There are several techniques for creating animations of characters and other graphics. These methods can be combined or used individually depending on the desired result.
Choosing a right animation technique for each situation allows us to work efficiently and achieve better results.

In this article, I describe the ones we use to create our animations.

1. Puppet animation in After Effects

This technique allows us to animate characters using the Puppet Pin tool in After Effects. It works very well for animating characters that walk, ride or use stairs.

How to use it:

  • Before importing the illustration into After Effects, we have to prepare the layers in Illustrator. Each layer must contain several shapes of the object we want to animate. For instance, a hand holding an apple is composed of the arm, hand, fingers and the apple.
  • After importing the image into the Timeline, we can use the Puppet tool to animate each layer. We do it adding a pin to each joint. After Effects will automatically generate the first frame.
  • The additional keyframes are created moving the pins manually forward into the timeline. We move them until we achieve the position we want.
  • Interpolating the keyframes generates the action and movement.
  • We can adjust the movement by tweaking the keyframes and also changing their speed using the speed curve.
  • If the movement is very complex, we must create a sketch of the animation beforehand.

2. Morphing shapes in After Effects

This technique allows us to animate an object using two given positions A and B. This method is very useful to simulate particular actions as a head movement or other transitions.

How to use it:

  • The important point is to maintain the number and position of bezier points in positions both A and B. It will avoid unexpected results generated by the morphing process.
  • After importing the illustration into After Effects, we must transform each layer into editable shapes in After Effects.
  • The next step is to generate a keyframe for each shape of the positions A and B.
  • We must pick one of the shapes to apply the animation and paste the discarded keyframe a few seconds forward in the timeline to generate the interpolation.
  • This process needs to be repeated for each element and action.

3. 3d using Cinema 4D

This one is the most recent technique we have implemented into our workflow. Cinema 4D is a 3d software that allows us to model and animate. It uses render tools with 2d appearance, keeping flat colours without lights or shadings. 
We use this technique to create complex movements or rotate objects and cameras.

How to use it:

  • The first step is to model the object using a 2d illustration as a reference, trying to keep the 3d model as accurate as possible.
  • If we are working on a character, we need to generate a skeleton and joints to animate it. This process is called rigging.
  • The animation process takes part in Cinema 4d using a similar system of keyframes than the one we employed in After Effects.
  • Once the 3d animation is completed, we generate a png sequence rendering our animation. Then we just need to import this sequence into After Effects and integrate them into our animation.

Conclusions

There are other techniques that use different approaches, tools and plugins. Each animator should find the ones that work best for their work. The research process takes time with a lot of trial and error, but it’s totally worth it.

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