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Recording animation with the Puppet tool

From: 2D Character Animation with After Effects

Video: Recording animation with the Puppet tool

Okay, so the time has come for us to look at one of my favorite tools in After Effects, the puppet tool. And if you want to follow along with this, step by step, you can open puppet.aep from the puppet tools folder. Now in here we have my thug character. And you'll notice if we have a look over here that this is a nested composition, called thug. And you'll notice if I scrub the position value, this is just one single layer, that has one single set of properties. I'm using a nested comp, but equally you could use say a flattened Photoshop file, but you'll need to have an alpha channel.

Recording animation with the Puppet tool

Okay, so the time has come for us to look at one of my favorite tools in After Effects, the puppet tool. And if you want to follow along with this, step by step, you can open puppet.aep from the puppet tools folder. Now in here we have my thug character. And you'll notice if we have a look over here that this is a nested composition, called thug. And you'll notice if I scrub the position value, this is just one single layer, that has one single set of properties. I'm using a nested comp, but equally you could use say a flattened Photoshop file, but you'll need to have an alpha channel.

So, if you're saving a Photoshop file, you can save the individual layers and they'll contain their own alpha channels. Or if you're selecting to save a picked file or a TIFF file, make sure that you save it with an alpha channel, so that After Effects can see the transparency. The reason for that is the puppet tool looks at areas of opacity and transparency. And it creates a grid over your character. And I'm going to show you how that works. If I select the puppet tool, you'll notice there are three tools under there. And I'm going to select the puppet pin tool.

Which can also be selected by hitting, Cmd+P on the Mac, or Ctrl+P on Windows. Now if I click on my character, I'm going to click on his head and just create what's called a puppet pin. And you'll notice a little yellow dot appearing there. Now what's it doing in the background is it's actually placing a mesh over my character. Now the default behavior is you can't see the mesh. But if you click on show under the mesh controls you'll see the mesh that's been placed over the character. And you'll notice that it stops at the edges of the alpha basically so. It places it over the solid areas of the alpha channel. And if I click on my transparency grid again, it's easier for you to see that mesh.

So it places a mesh over the character and what that mesh allows you to do is move the points around and the mesh moves with the points. Now if you only got one point, you just get the whole body moving around. If I add another point on his stomach. And then move the head around. You'll notice, that it now looks for the difference between those two positions. If I continue doing that, and add a couple to the feet, one to the left, one to the right, and now move the head, notice I'm not getting, what looks much more like a deformation of the mesh. Basically, because I've got more than three points, it's deforming the mesh to try and stretch the shape between those points.

So it's like creating a deformation mesh on your character. And it's fantastic. I can move any of the body parts around to create sort of custom fluid movement on my character. Okay, so we're going to add another couple of points, one to each of the hands and of course if I select them and move them, you'll see that I can move the hands around. Now there's all sorts of amazing animation you can do with this. But what I'm going to do is show you my favorite methods of animating using the puppet tool.

Now, we could animate by hand quite easily, as you saw there if I move this hand the hand moves in and out and you'll see that the body does a nice little hip wiggle to go with it. So let's start by animating by hand. Let's open up our mesh settings and our deformation settings and you'll see in here we have pins. Okay, and each of these pins is animatable. Now this is the head pin. You can see that when I select it down here. It becomes selected up here. This is the body pin.

So what I'm going to do is go ahead and rename these. So I'm going to hit enter to make it renameable. I'm going to call this head and I'm going to select this one and call it body. And this one is leg 1, we'll say. Leg 01 and this one is leg 02. And then this is hand 01, and this is hand 02, whoop's there we go.

So we've got all of our pins named so that it makes it easier for us to animate. Now you'll notice that if you look carefully down in the timeline, you can see these little dots indicating that these properties are already keyframed. So if I hit u on the keyboard, it will open up just the keyframed properties. So that I'm ready to animate. So what we are going to do is just zoom in to the timeline a little bit by hitting the plus key on the keyboard. And what we are going to do is just move to frame say 9, okay. And at frame 9 what I'm going to do is move this hand across there, and this hand across there. Now you'll notice something strange happens one moves behind his body, the other moves in front of his body.

Okay, we're going to have a little look at why that happens a little bit later, but for now all we're going to do is just have a preview of that. So I'm just going to hit spacebar, and you can see his hands move over his body. And two new keyframes have appeared where we have done that, or if I move ahead another nine frames. So let's just type in plus 9 to move ahead another nine frames and what we're going to do is copy and paste those first keyframes. So copy and paste. If I hit n on the keyboard, just to define my work area, and then hit 0 on the number pad, we can see that looping. Okay, so you can animate by hand like that, but it becomes a little bit tedious if you want to keep animating by hand.

