animation walk cycle step by step

How to make an animation walk cycle step by step

In this tutorial we’re going through an animation walk cycle step by step.

If you don’t know the key poses or understand the locomotion behind a basic walking cycle – I recommend you check out our walk cycle animation blueprint tutorial first.

Walk cycles typically intimidate a lot of new and even experienced animators for good reason….

They are really challenging!

Why?!

Well… we see people walk all the time.

So even if we don’t have a lot of practice animating, we know when the slightest bit of a walk is off.

I mean how fast do you notice someone who has a limp? Or someone’s walking happily? Or drunk?

Exactly. It’s almost instantaneous.

So it’s no surprise why we can quickly get frustrated or overwhelmed creating our first walk.

This tutorial will eliminate all of the BIG challenges you’re up against and level up your animation skills at least 2x times as fast than if you were learning on your own.

That said – lets start our animation walk cycle

animation walk cycle get started

In the video above you can see I’ll be animating in Maya since it’s the industry standard for most movie and game jobs.

As for the character rig I’m using the body mechanics rigs – mega pack by Joe Daniels. I’m not sponsored by him but I do find these rigs to be very robust compared to most options out there.

Of course you can use whatever rig you like.

For a bunch character rig options check our Best Free Maya Rigs post.

And I’ll be animating with a layering approach. Meaning I’ll be working on 1 body part a time.

This approach works great for very physical action, breaking down complicated moves into manageable chunks, and animations that have a pretty standard formula like a basic walk.

As the hips and feet are the motor of the movement that’s where we’ll start.

  • Then we’ll tackle the upper body and head
  • Followed by the arms
  • And finally we’ll do a polish pass on the legs for better rotations, toe overlap and to minimize any knee pops.

Animation Walk Cycle Step 1: hips and feet

animation walk cycle hips and feet
  • We can hide the upper body and arms for now
  • On Frame 1 – Bring the cog down a bit to give slack in the legs.
  • Let’s find our gait for the walk by bring the feet out.
  • The front foot will have only the heel contacting.
  • The hips will rotate towards that leading foot
  • And the back foot will have some heel raise and bend in the leg
  • Set a key on frame 25 – as that’s when our cycle repeats
  • Then on frame 13 we’ll do the same pose but we’ll mirror it.
  • We’ll be adjusting the feet and hips more as we go.
  • This is good enough for now.

Contact Pose for Feet and Hips

animation walk cycle contact
  • We can hide the upper body and arms for now
  • On Frame 1 – Bring the cog down a bit to give slack in the legs.
  • Let’s find our gait for the walk by bring the feet out.
  • The front foot will have only the heel contacting.
  • The hips will rotate towards that leading foot
  • And the back foot will have some heel raise and bend in the leg
  • Set a key on frame 25 – as that’s when our cycle repeats
  • Then on frame 13 we’ll do the same pose but we’ll mirror it.
  • We’ll be adjusting the feet and hips more as we go.
  • This is good enough for now.

Passing Pose for Feet and Hips

animation walk cycle passing pose
  • On frames 7 and 19
  • Flatten the contact foot and bring the foot back to the body
  • As this is a cycle the feet will slide in place
  • Lift the second foot high off the ground – bring it close to body
  • Raise the hips up a bit vertically
  • Rotate the hips up high for the lifted leg
  • Add the Extreme weight shift over planted foot from the front view

Down Pose for Feet and Hips

animation walk cycle down pose
  • On frames 4 and 16
  • Drop the hips to the extreme lowest point
  • Rotate the hips down to its extreme lowest point
  • Ease out with the front foot
  • Lift the back foot high from the heel while leaving the toes on the ground and kicking the foot back to its farthest point

Up Pose for Feet and Hips

animation walk cycle up pose
  • On frames 10 and 22
  • Raise the hips to the extreme highest point
  • Rotate the hips up to its extreme highest point
  • Raise the heel a bit with the planted foot
  • Ignore any need for stretch for now on the foot
  • Leave the forward foot where it’s at.
  • For now it’s good enough.

