Why does your character move?

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This makes or breaks your animation: Know WHY every single motion is happening! Find out what shortcut many beginners take and why that hurts your animation.

The wonderful and difficult core of animation is to put believable thoughts and emotions into a character that doesn’t exist. Often this is one of the first things we learn or what got us into animation to begin with.

However, when people are given an animation assignment or even when a character in a film has to do a certain thing, they fall into a trap:

Vague reasons hurt your animation

When I teach I do a bunch of exercises with my students. Headturns, lifting weight and so on (here is a list of 51 animation exercises in case you need more suggestions)…

But often times when I ask my students “Why is the character turning his head?” their answers would fall apart when I ask for details.
“The character is scared by a loud noise.”, would be a typical reply.
“What loud noise?”
“I don’t know.”

Why? How can you animate a believable reaction if you don’t know WHAT exactly your character thinks the noise means.

And you don’t need to spell out every reason for every motion to your audience, but they need to feel that there is something there. You as the animator, you need to know everything.

Being specific = better animation

And almost always you can improve your animation when you dig a little deeper into who your character is and why he is doing what he does.

Let’s take another common animation exercise: A character lifting a heavy box – this is an excellent body mechanics exercise.

Usually, I would advise against putting body mechanic exercise into your demoreel – unless…

You could make it more interesting. Then people will remeber two things from this scene:

  • how well you animated the weight
  • how fun and entertaining the scene was

Animation comes from the latin word Animo which means heart, soul, passion. So spice up the challenge and the many hours you will spend on this exercise by thinking about the life around this scene for a moment.

Here are some ideas:

Can you see how each of these setups will drive the posing, speed and meaning of every single motion?

That’s why it is important to really think about why the character has to move in the way that he does. The more specific you are, the stronger your animation will be.

Find our more about acting for animators in this interview with acting teacher Ed Hooks.

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