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How to Animate Flowing Hair in Toon Boom

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to animate your character’s hair frame by frame. Using Toon Boom, you’ll see how you can give a wind-blown effect to your artwork!

1. How Hair Moves

Imagine hair being blown in the wind. You can’t see the wind, but you are able to tell how strong it is and which direction it is blowing by the movement of the hair.

In animating hair, imagine that the wind forces are circles moving along either side of the hair. Imagine that the circles on opposite sides are taking turns to push down at the hair.

You can try this simple exercise. Animate two lines of circles moving from one position to another, and then draw a streak of hair wedged in between the moving circles, as shown below.

single wind direction

Animating hair with circle guides is very useful practice, but they’re only training wheels to help you get acquainted with the skill.

Before proceeding to experiment, it’s very helpful to master animating hair in a single, consistent direction without guides. So be sure to familiarize yourself well with the dynamics of the figure above!

When you’ve gotten a better grasp of imagining the wind forces as you animate hair, you can start exploring with wind going in different directions at different speeds.

multiple wind directions

It might be overwhelming to imagine several different wind forces coming one right after the other. So be sure to cover the most basic movements first!

The figure below is just a breakdown of the different forces that push at the hair in the example we’ll be studying.

Note: I, personally, don’t strictly plan out the specific paths and speeds of each unique wind force. My process is difficult to put in words, but at the start, I just give free rein to the wind that I’m imagining. Then towards the end, I calculate the direction, so that the hair resumes its original shape, resulting in a loop.

wind path breakdowns

2. How to Create the Scene and Guides

Step 1

Open your Toon Boom program and create a new scene by clicking Control-N or going to File > New. Fill in the necessary information. Project Directory is where you would like to save your project in your personal files. Project Name is, as it indicates, the name of your project.

For the scene details, I normally use a custom setting, which you can create by clicking the (+) button on the bottom left.

You may decide for yourself on the Width and Height on your scene, but for this tutorial, the Frame Rate should be 12.

When everything is filled out, click the Create button, and so we may begin.

Create new scene

Step 2

On the timeline, rename your drawing layer to hair.

Using the Brush Tool, draw the first frame of the hair animation. In this case, I went for a ponytail, which will be attached to a portrait of a girl later on.

When drawing the first frame, you imagine that the hair is already in motion, and you’re simply capturing a single moment of it.

Create first drawing

Step 3

Duplicate the hair layer by Right-Clicking it and selecting Duplicate Selected Layers.

Rename the new layer to first_frame. Make sure the new layer is underneath the hair layer. Extend the frame exposure by clicking frame 21 on your timeline and pressing F5.

Change the color of the drawing in the first_frame layer by clicking the select tool, selecting the drawing only in that layer, and clicking the color blue from your default palette.

Create guide layer

Step 4

Enable the onion skin feature by clicking the bottom-most icon on the left toolbar. This enables you to see your previous and next drawings on the timeline.

Go to frame 3 on the hair layer, which is where we will be animating.

Enable onion skin

Now we’re pretty much ready to start! But first, understand what you’re looking at.

When you look at your drawing space, you only see one drawing. In actuality, you’re looking at two separate drawings, which are just duplicates of each other. These drawings consist of:

  • The previous drawing on the same layer (which, take note, will always appear red).
  • The drawing on the first_frame layer directly below (which we turned blue in the previous step).

The previous drawing is simply your guide for the hair movement as you animate.

On the other hand, the first_frame layer serves as a guide with two purposes:

  • To serve as a reference for maintaining consistency in shape volume and length.
  • To serve as your “last frame
    or your end goal as you push your animation along. That means that as your
    drawings change shape after each frame, you want the hair to resume this original position when the end of the animation is
    near. That way, it can transition into a seamless loop, where this set of
    drawings can be played over again without a glitch.
Understand the guide drawings

3. How to Begin Animating

Step 1

The first frame has already been drawn on frame 1. Now, we imagine wind forces pushing at the hair as we draw the frames.

The second frame starts on frame 3; the third on frame 5. Continue animating on the odd-numbered frames.

The reason for skipping frames is to create space for the in-betweens.

