::DISCLAIMER: This information is a compilation of notes from various sources. I would like to credit the following people for their knowledge and inspiration: Mike Thurmeier, James Chiang, Tom Saville, Juan Carlos Navarro, Carlos Baena, and Keith Lango

useful animation websites referenced for this workshop:
Great Rigging Books:
Great Rigging DVD:
Before We Get Started:
1. Setting up your work environment
  • set preferences
    ~ infinite undos
    ~ 30 frames a second
    ~ playback realtime

  • set project

  • set up hotkeys using MEL
    ~ alt a = playblast cam
    ~ alt s = working cam
    ~ alt ` = hide curves
    ~ alt 1 = shot curves
    ~ alt g = graph editor
    ~ alt p = playblast
    ~ alt k = select ALLKEYABLE
    ~ ctl ` = isolate selected
    ~ ctl 1 = isolate selected off
    experiment and create your own as needed
2. Introduce students to character rig
  • show control movers

  • attributes

  • basic IK/FK switching

  • eye and brow controls


1. Explain body language/facial expressions - "great poses make great animation"
  • successful poses are strong story telling moments

  • the goal:
    ~ strong contrast
    ~ absolute clarity
    ~ maximum expressions
    ~ maximum appeal

  • what makes angry people look angry? what makes happy people look happy?
    ~ short term memory causes eyes to glance upward
    ~ long term memory causes eyes to glance downward

  • avoid ambiguity in facial and body posing
2. Thumbnails
  • fast, effective way to explore posing/expressions
3. Pose characters for 3 different emotions
  • things to consider when posing your character expressively:
    ~ sillouette
    ~~~ easily readable sillouette
    ~~~ asymmetry
    ~ squash/stretch
    ~~~ allows more change, more contrast
    ~~~ contrast of straight lines against curves
    ~ weight
    ~ line of action
    ~~~ sets up next move
    ~~~ reversals
    ~ appeal

4. Discuss "what works, what doesn't" with posing your character

5. The basic head turn
  • demonstrate different motivations of a head turn
    ~ slow, curious
    ~ surprised
    ~ confident
    ~ suspicious

  • motivation to other movements.
    ~ KEY poses
    ~ sub-poses (breakdowns)
    ~ extreme poses

6. Bringing your poses to life
  • connect your poses together
    ~ dont worry about timing, or slow ins/outs
    ~ don't hold back because of hard acting choices

  • block in 2-4 more transitional (breakdown) poses that help describe the action
    ~ antics (anticipation)
    ~~~ maximizes contrast between arcs
    ~~~ anticipation keys don't always have to be big
    ~ character thought
    ~ over-shooting
    ~ exxageration

  • every move does not have to be 100% physically possible


1. Fundamentals of timing
  • snappiness
  • weight
  • secondary motion
  • overlap
  • arcs
  • takes/accents
2. The eye blink - "Characters that make steady eye contact for more than a few seconds are either going to fight or make love"
  • sleepy
  • alert
  • head turn
3. Why does the character move? - "Play an action until something happens to make you play a different one"
  • emotional queues "emotion tends to lead to action"
    ~ your dog just died -"To show that a character is hot, have him try to get cool"
    ~~~ lethargic, slouched. you'll miss Spot
    ~~~ happy. that damned dog always pissed on your couch
    ~ you're holding a winning lottery ticket - "To show that a character is cold, have him try to get warm"
    ~~~ energetic, excited, snappy. The pot is up to $128 million
    ~~~ indifferent, distracted. It's a winning ticket for $1 dollar
    ~ you've just lost your job
    ~~~ determined, angry. a co-worker screwed you over
    ~~~ defeated, suicidal. it was your dream job :(

  • audio queues - "Acting is reacting"
    ~ a fiire cracker goes off behind your head
    ~ you're listening to a sporting event on the radio
    ~ you get whistled at on the beach
    ~ a voice track
    ~~~ voice actors lend their performance through dialog often creating queues based on timbre, pitch, and accents. These nuances help guide an animator's decisions

