How to animate a Jumping Reindeer in After Effects

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In this video tutorial we'll create a character rig for animation using puppet pin tools and a free plugin called DUIK in After Effects. We'll use a character made in Illustrator and take it into After Effects for animation. The workflow will help us understand the process of creating bones and controls for our character, just like a puppet, so we can move its arms or legs for basic keyframe animation. It's a step by step guide which, although is a little complex, can be comfortably followed by any beginner as well. So, let’s get started!

Hello everyone! This is Nilabh and in this tutorial I'm going to show you how to rig a character in After Effects using the puppet pin tools and a simple plug-in called D U I K, or "duik" if you must, so you can create some animations like this. Let's go ahead and jump right into the design of a character. So here it is, I've created separate shapes, very basic shapes for this design to make it simpler to animate and rig, OK? All these body parts are very simple, circular shapes. And here is the colored version of the deer that I have created. I painted this in Photoshop to get the idea of what colors I want, then took it into Illustrator, and you can just go ahead and make these basic shapes. I also created the background with the trees and the snow beneath his feet. So, they will also move in a loop that we create for the deer. Just make sure that the tree on the left side and the tree on the right side is the same. Same with the snow patch, so that when we repeat the design in a loop it would, you knowm animate without any glitches. I also downloaded a brush from the web, a stroke brush for Illustrator. You can get many brushes for free. So that I can have this, you know, stylistic painted edges like I had in Photoshop, to give it a very illustrated feel, you know. So, I have that on the trees and the design as well. So before we take our design in After Effects, you can go ahead and download this DUIK 15 plug-in. You can just Google it, and you'll find it in this web page. You have a Windows Mac, and installers and a zip archive which can support. Feel free to donate them, because it's a wonderful plug-in for After Effects which we are going to use for animation as well. Now, let's go into After Effects; go to Composition and New composition. Use whatever width you want for your animation with the frame rate you want, like 12 or 24, and press OK. Now, we can go and import our file that we had created in Illustrator and select the AI file. Make sure you select: Composition retain layer size, before importing so that all the last we have created in Illustrator are exactly the same when they come inside After Effects. Now, you can see that all the body parts that we are going to rig and animate them separately, are on separate layers. This is very important that you do this in Illustrate itself. Now go ahead and select his body layer, his tummy; and go to Window, open the Duik plug-in, it opens in a separate window. You can see that there are many tabs for making animation and everything. but we just have to work on the rigging part right now, OK. Select the body part, check that the anchor point is in the center, go to Controller and Create. Now this will create a controller, a null object which basically does nothing right now. You will get a layer, the control layer, up above the stack, the layer stack. To connect the body to the controller, select the body and select this little swirl icon and drag it on top of that control later. So what this will do is, this will parent the body part to that controller so that when you move the control, the body moves with it. In this way, we have created our first controller on our rig. Now let us go ahead and make an advanced skeletal rig, bones and everything on our front leg of the deer. Check the first box after that icon to isolate the leg, so that it's easier for us to understand its basic shape, without distracting. Go to the puppet pin tool up in the toolbar you can keep the Mesh check on. And then click on the imaginary joints for that leg. These are our pins, which we will manipulate. Now, if you select the layer and press U, you will see that the three pins are created. You will have to rename them because the same names will not work if we do it on other legs as well. So name them accordingly. You can name them A, B and C for the joints. Like I have just renamed it as: "front leg", "FLegFA", like FLegFB , FLegFC... so that I can distinguish between other layers when I create the pins for them. You can go ahead and un-click the mesh, we don't need it right now. Let's go ahead and create bones for all those joints we have created. So, here's the layer. You can just click on the bone part and you'll see that one more layer is created. Select the other one, click on the bones, select the C one and click on the bone. So now, all three red dots are created and three layers are represented as bones. If you move any one of them, here is the magic. You are now able to manipulate the lower part of the deer's leg. So now, we will need to create an IK rig, which is inverse kinematics, I'll explain that in a bit. We need to have a controller which will move the leg as a whole, OK? Now select the most bottom part, go to the Controller and create a controller like we did for the body. Another layer is created, just bring it on top of those three red dots, red layers. So the controller doesn't do anything right now. You have to create a hierarchy, OK? So just select the B, the bottom part, and parent it to A, and then C to B. So that when we move the A part, the upper part of the leg, B and C should follow that motion. And same for the C to B. OK. Now select the controller, OK? To make an IK rig; let us select C, the bottom part where the controller is, B and A, and then the controller again. Now, go to IK and then just say Create. This will create an IK rig. Now, if you move the controller, you see that we are able to move the whole leg with the same controller. Now, if you feel that the bend is on the wrong side, just click on this clockwise box to change that. We can see that our leg is already ready for animation. Now when we move the body of the deer, it moves separate, it doesn't move as a whole with the leg. To fix that, let's just parent the A bone to the center of the body, the controller. Now when we move the body you can see that it moves as a whole, and this is what we want to do for all the other legs as well. Also do the same with the tail, the neck, the head and his scarf in his neck also. Let me show you the same process on his back leg as well, because I know it is a little bit confusing. Before that we'll just hide these layers, just click on the little alien buttons in front of them, and then on top in the Menu bar as well, so that they disappear from our layer stack, just to clean up the space a little. Let's solo out our leg, go to Puppet pin tool and create the three joints. You can turn on the Mesh to preview how much area is selected. Let us create the three pins. Press U on the keyboard and rename the pins as we did before. Make sure you name them perfectly, so it is clear for you while managing too many layers