Animating from Pencil to PC: Rough Motion Sketches

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First off, I’m going to have to apologize for the quality of these photographs. I’ve never been much for photography, guessed it, I don’t have a digital camera, and took these with my cameraphone. They still illustrate the basic premises, although the contrast when the light desk is on can make some issues.

For the first in this series of covering animation from pencil drawings to PC art, we’re going to cover basic motion sketches. Before you get started animating, you’ll need basic supplies: A light desk, a non-photo-blue pencil, either some tape or a peg bar, plenty of paper, and a good eraser. If you want, you can print off templates to use to frame your animation, as I did.

Later you’ll also need a good 2B pencil. (You can see up there that I have a Bic mechanical pencil laid out. I’m going to tell you what my animation and art instructors told me: mechanical pencils are the root of all that is evil in this world, and a sharpened wood-and-graphite 2B pencil is your best friend. With that in mind, I work more cleanly and comfortably with a .7mm mechanical pencil. Do as I say, not as I do.)

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Start off by taping or pegging your first sheet of paper to the light desk and turning it on.
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The first thing you need to start off sketching is your starting pose with your non-photo-blue pencil; you don’t want to do detailed drawings. Just keep in mind the basic proportions from your character sheet, and draw just enough to establish your character’s pose, position, and the space he or she will take up. We’re going to be redrawing this too many times to do detail every time, and this first stage allows for a lot of trial and error so you can preview the basics of your motion and correct any visible problems before moving on to further detail.

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Now here’s where the light desk really comes in handy. Tape or peg another sheet of paper over your first drawing; make sure that however you’re aligning your images - whether using the template, just drawing on plain paper, or adding your own hatchmarks – that you have everything aligned properly. You’re going to be removing sheets, adding sheets, shuffling sheets around, etc...and your animation depends on being able to place each drawing in proper position to the others.

When you turn the light table on, you should be able to easily see the first drawing underneath the blank sheet of paper.

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If you remember the lesson on keyframe and in-between basics, the next thing we draw won’t be the next frame in the sequence. Instead you should pick a key point; my animation is going to show my character making a short turn and then moving his arms a bit, so I picked a key point showing when the character is facing fully forward after turning from the starting position.

Draw that key point, using the drawing beneath as a reference for proportion and position. It’ll take some practice, but you’ll get pretty good at eyeballing these things as you go along.

Once you’re done, you should have your first two primary keys.

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Now we need to layer a third piece of paper on top of the other two. Again, you should be able to see both drawings through the top sheet, when the light table is on. If you can’t, you may need to go darken your sketches just a little.

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Now we’re going to do our first in-between. Again, this isn’t a sequential drawing, but instead the drawing that covers the midpoint of the motion between your first and second keys. When in-betweening, you tend to work that way, in successive iterations until you’ve filled enough frames for smooth motion and to match your timing. The more frames you have, the slower but smoother the motion will be; you kind of learn to plan that instinctively, as well, once you get used to understanding how many of these drawings take up a second of motion. Most of the time, if you’re working in Flash for web animation, you’ll work at 12 frames per second. I’m doing mine at 15 frames per second, which is the standard for basic television animation, while cinematic animation is generally done at 30 frames per second.

Back on the topic of the in-between drawing: I don’t know if you remember this little trick, but it helps a great deal in accurately drawing the image that marks the halfway point between starting and ending. What you do is pick major points on your drawing – top of the head, point of the chin, each shoulder, the waist, the neck, etc. – and draw lines connecting those points from the first drawing to the last. Then mark off the halfway point on those lines, and you’ll have where those major points in the drawing should be on your in-between.

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Using those guides and the references of your first two keys, you should be able to sketch your first in-between.
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With that in-between drawing, you now have a basic, jerky three-frame animation, with a starting, middle, and ending point. Now all you have to do is keep in-betweening to smooth the animation out; take this entire process from step six, and using your first key and your first in-between, create a second in-between drawing the position of your character between those two points. Do the same with the first in-between and the second key. Depending on how far your character moves in a time frame, you may be done at that point, or you may need to keep filling in more and more in-between frames.

Keep filling out your in-betweens in rough sketch for now, and in the next lesson we’ll move on to basic detail.