sad facial expression that impacts the audience the most. Think of it like telling a joke. The best punchline in the world will fall flat if you don’t say it at exactly the right time.
  • Exaggeration: Exaggeration makes animation fun. You can do anything with animation, and you’re nearly duty-bound to take advantage of that fact. Otherwise, you may as well just work in video or film with meatspace people.
  • Solid drawing: Solid drawing refers to the actual skill of being able to draw. Computer animators can get away with not being experts at drawing, but it’s to your benefit to make the effort. Drawing is an extension of seeing. When you draw, you turn on a part of your brain that studies how things look relative to one another. Being able to see the world with these eyes can make all the difference in re-creating believable motion. Besides, with Grease Pencil objects, you can draw in Blender, too!
  • Appeal: This one is easy. Make things that are awesome. If you’re going to animate something boring, what’s the point? It needs to be interesting for you to make, and it’s nice if it’s also interesting for other people to watch.
Those are the basic principles of animation, but not a single one of them is carved in stone and you should certainly play around in Blender to see what works best. You can effectively break every one of them and still pull off some incredible animation. That said, more often than not, it’s in the best interest of your work and your sanity that you at least start within these principles and then later on find ways where you can break them in the best way possible.

Check out these Blender websites for additional information.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jason van Gumster, author of all previous editions of Blender For Dummies, has used Blender in animation, video, and digital design for over 20 years. A Blender Foundation Certified Trainer, he has taught numerous students and serves as lead moderator on, the largest Blender community website.

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