Character Tool for After Effects Tutorial

Character Tool for After Effects Tutorial


Hello everyone!
This is Motion Design School.
In this lesson, we’ll tell you how to use our script called Character Tool.
Actually, it’s pretty obvious from its name that it is created to make your life easier,
first of all, when working on character animation.
But in fact, some functions may help you with other tasks as well.
So, enough talk, now I’ll show you everything.
The script consists of 3 tabs and the setting button.
The Rigging tab includes tools for creating limbs and their adjustment.
The Assistant tab contains the functions that can greatly boost your workflow.
The last tab has the customizable presets of frequently used animations,
which will considerably reduce routine work when creating secondary animations.
In settings, you can create or edit setting presets of the limb controllers.
Now let’s have a closer look at how everything works.
Let’s start with the Rigging tab.
It’s divided into 2 sections:
Limb (where you can create, duplicate and delete limbs)
and Style (where you can edit the design of limbs).
At the very top of the screen, here’s a field to enter the limb’s name
and a drop-down list of name presets for its controllers.
When you hover over any interface button of the script,
you’ll see a hint saying what this function is for and what options for its start are.
Let’s hover over the Create button.
Here are 2 options.
By clicking, you can create a limb.
And when you click holding down Alt,
the same limb will appear but with Flipper added,
which I’ll tell you about later.
Let’s create a new limb.
Four layers have appeared
– the very bottom one with limb shapes and 3 controllers:
Start and End, which you can move,
and Middle, which is for parenting objects to the limb.
By clicking on the End controller in the Effect Controls panel,
you’ll find the settings of the limb.
Length is its size,
Direction is the direction of its bend.
The Stretch checkbox enables or disables stretching of the limb.
Mid Point allows us to adjust the position of the knee,
that is the point where the limb will bend.
Look at where the Mid Point of the spider’s limb is located.
By adjusting the Mid Point value,
you can create an unusual and interesting design of characters.
Also, shifting the center will be really useful for imitating perspective distortion
when animating a character turning or raising its arms.
And the Roundness parameter sets the rounding of the whole shape.
So that you can create characters with both RubberHose style limbs
and straight legs and arms.
Next to Create, here’s the Update button.
With the help of it, you can rename a limb, its controllers, and create/remove Flipper.
You can’t simply rename the layer since it expressions are applied.
That’s why we’ve created a special button for this.
It’s easy.
Select any layer of the limb,
type in its name and click on Update.
In exactly the same way, you can rename controllers,
just by changing name presets and clicking Update.
But what is Flipper?
If you click holding down Alt,
you’ll create such a shape.
It has a semi-transparent zone marked,
where the limb’s bend will change its direction,
meaning its Direction parameter will change.
This function is really useful when animating a character turning or raising the arms.
When clicking on the created layer in the Effect Controls,
we can see 3 parameters.
Flipper angle,
its length,
and Falloff which is the width of the area where direction will be gradually changing.
The larger its value is, the smoother it will be changing.
If you click on Update again, holding down Alt, Flipper will be removed.
When clicking on the button holding down Shift,
you can update the name of a limb,
its controllers, and create or remove Flipper at the same time.
Below here’s the button for limb duplication.
Select any limb layer and click on Duplicate,
enter the name in the window that appears
and get a copy of the limb.
If you don’t want to rename it,
then just click on Duplicate holding down Alt.
And the limb will be duplicated without the window for renaming.
The next button is for styles,
and we will have a look at it a bit later.
The next one is a button for selecting all layers of the current limb.
It will come in handy when your composition has a lot of layers,
which are mixed together.
And here it will be enough for you to simply select any limb controller
and click on this button, so that all the layers
related to it will be selected.
And the last button on the right just removes the selected limb.
By the way, in order to remove all layers of a limb,
you also need to select one of the controllers or the limb itself
and then click on Remove limb.
Now let’s move on to the Style section.
The main thing is that you don’t need to go inside the shape to change the design of the limb.
All this is available in the script panel
and in the style settings located on the shape layer of the limb.
In the Effect Controls panel, you will see a number of settings.
Here you can change the color of the limb
and its width,
add an outline and change its color.
The Start and End parameters are an analog of Trim Path.
They can be used to create sleeves, pant legs, bracelets, and so on.
All this is very convenient
since you don’t need to go inside the shape layer every time in order to customize the design of the limb.
There are 8 buttons in the Style panel itself.