later on in the project. So now, select the first pin; go to "bone", second B, bone and then the C one. Create all the three bones ,so that we get these three layers. Parent the B to A and C to B as we did before in a hierarchy, OK? Create a controller on the C pin and select the pin by C, B, A and then the controller. Go to IK and create the rig. It is very simple once you get used to it, OK? Unselect the layers and you can check the animation. Go ahead and parent the A bone to the body control so that it moves with the body. Now let us do the same thing with the deer's neck. Select the pin. And now, this time we don't need three controllers, as we don't need to bend the neck in the same fashion as we did for the legs. So let's just have two pins. And, you can see that this is the maximum motion we want for the neck control to have. Now go ahead and rename the pins as we did before, of course make sure that it is relevant to the body part, so that it's easier later on to manage the layers. Create the bones. And this time, we don't need to create the IK rig for the neck, so you can just go ahead and parent the B bone to the A. Now when you rotate the A bone, the base one which is connected to the body, the B follows the rotation of A, OK? Now create a controller on the B bone and bring the controller down near the bone stack. The controller is not moving right... moving anything right now, so let us parent the B bone to the controller. So now when you move the controller the neck moves with it. OK. We don't need to make it an OK rig, all right? Now let's just parent the A bone to the center of the body, all right? So that when you move the body, the neck moves with it, OK? But now you can see that the top part of the neck stays at the same point. So we need to parent that control, the B control, to the body control as well. So let's just go ahead and do it. Now when we move the body, the whole neck moves with it, and the neck by itself moves separately as well. So this is what we want. Now let us do the same thing with the head, but before that... His eyes, and smile, and the nose and the antlers, we'll move it ahead; so let's just parent all those objects to the head layer, so that it is simpler for us to manage. Let's just fix that nose, i'll just scale it down a little bit and move it inside. I was thinking of masking it but we don't really need to do that, let's fit it in. And parent the same with the head. So now, we move the head, and the eyes, the smile and the nose move with it. Now, let's just set the rotation anchor, the anchor point of the head, to where the head is joined on the neck, OK? Let's just go to Pan behind tool, the Anchor point tool; select the anchor and drag it back where it is joined on the neck. So now when you rotate the head, the rig is almost ready, OK. We will now just give that a control like we did for the body, so select the head. Just go to Controller and create a control. Let us scale the controller up to distinguish it from the neck controller, OK? Or rather scale it down and scale the neck controller up. We need to parent the controller to the head, OK? The head to the controller, so let's do that. Just check the rotation of the head, if it is working with the controller or not. Now, we need to parent the controller of the head to the controller of the neck. So that, when we move the body, the body will move the neck, and the neck will move the head with it. So it will animate or move as a whole. All right? Now, if you see that if we move the body, the neck and the head moves with it. We have to do the same thing with the ears, and the tail and the scarf, simply using the same process. Now we have all the controllers for all the legs, you can pose the character and make an animation key frames. Make the animation keyframes to, you know, give some life to the character. Now parent the scarf to the neck and the ears to the head. OK? Also make the tail in the same fashion, and the ears in the same fashion as we did the leg; use three pins and make an IK rig for them, so that you'll be able to animate them in a very fluid motion. And parent the base of those body parts to the part where they are connected. All right? So now we have our rig complete, with the process of Puppet pins and DUIK plug-in, we can now manipulate all the body parts of our deer character. This is where it opens the door for breathing life into it, all right? You can notice that the scarf is not too much attached. It would have been better if we had put it on the same layer as the neck was, so it would move with the neck, we'll not be animating the leg too much right now, so let's not worry about that. Now I'll just turn on all the layers that we have for the trees, the snow and the sky. And our scene, our character is ready for animation. Just hide all the unnecessary layers and keep only the controller layers, so that you get a clean workspace to begin with. Now animating a character is not as simple as rigging a character, because you need to learn all the principles of animation. But let me just try to show you a simple way you can do it, OK? Just select the body, and if you drop down on the layer you'll see that you get all the transformation rotation values, which you can keyframe, set a key on and animate. I simply select the layer and press P to bring down the position values, OK? Just click on the little clock button in front of them to key them on the selected frame. Now when you press U on the keyboard, the changed... the key framed controllers are only shown, OK? You can zoom in and zoom out in the timeline by pressing + or - on your keyboard. So when you click on that left clock button, it sets a key on that particular frame, so that it locks the position of that object, of the controller, in that frame. So when you move ahead and you move the object, up or down, front or back, wherever it is, OK? You automatically set a key again. And let's just go ahead and move the object once more. You can just copy and paste those little dots, little keyframes to loop the action. You can see the character is now animated when you press 0 on your keyboard or you press the spacebar to preview the animation. You can just press N on your keyboard to limit the time slider playability, wherever the cursor is, so that it plays only that much part of your animation. So once you get the basics you can go ahead and simply set keys on every part, every controller that you have created, set key poses. Go ahead, of course and study some references of how a reindeer, or how a deer would be prancing. On what frame, how much frame does it take for one leg to go from the down position to the up? You need to really study that to get into the character. And of course again, you can go in the graph editor to smooth out those keys; the interpolation, ease in and ease out, which is a little bit advanced. But the basic thing is that you should be able to create a simple rig for a very simple character, and move it around and experiment with its motion, all right? So I hope you like the way After Effects lets you create an animated character, breathe life into a character, no matter how simple it is. And I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, thank you so
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