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n4yS6MGr_biggerAuthor: Henry Truong

Follow Henry on Twitter @thathernyguy

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How I approach Character Design through Animation


Animation Workflow

Animation Character Design

What I find tough about animating is that we’re trying to bring life and emotion into an otherwise lifeless object.  Our poses and timing not only have to communicate a clear message, but they also have to tell us who a character is.  Study a group of people and you’ll notice that everyone moves differently.  Combine all the details in their movements and it paints a picture of who they are.

To be able to animate effectively, we first have to do some exploring and figure out what the character’s defining traits are.

Gathering Ideas with Various Key Poses

Gathering Ideas with Keyposes - image

Gathering Ideas with Keyposes

The first thing I do with a new character is to key them in a variety of poses to generate some ideas.  I like starting with walk poses because it’s a nice blend of character and mechanics.  It’s fun playing around with different poses, yet still adhering to the “rules” of a walk.  Most characters will do a lot of walking and they way they move should represent who they are.  

For this example i’m using the Lisa rig provided by Ianimate.  

Lisa Walk Poses Lineup




Pencil lines to showcase silhouettes

Pencil lines to showcase silhouettes


With these initial poses I’m looking to find silhouettes/shapes that are visually interesting and help sell the emotions and attitude of the character.  

Determine your Character Traits

Determining your traits - image

Determining your traits

When I look at the Lisa character model I see someone who is

  • strong
  • innocent
  • determined
  • stylized
  • feminine
  • confident

Because of that, I find the 4th pose best represents those traits so I move ahead with that one.

Selecting a pose - image

The one I choose

Gather Reference

Now with those ideas in mind, I start gathering reference that help represent those traits. With reference, I’m hoping to find details that will provide an extra layer of authenticity.  These details will show through in the final animation and it’ll be much stronger than if I were to use only my ideas.

Gathering Reference - image

Gathering Reference

(Grabbed off google image search.  Gogo Tomago, Big Hero Six.  Rocket, SuckerPunch. Ronda Rousey. Rey, The Force Awakens. Cameron Phillips, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah Manning, Orphan Black.  Endless Reference.  Gamora, Guardians of the Galaxy.)


Notes from Reference

  • Chin down with eyes up to show focus and determination.
  • Tense and aggressive arms.
  • Faster walk speed with the legs planting hard.


At this point I’m starting to narrow down who this character is.  In my mind I can start visualizing how this character walks so I start blocking in my key poses.

Animation Blocking

Animation Blocking

Animation Blocking

Key Poses

Key Poses

I block in five key poses to set up interesting shapes and silhouettes to help reinforce the character traits.  (The first and last frames are identical so the animation loops.)  It’s just five poses, but you can start to see how this animation is coming together.

This is usually a point where I can get some good feedback as well.

Animating Inbetweens

Animation in-betweens

Animation in-betweens

There’s many different ways people can approach keying their inbetweens.  For walk cycles, I like to take a layered approach.  I’ll focus on the lower body (COG/hips/legs) first because that drives the entire animation.  I really want to make sure the legs are planting properly and the weight shifts are working before I put more work into the rest of the body.  Once I’m happy with that, then I’ll layer on the torso, arms and head.

Animating Secondary Motion

Animating Secondary motion - image

Animating Secondary motion

The next step is to add some secondary motion to help loosen up the animation.  I’m still keeping the character traits in mind while animating these secondary controllers.

  • Stompy feet will have more jiggle in the legs to release that energy.
  • Hair will move around quite a bit because it’s a faster walk.


After this I’ll get some feedback and then adjust accordingly.  

Conclusion – Start with Planning


The more initial planning the better.  Gather and try out lots of ideas at the beginning.  Really wrap your head around who the character is, what the character is doing and why.  When you can visualize your character, it’s much easier to make decisions on what helps enforce the character design and what does not.


Nowadays I try to plan as much as I can.  Usually I’ll budget about ⅕ my animation time, but it makes the animation work go much smoother and the results are much more authentic.  That means it’s less stressful and more fun.  Now those are two ideas I can get behind.  : )


Thanks for listening!  You can find more animation thoughts, workflows and tips at https://twitter.com/thathenryguy.

Have a great animation or workflow idea?  Let me know!  Would be great to hear your comments!  


Thanks to the art supplied by –

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