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Character Animation: How to Animate a Backflip in Blender

The End Result


Before You Start Animating

Step 1

The first and most important step is to find good reference video for
your animation.

Without reference you would get lost in the process and it would be very
difficult to complete the shot. 

 It is like a blueprint or a plan which
helps you to
analyze the movement, timings, and makes you clear on how to achieve the
desired result.

Search for reference
Search for reference

Step 2

Make a note of the key poses by drawing them. These are the extreme
points of the character in its path of motion. The drawings is just for
your understanding so it
doesn’t need to be perfect.

Note down key poses
Make a note of key poses

Step 3

The character and rig I used for this tutorial is ‘Body Mechanics Rig
V1.0
‘ by nocemperor and is available for free at Blendswap.com. The model is rigged using Blender‘s own Rigify system so the controls will be familiar.

Download free character rig
Download free character rig

Linking and Tweaking the Character

Step 1

If all the models, environments, characters and animation are
created in one file, then it will become messy and complicated to
handle.
Even if you make different files for each shot, and want to change
something about the character model, then you’ll have to do it in each
file. 

It’s great to have things separated. The characters and other models
must be linked in (similar to import), in a separate file where you animate them. 

This way if you make changes in the original character
file,
then those are reflected in all files where the character is linked in.
Only the animation is local and made proxy, and the file will be smaller
in size too.

File setup for animation
File setup for animation

Step 2

Open Blender and in a new file, press A to select all objects and then press
Del to delete them.

Delete default objects
Delete default objects

Step 3

Click on the File menu and select Link, to link in the character model.

Linking a character
Linking a character

Browse for the character file, and click on it.

Character File
Character File

Within that file there are many folders. Select Group. Usually it is a common
practice for modelers and riggers to group the character models and armature.

Open Group folder
Open Group folder

Finally select the character group. I chose blue.

Select character group
Select character group

The character group containing model and armature is now linked into the new
file. You cannot edit the character from here, to do so you need to open the
original character file.

Character Linked in
Character Linked in

Step 4

To animate you must make the armature editable as proxy. Click on the Object
menu in the header of the 3D viewport and select Make Proxy…

Make armature a proxy object
Make armature a proxy object

Select rig_BMR-Blue (the rig or the armature object).

Select armature object
Select armature object

The armature object appears and can be used in pose mode for animation.

Posable armature object
Posable armature object

Step 5

With the armature selected, in the header of 3D viewport, select Pose Mode or
press Ctrl-P.

Select Pose Mode
Select Pose Mode

Step 6

Right click on the foot.ik.l bone to select it. In the Properties panel,
slide down the value of auto_stretch to 0.00. This will disable the stretching
of the leg. 

If the bone properties appear under Rig Main Properties
panel, then locate the Auto-Stretch IK (foot.ik.l) slider and reduce it
to 0.00

Disable auto stretch
Disable auto stretch

Do the same for the other leg. Right click on the foot.ik.r bone to select it
and set the auto_stretch to 0.00.

Disable auto stretch
Disable auto stretch

Step 7

Click on the record button to enable auto-keyframe. This will insert key
frames automatically whenever a bone or object is rotated, moved or scaled.

Enable auto keyframe
Enable auto keyframe

Step 8

Click on the screen layout button and select Animation.

Switch to Animation layout
Change the screen layout to animation

This layout has necessary windows which are helpful during animation. On the
left side is the Dope Sheet where you can see and edit the keyframes of
the animation.

Animation layout
Animation layout

Animation

Step 1

Ensure you’re on first frame. Press Shift-left arrow to go to frame one.
Alternatively you can use the playback buttons in the timeline. 

Bring the mouse
back on to the 3D viewport. Press A to select all bones. Press Alt-G and then
Alt-R to reset
the location and rotations of the bone to default. 

Since auto-keyframe button is
enabled, keyframes are created for the current pose at current frame.

Go to first frame
Go to first frame

Step 2

The Dope Sheet is like an explorer pane where you can see keyframes for all objects.
But you need to focus only on the armature and its bone, so click on the
dropdown list and select Action Editor.

Switch to Action Editor
Switch to Action Editor

You can rename the action as backflip. Press the F button so
that this action
is saved in the file. Make sure the Summary button is pressed. 

This will
bring
a summary keyframe on top, marked in orange.

