Now we'll use some of Blender's animation tools to create a simple action: a wave of the arm. This will be a very simple action that can be blended in with the walkcycle we'll create later.
Setting up the workspace
Up until now, we've been using primarily the 3D Window and the Buttons window. That's all we've really needed so far. Now, we're going to use some more window types while simultaneously viewing the 3D Window and Buttons window.
- The default workspace we've been using so far looks like this.
- Click RMB on the thin dark border between the 3D Window and the Buttons window. Choose Split Area.
- A vertical line will appear, this will be the dividing line for the new window. Move it where you'd like.
(Not the Author: In Blender 2.5 splitting the window is done via the hash marks in the upper right hand corner of a window)
- A new 3D Window was created. You can grab the border to resize the window.
(Not the author: First of all, you have to move the cursor up to split the 3-D window. If you move it down, your panel screen is split instead. Secondly, I extended the new window too far down and am now stuck with it. It'd be really nice if someone included here how to resize the window back up or remove it completely.)
- Change this window to the Action Editor by choosing Action Editor in the Window Type menu in the header of the new window.
The Action Editor is where we will create individual actions: blinking the eyes, nodding the head, a walkcycle, and so on. Later we will mix the actions in another window.
Split the buttons window into a timeline:
- Use RMB on the right or left edge of the Buttons window and Split Area. You can change the orientation of the split by pressing either MMB or ⇆ Tab.
- Split the Buttons window and change the new window to a Timeline window.
Animating a "wave" with the Action Editor
We'll start out with a simple action to demonstrate the animation tools: a quick wave. Later, we'll mix this action with a walkcycle.
- Pose the arm. I started by enabling Auto IK to get the arm roughly in place, then turned off Auto IK and individually rotated the arm bones.
With the bones in position, we can add keys. A key describes the orientation of a bone: its location, rotation, and size. Generally speaking, you only want to add keys for bones that actually did anything. In other words, we don't want to add any keys for the master bone or the leg bones because we didn't move them.
- Select the bones that you moved for this pose - in my case, it was all the arm bones (from upper_arm.l down to finger2.l).
- Insert a LocRot (location and rotation key) for the selected bones with I → LocRot.
Take a look at the Action Window. It has several rows, or channels, and each has a name that corresponds to a bone in the selected armature. Each channel is connected to the bone it is named after. When you select a bone, the corresponding channel is selected, and when you select a channel, the corresponding bone will be selected. In this image, the lower_arm.l channel is selected.
Also, note that some yellow diamonds popped up. These are the keys. They are lined up along the green line, which indicates what frame of the animation we're on. Currently we're on frame 1, and the keys were all added on frame 1.
Moving to a different frame
There are several ways to change which frame we're on in Blender, and which way you use depends on what window you happen to be closest to or if your hand happens to be on the keyboard. We can change frames by:
- using LMB on the green line, either in the Action Editor or in the Timeline.
- using the arrow keys:
- → moves ahead one frame.
- ← moves back one frame.
- ↑ moves ahead 10 frames.
- ↓ moves back 10 frames.
- Clicking on the frame counter in the header of the Timeline or Buttons window to move by the number by single frames, or drag the button to change the number quickly.
There are several indicators as to which frame we are currently on. The frame number is shows in:
Finishing the wave
- Using any of the above methods, move to frame 5.
We've already inserted keys with I. When working on an animation, it can get tedious to select each bone and add a key. Instead, we can have Blender automatically insert a keyframe whenever we move, rotate, or scale a bone.
- To enable auto keyframing, click the "Record" button in the Timeline window. Blender will automatically insert a keyframe any time we move or rotate a bone. In other words, we won't have to remember which bones we moved and to insert keys for them.
- To see how this works, rotate the lower_arm.l bone outward to wave the arm.
After rotating the bone, look back at the Action Editor, and note the following:
- The keys were automatically inserted for the arm bones that were moved, in this case, only the lower_arm.l bone.
- No key was inserted for the other arm bones, since they weren't moved in this frame.
- The old keys are deselected (white) and the new keys are now selected (yellow). Note that the keys from frame 1 are still selected since they didn't have any new keys added.
Important: Bones remain where they were until you tell them otherwise. Since we did not set another key for the hand.l bone in frame 5, it will stay in the same position as it was in frame 1.
- Move the frame slider (the vertical green line) to frame 1 and back again to frame 5 to view the motion.
- Now move to frame 9.
- In the Action Editor, some familiar selection commands work:
We're going to duplicate the keys from frame 1 and move the duplicates to frame 9. If you need to see the keys a little better, you can zoom and pan in the Action Editor:
- Zoom in on the keys in the Action Editor with Wheel .
- Pan the Action Editor view with MMB so the keys come into view.
Now let's duplicate the keys in frame 1 and move them to frame 9, so the Wave action starts and ends in the same position.
- Deselect all keys with A.
- Bounding-box select all the keys in frame 1 (B, draw a rectangle around the keys with LMB .
- Duplicate the selected keys with ⇧ ShiftD.
- This should seem familiar - we've automatically entered grab mode after duplicating! Move the duplicated keys to frame 9. Don't worry if it's not exact.
- Snap the selected keys to the closest frame with ⇧ ShiftS. Now the keys are exactly on frame 9.
- Move the frame slider back and forth from frame 1 to 9 to see the animation.
- At the bottom of the Action Editor is a text box labeled "AC:". Name the action something meaningful here.
We split the interface into an Action Editor and a Timeline window so we can access some animation tools. We created an action (a quick wave) by moving the bones and inserting keyframes in the Action Editor.
Next: Animating a walkcycle
Previous: Final rig adjustments