Animate

You have the freedom to animate as many frames as you like. For this particular animation, I chose to end after 10 drawings.

Basically, what I do is animate freely after the first frame. I just go with the direction I feel in my gut. When I think it’s time to tie things up, I push the hair back into its original position, which is the first frame.

closer look at animation

Step 2

Next, make sure to copy and paste the first frame onto frame 21.

Step 3

We won’t be needing the first_frame layer anymore, so delete it by selecting the layer and clicking the minus (-) button, located on the set of buttons on top of the layers.

delete first_frame layer

Step 4

Play your animation. To do so:

  1. Click the small black triangle in line with the red bar on your timeline, and then drag it to frame 21.
  2. Enable the Loop Button.
  3. Click Play.
play animation

So this is the resulting animation!

animation work in progress

4. How to Create In-Betweens

Step 1

Delete the even-numbered frames on the timeline (2, 4, 6, until 20).

The empty spaces are where we will insert the in-betweens.

delete even-numbered frames

Step 2

So that you’ll only see one previous drawing and one next drawing, select:

  • View > Onion Skin > Previous Drawing
  • View > Onion Skin > Next Drawing
Alter onion skin

Step 3

An in-between is basically a transition from one drawing to the next. 

Note that the red drawing is the previous frame, and the green one is the next frame. What you want to do is draw the hair in the position and shape between the previous and next frames.

Continue doing this until all in-betweens are filled on frames 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20.

Create in-between

5. How to Color Fill

Step 1

When you’ve finished all the in-betweens, you can take your Paint Tool and fill all the drawings. Also, make sure that all the gaps in your drawings are closed.

Color fill

Step 2

Play your animation!

Animation output

6. How to Assemble the Artwork

Step 1

Prepare the artwork separated into different layers. 

For this artwork, the layers are as follows:

  • the character
  • the table
  • the solid background
Base drawing

Step 2

You may choose to create your character directly in Toon Boom, but if you created it outside of the program, simply import your images by clicking File > Import > Images.

Import images

In the pop-up box, click Browse and select your files.

Check the Vectorize Imported Items if you want your assets converted into vectors, and then select Colour.

When everything’s all set, click OK.

Import images settings

Step 3

Now, simply assemble your elements!

Assemble elements

When arranging elements, the select tool (black arrow) is useful for moving around and editing individual drawings.

If you want to simultaneously edit all the drawings in an animation layer, you want to use the Reposition All Drawings tool

On the left toolbar, long press the black arrow to see the options, and then select Reposition All DrawingsYou can then drag, rotate and resize all the drawings on the hair layer.

Note: I renamed the hair layer to ‘ponytail’ since more hair layers will be inserted.

Reposition drawings

7. Add More Animated Pieces

Not satisfied with the single ponytail, I decided to add bangs and loose streaks of hair on either side of the character’s face.

The same thought process and drawing process goes into animating these additional hair parts. The thing you want to be meticulous about in making additional animations is making sure that the number of drawings is the same as, or divisible by, the number of drawings for the ponytail.

This is so that the whole animation will loop seamlessly without a glitch.

Bangs

Again, apply the same thought process and technique in animating more hair.

Start by drawing the first frame, and then imagine wind forces blowing down on either side of the hair streak. When it’s time to tie things up, calculate the direction of the hair so it resumes its original form.

Be particularly aware of the frame count. For this sample, the ideal number of frames would be 20 so that it loops simultaneously with the other animated parts.

Additional hair frames
Additional hair animation

8. How to Export the Animation

When everything’s positioned and assembled correctly, we’re ready to export!

Go to File > Export > Movie

Export

Click Browse to select your file destination and type your file name.

Make sure the export range covers only the number of frames included in your animation—in this sample’s case, frames 1 to 20. Click OK.

Now, you’ve got a .mov file of your animation! You can use different programs to convert it into a GIF or other video formats, such as Photoshop or Premiere Pro.

Export settings

That’s a Wrap! Wonderful Work!

Reading and studying how other animators create their animations can only help you go so far. Applying the techniques you’ve learned and practicing with your own bare hands is really the way to advance!

I hope you picked something up from this tutorial. Now go forth and try for yourself!

Finished output