Offsetting Hip Rotations

animation walk cycle offsetting hips
  • First cycle all the curves on the hips and feet.
  • Cycling makes it easy to experiment with your timing
  • Shift all hip rotations at least 1 frame later or earlier
  • I’m going to try the rotate x coming 2 frames later
  • The rotate z 1 frame later
  • And the rotate y coming 1 frame earlier
  • If rotations hit their extremes at different times during your walk it gives a very natural arcs to those body parts.

Foot Arc from the Front View

animation walk cycle front view
  • Before we move on to the upper body let’s check the feet from the front
  • The feet should be closer to the center line on contact
  • And as they go airborne they widen out
  • This gives us arcs from multiple sides.

Foot Pickup

animation walk cycle foot side
  • Its also good at this stage to tweak the foot pickup
  • Right now the computer is in-betweening the heel raise and the rotation – as the foot lifts.
  • We don’t want that.
  • Middle Mouse copy and key from frame 16 to 17.
  • Now lets ZERO out the heel raise on frame 17.
  • And in between this frame ourselves.
  • So we’ll be matching closely the angle of the foot and the toes with the toe bend and foot rotation – giving us a much smoother natural foot pickup.

Animation Walk Cycle Step 2: torso and head

animation walk cycle upper body

Upper body Oppose Hips 

  • With the upper body on the contact pose counter the hips in Y
  • Upper body extreme Rotate X 2 frames after down pose
  • Upper body extreme Rotate Z 2 frames after passing pose

Head and Neck Oppose the Upper Body 

  • On  contact pose Rotate Y on head and neck opposite the body
  • Just like with the upper body – the head will be delayed in its x rotation  compared to the hips.
  • But since it’s attached to the body it will be delayed by at least 1 frame more.
  • The same applies to the rotate z.

Tone Down Body Movement

  • A lot of movements throughout the body feel too exaggerated for a basic everyday walk
  • we will be toning more of this down later – but it’s good that we went extreme first.

Animation Walk Cycle Step 3: arms

animation walk cycle arms

Starting the Arms

The arms in a normal walk are very secondary – very lazy.  Their movement is really driven by what’s happening in the body.

That’s why we are focusing on the arms toward the end of the animation walk cycle.

Because if we changed anything in the spine it would affect the arms.

Now can you guess where all the movement begins in the arm itself?

All the movement comes from the upper arm and shoulder first – So that’s exactly how we’ll start and work our way down.

  • IK/FK

If your arms are in IK – you’ll want to switch to FK to get that natural dependency between the joints that happens in real life.

  • Go to our down pose on frame 4.
  • Rotate the shoulder down first in one axis.
  • Then rotate it forward in another axis.

Upper Arm Swing from the side

All we are going to key first is the swing forward and back in one axis.

  • Go to our next down pose at frame 16
  • and key this arm swing back.
  • We are setting these keys on the down pose as it’s the widest point for the arms in a walk.
  • On the contact pose and the passing pose our arm swing will be easing in to this down position .
  • Providing a natural speed up

Depending on the RIG you may find that rotating the arms becomes a challenge.

After you set a couple of keyframes on all the different rotation axis’s – you might see the arms flip around a crazy amount.

This is called Gimbal Lock which is a whole other tutorial – but just know that the fast way to avoid all of that is to switch the rotation order.

  • Select the control – go to the attribute editor
  • And change the rotation order
  • Put the main axis you want to use – first in the rotation order.
  • In this case we primarily want a swing forward and back in the arm.
  • Thats Z on this rig.
    • Ex. xyz to zyx

Shoulder

  • Like a pendulum the arm reaches its lowest point in the swing at the middle of the swing.
  • So let’s drop the shoulder on the passing positions for a deeper arc.
  • Thats frame 7 and 19
  • And the shoulder will ease in and out of its high position in the contact pose

Elbow and Forearm

  • Just like the rest of our body – not every part of the arm arrives at the same time
  • So we’ll key the extreme for the elbow control 2 frames after the upper arm on Frames 6 and 18
  • This gives us natural overlap and drag to the arm

The hand from side

  • The hand is dragging even further behind than the elbow and forearm.
  • So we’ll key the extreme for the hand 2 frames after that on frame 8 and 20.
  • That’s a 4 frame differences from the top part of our arm.
  • Maybe we’ll delay it less later
  • But for now we’ve keyed the drag swinging forward and back

Adding a Figure 8 to the Arm

Our arm overall is looking good from the side view.

