2D Character Animation with After Effects
Illustration by John Hersey

2D Character Animation with After Effects

with Angie Taylor

Video: Setting up control layers

'Kay when you're animating layers individually it can become quite tedious. Now what I want you to do if you want follow along is open up expressions and scripting projects from expressions and scripting folder. And then open all eight all control layers composition and then there you'll see my little fog figure. Now if I'm to start animating these body parts, just by using the properties down in the time line, it can become quite tedious. You'll see here I've set up a parenting structure, so that if I open up the rotation of the upper arm, I can move the arm.

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Watch the Online Video Course 2D Character Animation with After Effects
2h 35m Intermediate Feb 14, 2011

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In her career as an animator, Angie Taylor has developed some powerful techniques for creating quick but compelling 2D animation, and in this workshop she shares those secrets with you. Learn how to import layered files and paths from Adobe Illustrator into After Effects and how to animate flat vector artwork in both 2D and 3D space, and explore options for outputting your animations. The videos are short, focused, and solution-oriented, and all the project files are included so you can follow along as you go.

Topics include:
  • Best practices for importing source files
  • Sorting and interpreting footage
  • Animating using traditional layer-style animation
  • Creating a grouping structure for body parts
  • Animating with the Puppet tool
  • Creating stop-frame-style animation
  • Setting up control layers
  • Animating using time remapping
  • Exporting files for Flash
  • Making movies via the Render Queue
Subjects:
3D + Animation Video video2brain
Software:
After Effects
Author:
Angie Taylor

Setting up control layers

'Kay when you're animating layers individually it can become quite tedious. Now what I want you to do if you want follow along is open up expressions and scripting projects from expressions and scripting folder. And then open all eight all control layers composition and then there you'll see my little fog figure. Now if I'm to start animating these body parts, just by using the properties down in the time line, it can become quite tedious. You'll see here I've set up a parenting structure, so that if I open up the rotation of the upper arm, I can move the arm.

And then open up the rotation of the lower arm, and I can animate that individually, okay. So the lower arm will follow the upper arm but the upper arm can animate individually. Similarly with the legs, if I animate the thigh, you'll see that moves and then I can animate the shin, although the shin moves with the thigh it can still animate independently from the thigh. And we can even animate the boot independently. Okay now, the boots. Anchor points should actually be up here, so let me just move that while I have a minute and you can also do that as well.

Just select the boot layers, choose the pan behind tool, and just move the anchor points up here so when we rotate the boot, it rotates around the correct point. Now you can see how fiddly that is. I'm having to scroll through lots of layers. So one solution is to work with control layers which can control all the body parts. So I'm going to go to Layer > New > Null Object, and we're going to call that control there. So I'm going to hit Enter on the keyboard or Return other and type in control layer.

Okay, and then what I'm going to do is apply an effect to the control there and it's one of the expression control effects. And these are like empty interface items that you can attach to expressions to help you control them. For example, I have an angle control which I use to control rotation. So say for example we'll start with the head, and open up the rotation value of he head, and basically what I want to is link this rotation value to this effect. Now you'll notice when I select head glare, the effect disappears from here. So when you're working with control layers what you probably want to is just click on the lock here in the effect control panel. So that when you select the other layers, the effects remain here. What I'm going to do is I'm going to Alt click on the rotation stop watch and I'm going to drag it up to the angle value of the controller and now, when I adjust this control, it adjusts his head.

Now really I should rename these, so I should rename that head rotation. Okay, now rename it by selecting the name and hitting return on the keyboard. Now you'll notice that the expression updates when I do that. Okay, so it's updated the expression with the new name, so no problem renaming those after the fact. So I've now got something to control the head rotation. What I want to do now is add another one, so let's go to Effect and Angle Control should be here, cuz it was the last effect used. This time I'll hit return.

And I'll call it upper arm one. Upper arm o one rotation. Okay. And then I'm going to select upper arm o one, alt click on the stopwatch. Drag this to the angle control. And now I have a controller for the angle of that arm. You can see how it works. So basically you adjust these until you get them exactly where you want them. Now, as well as having rotations, you have other affects as well. So if you're going to expression controls, slider control I could use a slider, to control, maybe the, I don't know, the position, of his stomach. Make it wobble up and down.

So we'll call this stomach, position, and we will take the position. Now let's just go down and get the stomach, where is it. Okay, so we're going to get the position value, and we're going to add an expression to that, and we're going to link to the stomach position slider. Okay, now you'll notice something weird happens when I do that.

Because the value is zero of the slider, when I type in zero. Or when I attach it first of all, the position value for the x and y is going to go to zero. Now you'll notice that if I pull that down I can pull him back into the center of the comp again. Now the only thing about that is it means that my wobble is going to affect the x and the y axis and I don't really want that to happen. So I am going to do is go down to this expression and edit it slightly. So what we're going to do is we're going to say, A equals that expression.

So I am going to use A as my variable here and of course that's not going to work to begin with but we don't need to worry about that. The reason is because I've changed the variable from the word temp to a. Now the x value we don't want to change we want that to remain as it was originally which was 258 pixels so I'm going to type in 258. And then on this side I'm going to take the slider value. So that means the slighter value is only going to control this side.

Now I don't have to actually type all of that in by linking. What I can do is just type in the letter a, which represents that value. And now I have a slider that only controls the up and down values. So if I want to, I can wiggle that. So let's have a look at that. I can open up the stomach position value and add a wiggle effect to it. Now, wiggle effect will randomize the value.

So, I'll type in wiggle, open parenthesis. Now, we need to say how often do we want it to wiggle. So let's say three times per second. Add in a comma. And then say by how much do we want it to wiggle. So, let's say 10 pixels close the parenthesis. Nope, that's maybe a bit too much. So, wiggle 3 comma 10 and if I preview that, you'll see we've now got a random wiggle value on position. So, what I want you to do is play with these expressions.

And if you want to you can look at O8B control layers end as a reference. And if we open up the control layer in here. So let's hit E for effects, and then double-click the left leg to open it up, and you'll see here we have control for the left leg, and we need to attach the boot there. The right leg, okay, if you want to attach the boot, all we have to do is just take the boots and attach them to the shins, so boot one to shin one. Boot two to Shin two.

And now when we scrub that the boot should move with it. And this is a really good way of creating a walk cycle so rather than have to go down to the layers themselves, you can just use the control layers to create controls for your puppet. Okay, and of course you can put things in for scale and position and all those other values as well. So that's a little bit about control layers.

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