Shape key animation: Dragon flying

Here is my simple dragon,

flapping his wings and flying around in circles.
The model has a path follow constraint, and the wing flapping and banking is done with three shape keys, one to compress or stretch out the wings, one to raise and lower the wings, and the third banks the wings. The wings bank key is non-symmetric and rather subtle, it raises one wing and lowers the other, but not by much. It’s most evident when the dragon is gliding and does some banking to simulate coping with stray wind currents while gliding.
Do you think he looks a little manic? Maybe I’m trying to fit too much in to 10 seconds.

It looks really dark on my monitor, but looked fine on my laptop. The CRT vs LCD problem. Maybe I’ll have to make two versions? Also, there is some motion blur in the still image I couldn’t get rid of. I was trying to make a simple render, but Blender kept rendering two images and superimposing them. I turned off blur, set the blur factor down to zero, changed the start and stop frames to 14 (that’s frame 14) but nothing made any difference. How do I render a still image from an animated blend?

I assume you haven’t used a Nodes Blur (Vector Blur)? This is not controlled by the blur button.

Other than that, I think the “Fields” button does something like you describe (but I could be wrong)

Well, even if it’s not what you describe, turn it off. Fields should only be used when absolutely necessary. They look like absolute crap on any screen that’s not interpolated.

Nice animation though. You might want to make the camera less frantic.

Well, I’ll look for the fields button and turn it off. Believe me, I didn’t turn it on deliberately. The camera is following an empty parented to the dragon, I may need to make a smoother path for the empty to track, instead of following all the ups and downs of the dragons path. Thanks, guys.

Yeah, you definitely have fields enabled. It’s in the render tab in the render window (to the bottom-right of the RENDER button.)

But as for the animation:
It doesn’t quite seem natural to me. To me, it seems a bit more like the dragon is a plastic toy zooming around on a track than a large creature soaring in the skies.

Remember that the different parts of a dragon will respond to forces differently:

-In order to climb, hold level, or dive, the wings need to have a different angle of attack. This is the angle the wings are at compared to the current air flow direction and speed. The angle of attack needed to fly forward in a straight line is the exact same needed to dive or climb in a straight line, at the same speed. Changing pitch requires a different AoA, and a change in airspeed requires a different AoA. At the same speed, a dive and level flight need the same AoA (AoA is relative to the air moving across the dragon, not the horizon), but as soon as the dragon starts picking up speed in the dive it needs to lower the AoA of its wings in order to keep diving in a straight line. (Keeping the wings the same will make its flight path rise up slightly).

-The body has mass and therefore momentum, so it will respond pretty much only to the wings, and even that response is delayed. The body will tend to keep going in the same direction, and gradually change its direction based on where its wings are steering it. In a shallow bank this isn’t quite as noticeable as if it pulls up from a steep dive, for example.
Either way, one curve path will either give direction or position, but never both - ie: it is not a rollercoaster track. While turning or pitching, the direction the dragon points at (if you treat it like an arrow) will always be a bit ahead of the direction the dragon is actually moving. Actually, it’s more like the direction the dragon’s moving lags a bit behind the direction its pointing.

  • On the other hand, the wings and the tail have very little mass and large surface area. These parts of the body will respond to the air visibly. I’m not just talking about imperfections in the air, either, but the air flow moving past the body. Because the body direction lags a bit behind where it’s pointing, the air flow changes direction over the dragon. The wings will respond to this just as much as they caused the change in direction in the first place. Most of the time this will be the wings moving up as the air pushes on the wings from the bottom. Same thing with the tail, and maybe the head.

  • Nitpicking now, but maybe curve the entire length of the wings a bit more when flapping or gliding. it looks a bit stiff to me.

I hope you keep working on it, though. I love dragons (I want to, eventually, make my own dragon model… that’s a ways off though :frowning: ) The animation should start turning out even nicer! :smiley:

I assume that you guys are reffering to the blurry, “double lines” effect in the above image? I sure as hell hope so as I’ve had that happen while trying to render a few times and never managed to figure it out. I just need a yea or nay as to whether that is, in fact, because of “Fields” which I’ve never intentionally turned on either.

Ahh, another aviation buff ? :smiley:

Me too !


The scale and speed are way off for a full sized dragon. He looks an electric/gas radio controlled model right now :slight_smile:

For the background to be moving that fast, you need to have the dragon almost filling the screen or otherwise slow it way down. … It would look better if the camera was a bit closer anyway. A dragon would probably fly at 20-40 mph I would guess. Anyway it’s like when you see a 747 go by, hardly looks likes it’s moving even when it’s going ~200 mph … since it’s ~200 feet long !


It definitely was the fields button causing the blurred single frame render. So now I know to turn it off. The default format button turns it on, the other format buttons don’t turn it off again, you have to do that by hand.
Alitorious and Mike_S, thanks for the advice. I thought it looked a bit like a ride at Knotts Berry Farm, even with the wings flapping. I’ve added a turn left/right shape key (is this yaw? I suppose I’m going to have to learn all this new vocabulary) to the body, along with a camera target path and a camera path, to make the camera motion smoother and to get the camera closer to the model as it flies around. I’ve also doubled the path length, so the dragon is moving slower. I need to work on the Angle of Attack shapes for the wings, and add some tail motion. Probably have some time to do all this on the weekend.

direction the dragon points at (if you treat it like an arrow) will always be a bit ahead of the direction the dragon is actually moving.

So if it was an arrow arcing in the air about how big a difference is there between the direction it’s pointing and the direction it’s moving?