  • motivational/external queues - "To energize a scene, convert the character's "wants" to "needs"
    ~ you have to pee real bad
    ~~~ energetic, excited, but restrained
    ~ you're being chased by el chupacabra
    ~~~ frantic, terrified
4. Timing your poses - "The purpose of character movement is destination"
  • using 100 frames, adjust the timing of your poses appropriately
  • create additional poses if needed (no more than 8)
    ~ simplest points on the correct frames
  • common mistakes with beginners
    ~ doing too much action in too short of a time
    ~~~ ie. too big of arm/leg swings in a run
  • BUT, always look for whatever gives more contrast/change of shape within the action
  • playblast often


1. Working with dialogue - "Acting has almost nothing to do with words. Its about the emotion behind the dialog"
  • import your audio clip in to maya, and let the sound loop over and over
    ~ here's a good site for short clips of dialogue from popular films:
  • write down the dialogue
    ~ note pitch, tone, and phrasing

2. Describing the shot - "A gesture need not be an illustration of the spoken word"
  • rhythm is important
    ~ avoid haing alll slow or all snappy movements
    ~ beautiful/believable contrasts in actions and timing
3. Things to consider
  • Director
    ~ first, and foremost, you're making the director's film. you must work toward his vision
  • Actor
    ~ approach the shot as if you were the actor. how would you choose to act out the shot to best convey the actions requested of the director?
    ~ be aware of the camera. play to it.
  • Animator
    ~ finally, explore the shot as an animator. how would you visually describe the actions and emotions of the actor with key frames in an appealing and expressive way?
4. Where to start your shot - "Break up the action and the dialog - do one thing at a time! For example talk then point or point then talk"
  • focus on key poses required to explain what's happening
  • add the poses in between that allow your character to successfully transition from pose to pose
    ~ poses in this stage should include the hand poses and rough finger posing
  • playblast often
  • show your work to fellow animators. If they've got suggestions or better ideas... USE THEM!
5. The next step
  • before splining, separate character on to different layers
    ~ leg layer
    ~ body and head layer
    ~ arm layer
  • start with the body, hiding other layers
    ~ spline all keys on the torso
    ~ begin tweaking the curves one "move" at a time
    ~ avoid "pose to pose" feel
    ~~~ add overlap
    ~~~ more breakdown keys
    ~~~ add subtle moves and acting choices in and around main gestures
    ~ theatrical acting is more successful when layered with "real" elements
  • playblast often
  • make a list of all the problems, and address them
    ~ is the timing feeling right?
    ~ do I have good slow-ins and slow-outs?
    ~ are there "dead zones" where I've gotten lazy and under animated the nuances of my character?
    ~ are there "overactive" moments where I've put in too many details? could I have used the time to let the scene breath a little?
    ~ is the animation stiff or fluid? If it's stiff, do I have the keys of the body all on the same frame too often? If it's floaty, is my timing too spread out?
6. On to the rest of the body
  • the arms
    ~ more emphasis on overlapping
    ~ maintain strong arcs
    ~~~ example
  • the legs
    ~ don't be too concerned with foot placement while making acting choices
  • playblast and list problems

Evaluate your animation:
~ use the following checklist to evaluate your shot (

Check to make sure your motions have good clean arcs. Turn on trajectories if your software supports them. If not, get out your dry erase marker and draw the arcs on your monitor.

1.       wrist- you need to keep an eye on these to fight that marionette feel

2.       elbows- if you're using IK arms, then you absolutely MUST check your elbow arcs

3.       feet- track the heel & the toes to see if you're getting clean arcs on both

4.       head- the most obvious motion hitches will show up in the head. It's usually a torso problem, it just shows up in the head arc

5.       knees- watch for pops and skips

6.       hips- the center of mass is vital to believable weight, so check the hip arcs.

7.       ankles-

8.       props- so many time we forget that the prop the character is holding/using is as important to the motion as the character

9.       eyes- when they turn, are they linear turns? If so, add some arc.

10.   face (lipsync)- make sure your face doesn't linearly go from static morph target to target. The face needs to feel organic.

11. tails- way overlooked, and very tricky to get right.

12.   check break downs and make stronger if needed- weak arc? Push that breakdown pose.

