Simple Character Animation: Walk Cycle in AE with No Keyframes | Hongshu Guo | Skillshare

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Simple Character Animation: Walk Cycle in AE with No Keyframes

teacher avatar Hongshu Guo, Motion Designer

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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

8 Lessons (45m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. File Preparation in AI

    • 3. Set up files in AE

    • 4. Install Duik Bassel for Free

    • 5. Character Rigging

    • 6. Automate Walk cycle

    • 7. Finalize and Export

    • 8. Congratulations!

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About This Class


Character rigging and animation is an essential part of motion graphics. In this class, I will walk you through simple and easy process where you will learn to build a rig to a simple character and automate walk cycle in seconds. You can share your work as a gif on the internet.

Due to the updates of DUIK ( the free character rigging plugin of After Effects) , walk cycle is not as hard as it was before and it can also be automated without any keyframes.

DUIK free download link here:

Today, I will show you the easiest and most efficient way to rig a character and automate a walk cycle. Anyone with basics understanding of After Effects will be able to take this course and follow along.

  • Complete professional workflow from storyboard to final render.( AI to AE workflow)
  • How to prepare and build character in Illustrator before rigging
  • Character rigging
  • Automating walk cycle without any keyframes
  • Export gif file

This is an introductory course of character rigging and animation, there are a lot of things that we need to cover in this course, so a basic understanding of After Effects will be recommended before taking this course. If you are a beginner and want to learnt After Effects fundamentals, I have other two course that can help you grasp the basics of After Effects before taking this one.

How to animate illustration in After Effects.

How to animate logos in After Effects.

Find more character rigging courses on Skillshare Here

Thanks for taking this course and happy animating!

Meet Your Teacher

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Hongshu Guo

Motion Designer

Top Teacher

Hey! My name is Hongshu Guo and I'm a motion designer from Toronto, Canada. I've been animating in Adobe After Effects for more than 6 years. Animation is one of my passion and I am so lucky that I am able to work on all kinds of animation projects every single day at work for the past years. When I am not working, I always like to travel. Travelling gives me time to slow down my mind to enjoy the nature and world around me. It also provides me with new perspectives as well as inspirations.

