The Walk Cycle

Surprisingly, the walk cycle isn’t used very much anymore.  Video games have taken to using motion capture.  Animation studios have tools that create dynamic walk cycles based on the placement of the character’s feet.  You can define where the contact points are, the the software does the rest.  Walk cycles can also be fitted to work with different characters, which can require the animator to only make one walk cycle.  Over the years, developers have recognized that certain things are difficult or time consuming to make, and have created custom solutions to these problems.  There exist tools that are dedicated to creating one type of thing.  Fluids, plants, texture, characters, and indeed walk cycles.  Making a tree has gone from a difficult task to a very easy one.  The walk cycle was never that hard to make, but it is tedious and time consuming.  Nevertheless, creating these things by hand can give you intimate knowledge of what an automated tool would do.  The general understanding of how things work is a skill that needs constant development.  That is why you should know how to make a walk cycle.

Like any animation, let’s break this down into smaller parts.  An animation is a series of keyframes, so we just need to know what those keyframes look like.  As it turns out, walking only requires four poses.

Everyone calls these poses by different names, so I have chosen the ones that I like best.  The funny thing is, there isn’t much else to say.  You make a character, create these four poses, and cycle through them.  The actual method of posing the character can be complicated, depending on the animator’s needs.  The best practice is to create a skeleton and apply it to a mesh.

The vertices in a mesh are bound to different bones in the skeleton.  This allows you to move a finger or limb by simply moving a bone.  This allows posing a character to be a very simple process.  Here is my result:
While it is a little exaggerated, this walk cycle is smooth and organic.  One of the most difficult things to do is prevent an animation from moving like a robot.   During pose 2, the character should be the shortest.  During pose 4, the character should be the tallest.  That will give you a natural looking head bob motion.  The use of a shadow helps ground the character to the surface.  That’s all there is to it.

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