How to Animate a Walk Cycle for Beginners

One of the first lessons that an animator learns is how to animate a walk cycle. The practical applications of acquiring this skill are obvious—it teaches you the basics of how motion works in animation, to name one thing. All characters walk, whether they're four-legged, limbless, or bipedal, just like us.

There are many books that deliver the concept succinctly and effectively to the beginner, but we know you're busy, so we're going to give you the rundown here in short.

The Key Ingredients to an Effective Walk Cycle

A very simple looped walk cycle will usually end up being around 10 frames long, with five frames between each crossover. Crossovers are the moment that one leg overtakes the other.

The arms swing in tandem, right over left, and left over right. The left leg and the left arm should never be moving forward and back in sync with one another. Alternating in this way adds interest and visual variety to the walk cycle.

These crossovers will usually coincide with each contact point. But what is a contact point in animation?

Contact Points

When a character makes contact with the ground as they take a step, the landmark is referred to as a contact point. When first getting started, contact points make great key poses. They're rhythmic, easily identified, and will give the timing of your animation structure.

When mapping out your scene, each contact point should be drawn out for your character to follow. They should not budge as your character walks along his or her path. This prevents an awkward treadmill effect when your intention is to draw a character walking forward on normal ground.

Weight Transfer

With each step, the character heaves themselves along. This effort should be felt by the audience. The dominant, overtaking leg “pulls” the ground toward them, dragging the world behind underneath. The foot falling behind “pushes” them onward.

The surest way to animate a walk cycle that feels lackluster is to ignore these physical properties. Unless your character is a disembodied ghost, they will usually not be floating through the scene. Watching a character do this is boring, and it definitely doesn't make a good cartoon.

One may assume that larger, heavier characters will be the only ones beholden to this rule, but this is far from the case; even the lightest of characters weigh something. Finding interesting ways to communicate the physical personality of the character as they move is part of the fun of animating walk cycles.

Consistency

When animating a simple walk cycle, this is easy. If the two segments of action separated by each crossover mirror one another, they'll link up together seamlessly. This creates an animation that lacks an uncomfortable “limp” each cycle. The action should be uninterrupted and easy to watch.

This will be more of a problem when animating a walk cycle straight-ahead. For now, let's focus on trying one out pose-to-pose instead.

Related: Pose-to-Pose Animation: A Step-by-Step Guide for Beginners

How to Animate a Walk Cycle

To start, let's “design” the perfect test subject.

Most animation begins with a rough. It should express the volume of a character using shapes that are easy to draw over and over again as you time the sequence out. We're going to take things one step further with a wireframe man.

In the beginning, it may be helpful to keep a copy of your model on the side to draw proportions from consistently. It is imperative that the length of the legs and the arms do not change from frame to frame.

You'll notice that the bubbles of his shoulders, hands, hips, and feet all share something important: one side of his body is filled in and the other will be left white. When your character's design is this simple, it can be helpful to differentiate the near side of the body from the far side. This will prevent you from confusing one for the other as you work.

Related: The Best Drawing and Painting Apps for Android

1. Give Him Some Footsteps to Follow

Before anything else, you should plan out the scene in its entirety. In this case, our animation will consist of two footfalls per side.

How far should the feet be from one another at their most extreme, extended point? The length of the stride will depend on the length of the legs, as well as the disposition of the character's movement—running at full-speed, creeping along carefully, whatever he happens to be doing.

For a simple walking cycle, footfalls that extend just beyond the front and the back of the character's body are a safe bet. They should be long enough to communicate a sense of support, but not long enough to feel overbearing and unnatural.

2. Draw Two Key Poses, Your Contact Points

Once you have the spacing of the walk cycle worked out, add your character's body in at each contact point, the moment that each foot hits the ground.

3. Draw Two Breakdown Poses, Your Crossover Points

Halfway between your contact points, draw the legs and arms crossing over.

Take your first keyframe and put it behind your second, separating them with one blank frame. Between the second half of the sequence, add the opposite crossover point.

Those keeping score at home already know that we've got five frames down so far. For this exercise, we want one blank frame between every keyframe and breakdown to make room for our in-betweens.

​​4. Add In-Betweens

Linking each key pose and breakdown pose to one another with in-betweens is easy when the sequence has been laid out from beginning to end. You can start wherever you want—all that matters is that each in-between falls between everything that comes before it and everything that happens afterward.

Your choice in spacing from one frame to the next will determine the timing of the character's movement. Aim to have each in-between fall right in the middle of its two neighboring companions.

The gang's all here, and they're looking fabulous. Allow a momentary sense of accomplishment to wash over you before picking everything apart.

5. Check It Out and Revise Where Necessary

If you're satisfied with what you've got, then you're all set. The work of a true artist, however, is never done.

Take inventory of everything that you hate about your first walk cycle. My first critical thought? It needs more in-betweens.

If you've got a head-scratcher or two that you just cannot figure out on your own, try another one. With each attempt, your sense of timing and physical intuition will become more attuned.

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Bring Your Animation to Life

Once you've gotten the hang of it, you'll be able to ratchet your walk cycle up a couple of notches. Perhaps your next character is running away in terror from something, or, more interesting yet, the one in pursuit.

After you've drawn a couple that work well, experiment with different moods and situations. Mastering simple walking cycles is only the first step, no pun intended. Soon, the stories will start telling themselves.

Author: Emma Garofalo

Source: Emma Garofalo.” How to Animate a Walk Cycle for Beginners”. Retrieved From https://www.makeuseof.com/how-to-animate-walk-cycle-beginners/

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