The first two are responsible for copying and pasting the limb styles,
that is, its design.
Let’s consider them on the example of such a cool arm,
which we’ve created only by means of the Character tool.
To copy the limb style,
just select any of its controllers or the shape layer of the limb itself.
After that, click on the copy button,
then select any limb layer to which you want to apply the copied style,
and click on the paste button.
And as you can see, the style is successfully applied to other limb.
The next one is the button for adding additional strokes to the limb.
It is the button with the help of which
you can create sleeves, bracelets, and so on.
If you need to remove one of them, then again, you don’t need to go inside the shape layer.
Just select the necessary style in Effect Controls and click on the Remove button.
A bit lower, there is a row of buttons for changing the caps and joins of a stroke.
When you hover over the button,
you’ll see 3 variants appear.
By just clicking, you can change the cap of all limb strokes for a selected type.
If you click with the Alt key held down,
the join of all the limb strokes is changed.
And if you click with Shift held down, both parameters are changed.
In case you need to change the type of caps and joins only at one of the limb strokes,
you can just select the necessary style in the Effect Controls panel
and press the corresponding button.
By clicking on the icon in the very corner,
you can make the limb dashed.
If you select the whole limb,
the dashes will be applied to all the styles of the limb.
But if you want them to be applied only to certain ones,
select the necessary styles in the Effect Controls panel
and click on the Dash icon.
Also, an additional Dashes tab appears in the Effect Controls panel.
You can customize the limb in it.
For example, with the help of this function,
we can create a limb looking like that of a robot.
Add a new style,
select it and apply dashes to it.
Now, with the help of the Butt Cap button,
let’s make it rectangular.
What’s left is to adjust the position of the dashes
and change the colors on the styles.
Done!
Note that from now on when a new style is created,
dashes will be applied to it by default.
To change that just click on the Dash button once again.
If you click on it holding Alt,
Offset Path shape modifier is applied to the limb,
and you get a hollow limb like this.
And now let’s see how changing of styles works in practice in this example.
Let’s recreate it.
Create a limb by clicking on Create.
Then, add a new stroke and change the End parameter in the Styles settings to make a sleeve.
Done!
Still, the sleeve doesn’t look the way we want it to
because its end is rounded, while we need it to be flat.
So, let’s create another stroke of the same color,
select its style in Effect Controls
and change the type of its caps to Butt Cap
with the help of the button you already know.
Now let’s increase the value of End in order to get the necessary length.
Note that the width of each new style increases by 10
when it’s created.
That’s why let’s change the width of the last 2 styles
to make the sleeve look whole.
After that, let’s add a bracelet on the wrist.
We’ll do it with the help of 3 additional strokes cut by 3 paths.
Let’s create a new style,
change its color to the same as that of the sleeve,
and change the width of the stroke to the same as that of the arm itself.
Move the bracelet closer to the wrist
with the help of Offset.
Now let’s create 2 more bracelets like that
and move them relative to each other with the help of Offset.
Done!
As we finish the review of the Rigging tab, let’s get back to this button.
We need it for speeding up pre-render.
In cases when there are many limbs in one scene After Effects can start to lag.
We have two ways of optimization here.
If you click on the Bake button,
it “bakes” all the styles and switches off expressions,
which speeds up pre-render and render,
but we can’t change the styles in the Effect Controls panel.
If you want to get back the possibility to edit styles,
select the necessary limbs and click Bake.
Of course, we always want the process to be fast and the design of the limb to be saved.
But there are cases when just switching off expressions
doesn’t really give a noticeable result.
In cases like that,
you can click Bake with the Alt key held down.
What happens is that all the styles get hidden,
which increases the pre-render speed.
To bring everything back to the way it was,
just click the button holding down Alt once again.
We’ve had a look at all Character Tool rigging instruments
and now it’s time we learned what the Assistant tab offers us.
There are 2 sections in it, and we will start with Looper.
We all love looped animation,
and it’s Looper that gives us a range of tools for making it in a faster and simpler way.
The first button is LoopIn.
It creates a loop cycle before animation keyframes.
The icon to the right is LoopOut,
and it loops everything after the keyframes.
The button in the middle allows us to loop the animation before
and after the keyframes simultaneously.
For example, you need to make an infinite loop of the movement
of trees and bushes with a little offset.
The simplest way to do this is to create an animation for every object,
then apply loop and offset them.
If you apply LoopIn,
you will have to move the keyframes to the very end of the timeline,
and editing some of them will be quite inconvenient
since part of them will fall outside the timeline.