Action Editor settings
Action Editor settings

Step 3

In the 3D viewport, press 1 (numpad) to get into front view. Press 5
(numpad) to toggle off perspective mode. Secondary-click on the arm bones and then press
R to rotate them and bring them down. 

I’m creating a default starting
pose for the character.

Rotate the bones
Rotate the bones

Select the finger bones and press S and move the mouse. This will not scale
the fingers but will make them curl. Primary-click to confirm. You can rotate them
to make them look relaxed.

Relax pose
Relax pose

Step 4

Press Shift-up arrow to skip 10 frames. You can also drag on the timeline to
go to frame number 11.

Skip 10 frames
Skip 10 frames

Step 5

Press Ctrl-3 (numpad) to get into left view or just 3 (numpad) to get into
right view. Secondary-click on the torso bone to select it. Press G and move it
down. Primary-click to confirm. 

Similarly select and move the arm bones to create
the first key pose. Rotate the head bone so that it is looking straight. In the
Dope Sheet you’ll notice that the keyframes are automatically inserted
for the bones, on the current frame.

Pose the character
Pose the character

Step 6

Press Shift-up arrow again to skip ahead ten frames. In the side view select
the bones and rotate or move them to create the next key pose. 

Check from the
front as well. Press 1 on the numpad to get into front view.

Skip 10 frames and create next key pose
Skip 10 frames and create next key pose

Step 7

Move ahead ten frames again and create the next keypose by rotating and moving
the torso bone and the foot ik bones. 

Right now I am
focusing only on creating key poses and not the timing. That is why each key
pose are in regular gap of ten frames. I’ll adjust the timing later.

Skip another 10 frames and create next key pose
Skip another 10 frames and create the next key pose

Step 8

Similarly create key poses with gap of ten frames. How high the character
should be and how much should it go backwards, all should be well referred. 

You
might need to adjust again and again to achieve realistic flow of motion. To
rotate the character use the torso bone and the foot ik bones.

Create key poses in intervals of 10 frames
Create key poses in intervals of 10 frames

Step 9

Go to the second last pose where the character touches the ground. Move the
mouse in the dope sheet editor and press I to bring the Insert keyframes menu.
Select All Channels to insert keyframes for all bones. 

I want to have keyframes
for all bones at this point so that any further animation will have this point
as the default position of all bones.

Insert keyframes for all bones
Insert keyframes for all bones

Step 10

Move ahead ten frames and make the character stand up straight.

Final pose
Final pose

Step 11

Press Shift-left arrow to go to first frame or use the playback controls.

Go to first frame and play the animation
Go to first frame and play the animation

Press Alt-A to play the animation. Alternatively you can use the play button in the playback controls.

You’ll see that the animation is off in timing. But this is to check the path
of the motion.

Right now the legs moves before making the jump and the animation
needs some in-between frames.

Animation preview
Animation preview

Step 12

Press Esc to stop the animation. Go to first frame. Secondary-click on the first
keyframe of foot.ik.l bone in the Action Editor to select it. 

Press Shift-D to make a
duplicate and move the mouse so that it is on the 11th frame. Primary-click to
confirm. 

Ensure the new keyframes is aligned with rest of the keyframes of
the 11th frame. Similarly do the same for foot.ik.R.

Tweaking the animation
Tweaking the animation

Step 13

Drag the timeline to go to frame number 16, i.e. in between 11 and 21.
Rotate the arm bones so that they come in front.

Creating in-between pose
Creating in-between pose

Press Alt-A to play the animation. You will see that the feet are better and
the arms have a nice swing. Next I will correct the timing.

Animation preview
Animation preview

Step 14

Secondary-click on the any of the summary keyframe to select it. You’ll see that all
frames under it are selected. Press G to move it right or left to make them fast
or slow. 

The closer keyframes are to each other, the faster is the animation. This is a very crucial step so take time to perfect the move.
Press Alt-A again and again to preview the timing.

Adjust the timing of keyframes
Adjust the timing of keyframes

Step 15

Reduce the end frame to a number closer to last key frame. In the timeline,
drag the green line to the frame and press E to make it End frame. 

Alternatively you can directly edit and type in the End frame number.

Set end frame number
Set end frame number

Press Alt-A to play the animation. This was a basic tutorial on character
animation. You further refine and tweak to make it much better by adding follow through
motions, asymmetry etc.

Animation preview
Animation preview