Download this Free
Run Cycle Video Tutorial
How to animate a run 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
All we are going to key first is the swing forward and back in one axis.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It’s super common obstacle for anyone that’s animated a walk in 3D before.
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.
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!
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