Join George Maestri for an in-depth discussion in this video Working with outlines, part of 2D Character Animation.
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Many of the characters you will encounter will have outlines or ink lines around certain parts of the character. This is kind of a holdover from the classic days of cel animation but it's also a really good design decision for a lot of characters because it makes certain parts of the character pop. For example, I have this character here and he doesn't have any outlines. If I add in some outlines, you can see how he pops out from the background a lot more clearly. So a lot of designers will put dark lines in their characters but when you have outlines or ink lines around your character, it's going to add a second level of complexity because when you bend the joints of the character the ink lines will have to follow and if you create segments or puppet parts for your character you have to design them so that the ink lines flow smoothly.
Now here we have a character with some ink lines. Let me show you a few techniques for getting those ink lines to flow smoothly. Here is just the arm of that character. So let's take a look at the elbow joint to see how we can make these ink lines flow smoothly. The first way is to just make the parts so that they kind of match up and that the lines actually flow. So for example if I take this forearm and I move it off to the side you can see how the ink line kind of tapers out right here and right here. This gives it space for this to rotate against this underlying joint.
When I take this forearm here and I rotate it, you can see how it actually kind of moves against that underlying part. Now one of the nice things about it is that this overlapping line kind of creates a nice little crease in the elbow but you also can get some problems here because you can't get little separations between the ink lines where it doesn't quite match up. You can notice there is like a little bit of a bump there. So making the parts so that they overlap like this is one of the methods.
The other method is to just layer the parts differently. So for example here I have some parts and I have actually drawn these so that the outlines pretty much go all the way round and again, we are just looking at this elbow joint. So this outline goes all the way round on both sides but this is actually made up of two pieces. It's made up of this piece and that piece. In fact all of these are made up of multiple pieces and when one of them lays over the other, you have a line that basically creates that outline.
So this underlying black piece is just a little bit bigger and that's really just a standard technique that a lot of people use in Illustrator. So, in order to make this work in animation what we have to do is pop the colored pieces up to the very top. Now how you do this may depend upon the type of animation package you have but the general idea is to just arrange this so you actually bring all of the colored pieces to the front which leaves all of the dark or outlined pieces in the back.
So now when I select just that forearm and I rotate it, you can see how the line actually moves pretty well. So actually because everything is underneath that line is always going to be underneath. Now the one thing you don't get is you don't get that crease in the elbow. In fact let's go ahead and take a look at the other one here. Now with this one, because in the way it's built, this black line is actually on top of this colored piece but in the other one it's actually underneath. So you are actually going to get a different effect.
Now this is much easier way to create consistent outlines but you may not get that kind of ink line that you would expect in a drawn character. So as you can see there are two basic methods for getting outlines to flow. One is to design the pieces so that the outlines match up; the other one is just to layer things properly so that the black lines are all underneath and the colored parts are on top.
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