The Animation Process: Overview

I’ve got my storyboards, my script, my character sketches, I’ve done the tutes on rigging, lip sync, etc.

  1. Should I create the character as thoroughly and completely as possible from the get go, and then move forward with the animation, or can I create a “rough” of my characters, work on the animation, and then come back and finalize the outfits, lip sync, etc?

It almost seems unavoidable that, as I go through the animating process, there will be changes I’ll want to make to the characters. Improvements, changes in attire, I dunno.

  1. If I create the character in another file, and then append that character, and then go about animating them, is it possible to change the character file, and then copy/paste those changes to the character in the movie? I know I asked something like this before, but the answers were a bit mixed, and I never really understood the final answer (yes or no and how).

Obviously, my main concern is the process from start to finish. From my first lip sync experiment, I learned a lot and got the answers to a lot of my questions - I just hate the idea of working on something for a week or two, only to realize that if I want to change the appearance, I should have done that from the beginning.

And what about armatures? If I modify an armature - add more bones, is that doable once I’ve started animating? I would think yes, it’s doable because there’s nothing being done with that bone, but deleting a bone would definitely result in some problems maybe.

I just want to start moving forward on this thing!! I feel like I could spend the rest of my life doing research/tutorials and never actually get started on a simple project. Sigh.

You seem to be taking a very methodical approach. I appreciate that. Based on that, I would like to offer you two possible approaches to your project:

1. Test Test Test
Your character sketches and storyboard should show you all of the necessary movements and poses, so use this. Create short, quick tests to make sure all of the movements you expect your character to make look good. You don’t even have to render these if you don’t want to. Get to the point where you’re comfortable with your character’s rig and appearance. Be confident that it’ll do what you need it to do. Your preproduction planning has made it such that there’s very little that you don’t know about your animation.

This process takes time and patience, but you’re more likely to end with a high quality animation at the end of it.

2. Just go for it!
Experience is the best teacher. Don’t aim for perfection right off the bat. Put together your character and rig, run through a couple very quick tests, and just start animating. Of course it won’t look perfect, but you’ll learn a lot. Then decide to either refine this animation or use what you’ve learned on the next one.

This process gets your hands dirty faster, but results may or may not be as good as you want.

Above all, HAVE FUN!

One very handy thing to know about is that you can append and swap in the character’s mesh without appending the entire character object. The object is deformed by the armature, the mesh simply supplies the object with the mesh information.

So you can create a mesh object and rig it to an armature. Then you can leave that in one file. In a new file, you can append that mesh object (your character mesh) and armature and start to pose and animate it.

You can go back to the first file and edit the mesh. Make sure it’s still properly skinned to the armature. Then go to the second file, with the posed character, and in that file append the character mesh from the first file. Normally you append objects, but in this case you will go into the Mesh “directory” and get your character mesh from there.

This will not show up in the 3D view. Only objects show up there. However, when you go to your mesh dropdown in the buttons window, you will find that the new mesh is there, with a little circle next to it indicating it has no users. Select that, and the mesh will be updated on your posed character.

Modifying an armature while animating is certainly possible, and everything will behave predictably (not necessarily as you personally might expect, but predictably), but it’s definitely a pain in the neck if you’ve already started keying poses. Probably the best is to try to get the armature right in advance and consider changing armatures in midstream to be something to be avoided.