Animation Exercises

This page is dedicated to my student – Barry Strum, who tirelessly aims to get better at his craft.

Learning How to Animate

These are things you should be thinking about and implementing into all of your exercises.

  1. WEIGHT – show weight by squashing the feet and in the quads of the upper legs (on the front side) and in the hips/butt area.  In 3D – use a lattice when structuring your character. WHEN IN DOUBT EXAGGERATE THE WEIGHT.
  2. POSING with exaggeration
  3. ACTIONS – LEADING AND FOLLOWING actions are easy – example: when a character land one foot makes contact and then the other…or if you lift the arms – one arm goes up and then the other.
  4. OVERLAPPING ACTIONS – example the character comes to a halt and her hair and dress continue to flow and settle into place. To be effective the overlapping has to use “S” curves to change direction.
  5. DRAG ACTION – is where you show a drag on a form as it moves through space. This usually occurs at the ends of the form. If a rubber raft is falling, the middle edge will be intact – the other edges will bend or drag back.
  6. MOTIVATIONAL FORCES – what makes the thing move – 80% or more of all actions happen because of the hips and legs. If a character throws a ball the action starts with the extension (unfolding) of the front leg which rotates the hips and create torque with the torso and allows the unwinding of the torso to lead the shoulder and the rest of the arm through a throwing motion.  Another example: a character can’t turn unless he pushes off on the outside foot – then he can change direction.
  7. THINKING time (a character ALWAYS thinks before it does anything). Disney said, “the mind is the pilot.”
  8. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY ACTIONS – easy example in a walk – the legs are the primary action – then arms are the secondary action.
  9. ANTICIPATION – (or ANTIC) In a grab, the hand comes up and backward before it goes forward.
  10. COMPENSATION – If a character is running and stops – you have to compensate for the forward momentum (usually by driving the forces up – or down and then up.)
  11. REVERSALS – try to work as many reversals into the spine as possible (as long as it makes sense to the action). The spine is curved forward – then curves back during an antic and then curves forward when the character picks up a stone. HINT: My next lesson at the Toon Institute will have this information.
  12. A CUSHION OR SETTLE is where you move passed a key frame into an extreme/extreme and then cushion back into the original key frame.
  13. A MOVING HOLD is a very, very slow slow-out of an action – to where the movement is coming to a creeping halt.
  14. STAGING (how the action is composed within the frame)
  15. APPEAL – Character Design – the ability to caricature a person utilizing good design skills and have appeal
Simple Tests – Inanimate Objects

  1. Ball bouncing/Rolling
  2. Balls of different weights(basketball, tennis ball, bowling ball, beach ball, etc)
  3. Balls in an obstacle course
  4. The flour sack. A great test that forces understanding of the principles in its most basic form. Make a four-sack move and react to show emotions and character. Be sure to remember the volume of the sack and how it would move between contact with the ground and being airborne. This test is a favorite among animators, since there is very little character design and development and you really have to pay attention to what you are trying to communicate.
  5. Egg dropping/rolling
  6. Brick dropping
  7. Pendulum swing (using arcs)
  8. Flour sack walk cycle
  9. Flour sack falling off a ledge
  10. A tree falling.
  11. A car speeding off.
  12. A plane crashing.
  13. A bag of microwave popcorn (being heated)
  14. A grenade landing and exploding.
  15. A phone ringing.
Try these first if you have never animated before:

      1. Overlap/Follow through (hair, tails, etc)
      2. Weight shift
      3. Hop-scotch
      4. Side Step
Intermediate Exercises:

