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Keyframing a puppet animation

From: After Effects Apprentice 13: Paint, Roto, and Puppet

Video: Keyframing a puppet animation

You should be in a state where your character has pins in his feet, his wrist, and at the top of the pencil. It's okay if you have set pins, say, in the middle of his torso. When you're done setting your pins and you're ready to animate, you might find it easier to revert back to the Selection tool. That will clean up the display a little bit, and particularly, you won't see the mesh anymore. If you are not seeing your pins at all, remember, Puppet is an effect and you need to select an effect to see its special user interface items. Now the Puppet tool is unique and that as soon as you create a pin, After Effects will create the first keyframe for you.

Keyframing a puppet animation

You should be in a state where your character has pins in his feet, his wrist, and at the top of the pencil. It's okay if you have set pins, say, in the middle of his torso. When you're done setting your pins and you're ready to animate, you might find it easier to revert back to the Selection tool. That will clean up the display a little bit, and particularly, you won't see the mesh anymore. If you are not seeing your pins at all, remember, Puppet is an effect and you need to select an effect to see its special user interface items. Now the Puppet tool is unique and that as soon as you create a pin, After Effects will create the first keyframe for you.

You don't need to set the animation stopwatch, and to show this, I'll press U, which reveals all animating properties on the timeline, and you'll see I now have my five pins that I post in this character feet, wrist, pencil, and torso with animation stopwatch already set and initial keyframes set. You can do a lot of work without ever revealing these pins down in the Timeline panel. However, it's not a bad idea to name them to keep track of them. As soon as you select one in the timeline, you'll also see it appears selected in the Comp panel or selected in the Comp panel will select it in the Timeline.

I'll go ahead and rename my pin just to keep them straight. I'll select it, press Return and type in its name such as wrist. Select this one; I see that's the tip of the pencil, so I'll say pencil. Select torso, left foot, my left his right, and right foot. Now your Timeline panel will quickly fill up with loads of puppet pins each with their own keyframes.

If you want to simplify the display, you can select just the pin you're interested in and type SS, two Ss in quick succession for solo selected. That will show you just the pin that was selected, then you can twirl it open to see its keyframes. But I am going to go ahead and press U to reveal all the keyframes so we can see what's going on. This composition is just one second long. If you have an extended keyboard, hold Shift and press Page Down to move ten frames ahead in time or just drag your current time indicator to ten frames.

Grab the tip of your pencil and bend it over a little bit. In doing so, you'll see a motion path appear in the Comp panel. This is just like the motion you are used to for layers. I'll zoom in on it and re-center, there's dots along it to show the position of that pin on each frame of your composition, and you also have Bezier handles. Initially, they are just solid dots because they are auto-Bezier, but as soon as you click it and drag, you'll now have your continuous Bezier handles, you can drag out just like a motion path.

I'll move back in time and you'll see how the end of that pencil follows that path. By the way, did you notice these little red artifacts here? Those are tips of the pencil being left behind, and this is a side-effect of having the Mesh Expansion set to Small. Well, don't worry, that's easy to fix after the fact. Select any of the Puppet Pin tools, you'll see your parameters again for expansion and number of triangles and just increase the expansion to, say, 2.

In doing so, expansion now picks up that anti-aliased edge around the end of this pencil and we no longer have artifacts. The other solution would be just increasing the number of triangles until you get a fine enough line that would pick up those bends anyway, but the more triangles you have, the slower this is going to be. Anyway, I am going to go back to my Selection tool, just so I have a nice, clean display, and if I Shift+Forward Slash (/) to go back to 100% and you'll notice, by the way, down in the Timeline panel that you have a keyframe for that pencil, but no other keyframes have been created.

This is not like an Auto Keyframe mode where keyframes get created for all your properties. From this point on, after your initial setting of a puppet pin, new keyframes will be created only when you move one of those pins. Speaking of moving pins, press End to go to the end of the composition. I already have the end of my pencils selected; it's a solid yellow rather than a hollow yellow dot. I am going to hold Shift, click on my wrist pin as well, so they are both selected. You can go ahead and move multiple pins at the same time such as like this, and in doing so, you'll see I get new keyframes for the pencil and for the wrist.

I am going to press 0 in numeric keypad to RAM preview and there is my animation, where the pencil end bends down, and then the pencil and the wrist move together. I'll Shift+click to deselect the wrist pin, now I have just the path of the pencil tip and again, it's a Bezier path where I can pick up and move these individual keyframes and I can also pull out handles to decide how I want to bend this path around. If I have trouble seeing a handle, I can hold the Command and Option keys on Mac or Ctrl and Alt keys on Windows, get the Change Direction tool, you maybe familiar with from motion paths and masking, and drag out a handle to go ahead and modify my path, maybe make it bend around a bit like that.

So that's how the end of the pencil is moving, select the wrist, and maybe give it some character as well. I have it bend out a little bit like that into an arc to create a more complex fluid animation. That's the basics of animating puppet pins. If you don't see these paths, you may have the layer unselected. Make sure puppet is selected and select the pin to see its path. And note that you are seeing these in the Composition panel.

With most effects, you need to double- click a layer and open its Layer panel to see effect point motion paths. In the case of puppet, you can do all your work right here in the Comp panel. Now that you know the basics, go into the Comps_finished folder and open up 04-Puppet_final. Here I have created additional deform pins for the top of the hat, neck, both ends of the pencil, the ankles, and even the right arm, and create a lot of fun animations for these various points. I'll RAM preview, and now we have a much more expressive animation for our character.

Go ahead, have fun, create your own animation's character, and then in the next movie, we'll show you how to take advantage of motion sketch to create even more organic movements.

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