Let's Learn Blender - Ep 5 Animation

  8 mins read  

Today’s post will take the bone armature laid out in Episode 4 and animate it to create a walking animation for our model. You can use this video as an introduction to animation.

Note: I will assume some basic understanding of the tool in these tutorials - if something is unclear let me know in the comments and I will address it

Dope sheet mode

When I first began animating my model I was doing it from within the timeline pane on the bottom of the screen. While this would work what I really wanted was the ability to create different animations by name so I could import then later into Unity and be able to play them individually. The mode to do this is the Dope Sheet mode. Once inside this mode I switched to the Action Editor which gave me a toolbar to create and name my animations.

This dang F button

When I first created an animation and named it I ended up hitting the + button by accident which duplicated my animation. While trying to delete the duplicated animation I ended up hitting the F button, of which I had no idea what it was doing. This led to me having to do a deep-dive on how Blender releases objects. What I found is that generally Blender, on close, will garbage collect anything that is not referenced or being used. In order to prevent this from happening the F button creates a fake object upon which Blender will attach the given thing to. In this case when I hit F on the animation Blender created a fake object so it would remain. This meant that in order to delete the duplicated animation I had to go into the NLA editor, remove all references to the animation, then close Blender. Upon re-opening Blender the duplicated animations were now gone. Moral of the story is make sure you use F when creating animations so Blender won’t delete them on close.

First frame

For the first frame of the animation I picked a pose that represented the last point on one side of the body in a walk animation.

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After creating a new animation and naming it I first selected all bones on the armature A then hit I to bring up the insert keyframe popup and finally selected LocRot to insert all the selected bones with both location and rotation attributes.

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Generally unless you are physically moving the bones you can use Rotation in the keyframe popup so that only the rotations are added in the keyframe.

Additional frames

Now that I had the first frame created I then manipulated the bones slightly then re-added all the bones in a new frame at position 40. I quickly realized that I needed a reference position for the leg positions so I added cubes on the sides for distance and cubes for the initial position of the feet.

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Following this method I created 2 more keyframes to complete the walk cycle for one side of the body.

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Now I was ready to transition to the other side of the body and ultimately get back back to the original keyframe position. To create mirrored animations I created cubes for leg placement guidelines and re-created the leg positions on the opposite side of the model. Finally I was ready to return to starting position. To do this I went back to frame 0, hit A to select all bones, hit Ctrl-C to copy the current pose, then went 40 frames further and hit Ctrl-V to paste the pose. After the pose was pasted I then had to add them all as a new keyframe.

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You can use the Left/Right arrows to navigate the timeline by single frames or Up/Down arrows to navigate to next keyframe. Holding Shift while using the Up/Down` arrows will advance 10 keyframes.

If you copy a post you can paste a flipped version of that pose by using Ctrl-Shift-V. This only works if you are using the XXXX.L and XXXX.R naming convention.

Wrapping up

Once all the animations were setup I then had to set the Start and End frames on the timeline to match my total animation length. If I didn’t do this my animation would pause while it advanced until the end. In order to test the animation out in Pose Mode, I hit Alt-A which will play the animation until you hit Alt-A again. There were a few things I wanted to adjust when playing the animation so I went back to that keyframe, edited the bones, selected all of them with A and hit I to override the bones in the current keyframe. With that my first animation was complete!

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Adding eyes

Once I created the animation I wanted to go back and add the missing antennas and the eyes since those are critical parts to the model. To start with I created two spheres, positioned them, applied the Decimate modifier then merged them with my mesh using Ctrl-J by selecting the sphere then the Ant mesh. After merging the meshes I also went back to add the eye vertices to the Head bone so it would move with the head. I don’t intend to have the eyes move currently so no new bones were needed.

Once you have created an animation you may need to add new items to your mesh that will require new bones. You can easily add new objects to the scene then merge them with your mesh.

Adding antennas

Now that the eyes were in place I then needed to add the antennas. Using the Path method outlined in Episeode 2 I added a new Path and setup both the Bevel and Taper objects.

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From there I curved the path to make the bend in the antenna. This was easy to do by simply moving the vertices of the path. Once the path was in place I was then able to adjust the width along the path using the Taper object to create the variable width.

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From here it was just a matter of converting to a mesh, mirroring then merging with the main body mesh.

Antenna bones

Up until this point I hadn’t edited the main bone armature since I created it but it was now time to do so since I wanted to make the antennas move. First I created a new bone then parented it to the Head. Once in place I extruded it E to create the second bone after the curve connected to the first.

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Once created I renamed them to match the XXXX.L and XXXX.R naming convention. Since ants have two antennas I needed to create a duplicate antenna on the opposite side of the head. To do so I selected both bones then duplicated them Shift-D followed my mirroring them to the other side of the head Ctrl-M,X.

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Now that the bones were complete I went back to the armature to add 4 new vertex groups with the names as the new bones I added. Once the vertex groups where in place I then edited the mapped vertices by selecting the new antennas mesh vertices and Assigning them to the appropriate Vertex Group. The eyes and antennas are now complete!

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  1. Use Action Editor in Dope Sheet mode to see and manage animations.
  2. Inserting keyframes using Rotation is generally fine unless you are manipulating the location of the bone.
  3. It’s important to understand Blender garbage collection - read up on that to avoid losing work!
  4. Adding bones to existing armatures and animations is easy as long as you manage new vertex groups and mappings.

Stay tuned for the next episode where I’ll import the model into Unity!

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