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[Animator Cathy Feraday Miller, who has worked on major feature films and video games, shares her techniques for animating quadrapeds in walk and run states, presenting both reference materials and her own animations in various states of completion.]
Animating animals is usually fun, but can often be complicated and technical. Figuring out what to do with all those legs can really trip up an animator. We can animate human-shaped characters a lot easier than multi-legged beasts because we have an intuitive knowledge of the way bipeds move.
It is easy for an animator to act out a motion when the character moves like us; feeling the action 'in the body' helps us understand how to animate it. So what happens when the character is a quadruped and you don't have that intuitive feel at your disposal? How do you make that movement believable? Suitable reference and a sophisticated media player is the place to start.
Luckily for the animation community, there is a wealth of reference material that can help. I'll walk you through my process for animating quadruped locomotion and share classic references that will help you deconstruct the fundamentals of the four gaits: walk, run, trot and gallop. I'll also share an example of my own 3D walk animation and offer technical tips for creating believable quadruped locomotion cycles.
With a media viewer that can scrub single-frame backwards and forwards, like QuickTime, you can watch the movement frame by frame. Drawing thumbnail images with directional notes helps you synthesize the information.
There are now lots of websites out there that put up live-action animal footage, such as the Rhino House human and animal locomotion website, which has a built-in player that can scrub their video reference material (click the image below to check out their website and viewer). Thanks to the internet, finding reference and getting into it to see what is going on is the easy part. The hard part is converting that information into something that makes sense to the animator and for the character that is to be animated.
Following a process speeds up your workflow. Before I get into the creative part of animating, I usually have all of my research done. Gathering and absorbing all of the technical details and reference material beforehand frees me up to get into the creative flow of animating, with easy access to my reference material. My process is something like this:
1. Consider what animal most closely resembles the beast I need to animate.
2. Search for reference material. Here are the sources I find useful:
3. Analyze the reference material and find the section of the footage that is most useful
4. Create thumbnail drawings to assist with my animation, including notes on direction and any unusual qualities I can see in footage.