Join Chad Perkins for an in-depth discussion in this video Using the Puppet tool, part of After Effects CS5 Essential Training.
Folks, in this movie we're going to be looking at the Puppet tool, one of the most genius tools in any software application that I have ever come across. If you are new to the world of After Effects, this will absolutely blow your mind, guaranteed. Now let's first talk about our dilemma here. We've animated all of the other components of our project, but we have this biker left over. There is really no degree of position, rotation, scale and opacity that can help us to bring this still image of this girl on a bicycle to life, in any kind of real, believable way.
In real life, she would have flesh and joints that would bend and move and react in a certain way. And because she is just a still image, that's going to be almost, if not, completely impossible to duplicate in an animation program, and that is the case, if it were not for the Puppet tool. So, go ahead and select the Biker Body layer. That's layer number 6 and that is basically if I turn off the visibility of this layer. Actually, I can turn the solo back on if I turn that off, but that's what that looks like.
Now with this layer selected, go select this pushpin up here in the Tools panel at the top. This pushpin is the Puppet Pin tool. So, what we're going to do is we're going to click on our biker lady here, and we are going to click on areas where joints would be. So, let's call the Puppet tool. So, think of her as a puppet, like a marionette. If you had to click on certain joints of the puppet, as it were, where would you click that? I think I would click one on her ankle, perhaps one on her knee, one on her hindquarters, one may be on her back, one on her shoulders, one on her elbow, and one on her hand.
If it was important that we animated her head, I might place one there as well, but for now that's good. So, we have placed these joints along her body. If her other leg was on the same layer, which it's not, it's actually a separate layer. That's the Biker Right Leg layer here. It's that one. So, we're not worried about that one because we can only work right now on one layer, but watch this. Now put your cursor over one of these points that you've already laid down, and your cursor will go from a push-pin with a Plus or a White Arrow to a Move icon.
This is what we want. With this icon, click on one of these points and move it around and look at. Look how organically our characters move. Even as I bend her knee, look at how her shoe responds so organically. That is unbelievable. I could grab her back, and notice how it affects her hair. Her whole body responds the system of joints just like a real character would, just amazing.
So, now what we can do is we can move her legs as if she were riding the bicycle. Now this is very complex and so it's kind of like this horrible challenge that I'm torturing you with, because even an experienced animator, there is no book on how to animate with the Puppet tool if a character is riding a bike or something. This is something you just have to artistically study somebody riding a bike and figure out which components of the body are moving and that type of thing. So, we're not actually going to animate that here.
But if we were a little more skilled, and we had some more time to discuss this, we can look at how to animate a character with the Puppet tool. Now the one thing I do want to show you is that when you apply this effect that you'll notice that here in the layers, if close the layer, open it up again, we could see that under Effects - so you open that up - there is a Puppet that has been added. If we open up Mesh 1 and then Deform, and you can see that there are all these Puppet Pin categories, and not only have pins been placed for us, but After Effects has automatically added keyframes at that frame that we added these points.
So, now all we have to do is just move in time and change the value. We don't have to worry about setting keyframes or any such thing. We just have to move. I'm doing a terrible job at this. I'm sure once we animate, this is just going to be the worst animation that anyone's ever seen. But still you get the point that this is how the Puppet Pin tool works. So, now as we move, so she moves in a very, again, organic way.
So, you have to work with it to be able to make it work so that it looks like she is riding the bicycle. Realistically, I'm might want to go out in Time here, and probably push her foot down, push her knee down, bend this back, like so so she has not twisting her leg there and maybe she might arch her back a little bit, which is pushing that down. There we go. And then we might move out in Time.
Then she puts her -oops! Undo that. I've actually added an extra pin. But she might move up her leg and bring it back up again, and change her back and her shoulders. As we drag it, we kind of see what's going on there. Now if you have an exact method that you would like your character to move, here is an amazing trick with the Puppet tool. What I can do is, say, for example, I want her to do a little dance with this leg, which is easier to animate than her riding a bike.
I'm going to hold down the Command key on the Mac or the Ctrl key on the PC, and you notice that my cursor changes when I do that. Instead of a Move tool, it's now this little Stopwatch. So, let's say, for example, I want her dancing. So, I'm going to click this. When I click it, it's going to be recording what I'm doing. Okay, so now if I play this, she kind of kicks around in this kind of crazy way here, just like I made it happen with my mouse. It looks terrible.
I realize that, but that's not the point. The point is is that - I am just going to click outside of this layer to deselect it so we can have a better view of what's going on here - it did exactly what I told it to do. So, if you had a character, again, that was dancing, or I've seen other people use like bird that was pecking. I've also used the duck where you grab the bill, and you just have liked make it pack, so much easier than animating by hand. You just actually move it with your mouse, where you want it to go, even the speed you want it to go, After Effects will remember and animate it accordingly.
Ladies and gentlemen, that is the wonder of the Puppet tool.
- Understanding the After Effects workflow
- Precomposing footage
- Explaining the basics and beyond of animating
- Creating glows, patterns, textures, and more with effects
- Color correcting footage
- Working with text
- Manipulating video playback speed
- Masking objects and shape layers
- Removing backgrounds with keying
- Compositing multiple pieces of footage
- Integrating After Effects with the rest of the Creative Suite
Skill Level Beginner
Q: In the "Creating a fireball" movie in Chapter 6, the author showed how to make a fireball. Unfortunately, it all centered around a blob layer that he made without showing how to make a blob layer. How does one go about creating a blob layer like the one used in the video?
A: To create a blob layer, make a shape layer using the Pen tool. Animate the anchor points over time to make it move. These concepts are reviewed in depth in Chapter 4, "Learning to Animate."
Q: In the Chapter 5 video "Understanding precomposing," the exercise file provided does not seem to match up with the file the instructor uses. My file does not include a "Biker Body" layer. Is there an error in the exercise file?
A: Unfortunately, the exercise file originally distributed for this chapter was incorrect. A new file was issued in February 2011. If you downloaded the exercise files prior to then, you can download the corrected file on the Exercise Files tab of the course page.