Character animation is the art of making characters move in a two or three-dimensional context. It’s a process central to the concept of animation and can be achieved effectively by keeping a few key things in mind.

Nail the basics

The basics of effective character animation are bringing a character to life, but focusing on creating the illusion of emotion and personality.

There’s a well-known animation book called The Illusion of Life , written by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. Throughout the book, they explore the 12 principles of animation. In theory, if you focus on these principles, your characters will adhere to the laws of physics whilst still moving in an exaggerated and appealing way.

We always consider these 12 principles when animating, whether it’s characters, objects or simple shapes.

Here’s a great animation that briefly explains the principles.

 

The challenge of realism

The biggest challenge of character animation is making the movements look realistic, whilst also making sure there’s still an animated charm to the characters. There’s a very fine line between a character moving in a satisfying, realistic way and it looking unnatural and jarring.

One challenge that we had when creating a recent animated series for Dell EMC, called The Science of Storage, was deciding how we wanted to rig our characters.

There are a lot of great After Effects plugins available for character rigging, but we wanted to make sure the technique we used would be easy to work with throughout the series.

After testing a few different options, we decided to rig purely using After Effects. The main reason was that using plugins would increase production time and would have hindered our turnaround time of the videos. Constraints such as deadlines and budgets are things you must consider when creating animations for clients.

Here’s the first episode of The Science of Storage series. You can watch the others on our Vimeo page.

 

The future of character animation

The core principles of animation are constant and I don’t think they will ever change. Whether you’re animating in 3D or traditional frame by frame animation, the principles will always be the same.

What has changed is the progression of software. There are some great plugins that have been released since I started animation, all designed to make rigging and animating easier in After Effects.

I think we’ll continue to see new pieces of software that will make our lives easier and increase the possibilities of what we can do digitally. As software evolves, so will the quality of our work, but the 12 principles of animation will always be the key to effectively bringing characters to life.