  1. A character lifts something heavy. This is hard enough to show shifts in weight throughout the body to get leverage, but if you wanted to make the test even more complicated you can make the character do something else while continuing to hold the heavy object. A great example of weight and timing. Chapter 3 in The Illusion of Life covers this concept thoroughly.
  2. Jumping and landing(straight up and down, across a gap, etc)
  3. Walk, run, jump ( realistic, cartoon, quad)
  4. A two legged character walk on all fours
  5. An old man kneeling down to pray, then rising
  6. Simple head turn (using arcs)
  7. Climbing a wall (different heights)
  8. Back/front flip
  9. Wall run/flip
  10. Sword Lunge/Swing
  11. Character using weighted objects (hammer, axe, etc)
  12. Baseball Throw
  13. Baseball Hit
  14. Discus/Javeline/Shotput Throw(or any number of other Olympic events)
  15. Sports (basketball, skateboarding, boxing etc)
  16. Character showing off on a diving board(does he fail or succeed? See Link on Monsters vs Aliens for a fail)
  17. Changing from one emotion to another
  18. Being hit by a ball
  19. Throwing a heavy object
  20. Slumping into a chair
  21. Standing up (on the ground, in a chair, etc)
  22. Sitting down (on the ground, in a chair, etc)
  23. Diving for cover
  24. Answering the phone
  25. A giant falling over
  26. Bursting out through a door
  27. A character clutching its head in dispair
  28. Waiting for the results of a job interview or tryout
  29. A character slapping it head as if it just said something stupid
  30. Tasting something delicious or disgusting
  31. Watching a scary movie
  32. Trying to take operate a complicated DVD player
  33. Falling out of a chair
  34. Leaning on something only to find that it gives way and falls over
  35. Trying to carefully remove a painting from the wall
  36. Tuck and roll
  37. Trying to remember where they put something
  38. Trying to move against wind, such as from a giant fan, trying to reach a goal
  39. Catching a heavy object, such as a boulder
  40. A tightrope walker
  41. Trapeze artist
  42. Weightlessness/underwater
  43. Running through/avoiding obstacles such as an obstacle course
  44. Having fun on a trampoline
  45. A character climbing a pipe such as on the side of a building
  46. Two characters of different strengths/sizes sawing a log
  47. Quadrupeds/Creatures
  48. Winged Creatures(dragons, birds, etc)
  49. Dropping something off at the mailbox
  50. Character tries to access a bank machine and it misbehaves
  51. Character tries to use a restroom and can’t
  52. Character thinks they’re going to sneeze, then not sneeze and then finally sneezing
  53. Character trying to swat a fly or catch a bug
  54. Stretching
  55. Coughing
  56. Laughing
  57. Lying down
  58. Kneeling down
  59. Rubbing your hands
  60. Checking the time
  61. Answering a phone
  62. Ducking under a swinging object
  63. Reaching into a cupboard
  64. Pulling out your keys
  65. Buttoning your shirt
  66. Brushing your teeth
  67. Flipping a pancake
  68. Turning on a light
  69. Opening a window
  70. Putting on a Shoe
  71. Putting on a Hat
  72. Putting on a Belt
  73. Putting on a Pants
  74. Putting on a Glove
  75. Putting on a Shirt
  76. Opening a Soda (variation: it’s been shaken)
  77. Opening a Box of chocolate
  78. Opening a Car Door (variation: for a date)
  79. Opening a Jar (variation: it’s stuck)
  80. Opening a Bag (variation: it’s a mystery what’s inside)
  81. A character climbing a ladder, but has to jump and pull himself up to reach the first few rungs.
  82. Dropping onto a soft surface, such as a giant pillow
Advanced Acting Exercises… if done well, these should go on your reel.

  1. Waiting for a late bus or late for a bus that’s on time. Show the emotions a character might go through while waiting for a bus that’s late. Pay close attention to facial expressions, body language, and detail.
  2. A witch trying to mount a broom that doesn’t want to be mounted.
  3. Character opens something (i.e. box, a present) that refuses to open. The character can only use body parts for the first beat… but, may resort to other measures (i.e. tools and explosives) after trying with their own weight and extremities. Note, the character will be affected by the tools used (i.e. blast of an explosion).

Advanced Exercises for your Demo Reel

Advanced Acting Exercises… if done well, these should go on your reel.

  1. Waiting for a late bus or late for a bus that’s on time. Show the emotions a character might go through while waiting for a bus that’s late. Pay close attention to facial expressions, body language, and detail.
  2. A witch attempt to ride a broom that keeps bucking her off. Andreas Deja (animated–Jafar in Aladdin, Scar in Lion King, Gaston in B & B, etc.) spoke of this test at a talk I attended in LA. He referred to it as what Disney asked him to do before he was officially brought into the animation department.
  3.  The character encounters something that he wants to open. Perhaps it has difficulty opening it. Perhaps it reacts to whatever it opens (but you don’t see what it in it). The character can only use body parts for the first 30 seconds but may pursue some other means (i.e. tools and explosives) thereafter. This one is really open ended and can test your ability to show many storytelling ideas in the body language and facial expressions, without one line of dialogue.
  4. Dialogue/monolog where the character starts off feeling one emotion and changes into another. Close up shot, one camera, usually better if it is dramatic.
  5. Two character dialogue – introduces staging and interaction, possibly a sequence with cuts? Standing or sitting, the character doing nothing, body language should suggest thought process without any interaction with an object. Can be drama or comedy.
  6. The character on the phone, but not talking, listening to a person on the other end talk about something: important, sad, happy and/or “fill in the blank”. Choose the subject matter to really express how the receiver of that information reacts. The exercise is designed to help people develop a character’s thinking through eye movement, subtle facial expression, and pantomime with body language.
  7. Display the feelings a character would experience while waiting for something or someone. Gender specific reactions can be really revealing here. How would a man react vs. a woman? This is a good exercise because it demands pure acting outside of dialogue. Much like Tom Hanks for most of Castaway, your character will need to show lots of emotion through psychological gesture.
  8. A character is doing something and needs to get someone’s attention. Lots of eye movement and subtle mouth stuff, as well as body language on an exercise like this.
Advanced Body Mechanic Exercises… if done well, these should go on your reel.