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1. Introduction: Hi, this is home shoe and I'm a motion designer in Canada. Today I'll teach you how to automate a character walk cycle in after effects with no keyframes. I have been animating in Adobe After Effects professionally for more than five years now. I've worked in two different advertising agencies for clients like Adidas, PayPal, Walmart, and many more. In this class, we'll be using a free character rigging plugin called Duik. Duik is one of the most comprehensive rigging tool used by industry professionals to animate characters in motion graphics and makes character animation easy and fun and intuitive. In this course, I'll teach you how to do a simple walk cycle using Duik. We will start by preparing our character in Illustrator, then we'll bring the character into after effects and prepare it for rigging. We will then use Duik to rig the character full-day for animation. Finally, with the rigged character, we will automate a walk cycle with Duik. I'll take you through the basics of character rigging, all of the steps it takes, with this tool and method, you can simplify find workflow and focus on creating the best character animation possible without losing all your energy on other technical stuff that's not animation. This course will be a great first step for you to get started with the basics of character animation and help you build a solid foundation. If you want to add character rigging and animation to your arsenal, this course is for you. Well, I'm excited to introduce you to the power of Duik and open the door of character animation. Let's have some fun and I'll see you in class. 2. File Preparation in AI: First I'm going to teach you how to prepare your files in Illustrator before you bring it into Adobe After Effects. Now let's just open this Illustrator file. Here's my character. If I click on it, you can see I have the different body parts separated, I have the head, and then I have the neck, the torso, and the forearms, the arms. All of these body parts are separated. This is a forearm left, and then I've got the arm left behind the torso, and here this thigh right. If I move it out, you can see the joint, It's actually in a circle. It is very important to have that joint to be a circle because when you rotate it or when you rig it and then you animate it, the connection the joint is going to move smoothly if you have it in a circle. So I've got the foot, the left and right foot. Let me open another file for you. Here's the character demo that I created just for demonstration purposes. This is actually my character, all separated. You can see I've got all these body parts. If you want to build your own character, you have to follow the same structure as my character. So I've got this, if I connect them together, I've got the forearms connect to the arms and then I'll put the arms on the torso, and then I'll just put the red leg around there. Put the foot on the ankle and then connect the legs. I'll speed up this part, and here's my left arm. So the left arm need to go behind the torso, and now I'll have my head connected with neck. Here is my full character. So that's how I get my character. You can design your own character the same way as I did. Let's go back to the character file. This is going to be the working file. I also have this guide layer where you can see there's circles on the joint it's going to help us in after effects later on. I'll leave it there for now. Now let's go to layers panel. You can see click on this master layer. If you don't have the layers panel on your right-hand side, you go to "Window" and then select "Layers". Go to this icon on the top right corner. Click on it, choose "Released To layers Sequence" and now just drag all of the layers behind the character layer, drag them outside, and then delete the character layer because it's empty now. Now I've got all these different body parts on its own individual layer. This way, when you import this file into after effects, after effects is going to recognize all these layers so that you can animate them separately. Next, I need to rename all these layers, just to have better idea what they are. This naming convention is also important because, when we use the plugin Dueck later on in after effects is going to generate similar names. So if you follow my naming convention, is going to make your life easier later on when we break the character. I've got my torso and then here's my neck. Actually these two body parts, I can group these two together, I don't have to separate them, so I just click on this red dots over there and then group them "Command G". Now there are in the same layer. Just go ahead and rename all these layers. There we go, save the illustrator file, I will just rename this one, Now we've done the preparation for character rigging. If I click on the layers here you can see these are the different layers we have and it is very important to follow my process here because it's going to make the rigging part easier. If you have your own character, just make sure you have all of these different separated body parts as mine. Now let's go to the next video. 3. Set up files in AE: In this video, I'm going to show you how to setup files in After Effects. Now, let's open After Effects. First, let's click on new composition. Let's rename the composition name to main comp. This is going to be the comp where we're going to be raking the character, and then make the width and height 1920 by 1080 square pixels, frame rate 30, resolution can be half, duration 10 second, click on "OK." To make things easier and make sure we're all on the same track, we need to change our work layout. Now just go on to the windows workplace, and instead of animation, let's choose this character animation layout. It's going to change the layout of After Affects to a character animation-friendly layouts. That's going to give us more space on the timeline here, more vertical space, because we're going to have a tone of layers when we rake the character. Then character is normally a figure, like a tall figure, so we don't need a lot of horizontal space for the preview, let me just adjust the window here, make the preview bigger. Then here is our timeline on the left, and then our preview window is on the right. Before we do anything else, let's save the project, Command Shift+S. Let's go to desktop, I'll just save it under the same folder. Maybe you rename this to character rigging, click on "OK," Save. Now this is our working file. Let's go to the project panel in the center