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What is a keyframe?

From: CINEMA 4D Essentials 3: Cameras, Animation, and Deformers

Video: What is a keyframe?

The word keyframe is a term that is used all the time in computer animation, but it has it's origins in traditional animation. When an animator draws an animation on paper, rather than try and draw all the frames at once, he'll draw out something called a keyframe and that's an important moment in a cycle of movement for a character. And that's where the terminology comes from. A keyframe is an important moment in time. That's the same for traditional animation and it's the same for computer animation. Now, I'm here in AfterEffects and I've got this little scribble character that I've drawn that is going to be jumping up in the air and then landing back on the ground.

What is a keyframe?

The word keyframe is a term that is used all the time in computer animation, but it has it's origins in traditional animation. When an animator draws an animation on paper, rather than try and draw all the frames at once, he'll draw out something called a keyframe and that's an important moment in a cycle of movement for a character. And that's where the terminology comes from. A keyframe is an important moment in time. That's the same for traditional animation and it's the same for computer animation. Now, I'm here in AfterEffects and I've got this little scribble character that I've drawn that is going to be jumping up in the air and then landing back on the ground.

In this first composition I've got just the key moments in the animation drawn out. So you can see he's going to start with his hands up in the air, he'll squat down and then he'll squat down a little bit further in anticipation of his jump up and he'll jump into the air. He'll hit the top of his jump and then he'll anticipate falling back down to the ground again. Now, if I do a RAM preview this, I'll hit 0 on the numeric keypad. You can see that all the moments of the jump are there and it looks like our little guy is doing his thing.

But you can see that the animation is really not very fluid or smooth. In this next composition, I now have all of the frames in the animation drawn out, not just the keyframes. And in fact, I've got the keyframes highlighted red here. Let's scroll up here a bit. You can see there's a lot more frames to this animation than there were before, and the reds are just what we saw in the previous RAM preview. So let's make that a little bit bigger. I'm going to change my view to Fit up to 100%. Now I'm going to hit 0 on the numeric keypad to RAM preview and as you can see now our guy is jumping up in the air and all the key moments are there, but in between those key moments are series of frames that add a whole bunch of fluid movement to our cycle.

That's where the personality and the information about what kind of jump he's doing, how the character moves, they all come from those in between frames. The keyframes tell us where our character is going to be, that's where that information comes from is the in-between frames. Let's switch over to CINEMA 4D let's see what that means in terms of computer animation. Now I'm going to add a cube to the scene and I'm going to animate this cube travelling from left to right across the frame. The first step in animating an object is to determine where it's going to come from.

So let's move this cube over here on the negative X axis. Now I'm going to click this red button right here that has a key on it, and it says Record Active Objects. So when I select the cube and switch to the Coordinate Properties, now you can see that I have these red dots on all the parameters. Let's undo that for a second, so you can see what was there before. What was there before were gray dots and those gray dots indicate that that parameter can be changed in a keyframe, but right now we don't have any keyframes on these parameters. So, when I Click the Record Button, those dots turn red and now we're parked on a keyframe at that moment in time.

Now, let's take the Time slider and move it forward in time to the end of the preview range. Now you can see that those red dots have turned to red circles and that indicates that this parameter has a keyframe track on it, but were not parked on a keyframe. So let's take our cube and move it on the positive X axis. Now, I can click the Record Button. Now you can see that those parameters have changed again. They've changed from red circles to red dots. Let's Undo that and try it again to point out some other interesting facts.

So I'll hit Command+Z or Ctrl+Z on the keyboard and we're still at frame 90, so let's move that over here to the positive X axis. When I moved that, I changed the position on the X axis, you can see that this position X is highlighted yellow. That indicates to me that the value has changed since the last keyframe. So, now when I click the Record Button; that is going to set that value into a keyframe. If I were to move the Time slider before setting that value, then my animation would jump back to its last setting, in fact, let's see that action happen.

I'll undo to change the keyframes. Let's move our object to the positive X axis and then if I move the Time slider even one frame, look, our object jumps back in time. Now, the reason it jumped back is because everytime Cinema 4D draws a frame of animation on the screen, it has to evaluate the keyframes that it hasn't seen. The only keyframe it has is the keyframe that's at time 0, so it puts the cube where the last keyframe tells it is supposed to be. So let's move it back over here to the positive X axis, and then set a keyframe using a Record Button.

And now you can see we have an animation path and these series of dotted lines that connect point A and point B are the animation path. Now because our object is moving in a straight line, the animation path is straight, but it won't always be. Another thing to notice about the Animation Path are these series of black dots on there. The tighter the black dots are, the slower the animation is going. The farther apart the dots are, the faster the animation is going. So you can see that the object starts off slow and then picks up speed, and I'm going to move this guy off to the right here so we can see it.

You can see that it picks up speed and as it hits its mark at position B, it starts to slow down again. Let's see what that looks like in movement. Now if I move my Time slider, it's going to jump back to the location, that's why I wasn't worried about moving that cube. And so now when I hit Play on the keyboard, you can also hit F8. When I hit Play, you can see my object starts to move. Sure enough, it starts off slow and finishes slow. Now that is a default behavior for CINEMA 4D, it's called Smooth Interpolation.

Any time CINEMA 4D draws a keyframe; it tries to create a very smooth transition from the data in the keyframe to the next keyframe. So when you create a simple animation like this, you're always going to get that ease of motion as it starts and an ease of motion as it ends. So those are keyframes, they tell the object where to be at a specific moment in time and how to be. That's where those parameters come in. What happens in between the keyframes in CINEMA 4D is controlled by something called the F Curve Manager.

The F Curve Manager is sort of the flipside to the timeline, so let's bring up the timeline. I'm going to switch my layout from the Startup Layout over to Animation. And when I do that, CINEMA 4D hasn't quit and re-launched; what it's done is rearranged its windows and manager, so that I can now see the Windows Manager associated with keyframes. So down here at the bottom, I've got my timeline and across the top there's my Object Manager and my Attribute Manager. Let's raise this up a bit so we have a little more room to work within the timeline. So now you can see that I've got keyframes here in the timeline.

This is keyframe right here and this is a keyframe over here. If I switch to the F Curve Manager, I can do that by clicking on this icon right here. I now can see what happens in between the keyframes. If I click on the cube, you'll see that I've got these colored lines. Let's hit the letter H on the keyboard, that's going to frame up the curves and there's our motion. The F Curves really allow you to see what is happening in-between the keyframes. So this gray dot is a keyframe, that gray dot is a keyframe. This is what happens in between those two keyframes.

It starts off slow, it picks up speed and then it slows down as it travels into the keyframe. We're going to go into a lot more detail on the F Curve Manager in later chapters, but for now, the important thing to remember is that a keyframe is a single moment in time and the F curve is what happens in between those keyframes.

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