Blender can be used to animate pretty much anything, from exporting a character into a game system to creating a fully animated movie. It's an excellent tool to learn.
In part one of this series, you learned how to create and import a MakeHuman character into Blender. In this tutorial, you will learn how to animate your character and export an animation into a movie file.
Let There Be Light
An essential part of a good render is lighting. Good lighting can produce an intriguing, life-like scene, while bad lighting can do the complete opposite. In part one we discussed how, just like the Camera, the Lamp is also an object that can be edited. Let's learn about lighting in the Blender world.
Choose the Lamp from the Hierarchy window on the right. Once chosen, a Lamp/Lightbulb icon will appear in the properties window on the bottom right, as shown in the above photo. Click Use Nodes to change your lamp settings to shine brighter, change the color, and choose between a Spot, Area, and Point light. Most animations will be a combination of all of the above to capture the best lighting for your scene.
The Animation View
In part one we briefed on the subject of rendering an image. Animation scenes are rendered individually as images. In order to render an animation in Blender, we will need to save our images as separate clips, which are then combined to create an animated scene. Blender provides a video editor that combines the images.
Let's begin by changing our view from Default to Animation.
Time to get familiar with the animation view. In part one we made our character's bone rig invisible. In order to animate our character, we will need to make it visible. If you look to the far right, across from your character's name, you will see the Eye icon. It will seem grayed out, and once we click the Eye, the bone rig will instantly appear.
On the left side of the screen, we have the Dope Sheet, which will show you all of your animations. Underneath, we have the Graph Editor, which allows you to edit animations individually. Along the bottom is our timeline, where you can play, rewind and edit your scene's length. Hang tight—you'll see all of the above windows in action once we create our first animation.
Our character is shown on the main screen. On the top right, you will see a smaller version of your character in a grid format. Blender allows you to open numerous windows at the same time. If you look at the corner of your current window you will see 3 diagonal lines. You can expand the window by dragging your mouse over it. To remove it, drag it back.
To bring our character to life, we will need to be in Pose Mode. You can move any bone on your character by right-clicking on the bone and using the toggle arrows to rotate and move them.
We want to place our character in a more relaxed position. Choose his right upper arm bone and rotate it by choosing the Rotate tool. Slowly rotate it closer to his body. Now let's move his legs, head, and back by repeating the above process until you are comfortable with his idle position.
Remember to save your project. If you make a mistake, no worries—you can reset his position by selecting all the bones by choosing Bone Groups in the Hierarchy and press Control-G, Control-R to start over. This will put your character back in T-pose.
Are You Winking at Me?
Our first animation will be fun and simple. We will make our character blink and turn his head. We need to right click on our character's Upper lid bone, starting with the left. To choose two bones at once, hold the Shift key and click on the second Upper lid bone. The chosen bones will be highlighted in yellow. You will also see the name on the top right screen as shown below.
Important to Note
To make sure we start our animation correctly, let's double check that you have your Start Frame at the beginning, which should be 1. The End Frame is where your animation will end. The number to the right of that is your Current Frame; let's shorten it by typing 20 in that box. When animating, you will use all three frames repeatedly.
To the right, you will see a red Record button; when pressed, your animations will record automatically. Next to the record button are two keys; let's scroll down and choose LocRot. This will change an object's location while rotating.
Those are the basics to get any animation started, and highlighted below are the items to keep in mind.
Let's begin by pressing the record button. It is a good time to save your project. You should have your Frame rate at 1 and both bones of your character's eyelids chosen. Type the number 3 in your Current frame. Click on the Rotate tool. Rotate your character's eyelids closed.
You will see an alert on the top right informing you that AutoKeying is on. You should now see a yellow line on your timeline; this is your first recorded keyframe. Move your Current Frame to 5. Time to open his eyes, so gently rotate them open. Don't get nervous if you destroy his eyes on your first try. That's why it's important to save your file. Animation is mastered by trial and error.
You can now see your Dope Sheet, Graph Editor, and Timeline at work.
At this point, we should have a blinking animation. Click on the rewind button so that you are at Frame 1 and press Play. Congratulations—you created your first animation! Let's repeat the above process three more times, both opening and closing your character's eyes. Skip ahead three or four frames. Remember to save your file!
One of the great things about the Blender animation timeline is that you can add other unrelated animations as well. After we are all done with a couple of blinking cycles, let's go to Current Frame 5. This should have no animation (no yellow line). We are going to tilt our character's head a bit.
Choose your character's neck bone and tilt it a bit to the right with the rotation tool. This time, we will type I to insert a keyframe. You will see a yellow line appear. Skip ahead to frame 8 and rotate his neck a little more. Continue making small movements by inserting a keyframe and skipping ahead two or three frames until you get to frame 20.
Time to Render
Now it's time to render our animations as images. Let's take this opportunity to create a specific folder in our file titled Image Clips. It will keep our files organized. Go to your Default view, and just as we did in part one, we will render our images, except this time we are rendering numerous images: 20 to be exact.
Double check that your Output folder and image settings are correct. This time, we will choose Animation instead of Render. Depending on your system, this may take anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours.
The Video Editor
Blender has a basic video editor that will help you turn your animation images into a video clip. The video editor is easy to use and can be used for adding images, music, and other videos.
For the purpose of this tutorial, I will show you the basics of turning images into a video. On the bottom bar you will have the Video Sequence Editor, which is where you add videos, images, and sound. On the top left, we need to change our view to Properties.
On the bottom bar, choose Add > Images. Go to the Images folder where you stored all of your rendered animation images and Select all then Add. You will now see a clip. If you hit Play, your images have now turned into a video. It will play very fast, and this is where your frame rate comes into play. The higher the number, the faster the scene will be. You will have to test them until you are completely satisfied.
Let's choose Custom and type in 10 FPS. Now scroll down and under Output choose your folder. You will also see different video formats under Output. What has been proven to work best is H264. You can leave the default to AVI. This will save the video in your default video player. There is no sound so we are pretty much done with settings. Let's click Render Animation. After rendering is complete, you will see a movie file in your folder. Voila! You have created your first animated scene.
Tips & Shortcuts
- You can only select and move bones in Pose Mode.
- Click F12 for an instant render to check position, lighting, etc.
- You can switch to Pose Mode by pressing Control-Tab.
- The higher your Frame Rate, the faster the scene will play.
- Shift + mouse scroll will move your whole character up and down.
- Press I to record a Keyframe.
- To start over, select all of your character's bones and press Control-R, Control-G to go back into T-pose.
- Control-Z will undo your last action.
Above I've added some tips and tricks to help you create your next masterpiece. I hope you enjoyed this Blender animation tutorial.