13.   no two motions should have same arcs- feels very unnatural. Weave the arc lines like a tapestry of interesting motion.

14.   cross arcs and overlap for interest


Line of Action:
Make sure youíre being strong with your lines. The difference between an OK pose and a great pose most often lies in the line.

         Have you pushed your line so it reads clearly?

         Is your line interesting?

         Is your line strongly concave or convex?

         When going from one pose to another can you invert your lines for stronger contrast?

         If all you had was one still frame to show for this pose, is your line of action capturing the kinetic energy of your character like a good illustration would?


Find a part to emphasize by scheduling it's late or early arrival. Offsets help keep things loose and let your character breathe, combating the common "pose-move-pose-move" feel of most Pose-to-Pose animation.

         Check for twins. Shifting one arm by a frame or two is not fundamentally addressing the issue of twinning. You need more than that.

         Does it fit for you to offset the hand from the elbow? The elbow from the shoulder?

         For this move should your arms lead the torso or do they follow it's weight?

         For this move should your hand lead the arm or follow it's weight?

         Does your upper torso move independently from your hips?

         For this move, should the head lead or follow?

         Have you seen if offsetting your rotation keys from the translation keys adds any life to the character? How about individual rotation channels from each other?

         Do your fingers each move independently from the other fingers?

         Should your fingers flow after the hand or stay tight to it?

         Is this the right place to use the offset (aka "pixar") blink?


Overlap & Followthrough:
What a LOT of pose-to-pose animation suffers from is the dreaded "hit & stick". You need to find a way to get that out of your animation while still keeping strong clear poses and clean timing.

         Are you overlapping too much? Is it too soft? (mushy)

         Are you not overlapping enough? Is it too hard? (sticky)

         Are your motions distracting? (poppy)

         Does it feel like your ease outs are too linear? (robotic)

         Will this move benefit from the successive breaking of joints?

         Do your body parts overlap with believable physics? Are the hands too slow (heavy) or too fast (light)?

         Donít blindly trust overlap or lag plug insÖ check each frame for accuracy.


One of your primary tasks as a character animator is to manage your tension, your energy build up and release. Each character will build & release their energy in a very different way. And even given different circumstances you character will build & release energy differently.

         Does the size of the anticipation match the speed of the subsequent action?

         Does your character flow well from one thing to another? Should they?

         Does your character's body language and gestures' energy match tone & energy of the dialogue?

         Look for ways to build texture into a shot- building across phrases and releasing. Not every pose or move is the same length.

         Move your character around on their feet to keep them believable. Nothing says "I'm not believable" like frozen feet.

         Does the energy of your character keep building up during hold when appropriate? tip: if the pose hit didn't have an extreme with a recoil, but is rather meant to build energy for release (like an anticipation hold) then you'll keep growing the energy up into the pose, like a long ease into the extreme.

         Does the energy of your character keep settling with gravity during hold when appropriate? tip: If the pose hit had a settleback after an extreme, you'll generally want to keep the held energy settling into gravity.


You need to keep things moving at a natural flow. If your shot feels dull, look at your pose holds and your transition timings. I'll bet you $20 that all your holds are about the same length and all your pose transitions are about the same length.

         Are you motions too even across the shot?

         Are all the motions too fast?

         Are they too slow?

         Do you have an appropriate mix of fast moves verse slower ones?

         Be aware of the appropriate speed for a given set of appropriate actions.

         Mix up the pacing of motion. Fast flurries followed by long simmering holds. Great contrast.

         Don't make every move the same speed & flavor.

         Favor the anticipation or the breakdown or the ease out. Meaning: think what works best for a given action- slow in/fast out? Or fast in/slow out? Or even in/out but fast breakdown in the middle?

What would Character A move like compared to character B?


Make your poses read in an instant, not in an hour.

         Do your poses read clearly in plain black & white?

         Funky lines in the silhouette? Check elbows to see if they're sticking out unnaturally.

         Check spine & your line of action.

