A brief insight into our studio process and some good practices when designing characters for motion using After Effects and joint based rigging.
So you’ve drawn your character and now you’re thinking about getting an animator to make it move.
There are ways to make life easier for them. It’s helpful to have a basic idea of how you want your character to move. Definitely speak to your animator to figure out the best result for what you’re after. Showing references and examples will be super helpful too. There are many different styles and approaches to rigging and character animation so not all require the same process but this time we are looking at traditional joint based rigging.
I’ll be going through my own illustration process and best practices on how to structure and build your characters, preparing your files, as well as things that might go wrong.
This is an illustration of Pedro that I’ve drawn in Procreate.
I’d like him to start standing straight, then jump up in the air. This means I need to draw his starting position which is a front on, standing pose.
Think about how you want your character to move and what their starting and end positions are. You may need to draw their side view and/or the back of them. Consider what their clothing or accessories look like from that angle, too.
At this point, you should think about the motion style of how you’d like the limbs to move. Are they smooth and bendy? Rigid and angular? Consider which style is most appropriate.
With Pedro, I would like the limbs to move as if they have joints. In that case we should draw circles where the joints are. This allows the animator to understand where the limb movement hinges from.
So here we have a sketch of a front on upright Pedro with circles for joints:
Vectoring in Illustrator
Next we should use the pen tool in Adobe Illustrator to vectorise it all.
Make sure to leave the joints and limbs as their own shape objects (don’t merge paths!)
Here is Pedro all vectored up.
The textured line effect can be added during the animation process. It’s best to keep your vector lines smooth and live (so don’t go Expanding any shapes!)
Make sure you consider parts of your character that are outside the frame, or behind other objects. For example: if the hat moves, we need to consider what sits underneath it.
Nice. Now we have Pedro’s starting position, plus all the extra details that begin hidden. Next we’re going to position his limbs to the final position, which is him jumping into the air.
You may need to adjust some of the limbs once they are in position.
This is a super laborious but important task to make the handover go as smooth as possible with your animator.
Once you have your character, you should separate and group the body parts and label each layer. You should speak to your animator as they may have a preferred naming / filing structure.
This is an example of how we name our layers in the studio:
So that layer would be named: CharacterName_Leg_R_Feet. And here is our example with Pedro:
Make sure the layers are not nested within another layer. Once everything is named and layered, you can hand this over to your animator!
Hopefully this was useful for your process. Let us know if you have any other handy tips!