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Creating Animated Characters in After Effects
Illustration by John Hersey

Setting up null objects as bones


From:

Creating Animated Characters in After Effects

with George Maestri

Video: Setting up null objects as bones

Now let's take a look at how to set up a bone system where you can use objects in your scene to deform parts of your character. In this case, we're going to use puppet pins combined with null objects. We're working with the same character that we worked with before, just one little difference: I took the legs, and I just made a subcomposition of them. So I basically just took all of the leg parts, put it into a precomp, and we're going to use that to deform with the puppet pins. So I have just this separate set of legs here.
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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

Setting up null objects as bones

Now let's take a look at how to set up a bone system where you can use objects in your scene to deform parts of your character. In this case, we're going to use puppet pins combined with null objects. We're working with the same character that we worked with before, just one little difference: I took the legs, and I just made a subcomposition of them. So I basically just took all of the leg parts, put it into a precomp, and we're going to use that to deform with the puppet pins. So I have just this separate set of legs here.

So the process starts with adding in some puppet pins. Now in this case, we're going to add puppet pins to the legs, and then we're going to add in some null objects. So let's go ahead and zoom in to the legs here. In fact, I'm going to go ahead and turn off the Torso so we can see a little bit easier. And then just select the LEGS, and we're going to go ahead and set up our puppet pins. So I'm going to go to my Puppet Pin tool here, and then just position those. So I want one here at the top of leg where the hips are, one at the knee, one at the ankle, and then another one down here at the tip of the toe.

Now when we do this, when I look at the Puppet Effect, you'll see that we already have Mesh 1, and if I open up Deform, I should have those four puppet pins. Now we've just done the right leg, but one of the key things about the Puppet Pin tool is that it only works for mesh areas that are connected. So we have a lot of white space between the two legs. So moving one puppet pin here does not affect this leg at all, and that's kind of the default mode of how the puppet pin works, but we can use this to our advantage.

So let's go ahead and select our LEGS, and set up the puppet pin for the left side, and notice now when I hover over this leg, it highlights, and that means I'm working on this separate mesh. So let's do the same thing again. I'm going to go ahead and do one for the hips, one for the knee, ankle, and tip of the toe. So now I should have puppet pins that work pretty much for the whole character. And if you go down here, notice how we've actually got two meshes here: we've got Mesh 1, which is our right leg, and if you select each of these puppet pins, you can see which ones they are, but we both also have Mesh 2, which is our left leg, and again, four puppet pins on that.

Even though it's a same Puppet Effect, these are kind of viewed slightly separately within After Effects, so just so that you are a little bit aware of that. So now what we need to do is find a way to control these legs, and the easiest thing to do is put some objects in the scene that we can grab easily. Now, you can use shape layers, or really anything you want, but I like to use null objects, because they are very easy to get to. They kind of stand out in the scene, they don't render, so let's go ahead and do those.

So I'm going to do Layer > New > Null Object. Now when you bring a null object into the scene -- let's go up here -- it usually comes in at the center. And also notice that the pivot point of a null object is the top left corner, so that's my pivot point right there. Now what I need to do is position the pivot point of this null object right where that puppet pin is. So I can kind of eyeball it here; it's kind of the center of that circle. Somewhere around there.

And I have one here; it's called Null 4. So before I do anything else, let me go ahead and rename this. This is going to be RIGHT HIP. And I'm going to re-layer this. I'm going to drag this down towards the bottom of the stack here, and position it just above the LEGS, so that way it's just easy for me to work with. So I'm going to go ahead and select the LEGS, and go down to Mesh 1, and just select Puppet Pin 1, and see how that RIGHT HIP control is oriented.

It's a little bit down, so I can just select that, and then just hit my arrow keys; move it up a few bumps here, and that looks pretty good. Now this doesn't have to be exactly accurate; we can do close enough for this. So I'm going to go ahead and select my RIGHT HIP, and then I'm just going to do a copy and paste. I'm going to use the menu here. And let's just go ahead and, again, right- click, rename this, and this one is going to be called RIGHT KNEE. So I'm going to go ahead and select that, and drag it down, and get it towards that knee. And again, let's see; Puppet Pin 2, yeah, pretty close.

Again, I'm a little low, so I can just bump that up just a bit; close enough. And again, just copy and paste the RIGHT KNEE, rename it RIGHT ANKLE, and again, I'm just going to drag that down to the ankle. And one more time; I'm going to copy and paste this, move it to the toe, and let's rename this RIGHT TOE.

Okay, let's go ahead and turn on my Torso here, and let's fit this. So what I have is I have one null per puppet pin, and right now I'm just focusing on the right leg. So the next step is to connect those puppet pins to the null objects, and for that we're going to need some expressions. We're going to do that in the next lesson.

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