The Timeline window, identified by a clock icon, is shown by default in the SR:4-Sequence screen layout, just above the Buttons window.
It is not really an “editor”, it’s more like the Outliner window, an “informational” window, with a few and limited editing features.
Here you can have an overview of the animation part of your scene: what is the current time, either in frames or in seconds, where are the keyframes of the active object, what are the start and end frames of your animation, markers, etc...
It as VTR-like controls, to playback the animation, change the current frame and frame range, scroll between the keyframes ("VTR" stands for Video Tape Recorder) .
This window is unidimensional – it only represents the time in your scene, along its horizontal axis. As frames are the fundamental unit of time in Blender, the timeline displays by default frame numbers, at its bottom.
The animation range is materialized by the lighter shade of gray (in Timeline window, from frame 1 to frame 200).
The current frame
The current frame is materialized by the thick green vertical line (the so-called “time cursor”, in Timeline window, it is at frame 100). You can move it by clicking LMB anywhere in the window, and you can even scroll forth and back the animation by clicking and dragging with this same mouse button. The actual frame number (or second value) is drawn near the pointer when you click or drag the time cursor – and obviously, it is always in the “current frame” numeric field of the header.
Some keyframes of the active object (or active Ipo, etc.) are materialized by vertical colored lines at the frame they occur. I think only three different Ipo types are drawn this way:
- Non-action Object keys (location, rotation, etc.)
- Material keys (diffuse/specular/mirror colors, etc.)
- dark cyan
- keys forming actions (always pose of armature’s bones, but also possibly objects’ and shapes’ Ipos)
Some Ipo type keys aren’t materialized at all (e.g. Texture or Constraint ones).
In (Timeline window), we have two “object” keyframes (frames 10 and 150), one “material” keyframe (frame 40), and no “action” keyframe.
Markers are materialized as small triangles, with their name near them.
Color codes are:
- white line, black text: unselected markers
- yellow line, white text: selected markers
This menu controls what you see and how you see it:
- Maximize Window (CtrlArrowup)
- This standard command makes this window full-screen. When it is maximized, this entry turns to Tile Window, to restore it to its previous size (CtrlArrowdown).
- Lock Time to Other Windows
- This is a cross-windows feature concerning all “time” windows (i.e. all windows which represent the time along their X axis). All these windows that have this option enabled will always show the same “time range”. When you modify it in one window (either by paning or scaling along its X axis), all the others are immediately updated.
- View All (↖ Home)
- This standard command will horizontally zoom the display to show the whole animation range (as defined by the Start and End frames).
- Center View (C)
- This standard command will center the display on the current frame.
- Jump to Prev Key (CtrlPageDown)
- Jump to Next Key (CtrlPageUp)
- These commands will make the cursor jump the the nearest previous or next keyframe of the active object.
- Jump to Prev Marker (PageDown)
- Jump to Next Marker (PageUp)
- These commands will make the cursor jump the the nearest previous or next marker.
- Only Selected Data Keys
- I think that when this is enabled, the Timeline should only draw the selected keyframes… But actually, it seems to always draw the keyframes of the active element!
- Show Seconds/Literal|Show Frames (T)
- By default, the time is materialized as frames, as it is internally in Blender. This menu entry enables you to rather show the time in seconds (based on the frames per second setting of the scene).
- Very often storyboards are laid out in seconds. Choosing this display unit makes things a little easier than doing all that multiplying in your head.
- Play Back Animation
- Plays the animation from the current frame to end, and then cycling from start to end until you click the pause button (or hit Esc).
- All windows matching the criteria set in the Playback menu (see below) will display the animation.
This menu concerns mainly the markers topic, with two other useful options:
- Set as End (E)
- Set as Start (S)
- Well, as you might have guessed, these two commands respectively set the current frame to be the start or end frame of your animation…
This menu controls how the animation is played back, and where.
- Continue Physics
- The tool tip says: “During playback, continue physics simulations regardless of the frame number”. Don’t understand what it means…
- Set Frames/Sec – This will pop-up a numeric field where you can specify a new fps setting.
- Note: Remember the warning of the introduction about modifying this setting after having created some animations – it will speed up/down all existing ones…
- Sync Playback to Frames/Sec
- When enabled, it will force the playback to synchronize with the expected frame rate.
