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Creating Animated Characters in After Effects
Illustration by John Hersey

Understanding the importance of the pivot point


From:

Creating Animated Characters in After Effects

with George Maestri

Video: Understanding the importance of the pivot point

When you start animating a character in After Effects, you want the body parts to move realistically, and part of this means that you need the joints to rotate realistically. In order to do this, we need to adjust the pivot points of all the joints in the character. So let me show you how this works. I've got a basic character here, and it's completely flat. There are no hierarchies, and this is pretty much how it would come in from Photoshop, or Illustrator. So I am just going to go ahead and zoom into the arm so we can take a look at this.
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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

Understanding the importance of the pivot point

When you start animating a character in After Effects, you want the body parts to move realistically, and part of this means that you need the joints to rotate realistically. In order to do this, we need to adjust the pivot points of all the joints in the character. So let me show you how this works. I've got a basic character here, and it's completely flat. There are no hierarchies, and this is pretty much how it would come in from Photoshop, or Illustrator. So I am just going to go ahead and zoom into the arm so we can take a look at this.

If I select, say for example, the upper arm here, and rotate it, you will notice that, A. The hierarchies aren't there, but B. It's rotating around the wrong place. We really want it to rotate around the shoulder; not the middle of the arm. Now, we can change this pivot point just by using the Pan Behind tool; the keyboard shortcut is Y. So I am going to go ahead and select that, and you can see the pivot point here; We can just move that. So all I need to do is move that over to where the shoulder would be, and then that's basically it.

So all I have to do now is, once I rotate it, now you can see it rotates a lot more realistically. So now that we have done the shoulder, let's go ahead and work our way down the arm. Now I can select the Left Forearm, and again, you can see how the pivot point is in the middle. Now, one of the things I like to do is when I have this selected, sometimes I like to see what the shape of this is. So I am going to go ahead and turn off the Left Bicep here in the layers, and now you can see exactly where that is. In fact, I can zoom in even a little bit closer here.

You can see how this is kind of a semicircle. If I take this and position it in the center, or near the center, of that semicircle, I should get a good rotation. So I am going to go ahead and zoom out a little bit here, and turn on the Bicep, and then just select my Rotation tool here. And one of things we are looking for in this rotation is we want to make sure that this rotates evenly. So if this is off, for some reason, you'll see it will rotate kind of incorrectly.

In fact, let's go ahead and do something like that. So, for example, if this was way over on the side, here, when I rotate this, you will see that I get this kind of bump here. And so what you need to do is make sure that the pivot point is kind of at the center of that rotation. Now we can work our way through the rest of the arm. For example, if I select this Cuff, well, the Cuff really doesn't rotate too much, so I don't have to worry about that. I can keep that centered. If I select the hand, again, you don't want the hand to rotate around the palm; you want it to rotate around the wrist.

So I am going to go ahead, again, and select my Pan Behind tool, and then just move that over towards the bottom of the wrist here. So when we rotate this, we get a fairly smooth rotation. Now, we can do this for other parts of the body as well. So, for example, let's take a look at the head. If I select this, you'll see that, again, we don't want to rotate around the center of the eyes. The head usually rotates around the bottom where it connects to the neck. So I am going to go ahead and select this, and move that down.

Now the parts of the body that are on the face actually don't really rotate all that much, so we can keep those centered. For example, the brows; they move and they rotate, but it's not really an anatomical joint where we need that to be exactly at the right place. Now, let's go ahead and move a little bit further down here. I am going to go ahead and just drag this, and let's select the Torso. And again, the torso has its center of gravity somewhere around here, which is basically the center of the object.

But again, we want to move that pivot point lower. Remember, we can basically pivot around the hips is probably the best place to place a pivot point there. And then let's go ahead and just work our way through the legs and the shoes. So I am going to go ahead and take a look at this leg here. Now again, I want to see how this joint is shaped. So I am going to actually scroll down in my composition here, and I am going to find Torso layer, and I'm going to select that, and I am going to hide it, and so now you can see how the legs are shaped.

So I'm going to, again, position this pivot point somewhere in the center of that circular shape there. And we can do the same for the shin. So I am going to go ahead and select the Shin, but again, I am going to turn off the Left Thigh so I can see where it is, and again, try and position that in the center of that object. And let's go ahead to the shoe. And again, the pivot point of the shoe, or the foot, is around the ankle, so I want to go ahead and put that right about there.

So now, once I have those, I can go ahead and just turn on all the body parts, and let's do some test rotations here. So, for example, this rotates around the knee. Well actually, I could probably bring that down just a little bit. So let me go ahead and just nudge that down, and now let's see how that works. Okay, that works a little bit better. And we can do the leg around the hip. That looks pretty good. And let's take a look at the foot, and that works pretty good as well. So as you can see, I have worked on one side of the character.

I have done the left arm, and the left leg. You can use the same techniques for the right side of the character as well. And just remember to try and position that pivot point so that the joint moves smoothly.

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