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Learn to create and animate highly controllable characters using After Effects. In this course, author George Maestri covers every step on the way, from designing the characters in Photoshop or Illustrator, or drawing them straight from After Effects; assembling characters with hierarchies; making realistic deformations with the Puppet tool; automating rigs with expressions; creating realistic head turns; and showing advanced techniques such as using null objects as bones. Finally, the course shows how to perform a basic animation with the character and ensure the rig works correctly.
Now let's take a look at the Puppet tool, which is another way to manipulate your character. The Puppet tool kind of gives more of an organic manipulation; it allows you to have more flowing types of animation, and let me show you how this works. Now, the Puppet tool does not require that you break your character up into individual parts; you can use it that way, but for this example, we're going to use this entire character. Now what I did was I took the same character we had in Photoshop, and basically I just flattened him. So we have just one layer, and that layer has the entire character, so there are no individual parts.
So I am going to go into After Effects, here, and into our project file where I've already loaded that Photoshop file into After Effects. Now as you can see, we have just one layer. It's called Gus_Solid, and it's basically the entire character. Now, if we want to deform him, we can use what's called the Puppet tool. So again, I am just going to use this on the upper arm first, and then we'll use it for the entire character. Now, you can find the Puppet tool up here along the toolbar, and its right here; it's called the Puppet Pin tool, the Puppet Overlap tool, and the Puppet Starch tool.
Now in this lesson, we're going to be using mostly the Puppet Pin tool, which gives you the ability to deform the character. So I am just going to go ahead and select that tool. Now if I want, I can turn on Show Mesh, and what that does is it just shows me how this Puppet Pin works. So I am going to go ahead and click that on, and then I am going to click somewhere around the shoulder. Notice how we have a little Pin icon here for the cursor, and when I click on that, what it does is it shows, me by showing Mesh, it shows me exactly how it's breaking that character up.
Now what this does is it actually creates a polygonal mesh. If anybody is familiar with 3D animation, such as Maya, you would understand how this is working. So what I am doing is I am laying down what are called Pins. Each pin gives me a place to deform that character. So I am going to lay one down at the shoulder, one down at the elbow, and the last one down at the wrist. In fact, I am going to turn off this Show Mesh, because we really don't need it. And once I have laid down a couple of puppet points, I am going to go back to my Selection tool, and I'll show you how this works.
So if I select any one of these puppet pins, I can move them. You can see how I can actually deform that character very easily. Let me go ahead and undo this. So let's take a look at how this works. I am going to go down to my layer called Gus_Solid, which is my character, and you'll notice that when I created this puppet pin, it created a puppet effect on the character. And if I scroll down here so I can see this, you'll see that it's got a number of different options here, but the ones that I want to look at here are the ones under Mesh, and Deform.
Every time you lay down one of these puppet pins, it creates an object here called Puppet Pin 1, 2, 3, and they are just numbered sequentially as you create them. So if I take any one of these, I can just manipulate them. Now, each one of these also has its own position; I can also animate them. So if I wanted to animate this, all I would have to do is select Puppet Pin 3, and then just move my Timeline somewhere, say, out to 10 seconds, and then just move him, and you can see how I can actually animate that.
But I really don't want to do that right now, so I am going to go ahead and delete this keyframe. In fact, I am going to delete the entire effect. I am going to go into Gus_Solid, select the Puppet effect, and delete it, and then reselect Gus_Solid. And I am going to go ahead and fit him to my window here, so I can see what I am doing, and I am going to go ahead and add Puppet Pins for the entire character just to see how this works. So again, I am going to go to the Puppet Pin tool.
I want to add one, say, around his hips, around his beltline; somewhere in that range. I am going to add another one somewhere around the neck, shoulder, elbow, wrist; on the left side, and again on the right side. And let's go ahead to the legs. We'll do hip, knee, and ankle, and let's go ahead again; hip, knee, ankle, and then let's do one here for the head.
Now once I have all these, I can start manipulating my character. So all I have to do is go to my Selection tool, and grab one of these Puppet Pins, and I can start moving them. So you can see how I can start moving my character around, and I can actually start deforming him. Now one of the things I am noticing here is that when I move certain parts like, say, for example, his head, it's not very controllable. So what I can do is I can add additional puppet pins to give myself more control.
Now we're going to do this for the feet and the head. So let me show you what I can do, first of all, with the head. So I am going to go ahead to Puppet Pin tool; I have one here, right around the neck, but I am going to add one towards the top of his head. Now what that does is it gives me kind of almost like an angle control, so if I move this left and right, I can have kind of like a rocking of his head. Or if I select both of them, if I can Shift+ select these, I can actually move the head around without too much distortion.
I can do the same for the feet as well. So I have one at the ankle, but I can also add one at the toe. So I am going to add one at this toe, and at this toe, and now when I move my foot, if I select both of these, I can kind of control the angle of that foot. If I select this toe here, then I can kind of bend the foot as well. So those are some basic strategies for creating puppet pins. Now, there are additional things that we can do with the Puppet tool. One is called Starch, and that kind of stiffens up joints; another one allows you to overlap.
So, for example, if I have this arm, and move it here, right now it passes in front of the character, but if I wanted it to pass behind, I would use the Overlap tool, and we're going to go through those in the following lessons. But before we do that, just remember, the Puppet Pin tool allows you to deform your character. Now, remember to place the pins towards the joints of your characters to get the best effect.
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