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Creating Animated Characters in After Effects
Illustration by John Hersey

Organizing scenes with null layers


From:

Creating Animated Characters in After Effects

with George Maestri

Video: Organizing scenes with null layers

Another way to further organize your character is to use null objects. Now a null object is basically just an empty layer. It doesn't render, but you can use it as connect points; in other words, a way to parent different parts of your character together to an object that doesn't render, but you can still move around. So let's go ahead and use that on this character. Now, if you do the type of layer hierarchy where you have the legs separate, you're going to run into a problem. So, for example, if I move this foot, it doesn't move the entire character.
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  1. 1m 49s
    1. Welcome
      1m 17s
    2. Using the exercise files
      32s
  2. 27m 15s
    1. Creating characters in Illustrator
      5m 51s
    2. Creating characters in Photoshop
      7m 9s
    3. Designing joints
      3m 40s
    4. Drawing mouths
      2m 12s
    5. Drawing hands and eyelids
      2m 48s
    6. Importing Illustrator files into After Effects
      3m 26s
    7. Importing Photoshop files into After Effects
      2m 9s
  3. 7m 51s
    1. Drawing in After Effects
      3m 57s
    2. Copying paths from Illustrator
      2m 19s
    3. Animating shapes
      1m 35s
  4. 21m 9s
    1. Understanding how layer hierarchies work
      3m 58s
    2. Understanding the importance of the pivot point
      5m 42s
    3. Assembling the upper body
      4m 47s
    4. Creating leg hierarchies for efficient walks
      4m 27s
    5. Organizing scenes with null layers
      2m 15s
  5. 22m 26s
    1. Adding puppet pins to a character
      6m 51s
    2. Controlling mesh density
      2m 15s
    3. Creating overlap pins
      4m 43s
    4. Creating starch pins
      3m 1s
    5. Using the Puppet tool with hierarchies
      5m 36s
  6. 19m 7s
    1. Replacement animation using time remapping
      6m 47s
    2. Mouth replacement
      6m 6s
    3. Creating blinks
      6m 14s
  7. 27m 23s
    1. Creating a head turn: Head shape
      6m 45s
    2. Creating a head turn: Ears
      8m 7s
    3. Creating a head turn: Facial features
      6m 41s
    4. Creating a head turn: Hair shape
      5m 50s
  8. 1h 3m
    1. The basics of expressions: Controlling the wrist
      5m 20s
    2. Moving hands from front to back with expressions
      9m 2s
    3. Using expressions to control pupils
      7m 44s
    4. Creating a master control node with Expression Controls
      6m 30s
    5. Creating blinks that move with a head turn
      9m 28s
    6. Controlling blinks using opacity
      6m 34s
    7. Attaching mouth shapes to a slider
      3m 39s
    8. Creating mouths that move with a head turn
      8m 31s
    9. Working with absolute values
      6m 12s
  9. 14m 28s
    1. Setting up null objects as bones
      5m 39s
    2. Attaching puppet pins to bones
      4m 57s
    3. Strategies for parenting legs and feet
      3m 52s
  10. 28m 32s
    1. Setting up a scene for animation
      6m 3s
    2. Blocking out the shot
      11m 0s
    3. Animating dialogue
      5m 39s
    4. Animating blinks
      5m 50s
  11. 18s
    1. Goodbye
      18s

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Creating Animated Characters in After Effects
3h 53m Intermediate Sep 08, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Importing Illustrator or Photoshop files into After Effects
  • Animating shapes
  • Organizing scenes with null layers
  • Working with the Puppet tool
  • Creating replacement animation using time remapping
  • Automating head turns
  • Creating a master control node with Expression Controls effects
  • Setting up a scene for animation
  • Animating dialogue
Subjects:
3D + Animation Character Animation
Software:
After Effects
Author:
George Maestri

Organizing scenes with null layers

Another way to further organize your character is to use null objects. Now a null object is basically just an empty layer. It doesn't render, but you can use it as connect points; in other words, a way to parent different parts of your character together to an object that doesn't render, but you can still move around. So let's go ahead and use that on this character. Now, if you do the type of layer hierarchy where you have the legs separate, you're going to run into a problem. So, for example, if I move this foot, it doesn't move the entire character.

If I move the upper body, again, the legs don't follow. Now, this is handy for when you're animating a walk, but it might not be well organized for when you want to move the entire character around, because you have to select three objects, but we can fix that by using a null. We can go into a layer > New > Null Object, and when you do, it creates a layer called Null, and also notice how you have an object in the scene. So I'm going to go ahead and zoom in here a little bit so we can see it.

Now a null object has a number of points along the outside, but the most important point is the top left corner, and that is where the pivot point of that null is. And what we can do is we can actually move that null down between the feet, and we can use this as the master control node of the character. So all I have to do is select the Torso, and I can parent that to the Null. So now the Null will move the Torso. So when I move this Null around, the top of the body moves with it, and I can do the same for Left and Right Shoe.

Now remember, these are the top of the hierarchy, not the hips. So when I do that, I can just select Null as the top of the hierarchy, and then when I select that object and move it, I'm moving my entire character. This acts great as a placement device for your character. Now you can use nulls and other places as well. Later in the course, we'll see how we can use nulls as a bone system for the Puppet tool, for example. So just be aware that nulls can be used as a way to organize your character a little bit more efficiently.

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