  1. Animate someone riding a pogo stick or some other ‘fun’ object (i.e. using a hula hoop).
  2. Personality walk cycle with biped or quad using power centers/leads to show attitude. Start with a vanilla walk cycle. Now make 4 variations on the same character to illustrate an emotion. For example Angry Stomp, Happy Run, Sad Shuffle, Cocky Strut, Questioning Tiptoe, etc. Be sure to refer to the bouncing ball for your arcs and paths on this one.
  3. Animate two characters sawing a log. The first character is a big, macho man. Animate him pose-to-pose first holding one side of the saw and cycle his animation. The second character is a scrawny little guy who gets yanked around, grabbing onto the saw for dear life. This idea would be even better if there was some kind of big finish where the little guy gets the best of the big guy.
  4. Put a short character in a tall room with one window, one door, one light (and switch) and a hanging ceiling fan (with hanging switch). The room contains 3 boxes, a ball, and a board. Imagine the different ways your character could figure out how to reach the hanging switch and then animate the most outrageous. Next, subtract two boxes and add a skateboard and try again.
  5. A character walks to a mailbox, deposits an envelope, and walks away. Now, how is that action different if the envelope contains (1) a heartfelt love letter, sent without knowing whether the recipient feels the same way about the sender, or (2) this year’s tax return, which includes a big fat check made payable to Uncle Sam, or (3) the last mortgage payment on a house, or the last alimony check to an ex? The basic goals are the same (approach mailbox, etc), but the motivation behind them and the mood expressed will be dramatically different for each one.
  6. Character tries to access a bank machine and it misbehaves
  7. Character tries to use a restroom and can’t
  8. Character takes on a profession as a mover and has to move an awkward object
  9. Character entering a dark corridor/cave with weapon drawn awaiting a surprise from the dark
  10. Character meeting death from an attack
  11. Character thinks they’re going to sneeze, then not sneeze and then finally sneezing
  12. Character trying to swat a fly or catch a bug
  13. Character trying to stay awake, finally falls asleep (maybe something really loud wakes him up at the end its up to you)
  14. Character sneaking up on another character to scare them
  15. Character leaning against the wall, chewing gum or a toothpick, hands in his pockets or maybe flipping a coin, waiting for something to happen
Advanced Creature Exercises… these go on your reel if executed well.

  1. Create a walk cycle with a four-legged character with personality.
  2. Do the same thing as above, but now illustrate your ability to translate it into four legs or even an insect and go to six or eight legs. Always refer to real life and then translate that into your own work. It is great when you can create a connection between an animal and human nature, but if you keep the integrity of the animal’s basic essence, then the animation will be much richer. Of course, a dog would not have the emotional range of a human, but you still know when a dog is happy. Think to yourself, not only how a human might react to the situation, but also how “insert animal/creature here” would react to it also.
  3. Four-legged character (cat, dog, etc.) walking, jumping, climbing, stretching, yawning, scratching, etc. Move—>Stop—>Move or Stop—>Move—>Stop over uneven terrain.
  4. 3 legged character – two legs cannot move in unison.
Advanced Game Level Exercises… these go on your reel if executed well.

  1. Confrontation between two characters. One is losing but makes a spectacular comeback, just when you thought all hope was lost.  This is that huge fight between the Boss and the Hero, or the dramatic clash that has led up to your dramatic quest Hero/villain attempts to execute their strange and unfamiliar powers. Suddenly something goes horribly wrong and their power backfires
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