Join George Maestri for an in-depth discussion in this video Tracing characters, part of 2D Character Animation.
Once you've created your character, you'll need to get it ready to animate. This involves several steps. The first one is getting your character into the computer. Now, if you've drawn your character on pencil and paper, you can certainly scan that in. If you draw directly in the computer then just bring up your original design files. Now, once you have the character in the computer, you'll need to make a decision as to how you want to proceed. Do you want your character to be vector or bitmap? Now vector is something like Flash or Illustrator where you draw outlines.
In fact let me show you this bear here, in vector format. So, what we do here is we just draw individual outlines and the outlines themselves define the shape of the character. Now one of the benefits of vector drawing is that it's resolution independent, which means I can zoom in as far as I want and I will never get pixilation and this image will never break up. Another important benefit of vector-based graphics is that the file sizes are a lot smaller.
It's a lighter file format, which is really important for things like mobile content or Internet, where you have to deliver the content quickly over a network connection. Now, one of the downfalls of vector graphics is that it really is pretty much limited to solid colors and gradients. So the color palette might not be as rich as a bitmap image, but if you want your characters to look pretty much like cel shaded characters, this will not be an issue. Let me show you the same character in bitmap format.
Here we are in Photoshop and I have the same character up and you can see I have just traced him in pretty much the same way but if I zoom in, you can see how I get pixilation. You can see how this kind of breaks up. So what you have to do with these sorts of characters is you have to make them a little bit bigger than your delivery mechanism. So if you want to zoom in, for example, you'll need to make sure that you have enough bitmap resolution to handle that zoom. But making the file bigger will also add more density to the file, which means it will make the file bigger, make it harder to deliver.
So if you are going to do something that's over the Internet, you probably wouldn't want to go to something like vector-based graphics but bitmap graphics does have some advantages. In fact, here let me show you a character that I've done here. Now, this is just a character that's pulled from a classic Renaissance painting. Back here, let me show you the painting here. So what I did was I just took this standard classic painting and then just cut out the character and this shows you one of the advantages of having a bitmap image and that you can do something that's very, very painterly.
This is something you probably wouldn't be able to do in a vector-based package. Now once we have the character in the computer, the other thing we need to do is we need to start breaking up the character into multiple pieces so that it can be animated. Now I've done this in Photoshop using the Layers feature. So, for example, I've taken the Snout, the pupils and really every part of this character including the head, the ears, the belly and I have segmented it into the parts that need to be animated.
A good example might be the arm. So, for example, we have a separate layer for the upper arm and for the lower arm or the forearm. Same thing for the legs and the feet. So, I have a separate layer for the foot and a separate layer for the leg. So, this gives me basically a puppet that I can bring into an animation package and animate. Let me show you the same thing in Illustrator. Here is a character. As you can see we've used the Layers feature of Illustrator to segment her out into parts as well.
Getting your character ready to animate involves bringing the original design in and tracing it in either a bitmap or a vector-based package and then segmenting the character out into individual parts that can be animated. So, be sure to keep that in mind as you design your characters, that they are going to be broken up into puppets. This will help your design process and also help you to visualize how you're going to animate your characters.
- Creating character joints that really work
- Building with the Puppet tool in After Effects
- Understanding internal versus external forces in movement
- Reading tracks and assigning mouth shapes for dialogue
- Setting up a scene in both After Effects and Flash
Skill Level Advanced
Q: In the chapter "Creating joints that work,” the author uses a circular point for the joints in the arm animation. Do circles need to be drawn in the joints while tracing the character, or there is another method that can be used?
A: It doesn't absolutely have to be a circle, as shown in the video. However, that method is show because it’s the easiest way to make sure the joints will rotate easily.
It’s a matter of personal preference, so use whatever method will work best for each character.