Simple Character Animation: Animating Facial Expressions in After Effects NO PLUGINS | Gregory Forster | Skillshare

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Simple Character Animation: Animating Facial Expressions in After Effects NO PLUGINS

teacher avatar Gregory Forster, Teaching Adobe Character Animator

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

6 Lessons (56m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Expression #1: Creating the shapes

    • 3. Expression #1: Animating

    • 4. Expression #2: Creating the shapes

    • 5. Expression #2: Animating

    • 6. Adding Style: Lighting

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About This Class

2D character animation in After Effects using just shape layers.  No rigging and no plugins.  Well, a little rigging for the eyes.  But no rigging bones or anything like that, JUST SHAPE LAYERS.

This class is great for beginners and intermediates.  It takes your art skills out of the equation, since we're just using simple shapes, and it focuses on improving your animation skills.

I made about 5 faces in preparation for this class and from face #1 to face #5, the improvement in quality was obvious.  This is a great activity and I recommend you do the assignment and post it here so we can talk about it.

Anything that's not clear in the class please comment and ask a question and we can use the comments as a way to update the class, make it more clear.

A lot of these techniques I picked up from Tony Babel, a great motion designer.  Below I will link to his YouTube and Instagram:

Meet Your Teacher

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Gregory Forster

Teaching Adobe Character Animator


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1. Intro: Hello friends. My name is Greg, and we're going to learn how to animate faces and emotions in After Effects. Just using shape layers, no plug-ins, no third party plugins, know rigging, bones or anything like that. The first phase is pretty simple, but that's more, we're going to learn 95% of our stuff. I'll show you how to make it, how to parent everything together. How to rig a simple little eye system that we're going to use. And then I will take you through on how to animate it like this. The second phase is more involved, but it's the same idea. It's the same principles as the first phase. It's just taken a few steps further. In this second phase was based on this GIF here. And so that will be your assignment. You're going to find the gift of some reaction or some facial expression and copy it, turn it into a little character face. This class is great for anyone who wants to improve their character animation. You don't need to be a great artist for this. We're just using simple shapes and it's kinda nice actually, it takes art aspect out of it. And it forces you to focus on animation. And it's great for self-learners. For example, sometimes I want to practice animation or I want to do something, but I don't really have any ideas or an idea I do have it's too big. He would take weeks to finish. So this is a quick Our may be two-hour long activity that's fun to do. And it improves your animation. 2. Expression #1: Creating the shapes: Open After Effects, new composition. Let's do square 1080 by 1080, so you can share it on your MySpace or your Instagram or what have you. 30 frames per second. Save immediately. I made that mistake already and I lost some work. First, I'm going to make a circle and I'm going to do it in a different way. We're going to change the shape tool to circle, and I'm going to double-click it. That gives me this circle directly centered in the Canvas. Now come down here into the ellipse and the ellipse path and make the size something like 600. Now appear, I want to turn off the stroke. So I'm going to hold Alt and click the stroke a couple of times. To do that. I'm gonna do the same. I'll click to turn on the fill. And then normal click on it to just change the color, some kind of orange. And the reason you would make a circle this way as opposed to dragging it out yourself is it's centered automatically and it feels, it feels a bit more mathematical. You don't have to drag or click anything and kinda eyeballs stuff. Okay, rename our layer. Now I'm going to make the eye rig. It's a little rigged system that makes the eyes move. Going to make a circle in the same way, change its color to white, change its size to something like 150. Rename the layer. I'm going to duplicate it and bring this down here in the corner. This is going to be our controller. Highlight these two and in the search bar, this is a very useful feature. Instead of on twirling all these properties and searching for it, I can just type size and it will give me the size property. So I'm going to take the size of the right eye and I'm going to drag this pick whip to the size of the controller. And now you can see when I change the size of my controller, the eye changes with it. And this is how it will blink. Okay, set up. Okay, set this I in the right spot and duplicate it. And then set the left eye. Now I'm going to make the pupils. I'm going to drag him out and fill them black. I want to get out of shape tool