Bring Your Animated Characters to Life with These Solid Tips

Sonic’s earlier design (left) was panned by the audiences and critics. After listening to the fans’ feedback, the character was redesigned (right), much to everyone’s delight.

Do you remember the backlash that followed after the first photo from the live-action Sonic film went viral? For those who don’t, the character animation of the titular hero was severely criticized, with some calling it the stuff of nightmares and creepy as heck.

Less than a year later, a new trailer was unveiled, and the response to the character design was overwhelmingly positive. Above everything else, fans were especially appreciative that the studios thoroughly listened to their feedback and made the changes accordingly.

The point of sharing this story is to establish that bringing characters to life is one of the trickiest parts of animation. But at the same time, it’s enormously essential, as you’ve learned from the tale of Sonic.

So, if you’re also on the hunt for tips to improve your character animation, whether as a beginner or pro, you’ve come to the right place.

In today’s blog, we’ll share helpful tips for animating characters that AnimationProLabs, over the years, has discovered and perfected.

1. Observe the Characters in the Real World

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If you run short of inspiration while animating a character, look no further than its real-life counterpart. Whether it’s an adorable kitty or an evil emperor, our world is filled with examples that can help you draw them, well, not perfectly, but as close as possible.

Many animators, while working on high-budgeted animated feature films, often observe the voice actors recording dialogues for reference.

2. Understand the Psychology of Movement

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While observing real-life characters is great, you must take things further by understanding movement psychology. This includes how humans (or whatever you’re animating) react to their surroundings or change their facial expressions.

And this is not limited to physical movements. How the character thinks or what’s going on in their mind is also worth paying attention to. You’ll be able to animate better once you have a clear understanding of the minutiae.

3. Learn How Gravity Works

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Unless your video is set in space, gravity will affect each character differently; you must consider this while working on your project.

For instance, heavy characters tend to walk differently than lighter ones. Remember, body weight and proportion have a significant impact on how a person moves.

The accuracy of your scenes, particularly when you involve gravity, depends on how well you researched prior to starting your project.

4. Time Your Character’s Movements Accurately

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Understanding how your characters move is not enough; you must also have a deeper comprehension of when to make them move. If you do it too early or too late, it’ll make everyone look unrealistic and funny (despite your intention).

So, if your character is happy, their movements will be quick and sharp. On the other hand, if the person is sad, they’ll react slowly.

5. Start with a Simple Model

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Watching Pixar and Disney films may inspire you to create super-realistic characters, but there’s no need to strive for perfection. At least, not when you’re just starting.

Instead, start with a simple rig – the digital structure or skeleton of a character – before moving toward improving its appearance. If you spend all of your time on the rig, it could delay the project or cause additional problems.

6. Sketch the Key Poses in the Beginning

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Making an animated video is complex, and animators have to follow a meticulous process. But if you sketch the key poses in the beginning, your journey will be, well, not exactly smooth, but you’ll face fewer hurdles along the way.

Not only will doing so save your precious time, but it will also provide you with a better sense of direction moving forward.

7. Animate the Eyes First

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It’s easy to miss this: our movements are always guided by our eyes. If you think of moving toward a specific direction, your eyes will be the first to look at that spot, followed by the neck and body.

In addition, experts agree that the eyes are the first thing people see when they look at others. So, it’s highly likely your viewers will do the same. Expect this time, the eyes will be animated.

8. Keep the Character Speech Generic

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No one spells out each letter in a word separately, which is why you should keep the character speech generic. For example, make them say ‘product’ instead of emphasizing every word, like ‘p,’ ‘r,’ ‘o,’ ‘d,’ ‘u,’ ‘c,’ ‘t’.

Otherwise, if you exaggerate every letter, it’ll make the mouth of the character appear irregular and far from reality. The lips should move just enough to portray that they are, in fact, uttering something.

9. Balance Your Character

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Remember that gravity point we discussed a few paragraphs ago? Keeping that in mind, learn how to balance your character using gravity as the central force.

And unless you are intentionally exaggerating a character’s movements – like they do in cartoons – do not overdo anything. Only then will they appear natural and believable to the audience.

10. Understand the Character’s Personality

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It’s a universal fact that shy or reserved people, in real life, avoid eye contact, speak softly, and hunch their shoulders. On the other hand, outgoing individuals exhibit confidence and are more expressive.

The character’s appropriate body language should be visible in the video. To understand how to make them express emotions, you’ll have to work on developing the character’s personality, whether they’re open, friendly, rigid, or something else.

Wrapping It Up

You cannot become excellent at animating characters overnight; it’s a long process that requires months – or years – of dedication and practice. However, if you start today, you’ll be one step closer to becoming good at it.

The tips we’ve mentioned in this blog will significantly help on your journey. Keep them in your rearview mirror, and you’re all set.