         Think of ways to compressing the pose/action into planes in space for cleaner reads. Perpendicular to camera plane, or parallel to it. think Woody's "cool sheriff" walk from the cardboard box in Toy Story 2. Look at how his motion is compressed into a single easy to read plane that is parallel to the camera plane.


Motion Pathologies:
Does anything have a funky motion that just looks off?

         Check for IK pops

         Look for and fix hitches in the arcs

         Smooth out any hiccups in line of motion

         Destroy any and all distracting moves

         Do you overshoot on moves too much? Not enough?

         Is there enough "keep alive" on your moving holds? Is there too much so that you're adding noise to the signal?

         Clean out any and all distracting nasty geometry intersections. The small single frame ones in the middle of big moves, forget about those. Nobody will notice.


Öis everything. Well, almost everything.

         Do your character's gestures & actions lead words appropriately in dialog?

         Feel free to play with physics a bit to add some texture. Give some jump & hold to things in the air.

         A move should never be linear and it should never be even.

         Are your physics believable (weight)?

         Break up long holds with secondary action (scratching, wiping nose, weight shift, etc.)


Can we see your action from the best possible angle? And remember: the ONLY view that matters is the camera view.

         For visually pleasing images compose on thirds

         Avoid staging your character directly down the middle unless you have a reason to.

         Use those lines of action to add visual angles to lead your viewer's eye where it needs to go.

         In production you must keep the integrity of the layout composition and then plus it with solid lines of action & silhouettes.

If your character is doing something important, make sure we can stinkin' see what's going on!

         Track your eye as you watch. Where does it go? Is it where it should go? Do your eyes feel like they awkwardly jump from cut to cut? Is this the  desired effect (sometimes it is)?


Will we believe your character is sincere? Are they REAL???

         Stay true to character. Buzz Lightyear will not flail like a spaz like Woody would.

         Does acting match dialog intensity? Are you being too vaudeville?

         Do the hands & body merely illustrate words that your character is saying? How many times do you make a punching motion with your hands when you say the word "hit"? Not many. How many times do you make a kicking motion when you say the word 'kick"? Not many. How many times do you spread your arms like an airplane when you say the word "fly"? Not often. Guess what? Neither should your character!

         Do the eye emotions match dialog?

         Reveal your character's inner thoughts or emotions beginning with the eyes first. Cascade out from there.

         Emotion drives motion. Motion does not illustrate emotion. (no vaudeville. See above note) Also, thought does not drive action- emotion drives action. Thoughts merely drive decisions. but decisions are not acted upon without the emotion to drive them.

         Avoid overacting. Keep it simpler.

         Donít try to do too much in one shot. Less is more

         If your character's face needs to show an emotional shift, it's easier to read that shift while they are in a pose hold, not in a move. Emotional shifts should occur when the character is generally held still..

         Who owns the shot? Donít upstage the owner of the shot. Keep the secondary and background characters from being distracting with their motions. Sometimes breathing & blinking is enough.

         When the time comes to transfer shot ownership from character to character, make sure it's a clean hand off. Only one owner at a time. The audience should instinctually know who to watch based on what you show them.

         Maintain proper intensity levels appropriate for where character is on character arc. If your character has a major anger blow out in the third act, don't show that level of anger anywhere before that point.


That's A Lot to Check. Anything Else?
One simple discipline that I have found always helps me is this: About the time you think you're done with your shot, make a preview of your animation. Then, while it plays repeatedly, step away from the keyboard and grab a pencil & some note paper. Let the preview play over and over, until you start to see every frame. Start taking notes of what needs to be fixed. Find EVERY single glitch, hitch and problem you can find and write it down to be fixed. Don't stop writing these things down until you've noted every issue you've spotted. Spend at least 5 minutes watching this shot loop over and over. Then, when you can't possibly find anything else to pick, go back to your file and fix everything on your check list. So many times we think we're done before we're really done with a shot. This simple exercise will force you to stop and see the animation for what it is. By noting every problem, you're ensuring that you won't forget something. Then, when you've fixed every problem on your list, repeat the process again. Trust me, you WILL find more problems, stuff you didn't see before. It usually takes me about 3 or 4 times of doing this last pass-last gasp effort to really put the piece over the top.