Newbie Question: NLA Editor vs Dope Sheet...What's the diffrence

Newbie question, but what’s the difference in the two…Aren’t they both used for editing the animations? What exactly are they both used for? Which one do I need to be using?

Among other things, the NLA editor is used to re-use animations (say, a walk cycle). The dope sheet is used to quickly move keyframes. I use the dope sheet all the time. I never animate without it. I have never needed to use the NLA editor, but I am sure others use it all the time.

I’ve been trying to learn character animation for about a year now and I haven’t been able to use NLA editor either because it is so weird. I do know how and where I could use it, however. Let’s say you have a walking cycle (in the dopesheet) and you need an animation where the character walks from one point to another. You’ll parent the character to a path and use the NLA editor to set how many loops the path needs in order to make the movement look natural.

Blending animations together would be also neat to do in NLA editor since even a simple walk probably needs start_walk, walk_loop x N, end_walk in order to function properly. Since I need to work @60fps in Blender, the animations in the dopesheet tend to grow quite big if I start stitching several animations together manually. NLA editor hides this complexity neatly.

Another thing you could want to do in NLA editor is animating the different body parts separately. For example, you could have the walking animation for feet and simultaneously something special for the upper body - or just for hands. We are doing this kind of separation in elsewhere, in the game engine, but I guess you could use the NLA editor for that as well.

I started watching CG Cookie’s Blender Animation Toolkit just now, and they seem to address all the essential things that I’ve been missing. It could, however, be a little too fast paced for somebody that doesn’t know anything about Blender (or animation in Blender). But for me it seems to be spot on.