Download this Free Run Cycle Video Tutorial

How to animate a run cycle step by step

Run Cycle - Overview and Workflow


A run cycle is very similar to a walk cycle.  The key poses and general locomotion is all roughly the same – just pushed. Pushing timing, pushed spacing, pushed posing. This definitely helps define a run – as a run.

But what truly separates a run from a walk is that for at least 2 frames both feet will be in the air at some point.

So all we have to do is incorporate this into the poses and adopt the same workflow as in the walk cycle tutorial – a layered/pose to pose workflow.

layered/pose to pose workflow means we’ll be first roughing in our animation with 1 key pose at a time while in spline. Then once our keys are in place we’ll  work on 1 body part at a time ( layering ) until its all polished.

Here are the workflow Steps:

  1. Contact Pose
  2. Passing Pose
  3. Down Pose
  4. Up Pose
  5. Offset Rotations
  6. Cleanup Arms and Legs
  7. Refine and Polish

The sections below will walk you through these 7 steps. Though you’ll probably understand everything best if you review these steps after you’ve watched the free run cycle video tutorial.

Run Cycle - Contact Poses


Like the walk cycle tutorial, the starting point for our run cycle is the contact pose.

However, the body will lean forward and twist far more with a greater stride length. And most importantly, both feet will be in the air for this pose.

Go ahead and pose the entire character with this in mind:

  • Both feet in the air
  • Front Leg is straight for a stretch
  • Hips rotate toward the front leg
  • Chest opposes the hips
  • Arms oppose the leads
  • Head opposes the chest

We’ll also establish how fast this run is going to be with our contact poses. A run’s speed can vary a lot. You could make a super fast 2 frame cartoony run, or you could have your run be even slower than a normal walk. But for this run will be on 8s (8 frames a step).

Here’s the timing:

  • Frame 1 – first contact pose
  • Frame 9 – opposite contact pose
  • Frame 17 – repeat the contact pose on frame 1

Run Cycle - Passing Poses

In a normal run the passing pose defines:

  • The extreme shift in weight side to side over 1 foot
  • A straight in the planted foot
  • A halfway point for the limbs
  • Zero’d Rotate Y on Torso and Hips
  • Rotate Z’s apex in the Torso and Hips

He’res the timing:

  • Frame 5 – first passing pose
  • Frame 13 – opposite Passing Pose

Run Cycle - Down Poses


The down pose, is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the lowest vertical point where the leading foot takes the weight.

This pose specifically defines:

  • The extreme bend forward  (rotate x)
  • A flat leading foot that bends to take the weight
  • A back foots last point of contact with the toes
  • And again its the lowest vertical point

Here’s the timing:

  • Frame 3 – 1st Down Pose
  • Frame 11 – Opposite Down pose

Run Cycle - Up Poses

The up pose in a normal run establishes our airborne hang time. Both feet will be in the air as the character reaches its highest vertical point.

Naturally then the Up Pose defines:

  • The extreme bend back in the body (Rotate X)
  • Two feet both being airborne for the first time
  • And the highest vertical point of the run

Here’s the Up Pose Timing:

  • Frame 7 – 1st up pose
  • Frame 15 – Opposite Up Pose

Run Cycle - Offsets


With all the key poses set, your ready to start offsetting the rotations on your controls.

This means your rotate x, y, and z won’t be all keyed on the same timing. Ex. the entire hip rotate x curve is slid 2 frames later- while the y is slide 1 frame earlier.

It’s an easy way to get a natural feel to your movements by creating figure 8’s.

Hip Offset Timing:

  • Rotate X – 2 Frames later than key poses
  • Rotate Z – 1 Frame later than key poses
  • Rotate Y – 1 Frame earlier than key poses

Chest Offset Timing:

  • Rotate X – 3 Frames later than key poses
  • Rotate Z – 2 Frame later than key poses
  • Rotate Y – 0 Frame earlier than key poses

Head Offset Timing:

  • Rotate X – 4 Frames later than key poses
  • Rotate Z – 3 Frame later than key poses
  • Rotate Y – 1 Frame later than key poses

Run Cycle - Clean Up Arms and Legs

The arms and legs are roughly setup from your key poses but you have to set some in between keys to make the locomotion better.

This is where you:

  • Add/Tweak secondary rotates/ translates like
    • A Translate X arc to the feet
    • Rotate Y and Z on the feet
    • Rotate Y and Z to the arms
  • Adjust offsets for these limbs
  • Push spacing for the limbs as they arc
  • Make sure straights and bends are retained
  • And drop heel rolls in 1 frame for a smooth pickup

Run Cycle - Refine and Polish


At this final stage these are the last few touches:

  • Arc cleanup
  • Knee Pops
  • Any other pops
  • Toe Overlap
  • Hand Overlap
  • Tone Down / Exaggerate

Toning down or exaggerating any part of your animation should probably come first.

Make sure the overall movement feels like you want it to feel before spending a bunch of time on something small like Toe Overlap.

Next, make sure to get rid of any eye sores like knee pops, wall smacks, or floatyness.

Then the rest of the polish phase you can bounce around to add or tweak whatever you want.

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