mode. So I hit V on my keyboard to get my selector Beck, I have to center the anchor point in the pupils. I can right-click, go to transform and select center anchor point in layer. Now I'm going to make a controller to move the pupils. I'm going to right-click somewhere blank. Go to New Null Object. Rename it pupil controller. Move the null down here next to the eyeball controller. And then highlight the peoples and parent them to the controller. So they move well, but they come out of the eyeball. To fix that. We're going to duplicate each eyeball and drag it up right above the people. Then go here under Track Matte and select Alpha Matte for each pupil. If you don't see the track matte section, you can click here. And Alex, Good. Remember layer order is very important to me. I bought two, needs to be directly on top of the layer of the pupil you want to see. And parent these top eyeballs to the lower ones, so they move together. Let's make them all green. C, C here, I key framed the size property on the eye controller. And now I can just hit U on the keyboard to get that property up. Hitting you on a layer shows all it's keyframes. So I keyframe that just so I have easy access to the size. Okay, I rig is complete. Let's make the eyebrows. They're going to be strokes, just two points each. I'm doing this with the pen tool. For keyboard shortcut, that's G. Hit G to bring up your pen tool. And when you make the point, you need to hold and drag a little bit to get those Bezier handles gallon, we're going to use those later. Don't just make a straight, a straight line with no handles. And turn stroke on, turn fill off. Now I'm going to go into stroke and change the cap to a round cap. I'm going to center the anchor point with Control Alt Home. I'm going to duplicate it and move it over and make the thickness a little, little more. Rename our eyebrow layers. And I'm going to mess with the Bezier handles a little bit. I hit G to go back to my pen tool and that lets me adjust the handles. It can be very finicky getting a hold of these points that you want to mess with the handles. The pen tool should turn into a little black arrow. And then you can click on the point and it'll bring up the handles. But sometimes, okay, finally the mouth. I'm gonna get my pen tool with G. And I'm going to make four points like this. Bring the thickness down a little, come into its properties, and click on this, this Add button here. And add round corners. And go into round corners and turn it up. And now we can move our mouth. Let's give it a fill. All click. Let's clean it up a little. Colorize them, name our mouth layer and move it down. Now we're almost done. I'm going to parent everything together so it moves correctly. First, I'm going to make a null object. For a face controller. I want the whole face to move together. Right-click somewhere, blank. Down here. New null object. Move it down here out of the way, rename it. Now I'm going to select all the layers I want to parent to the face controller, eyebrows, left and right, eye and mouth, and the pupil controller. And there we go. I'm going to make this eyeball controller a guide layer. Right-click on it and select guide layer. And that basically makes it invisible when we render. Okay, and that's it. It's all set up and it's ready to animate. 3. Expression #1: Animating: To start animating, I'm going to put my playhead somewhere around frame 300. That's ten seconds. And hit N on the keyboard to trim my work area. And then right-click, right-click on the little bar and trim comp to work area. Now I'm going to put my play head at 0. And I'm going to go down the layers and keyframe. The properties that I want to change, that I want to animate. I'll put up some keyboard shortcuts I'm using. But sometimes you'll see me go up into the search bar. And that's because I don't know the keyboard shortcuts to get to get those properties like path or size. I don't even know if there is keyboard shortcuts for that. But the main ones are P for position, R for rotation, or S for scale. Okay, now I highlight all my layers and I hit U, U on the keyboard that shows me all the keyframes that I just made. I'm going to change my layout for animating. And I go up here. And for me this is my default view. But for you, I think it, I think it's different. But basically you drag and drop the tabs at the top into new Windows. Is one of those things where if you mess with it for two minutes, you will figure it out yourself. It's hard to explain. You're going to make mistakes. So if you mess up, go back to window workspace and reset it and you can try again. Okay, so I hold Shift and hit Page Down to move ahead ten frames. And I'm doing that twice to move ahead 20 frames. And I'm just going to keyframe everything again. Now shift page down again to go ahead 10 keyframes. And I'm going to set the next pose that I want. It's going to be in amazed face. Like this guy just saw your screen time and your search history on your phone and how much time you spend on social media. And he is amazed. Move the mouth, move the eyebrows up the path and not the position, the eye size. And I'm going to keyframe even things that I didn't move. I want each parameter