But from the front its wall smacking because we haven’t even considered it yet.

We need arcs in all angles to provide the most fluid movement possible. This is true even if we end up just looking at the side view.

A common way to achieve this is to animate with a figure 8 path of action.

  • Select the upper arm control again
  • And we’re going to Rotate Z first
  • On frame 8, and 20 – we’ll key how far out the arm swings
  • This is one frame after our passing position
  • An arc tracker on the hand is helpful to show us how the figure 8 looks in 3d space.

Rotate Y

  • Then on frame 1, 13, and 25 we’ll key the rotate y
  • It’s how the arm twists as it swings.
  • Our palm tends to turn towards us as our hand is in front
  • And as it swings back it the palm opens up
  • We’re going to add just a bit of twist in the upper arm here so that it overlaps nicely with the hand.

The hand from the front

Obviously the hand needs a bit of this twisting and rolling that we just added to the upper arm.

If we leave it as is – it’s not really overlapping – its smacking walls along our arc.

  • So same deal. Start we’ll start with rotate z.
  • Except this time we’ll work more visually
  • Using and arc tracker you can just watch the hand..
  • Add drag so that the hand points back along the arc where it came from
  • It follows the figure 8 it just reaches the same point a few frames later.
  • You don’t have to add a lot of keys mine are just on 6, 14, 18, and 23
  • For the rotate X – the twist for the palm I’ll key on the same frames as the Z.
  • Close the palm off in the front
  • Open the palm up as it goes back
  • Then I’ll offset the rotate X 3 frames later than the Z
  • We’ll probably need to dial this down by half but it’s good to first exaggerate.

Animation Walk Cycle Step 4: cleanup

animation walk cycle clean up

At this point we’re in the polish phase.

It’s time to clean up last few bits to make it all as smooth and fluid as possible.

That means:

  • Toning down any movements that still feel too exaggerated
  • Cleaning up the knees as much as we can so they don’t pop
  • Adding little bits like toe overlap for extra flexibility.
  • And finally copying arms and feet so the cycle is complete

We can also take this time to experiment with slight offset changes, or adjustments to the feet arcs – and hand arcs.

So let’s do some of that now and we’ll wrap this walking cycle up.

First we should get these legs cleaned up.

The foot arc could use some work  – so let’s tweak that a bit – from the side view and the front view.

Are you ready for this next part?

Its what usually drives animators CRAZY!

Knee POPS

It’s super common obstacle for anyone that’s animated a walk in 3D before.

Why?

Because to fix it you usually have to fight the character RIG.

You have to use a combination of all of your foot attributes – including stretch and maybe even the hip to keep the knee always progressing.

As if there’s a hitch in spacing it will give us a POP.

And people usually do this early on in the animation process rather than at the end.

If we had worried about this when we were still figuring out our hip movements this would have been a back and forth nightmare.

But now it’s not so bad.

We’ll defeat this by just frame by framing and using our stretch

We could keep tweaking the knees, adding finger overlap, trying different extremes for the body – it could go on endlessly in search of perfection.

BUT at some point like if you were working as an animator with a deadline – you’ve got it call it done and move on.

Your Animation Walk Cycle is complete!

animation walk cycle happy animating

At this stage we’ll call it good enough

FAR from the best walking cycle ever but a great exercise to develop your animation skill.

If your cycle looks almost as fluid as in the video above – GREAT JOB!

You’re ready to level up to something more challenging…

Scroll down for a free Run Cycle Tutorial.

If your not ready – give this walk another try… or move on to a different animation and circle back to this.

Refer to our Walk Cycle Tutorials page for all the tutorials, tips, and resources we have on walks. Let it be your guide until your ready to level up.

Trust me nobody ever becomes a pro because their first animations were amazing. It always takes consistent practice.

Until next time – Happy Animating!

Free Step by Step Run Cycle Tutorial

run cycle tutorial giveaway

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