How to Animate Complex Character Interaction

“So how do you handle a scene with two or more characters interacting?
Specifically, how would you handle physical fighting or wrestling?”

Once again, it comes down to the 4 main stages of any animation:

  1. Foundation
  2. Structure
  3. Details
  4. Polish

Lets look at these and how they specifically apply to complex character interactions.

Stage 1. Foundation

Before you ever start posing or setting keys, you must have a solid plan.

You will need to know the choreography of the fight. When do the characters come into contact with one another? Where is the driving force coming from on each contact?

Really, the fastest way to plan such a scene is to film a few people acting it out. It will take much longer if you just sit down and try to thumbnail it out without any Video reference.
With live actors, you can direct them in real time and experiment with different ideas.

Once you’ve filmed your Video reference, go through and sketch out every key pose.

  • Look for changes of direction in weight or poses
  • Look for contact and transfer of force between your characters.

Make sure you have all of these sketched out with a note of the timing according to your reference.

Now you’re ready for…

Stage 2. Structure

Set all of your key poses on your characters in 3d.

Many animators like to use Stepped keys, but some software packages don’t allow stepped keys.
At least try to use linear.

Make sure you get all points of contact keyed in on all of your characters.

Check all of your key poses from every angle to ensure they contain proper weight, balance and force.

Stage 3. Details

Here we can begin to smooth out our animation and add in breakdowns and inbetweens, but don’t
start offsetting keys and try to resist the urge to start really polishing.

A great way for getting the contact between two characters to stick – is to link a null or a dummy to the point of contact, then align the end effector of the other characters limb to that dummy on every key frame.

Make sure you have your weight and force worked out before you do this, that way you know which character or limb is leading the motion.

Stage 4. Polish

Now you can go to town and really polish your animation.

Go through it many times, each time focusing on one of the 12 principles of animation.

Perfect every arc on your pelvis, hands/arms, head/eyes and any other main moving object.

Make sure that the ease in/out of every key is what YOU want, not what the computer has given you.

Make sure you have overlap and follow through so that everything doesn’t come to a stop all at once in any part of your scene.

Ok, that’s a very simplified breakdown of how to approach a complex interaction scene, but really, you’re not going to learn much from reading emails. Get outta here and go try it!


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