to be key framed. Now I'm going to add a little anticipation, some movements. To anticipate the big movement. I go to these keyframes here. And I'm gonna go back four frames by pressing Page up four times. Page Up is one frame. So I hit it four times to go back four frames. And I'm going to keyframe everything. Then I'm coming back to these original key frames. And I'm going to move them in the opposite direction of the expression change. So the eyes get bigger In the, in the expression. So let's anticipate that movement by squinting them a little bit. So he's going to squint first and then open his eyes. The eyebrows go up and curl. So let's anticipate that by sort of like confused or angry eyebrow position. Now you can see it's hard to get these points the way I want them. I want to select just 1 and have the Bezier handles. Sometimes the pen tool doesn't work or doesn't seem to work. If you hit V on your keyboard to get your selection tool. When you move the cursor off the point, you see a white arrow with a little white box next to it. Drag and highlight the point you want. And it should work. Not exactly sure why at times the pen tool works and then other times it doesn't. The mouth goes wide. So let's make it come together before it does that. And you can see it's a subtle change, but good animation is in the details. It looks very robotic right now, but we'll fix that once the whole animation is blocked out. And now we're going to do some overshoot, which is basically the same as anticipation. Sort of, sort of like what we just did. But we're going to do it to the end of the pose. So the expression is going to overshoot and then snap back. Go to these keyframes and go ahead four frames with the Page Down button four times. And key F8, keyframe, everything. Then go back to these keyframes here and just kinda exaggerate everything, make it go further than it did before. Okay, looks good so far. Now, going ahead a second or two and keyframing everything. And I'm going to go ahead again a second or two and I'm going to copy the first keyframe and paste it at the end. So we can get a loop. So click on the first keyframe and Control C to copy, control V to paste. And remember it's going to paste where the playhead is. Keep your play head at the end where you want it. And I want more space. I'm going to move these keyframes over to the end. If you highlight the key frames and slide them over. And then you hold Shift while you're doing it, it will snap them to the play head. And I'm going to end the work area or right after these key frames and move the plan there, hit N on the keyboard. We got a loop going with spacing. But the keyframes look mechanical. So to change that, I'm going to highlight them all and press F9 on the keyboard. And that is Easy, Ease. That'll give them sort of a more natural movement. Now you could come in here and play with the timing of the easing. And it's very important to learn that. But I'm going to skip that in this lesson because there's so many key frames. Going in there kinda feels like getting in the weeds. I'm not gonna go into that. We're going to skip that for now. Next, I want to add some face movement. To show you move Min using arcs instead of straight lines. For the anticipation. We're going to move the phase down and then it's going to swing up when he makes the emotion. Okay, so it's, it's in a straight line and timing looks okay. Now I'm going to zoom in here to the face controller null. And you can see the path that it takes and you can move it by dragging. But I don't wanna do that. I don't want to move the position. I want to bend the path with the Bezier curves. So the endpoints stay the same. But the path of the movement isn't straight, it becomes curved. If you see one of these little handles, you can pull it and alter the path. And there you go. It comes up in an arc. Sometimes the point and doesn't have a handle and Bezier handle that you can pull. If it doesn't come up to the pen tool and click and hold to bring up the other options and go to Create vertex tool. Then you can come down and you can hold Shift while doing it to keep the handle horizontal. Now a problem you'll run into at times is this. Two keyframes are in the same exact spot, but it kinda bobs back and forth. And I think that's from the easing. Easing kind of makes it makes it do that and I don't want that. I wanted to be stationary. So if you right-click on the keyframe and select toggle hold keyframe. That will fix it. And we have a more, more active animation now. And I think it looks much better than before. It kind of snaps to faster to inform me. So I'm trying to fix that here. That's better. I'm going to make him blink a few times. He can't believe how much time you spend on social media politics. He's blinking to see if he's reading that correctly. And I like to exaggerate it a lot. It's a cartoon animation. The more exaggerated the better. Now for offsetting, I'm highlighting the key frames and I'm dragging them a few frames to the right to make them lag behind the main animation. I'm dragging the key frames and not the whole layer. And it's important just the keyframes. Now just little tweaks to the timing or the path or the offset or some stuff. Make the eyebrows kinda move in a wave. And finally, I'm actually going to make him smile or laugh. At the end. There we go. Little more emotion. And that looks pretty good. That's a simple version of facial animation. That's kinda the basics. Next, I'm going to show you a more advanced face. There you can make with these same principles that we just learned. 