If you apply LoopOut, you’ll face the same problem:
you’ll just have to move the keyframes to the beginning of the timeline.
This is where LoopIn+LoopOut comes in handy.
It allows you to loop the whole animation and edit it easily at any moment
without the need to move the keyframes out of the timeline.
All three buttons have three different options.
By simply clicking the button the selected expression is applied to the selected parameters.
The same happens if you click holding down Alt,
only the loop type changes to ping pong
and we get such a reverse animation.
If you click holding down Shift,
two parameters will be added to Effect Controls layer.
There will appear a checkbox for turning Ping Pong on and off
and Keyframe amount.
Keyframe amount is the number of looped keyframes we’ll get.
The count of the keyframes starts from the beginning if loopIn is applied,
it starts from the end if we apply loopOut.
For example, in this animation we need to loop everything apart from the fall of the ball.
So this is the only part that needs to be looped.
To achieve that let’s set the LoopOut Scale to 3
and the LoopOut position to 2.
And we’ve got the desired result!
The next function is Perfect Loop.
And it really is perfect!
We all face tasks that require creating an animation loop within certain time frame.
For such tasks you need to adjust the length of your animation relative to the number of frames in the scene.
Perfect Loop does it for you really quickly.
You just need to set the work area of the loop,
select the animated parameter and click the button.
Two markers have appeared on the timeline,
which mark the start and the end points of the loop area.
There has also appeared a new effect in the effect controls of the layer.
This effect allows you to turn pingpong on and off,
set the number of cycles and the time offset of animation in frames.
The expression will do all the work for you.
If you need to change the length of the whole loop,
you can use one of two options.
You can either move the work area and click the Fit the Animation in the New Work Area button
or just move the markers on the timeline.
As an example we have prepared such animation of a rebound of a ball and a triangle.
We have set the same number of cycles for them
and have offset in time the animation of the triangle with the help of time offset.
However, the main trick here is that the length of our composition is an integer
which can not be divided exactly.
It makes this animation very inconveniet to divide using just LoopOut.
We have finished with the loops,
let’s move on to the additional section.
The last button on the left applies Bendy effect to the selected layer.
Let’s have a look at how it works on the example of a swinging arm animation.
By clicking the Bendy button
the animation is created automatically,
but you can also change it.
Both rotation and bend effects are applied to the selected layer
with the help of expressions.
They are offset in time
and Loop Ping Pong is applied to both of them.
The anchor point is automatically moved to the bottom of the layer
and bend is applied in a way that allows to bend the object relative to its bottom point.
However, we don’t always need to bend the object relative to the bottom point.
To solve this issue
we have added the option of editing the start and end points of the bend,
which adjust the direction of the bend.
To see where these points are located we need to go to Effect Controls
and select Bend It effect.
Now we can easily edit their location by moving both point where we need them to be.
Let’s also change the position of the anchor point to animate the rotation correctly.
Pay attention that an expression is applied
to the start and end parameters.
They link both points to the shape and Bend works correctly
for any operations with the Transform parameters of the layer.
With the help of sliders in Effect Controls
you can adjust the oscillation frequency,
amplitude
and bend/rotation offset.
This will allow to achieve a very interesting effect for your animations
and customize bendy effects to your goals.
You can use bendy effect not only for arms,
it can be used for animating bushes and trees as well.
But what if you din’t need looped animation
or you want even more control of rotation and bend?
For these purposes we have added the possibility to change the keyframes of animation
instead of sliders in effect controls.
To do this you need to click the Bendy button holding down Alt.
Two animated parameters have appeared on the selected layer.
As you can see,
these are Bend and Rotation with loopOut pingpong applied to both of them.
Now you can change the keyframes,
add new ones,
edit easings,
as well as change the type of loop on the keyframes or even delete it.
The the next three buttons work very simply.
By clicking the first one we add Trim Path to the selected shapes,
which is very convenient if you have a dozen layers
and you need to add to and animate Trim Path for all of them.
You just select all the shape groups you need,
click the Trim Path button
and double-tap S key to open Trim Path on all the layers.
If you click the button holding down Alt,
Trim Path will be added to a layer with the start and end keyframes.
It helps us to make such animation quickly,
and it can be further customized to fit your goals.
The second button is used for selecting Fills and Strokes in layers.
You select all fills by clicking.
By clicking holding down Alt you select all strokes.