here and double-click. Let's navigate to the released illustrator file,, choose composition here, and then click on "Open." Now, we've got this composition in project panel. If we double-click on this composition you can see over here on the left-hand side in the timeline, we've got all these body parts in illustrator layers in the timeline. Command+C, copy, and then go back to the main comp command V, paste all the layers to the main composition. Now I want to organize my project panel a bit, so I'll just create a few folders to make it more organized. I'll just create one asset folder, one pre-comps folder, and then one more final comps folder. Then we can drag this character released, since it's a composition, I'm going to put it into the pre-comp. Main comp is the final comp, the other folder is the asset, put in the asset. Now, we've got a clean project panel. Select all the illustrator layers in the timeline, right-click, go to Create Shapes from vector layers. Now it created all these body parts in shapes, and then we can delete all the illustrator files, illustrator layers. All of my body parts are now in shape layers. I just wanted to rename those, delete the outline behind the names just to make it clear and simple. I'll speed up this part. If I toggle between the eye icon in the front here you can see I've got the head, the torso. The head and torso actually don't have to be on two separate layers, so I want to click on those two layers. Command+Shift C, pre-comp, and then rename this to torso plus head, click "OK." Now, I've got a pre-comp with torso and head inside it. I'm going to change all of these layers into a different yellow color. For the guide, I want to make it a guide layer so that it doesn't render. Right-click, go to the layer, and then click on "Guide layer." Let's make this a red color. The guide layer means that the layer doesn't render, it only shows in the preview. That's about it. This is how we set up our After Effects file before we break a character. Next video, I'm going to show you how to install The Wick, and then we can start rigging. 4. Install Duik Bassel for Free: In this video, I'll show you how to quickly Install Duik Bassel, which we're going to use to rig the character in this tutorial. Now I've already downloaded the package. Here's my Duik Bassel folder. There's many folders inside it. So the only thing we need is in inside the ScriptUI panels, this.jsx file. Copy that. If you are using a Mac computer, just go to Finder and then click on "Application". Go to Adobe After Effects, whichever version you're using, go to Script, Script UI panels and then paste the file that we copied, just now in this folder, inside the ScriptUI panel folder. I already have it there, so I can click on "Stop". Then if you have After Effects open, you need to close this program and then restart again. If I click on this "Read Me", here is the path if you're using a Windows computer, here is the path. It's in C:\program files\Adobe\Adobe After Effects CC\support files\scripts\ ScriptUI panel\. That's how you find the path that you need to put that jsx file in. That's all you need to do to install Duik Bassel. Now go back to After Effects, quit it. Now let's restart After Effects again. Let me open my character rigging file. Go to Window, and you can see here it is "Duikbassel2". Click on it. Now it's up and running. That's how you complete install Duik Bassel. We're going to use this plug-in in the next tutorial to rig this character here, I can just dock this in the middle so that it's easier to access. Let's go to the next video and start rigging. 5. Character Rigging: Let the fun begin, let's start rigging. After you doc this here, just click on this button "Rigging". Now we're in the Rigging window. Click on this little dot here behind the leg. Now, it pops up another window here. So here is the human leg that we want, and there are four different options. You can see each color: the orange, the yellow, the blue, and the purple. Each color represents a part of the leg. The way we do this is just think about your own character here. For example, the one that I have right now. On my leg, I only have the thigh, a calf, and a foot. I don't have toe designs on my characters, so I can check off this toe parts in Duik, so that it doesn't generate a toe structure for me. It's pretty simple actually. When you look at your own character and then when you look at this graph on Duik, you can assess which body part do you have in your character design. For example, if you have this thigh, the calf, and the foot, that's all you need to check on. If you have the toe design in your character, you can check on that toe structure as well. For now, I would only check on the thigh, the calf, and the foot, and then click on "Create". Now, it created four structure for me. Just click on that leg again, because we have two legs, so I want to create one more time. Next, I just want to rename this two to be thigh right, calf right, foot right, and then tip toe right. Rename these. The first set we created are going to be the left. Next, if I click on the thigh left and then zoom in, I can actually move the structure to the joint. Since I already have a guide layer in this yellow color, let me see if I can be more precise. I want to put the joints, say the thigh left joints in the center of that circle. If I toggle down the guide layer, I can go to these different groups, which is the different circles that we have, and then you can see the center point of the circle. Now, we just need to align the structures to that center joint. Drag it, put it in the center here. Next one, go to the calf left in the center of the circle, and then put the foot left to the ankle. Also, make sure it's in the center of the ankle, and now the tiptoe. It's very important to put the tiptoe at the tip of the foot, but also it has to be on the ground. You have to put the tiptoe on the ground at the bottom of the shoe. That's how we align the structure to the artwork. Now, let's do the same thing for the right leg. Put the thigh right to the joint there, and then put the calf right to the joint of the calf. Put the foot's on the ankle, and then the tiptoe has to be at the bottom of the shoe, but also at the tip of the shoe. This way you can make sure the foot is always grounded. Now that we've done that, let's move on. Go back to Duik, select the circle behind the arm, so same thing for our character. We don't have a separated shoulder, we only have a forearm. To be honest, we don't even have a hand design in our character, so I