Pose to Pose Character Animation in After Effects – Stop Animating the Hard Way


Whoo boy, is character animation hard. And to make matters worse, most After Effects animators try to move their characters the same way they move logos and type: Straight ahead. The secret to getting the hang of character animation is actually to use the same method Disney animators used in the heyday of cel animation: Pose-to-Pose.

In this tutorial, character animation encyclopedia Morgan Williams (who also teaches Character Animation Bootcamp will teach you the magic of the pose-to-pose method and how to use it in After Effects.

This is some inside baseball stuff, so pay attention.

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Auto-Generated Transcript Below 👇

Morgan Williams (00:00): Morgan Williams here, character animator and animation fanatic. In this short video, I’m going to teach you about the power of the pose to pose character workflow. And after This workflow is something we practice extensively and character animation bootcamp. So if you’re interested in learning more, go check out that course. Also you can download the squash character rig and project files I’m using in this video to follow along or practice with after you’re done, watching details are in the description.

Morgan Williams (00:38): If you’re used to doing more motion graphics type of work than trying to execute a scene like this might be pretty daunting. And there’s a pretty good reason for that. So to show you, let’s take a look behind the scenes of what’s driving this animation. So here we are in the pre-com for this character. And as you can see, there’s a few key frames in here. There’s a lot going on, not just a lot of key frames, but there’s also overlapping animation, anticipations, overshoots, and all of these key frames have been adjusted in the graph editor. So just looking at the graph editor for the rotation property on the head, you can see that there’s a lot going on here. And if you try to make an animation, like this happens straight ahead, or just going from frame one until the end, you would probably get lost pretty quickly.

Morgan Williams (01:21): So here’s an animation. That’s quite a bit simpler than the previous one. This is squash, and you can see that in his current form, he doesn’t even have arms. He’s just jumping off the ground, hanging in the air for a moment and then landing. And even with the simplified character shape with no arms and a lot less pieces, you can still see that a lot went into making this animation feel as good as it does. And what I see a lot of animators do when faced with an empty timeline like this is they think, well, maybe the character needs to start by crouching down to jump. And that is correct. So we’re going to lower the center of gravity, and then we’re going to go forward a few key frames, and then we’re going to have the character jump up in the air, which is going to require key framing, both the center of gravity and the feed. And so you sort of have to do this little dance like this, and then you end up with something that doesn’t work at all on any level. And then you realize, oh, I need to go back. I need to set more key frames here. And you’ve got to try to figure out how to slowly but surely get this character to jump well, I’m here to tell you there’s a better way.

Morgan Williams (02:24): What we’re going to do is use something called pose to pose animation, and it works exactly how it sounds. We’re going to think of each step in this animation as a distinct pose. The first thing I’m going to want to do is select all of the key frames on the initial pose and convert them to hold key frames. You can do this by control, clicking on the selected key frames and saying toggle hold key frame, or use the keyboard shortcut command an option on a Mac. What this does is tell after effects that these key frames are not going to smoothly interpolate to the next set of key frames. I’ll show you what I mean most actions that you want a character to do are going to have a series of key poses that they need to hit with a jump. The next key pose is an anticipation pose, squatting down, gathering energy.

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Duration: 00:09:14

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