Bear in mind, to open these parameters in layers you need to press ss.
After that we can easily change or animate each of them.
And the last button allows you to select all paths in the selected layers in just one click.
It’s particularly useful for morphing and character animation,
when you usually have lots of paths that you need to animate.
You can avoid opening each group in each layer by simply selecting the necessary layers,
clicking select path and setting keyframes on the necessary paths.
Well, in addition to everything, in the Presets tab,
we have collected customizable presets of various animations.
At the moment, there are only 3 of them
– they are waves, trail and bubbles,
but over time this list will expand more and more.
Each preset consists of shape layers animated with expressions and shape modifiers.
Let’s start with the wave.
Create an animation layer by clicking on the icon.
There are a number of customizable parameters in Effect Controls.
We can change the color,
the Stroke Width,
the duration of the wave animation cycle,
by the way, by changing this parameter you can also edit the speed of the wave,
the amplitude,
in this case, its height,
and the number of waves.
And there is a small nuance here.
In order to keep the animation cycle running,
the number of waves must always be even,
otherwise, at the end of the loop time something like this will happen.
Below, there is a slider for adjusting the wave length,
start,
end
and offset
– this is a normal Trim Path.
I’ll remind you that the wave itself is a regular shape layer,
to which you can apply any shape modifiers, like Repeater, for example,
and get such an interesting animation, spending a minimum of time on it.
The next preset is trail that is perfect for conveying a sense of speed.
Let’s see what it’s made of.
In fact, this is a shape like this that constantly duplicates itself and changes its position,
size and angle.
Main smoke particle is the “parent” shape,
which is copied by all the subsequent ones.
You can go inside this group and change this shape to anything you like,
and in all other groups, this change will also be applied.
Besides, we can add new ones or remove excess particles
simply by duplicating any of the follower groups.
If you go to the Effect Controls of the layer,
then you’ll see that, as well as in the previous preset, there are a number of settings there.
You can change the fill and the stroke color of the trail particles
set the offset between their appearance,
and also set the total cycle length.
The Speed setting is the number of pixels that a particle passes in one second,
thus, this parameter simultaneously controls the length
and the speed of the trail.
The angle controller changes the angle of the inclination of the trail particles,
which adds variability to its design,
while the maximum rotation offset
is responsible for the offset value of this rotation of the particles.
Start and End scale adjust the size of the appearing and disappearing elements of the trail.
Well, in the last Randomness tab
there are 4 parameters for controlling particle randomness.
That’s why each new trail will be absolutely unique.
And the last preset is something like a bubble simulation.
If you look closely,
you can see that each of the bubbles makes a wave-like movement
in the direction from the bottom to the top.
The principle of this preset is somewhat similar to the trail,
for instance, the change of the number of elements in the preset.
To add new bubbles or remove unnecessary ones,
you need to go to the bubble layer in the Contents section,
then to Bubble, and duplicate or delete the bubble particle group in it.
In the Effect Controls of the layer,
you will find a bunch of settings for their customization.
Fill and Stroke Color are used to change the color of the bubbles.
Time Offset, Loop Time and Speed ​​work exactly as in the loop preset.
In the beginning, we talked about the wave-like movement of the bubbles,
and the following settings allow us to regulate it.
Frequency is the number of waves, and the more waves there are,
the more the twisty the movement of the bubbles is.
The next parameter allows you to increase or decrease the amplitude of the bubble movement.
The Position Spread parameter allows you to set the width and height of the bubble stream.
Scale Min and Scale Max allow you to change the limits of particle expansion.
Randomness is already familiar to you from the previous preset.
And the last button that we will look at is Settings.
In this panel, we can add, change,
or delete a name preset for a limb.
The Limb Name field allows you to change the default name of a limb to any convenient one.
The window below will help with adding a new preset for controller names
or to change or delete any of the existing ones.
For example, let’s add our limb type and name it Tail.
Click on the plus.
Type in the name of the limb type and the name for the controllers…
After that, just click on the Save button.
And the created preset appears in the drop-down list in the Rigging panel.
Below, there are 3 rectangles in which you can change the default colors of the limb,
controller and outline.
And of course, you can reset all default settings by clicking on this button
And that’s it for now!
We did our best working on Character Tool script
and we hope that it will be as useful for your workflow as it already is for ours.
And we also want you to know that we keep working on this tool
and you’ll get more awesome functions very soon.
So stay tuned and have nice walk cycles!
Cheers 🙂

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