can check off the hand. In this case, I only need two structures here, the arm, and the forearm. Click on "Create". This is magic is happening, and do that again to create another set. Now, I'll just repeat the same process when we did the leg. I need to rename these layers to left and right. Next, we need to align these structure layers that Duik created to our artwork. I'll put this arm rights at the center point of that shoulder joint, and then the forearm is going to be around the elbow, and the arm tip is going to be at the tip of the arm. Let's zoom in to be exact about there. That's fine, zoom out. Since I can't see the left arm, so I can just toggle the eye icon before the torso to turn it off so that I can see the harm clearly. I'll put it at the joint there. Do the same thing. Align it to the center of the circle, center of the joint. Then I can't see the tip of the left arm, so I wanted to turn off the eye icon on the thigh, so that I can see it more clearly. That's about right. Now we've got the arm structure aligned with our artwork. Next, we need to work on the torso. Click on the torso composition in the timeline, and then go to the top here, find the Puppet Pin tool. Click on the "Puppet Pin" tool. The reason we need to use puppet pin is because for the arm and the legs, we have these different parts separated, and then we have a joint that we can rotate from. Say, the arm, we have a elbow, and then we have a shoulder to rotate from. But then for the torso, we don't have any points on the body that we can move, and then the torso and the head it's just one body. In order to have more point to control the torso and the head, we need to use Puppet Pin tool to create some points so that we can just use these points later on to control the upper body. First point after we have the Puppet Pin tool selected with the torso plus head composition selected. I need to put a few pins on this composition. First one, I'll put it around the spine over here. you know what? Another thing is I want to turn on the structure of the arm and the thigh here. Once again, let me turn on the structure. I need to have these points as a reference. I'll click on here. This is our spine, and then we have to belly. We have one point for the neck. We have one point for the head, and then we need one point on thigh right, thigh left, arm right, and arm left. The last four points is how we connect the legs and arms with our torso. Let's go down here, go to Mesh, find our Puppet Pin tool, and then we need to rename our puppet pin. The first one is going to be hip and then belly with a neck, and then we have head, and then we have the thigh right, and then we have the hip right, hip left, arm right, and arm left. You know what? I'm going to change the head to the thigh so that is consistent with what we had before, so thigh right and then thigh left. Those are the name of our puppet pins. Select all the puppet pins. Go to Duik, click on the second icon here, link some constraints. Click on this "Add Bones". What happened is, Duik actually created some bone layers in our timeline, based on the puppet pins we had. You can see these blue layers, new layers, these are bone layers. These also marked as bone layers in the timeline there. Then next we need to go back to this rigging icon on Duik. Go to spine, this little red circle behind spine. Here, you can see for our character, we have a head, we have a neck, and then the spine, and the hip. For now, I'll change the spine to one layers, because you can see the graph here there are two sections. Then for us we only have to be one spine. Click on Create. This fine in this graph actually represent our belly. Click on create. Now this is our spine structure. Move these spine structures on top of the bone layers we have. Next, I just need to align the spine to our artwork. I need to find the first hip and then put it on top my first puppet pin. The belly need to align with my belly puppet pin and then the neck need to align with my neck. The head needs to align with my head and then the spine tip, just put it on the tip of the head. Another thing to point out is when we rig a character is always best practice to have the structure to be a straight line. It works the best but sometimes even if you have a slight angle, it's not a straight line, it still works fine. Now, I just want to move around these layers to put them in the proper position. Put the red leg structure on top of the right leg artwork. The arm structure on top of the arm artwork. Now, we have everything here. We have the bones, we have the structures aligned to the artwork. Now, we've done all the preparation work. Next, we can start rigging. Let's start from the bottom here. The arm left into parent to the structure arm left, forearm left parent to the forearm left structure, the thigh lefts parent to the thigh left structure, cal left parent to the calf lefts structure, foot left parent to the foot lefts structure, and then thigh rights parent to the thigh right structure, calf right parent to the calf rights structure, foot rights parent to the foot right structure. Now, let's skip the torso and head for a second. The hip bones need to parent to the hips structure. The belly need to parent to the spine structure. The neck need to parent to the neck structure. The head need to parent to the head structure and thigh rights, need to parent to the thigh right structure. Secretly down there. Thigh left parent to the thigh left structure, arm rights parent to the arm right structure, arm left parent to the arm left structure. We have arm rights parent to arm right structure, forearm rights parent to the forearm right structure. The last layer we have left as torso plus head. This one, we need to parent it to the hip structure. Hip is a root structure for the torso, so we need to parent their artwork to the root structure. Save the project. Now, click on this color, Right-click select label group and then let's go back to Duik. Click on this second icon here, links and constraints. Click on this Auto-rig and IK. You can see these green control layers, [inaudible] controllers generated by Duik. Now our character is rigged and select all the structure layer, turn off the eye icon, and then select all the bones, turn off the eye icon. We can shy all these layers to clean up the timeline. Let's try our character here. As I move the body, you can see the other parts of the body just move with it. But now I think the foot and arms are rotating in the wrong direction, we need to go to the control layer. Go to foot rights, click on IK reverse, foot left reverse, arm reverse, and the arm left reverse. Now, we have the arm and legs rotating ending in the right direction. This is a full character rig. Now, after you've done this rig, you can actually animate this character however you want. You can move the leg, move the foot, do whatever post you like. Next video, let me show you how to automate a walk cycle. 