If, say, you've got this whole time line to record, and you'll see there there's like 30 seconds of animation. And you want to do, say, him dancing, it would take quite a long time to record that, so what I'm going to do is show you how you can automate the animation. Now if I select a group of keyframes, and I'm going to turn off the mesh so that we can see our character more clearly. I could select his stomach, both his hands and his head. And then if I move up and down, you'll notice because his feet is still anchored on the ground, I can create this kind of dancing animation.

I'm going to pick up my Wacom tablet, because at this point I want to really use a pen and a tablet to capture movement. I've been using a mouse up until now but really to get really precise movement, to capture movement and apply it to the puppet tool you're better off using a Wacom tablet and a pen. You can get much more subtle movement from using that, than you can with a mouse. So what I'm going to do is, I'm going to move over this central point here, puppet pin point, and hold down the Cmd key, or the Ctrl key on PC.

And you'll see as I do a little stop watch appears, and that indicates that once I click and start moving it's going to record the movement I make, and watch what happens. I click and drag, and then I can just record a little dancing movement. Now the nice thing about this is if you got the same track it will play the same track while you're recording and you can make sure that he dances in time with the music. So I'm going to do about 15 or 20 seconds of his movement. And then I'm going to stop. And if you look down in the timeline, you'll see that all these keyframes have been created.

And if I hit 0 on the number pad, you'll see I've got my little dancing character. Okay, so really easy to create that kind of fluid dancing animation. Now I want to get his arms and his head moving, but it's going to be difficult if I go back and trying record his hands moving now. What I want to do is show you how that works first of all, so let's deselect this point and I do that by Shift-clicking on it, and then let's select it again. Now what I'm going to do is use the same technique.

So I'm going to use the recording technique of holding down the Cmd key. But you'll notice what happens is, I'm kind of having to struggle against the movements of the rest of his body. Which can be quite difficult. So what I'm going to do is show you a way of switching off the body animation, so that we can continue moving the hands as separate items. And this is how you do it. You add an expression to the property that you want to halt if you like. And all we're going to do, is we're going to make it stay at the original value here.

Which is 488 by 316. And to do that, I put square brackets and I type in. 488 comma 316 close square brackets and that's going to override the expression, so now you'll see that, that hand doesn't move at all. Now we don't want to do it with the hand so I'm going to remove that expression from there. The hands we want to animate again. The ones that we don't want to animate are these points here, the body and the head. So I'm going to Alt-click. This time I'm going to type in square bracket 293 comma 350 close square brackets.

So I'm basically saying override the key frame value and just keep that at that value for now. So, I'm going to move down and I'm going to do the same for this one the head. Open square brackets, type in 277 comma 124. Close square brackets. And now if we preview it, you'll see that the head and the body stay still. Meaning, it's going to be easier for us to go in and animate the hands. Okay, so what I can do is I can just delete these keyframes for the hands for now.

And I can move over here and just start to animate those. So I'm going to do a swinging hand movement like this throughout my animation. And you'll see that we're getting a nice little hip sway there as well. Okay and let's do the other hand. Okay and there we go. We could also do the feet if we want to do a little bit of animation with the feet.

And again on this one. Okay, and once we've done that and we want to see how it looks with the body and the head animating, what we can do is just switch on these. By clicking on this button here. And this is the toggle on and off expression button. So by switching the expression off, we're going back to our keyframed values. And we now have him dancing away. Doing a very cool move. (LAUGH) Okay, now you'll notice something weird's happening with his hands.

Notice they're getting all mushed up with his body. Sometimes moving behind, sometimes moving in front. So, I'm going to show you some ways of fixing that in a little while. But before we do that, the other thing that I want to do is you'll notice here that I've captured some hand information, but not quite enough to fill that whole time there. So what I can also do is do things like copy and paste keyframes. All the things that you would do with regular layers. I can also use things like the smoother to smooth out the motion. And if I go down to the smoother and bring that up, I can select the key frames and maybe give that a tolerance path of say, 5. And that way smooth out the animation a little bit. So we can do with both his hands, maybe do with his body as well. As well as using the smoother we can also use other techniques to smooth out the animation.

We could convert the keyframes all to continuous Bezier, that way smoothing our the paths. So that will also give us a smoother type of animation. Okay so lots of different ways of smoothing out the animation and by the way, the way that I am converting all of these to continuous Bezier, is by selecting the keyframes holding down the Cmd key on Mac or Ctrl key on PC, and just clicking on the keyframes will convert them. And if we preview that you'll see that, that smoothed out our animation a little bit more.

Now we are going to continue working on this, now we've just captured that motion very, very quickly. So what we going to do is refine the motion a little bit and also change the way that the layer interacts with itself, so that's a little bit about the puppet tool. And have to use it to make your characters boogie on down like this one is.

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2D Character Animation with After Effects

27 video lessons · 3342 viewers

Angie Taylor
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