- Note that when Blender has enough power to compute more frames per second than needed, it will stick to the specified frame rate. So this setting has only an effect when the animations are too heavy to be computed in real time: by default, Blender will render all frames, effectively slowing down the playback. With this option enabled, it will drop (i.e. not compute them) as much frames as necessary to keep the normal playback rate.
- See also the “sync audio” button of the header, below.
The other options concerns what type of windows should be included in the playback initiated by this Timeline window. Obviously, the more windows are involved, the more CPU power you’ll need…
- Sequencer Windows
- When this option is set, all the Video Sequence Editor windows are included in the playback (whatever is there “display” mode: Sequence or one of the preview ones…).
- See also the “sync audio” button of the header, below.
- Image Windows
- When this option is set, all the UV/Image Editor windows are included in the playback.
- Buttons Windows
- When this option is set, all the Buttons Windows are included in the playback (this allows you to see the evolutions of the values of the animated settings).
- Animation Windows
- When this option is set, all the animation windows (i.e. the Ipo Curve Editor, Action Editor and NLA Editor ones) are included in the playback.
- All 3D Windows
- When this option is set, all the 3D View windows are included in the playback.
- Top-Left 3D Window
- When this option is set, only the top-left-most 3D View window is included in the playback.
The header controls mostly mimic VTR ones:
- (I) The animation range
- The first three controls concern the start and end frames of animation.
- The start and end frames! See also the Set as Start/Set as End entries of the Frame menu above.
- Short for "Playback Range". This parameter is specified by Start/End, and are “linked” to the ones set in the Anim panel of the Scene context, Render sub-context (F10) – they are the same values. However, when you enable this Pr button, you can specify a new, temporary animation range, only available/effective for the realtime playbacks (initiated by the “play” button of the timeline, or the AltA shortcut). This is much useful when you have to work on a small piece of a big (long) animation!
- (II) The current frame
- The third numeric field displays, and allows you to modify, the current frame (as materialized by the green line cursor).
- (III) VTR buttons
- These five buttons allow you to navigate in your animation.
- The center “play” button
- Start the playback! When playing, it turns to a “pause” one, which… pauses (or stops) the playback.
- The first and last buttons
- respectively, send you to the start and end frame.
- The other two
- respectively send you to the previous/next shown keyframe.
- (IV) Automation
- The “record” red-dot button enables something often called as “automation”: it will add and/or replace existing keyframes of the active object when you transform it in a 3D view. Note that this work even during playback – the playback is just suspended during the transformations, and resumed once you have validated them.
- When you enable this option, another drop-down Auto-Keying Mode list appears to its right, controlling the automation mode:
- Replace Keys
- This will only replace existing keyframes, never add new ones. Hence, your transformations will only have an effect when you do them at an already keyed frame.
- Add/Replace Keys
- This will replace existing keyframes, if any, or add new ones.
- You’ll find the same options (Auto-Keying Enabled button, which should be equivalent to the “record” one, and the Auto-Keying Mode drop-down list) in the Edit Methods tab of the User Preferences window. However, these ones seem to have no effect!
- But just below them, in the same User Preferences window, you have three toggle buttons that control which curves are automatically keyed by this tool:
- will add a key to all already existing Ipo curves.
- will add keys only when needed (i.e. only to Ipo curves controlling properties that are changing).
- Use Visual Keying
- This is to be used with objects or bones that have certain constraints that can affect the key values. For example, setting a key on an object with a Copy Location constraint would normally set the key for it’s unconstrained location. Enabling this option causes the key to be set for the constrained location.
- Note that automation only works for transform properties (objects and bones), in the 3D views (i.e. you can’t use it e.g. to animate the colors of a material in the Buttons window…).
- (V) Inserting and deleting keys
- The two “key” buttons allow you to insert (I) (orange background) or delete (AltI) the keys of the active object defined for the current frame.
- This is not an easy-to-understand nor to-use feature! It tries to use the “context of the largest area” (an “area” is a Blender’s window). E.g if your largest window is an Ipo Curve Editor in Material “context”, keys will be added to/removed from the active material Ipo curves. If it’s a 3D view, you’ll get the same Insert Key/Delete Key menu as if you hit I/AltI in that 3D view…
- (VI) Synchronize with the VSE sound
- Enabling the “speaker” button has basically the same effect as enabling both the Sync Playback to Frames/Sec and Sequencer Windows options of the Playback menu. The playback now includes the sequencer, and uses its audio output as time-reference. Most useful during video editing…