6. Automate Walk cycle: Once I have all of the foot and arm bending the right direction, I can just select all the control layers. Go to this second icon here at the second smaller icon here. If make the window bigger, down here on the left column you can see there's a walk cycle button. With all the control layer selected, let's click on this walk cycle. It generated another walk cycle control layer. Going to the effects control panel here, change the walk speed to 3.5. I don't know why every time it just generated negatives so that you're going backward. Now you can see, once we have a 3.5 walking speed, our character is magically just walking on its own without us doing anything, without even one single toothing. But the good thing about this plugin is you can do much more than just default walking. There is a lot more settings you can change. For example, this one, and you can change from a realistic to a dancing. The character is actually walking, pretty excited and a little jumpy. He's actually dancing up and down. If that's the style you're going for. Then if I click on the secondary control drop-down, you can actually change the setting like the next swing, the next softness. Let's change the next swing to 63. Then the body's main make it bigger. The arms I can make it swing bigger. Maybe you wouldn't like that. 27, let's preview this, now I feel like he's drunk. That's little strange. I think the body sway too much. Lets change it back to the realistic. Preview this. Let's dial back the body swaying to maybe 15 degrees. Preview, yeah that looks much better. As more realistic. Is confused, pretty happy. He's walking down streets. Maybe like Sunday, walk in the park. Lets try the body up and down, maybe 20 percent. Let's see what happens. He's walking up and down. Like that. It doesn't feel so promising. Now I'm just trying to mess with the numbers here. Do whatever you want with your own character. You can come up with really weird walk cycles or something that fits your graphic style. I can change even the feet heights. Then the angle of the feet when it hit the ground. Even the walk speed. Here is a character's width and height, energy level, and change it to 20. Let's see what happens. Let's just preview this for now. That's weird enough. That up and down motions too much for me. Now we can go back and fix how he walks. First, we need to change the foot angle, change it back to 25 percent. That looks better. But then the body aphid now too much, I need to go back, maybe four percent. Then the walk speed let's change it to 15. I'll look he's running instead of walking? Or is like walking huge steps. Maybe dial back to 10. Arm swing change. L We don't have to watch me doing this. I'm just messing around and see what we can come up with. We can do it with your own character and come up with something crazy fancy dancing moves, whatever you like. You see my character is walking. Drop that. Well, just something that you can explore on your own. By combining these different parameters, we can come up with different walk cycles. It's really simple. We didn't even use one single key frame. Once you find something you like, you can stick with it. I can mess with the number all day, but for now I'm going to stop there. Let's save the project. Go to the next video. 7. Finalize and Export: Here's my finished automated walk cycle. Next, let's go to the project panel, here. Maybe go to the final cons, the torso and the head to move it into our precons folder, and then I need to create, you know what? I think I'm going to change this main con to character rigging con, and then click on final con create a new composition and this one we can rename it to character walking. Same setting. Click "OK", double-click on the project panel, go to get a background that I prepared. I can just import this one as a footage because I don't want to animate anything. Ordinates, organize the project panel bids and then go back to the character walking composition. That's the composition where animating our character. Now we need to drop in the background and then we can drop in the character rigging. Look at characters walking. To make him more promising, I can actually keyframe the position property on my character rigging composition. I need to get the numbers here. Set a keyframe, and then go back to zero second, set another keyframe, drag it back so that the character is actually walking in the scene. Now his neck and head is springing too much, I need to go into my character rigging again and maybe dial by the body swaying or next one a little bit so that it doesn't swing so dramatically. Yeah, previewed again. Here's my final automated walk cycle. Next, we just need to export the projects. What we need to do is maybe go to five seconds, set the preview range to five seconds, and then go to composition. Click on, Adobe Media Encoder view, it'll open Adobe Media Encoder. Next, what we can do is go to the front drop down menu here, you can change the format to a animated GIF or H264. H264 is a normal common format for MP4 files, but for now, I will just use animated GIF. Click on this outputs pass to see which folder we want to save the project in. I'll just create a new folder and call it outputs, and then click on this plane play icon here, start rendering. After a few seconds, the rendering is done. Here we go. Here's my automated character rigging with just two keyframes. There we go. That's our automated character walking. 8. Congratulations!: Congratulations, you've finished the course. Now you should know how to automate a character walk cycle. Don't worry if you can't remember everything all at once. Feel free to come back to the course and watch it again to refresh. It takes time and practice to get the hang of rigging a character, but once you've done it a few times, you should be confident enough to take on any walk cycle you like. My challenge to you is to take any character and build a rig, following the steps taught in this course, and automate a walk cycle. It can be as crazy as you like. Remember to have fun and don't be intimidated by character walk cycle and a character rigging. Thank you so much for taking this course. Happy animating.