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Animating the Run Cycle
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Animating the Run Cycle

June 18, 1999 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

Part 3 - Begin

Now that you are happy with your setup it is time to begin the run.

I am going to assume a 20 to 30 frame cycle is what you have to animate with. Should you have less frames to work with you can adjust the timing to suit your needs.

First thing I do is create a dynamic run pose on the first frame. This pose is usually, the just-about-to-land on the right or left foot pose. (see figure 2)

Once I have a good first frame that I feel looks dynamic, I copy that frame to the end of my animation range. This will ensure that the loop is seamless. The only important thing to remember is to render or export the range from the first pose to the frame right before you just copied that pose to. So in a 30 frame example frames 1-29 would get exported.

Figure 2


The most important thing to animate first is the hips. I begin by fleshing out the timing by moving the hips. I animate the forward motion and the up and down motion first. Once those are solidly in place, you can begin to further refine the hip's movement by adding the rotations. The hips rotate up and down and forward and back for each stride. As one leg rotates forward the hip also rotates with that leg. As the leg compresses on the hit the hip rotates down on the hit side and up to compensate for the lifting leg on the other. (see figure 3) Note the Opposite angles of the shoulders and the hips. Also note the line of action should be strong and dynamic.

Figure 3

Study live action or other animation to see the subtle moments that take place in the hips.


Once the hips are animated, it is time to animate the legs. Usually, it can be enough to animate one leg cycle and then copy the animation to the other leg and offset its animation. When animating the legs and feet try to put some personality into the stride. Does the character swing his foot wide when he comes off the ground? Does the character have bow legs? Little things like curving the foot as the character takes a stride can add some looseness to the look. A classic example of curved feet is the way goofy runs. His feet almost flop around. Extremely loose feet.

Also, remember to use squash and stretch in the legs to show the weight of the character. While animating the legs you may need to go back and make readjustments to the hips. Just remember that if you alter the first frame you will need to go back and recopy that first frame pose to the last frame.

NOTE: Also when animating, I like to try and keep it simple and block out the entire range with a few set keys. This helps me to quickly see the motion and timing and weather or not the animation works as a whole. Then I go back and refine on a per frame basis, making small adjustments and whatnot to ensure consistency and tightness. Things like making sure the feet are planted perfectly and follow a perfect path are some of the last steps I take. Also things like subtle foot rotation would fall into the refining stage of development.


Once you have the hips and legs working, more or less, it is time to add the spine rotations. Remember that the spine always, for the most part, works opposite to the hips. So for example, if the character is posed with his right leg extended and his hip is rotated to further extend the leg, then the spine will be rotated in such a way making the left shoulder come forward and the right shoulder will come back. For the most part, the upper shoulder line works opposite to the lower pelvic line. This is standard knowledge when drawing the human figure and should also be applied when animating it.

Again try to set only the extreme positions and work rough.


The head also can help define the personality of the run. On each hit it will bounce a little and you try to emphasize the weight of the character by adding some bob into the head. The head bob usually happens a few frames behind the initial impact of the foot on the ground. Do plenty of test renders and watch the head to make sure you get your timing right.

A head that it pointed up at the sky could be used to show fear or panic, or one pointed down may show ignorance or determination. (see figure 4)

Figure 4

Most runs usually have the head looking where the character is running. And for the most part it tends to remain upright regardless of the rotation of the lower body.


The arm swing is one of the most important things you can animate in a run. It adds so much personality to the character that I can't stress it enough. As a rule of thumb the arms will swing in a pattern that is opposite to the legs. So for example as the right leg is forward the right arm will be on the back swing.

However, the arms will change according to the type of run you are animating. If the character is running for his life and scared you may want to animate the arms up in air flailing around. If the character is running while holding heavy objects you may want to animate the arms out in front of him, with little amount of swing.

Regardless, the arms give life to the run and you should have some idea of what they are going to do based on what your character is thinking. I suggest experimenting to see what results you achieve, and how dramatic a run can change just be the way the arms are animated.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 6 Next

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