4. Expression #2: Creating the shapes: For this next phase. So I'm going to copy this little kid right here. Like if someone took something that was trending on Twitter and then spoken out loud into the real-world, how insane they would sound. This is, this is the loci would give them. It's going to be more complex than the last emotion. And I'm going to try to add some, some fake 3D when the character turns his head. And this one, I'm going to gloss over some things that we learned previously. Going to speed it up for the sake of time, because in real time I think there's took, It's probably took over an hour to make an animators a lot of animation. Yeah, but I'll slow it down for an explain concepts that are new. But a lot of it is going to be using the same principles we learned making the last phase, but kinda just taken them a little, little bit further. Okay, new composition, square 1080 by 1080, I'm going to get a rounded corner rectangle on the Shape Layer. Click and hold to bring up the options and select this one. Now, I want my align tool, but it's not visible. So I go up to window and select Align. Drag it over here, center it. Now I'm going to move the anchor point. I hit Y on my keyboard. And then lets me move the anchor point and drag it down. And I'm holding control to make sure it snaps to this point. So holding control makes it snapped. I wanted these points. Now come into rectangle path. Put the roundness up until we get the pill shape here. When you use the same ideas, the head to make the ears and they go behind the head. This guy is balding. So creating some hair with the pen tool. I'm going to copy my I read from the last face and delete all the key frames to start fresh. And I'm going to move it around a bit to to make it match his face. For the eyebrows. This is something new. I guess. I'm going to use the taper. So we're going to make his eyebrows a different shape than just a just a line. So we're going to mess with the taper. You can change the beginning and end thickness and how much it eases. This is also one of those things where you should just mess with it for a minute or two. And that will be any any explanation I can give on how to use it. And for the ears, I'm going to copy them and make this a little darker, smaller part to make them look better. Now I'm going to parent everything together. And as it onto the animation. 5. Expression #2: Animating: Again, I'm going to sort of speed this video up because there's nothing really new from the last face that we did. It's just more of it. There's more animation, more expressions, more movement, but the concepts are exactly the same as that, that first face. Yeah, so first, go to the beginning, set all the keyframes I want to use. See how I'm doing the ears here. We should see more of this year now. So the ear on the characters right side, we should see more of that kinda slides out this way when he turns his head. In terms of fake 3D, I'm basically just making things smaller that turn away from us and bigger if they turn toward us. Like the eyeballs. So just a little adjustment of the scale. And on the hair too, a little bit. What I'm doing here is I want the hair to go behind the head when it turns. So I duplicate the head, put it on top, but cut it. So it only comes in when I want to cut the layer, I press Control Shift D. And then I can delete the beginning of it. But I end up deleting this at the end because I don't like the way it looks. But this is how you would do something like that if you wanted to. But this ends up getting deleted and I think it looks it looks better without it. Okay. Okay. Hello. Hi. Okay. Hi. Oh. 6. Adding Style: Lighting: Now I'll show you how I did this little presentation here and how, how to add that glow around the outer edge, which I think looks really good. So Newcomb, 1920 by 1080. I'm going to drag those faces in here, kind of align them. So it looks good. Cut the work area with in the keyboard shortcut N. For the background, I'm going to hit Control Y. And that makes a new solid. I'm not going to worry about the color i now and I'm going to drag it to the back now. And instead of changing the color, I'm going to add a fill effect, go to the effects, type in sill, and drag this one onto it. And I'm going to change the color like that. I find it easier if I ever want to change it in the future. I think a fill, a fill is easier to do that. Now for the glow. So highlight the layer you want. Go to Layer, Layer Styles, Inner Glow. And just to keep it simple, I go into Inner Glow and turn up the size. There's a lot of parameters you can mess with in here. I'll let you try them out on your own. Yeah. There's a lot going on in there. And do the same for the other face. And that's it. It looks pretty good. Kinda added a little 3D sort of look, little lighting look.