As I don’t believe there is any actual aerodynamic data available for dragon flight, the answer is that you would probably have to fake it :smiley: … and go with whatever looked the best :slight_smile:

Generally speaking though, the faster it’s flying and the quicker the change in direction, the bigger the difference would be.

Otherwise there are probably physics simulators on the internet, that might help.

Or you could arbitrarily assign mass and size to a dragon and do an extensive aerodynamic study/calculation :smiley:

Hmm, actuall the XPlane simulator is pretty good at this, it calculates aero-forces based on how the model is constructed in it’s aircraft-editor program. I might have to fire up my X-plane and see if I can import a Dragon model :smiley:


Well, the wing span is somewhere between 30 and 40 feet, and it weighs about the same as a small horse. As dragons are mythological/supernatural beasts, I’m not quite sure a physics simulator is the way to go here. I think I’ll stick with door number one, and fake up something that looks good.

BTW, this species of dragon (short necked) spits wads of flaming gunk, unlike the long necked variety which belch flammable gasses.

I’m might be repeating in different words what has already been said, but still:
I think the whole thing should be slowed down a bit, with fuller, more graceful wing motion and more gradual banks/turns. Good start, though. Keep tweaking this.
p.s., It just occured to me, it looks kind of like a baby dragon learning to fly:D .

EDIT: Saw Eragon today, amazing animation of the dragon there. Check that out for reference dragon animation material (even the trailer, which you can watch online).

Here is my second try at flying a dragon around in circles. This time, literally in circles. The dragon, the camera and the camera target are all on circular paths.

Shape keys control the dragon’s wings, head and tail, Object Ipos for rotation control pitch, roll and yaw, and Ipos for location control displacements from the circular path (this also came in handy to keep the camera more or less centered, it tracks an empty parented to the camera target circle, and displacing the empty with a LocZ Ipo is a lot easier than tweaking the path.)

Never saw the Eragon trailer, I’m on dial up and the studio site is too packed with goodies to load in a reasonable amount of time. I suppose dial up users aren’t their target demographic anyways. Oh well.

However! The dragon lives! and Flies! He isn’t breathing fire yet, though. Maybe I’ll give him a farmhouse with a haystack to set on fire…

C&C welcome as always.

That’s a lot better!! In the last half it feels like the dragon is really gliding down. I think the subtle movements make it much more believable.

My only critique would be that when the dragon is flapping his wings, it doesn’t look like they’re caring him forward; there should be more of a swimming motion.

Looking great!

ill say one thing…awesome terrain and mist…:stuck_out_tongue:

I spent a lot of time watching sea gulls flying around, since they are roughly the same aspect ratio as mr. dragon here. One thing I noticed, when seagulls flap their wings, they are focussed straight ahead. Gliding, they look around, slide left or right, but when they are pumping those wings, man, that’s it. Plus, their body is fairly stable, at least, it appears to be.

I’ve got some body up and down motion tied into the wing up and down motion (z axis), but by swimming I take it you mean faster and slower forward motion. I suppose I could try going plus and minus a bit on the LocY ipo. That should give him a bit of a rush forward on the downbeat and a slight slowing on the up beat.

trak: it’s really simple, too. I subdivided a plane, pulled up some hills around the edges with the proportional editing tool and put a large scale wood texture on it. Turned nor on the texture way up, like to 20 or so. Put it on it’s own layer with it’s own sun lamp, shining sideways, so some parts are shadowy, some are well lit and some are half and half. I turned the mist on to hide the fact that the gullies are a bump map and not modeled in. :smiley:

Hi Orinoco !
After your visit on my last tutorial, I discovered this link.
Nice job on your Dragon flight !
While making my own animation trials, I have noticed that adding a frame delay on the camera when it is parented to an animated object or aiming a target, generally adds some realism to the scene. Just a little trick that you may already know…
Really nice animation.

Trevor, thanks for the feedback. I think the climb portion is much improved. ROUBAL, Hi. I didn’t know the camera delay trick, but it makes sense. I tried it on the dragon, but, since the camera target is simply moving around in a circle, it didn’t have much effect. I will use it when the dragon’s path takes on more zigs and zags.

I did some tests with the Cinepac codec, there are three settings, a compression quality slider that goes from 0 to 100, a Key Frame Rate every n frames, and a Data Rate n KB/sec.
The Compression Quality slider has a slight effect on the file size. The key frame every n frames cut the file size from 1374 KB to 729 KB using 10 frames, down to 707 using 20 frames, then to 686 using 40 frames. I tried with 80 frames, and got 686, the same as 40. All the resulting files looked good with no compression artifacts or any difference in quality that I could see.

Still, 686 KB for a one second test file would have made a huge final file, so I tried the DivX codec. The Home Theater Profile (I have the free version, most of the settings are greyed out) gave me a 44 KB file, and the High Definition Profile was 77 KB. I didn’t notice any quality difference on my monitor.

So, this is encoded using DivX, it plays fine using VLC, Real Player and Windows Media Player, although Real Player and Windows Media put a “DivX” watermark in the lower right hand corner for the first 10 seconds or so the first time it is played. I recommend VLC.

Hi! I think that the use of a frame delay is more efficient if the camera has no path. You parent the camera to the moving target, and apply a frame delay between 1 or 2 frames. No more, because the target could sometimes get out of the camera field when it’s direction changes.
It is the way I do for filming the car from the outside in my cars tutorial.
Good animation. Maybe you could give leave a bit more space ahead the dragon at some moments, but the animation is nice.