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Poser Animation 100- Getting Started

For use with Poser 7 as well as Poser 5 or 6

Poser provides a straightforward introduction to animating in three dimensions- this tutorial will walk you through the workflow and introduce some of Poser's commonly-used animation tools.Posing a figure to produce a still image is not terribly difficult. Setting up a realistic animation, however, is somewhat more complicated, as we now have to take into account the fourth dimension- time.

To this end, we'll take Gramps, one of the cartoon characters introduced in the Pro Pack expansion, and have him step through a dance that may be familiar to some readers.

If you're just getting started with 3D animation, it's worthwhile to understand a few basic principles. These were originally developed in the early days of film animation, and while they were created for 2-dimensional animation they are still quite valid. I won't go into detail on those principles here, but they include-

1. Anticipation- "Setting up" the main movement through body, head or eye positioning just prior to the move;

2. Follow-Through- Continuing the action just past the point where it's "finished";

3. Squash and Stretch- Changing proportions as the figure moves, for a more organic look and to emphasize the action;

4. Exaggeration- Making the moves a little bigger, again for dramatic emphasis;

5. Staging- Setting the scene up to draw the viewer's eye to a particular element (a figure, a prop, a body part, etc.) whose movement- or lack of movement- drives the scene or provides emotion;

6. Ease-In, Ease-Out- Starting movements slow and accelerating them makes them, then slowing them down as the movement finishes, makes the movement look more natural and less robotic.

Some good resources to help make these concepts clear can be found at-

- John Lasseter, of course, directed Toy Story.

, by Ralph De Stefano (University of Illinois/Chicago)

It's Just A Jump To The Left

The first step, as one might imagine, is to create a new scene. Then, we delete any figure that might already be present (click on them and hit the Delete key, then click OK in the ensuing dialog.) Now, bring in the Gramps figure by opening the Library palette, clicking Figures, and double-clicking the Cartoon folder. Gramps is down towards the bottom; double-click him to bring him into the scene.

With Gramps in the scene, in his default pose, we can begin. Poser scenes all contain 30 frames by default- a frame is a unit of time, 1/30 of a second; videotapes and TV programs created in the US use a frame rate of (almost) 30 frames per second, so in Poser 1/30 of a second is one frame. We're working with Gramps in frame #1; this is displayed in the Animation Controls palette at the bottom of the screen.

While it is fairly easy to drag Gramps' body parts around, thus posing him, we must remember that in order to animate him, we'll need to change his pose over time. To manage this, Poser uses keyframes- time-based notations within the Poser scene that record joint angles, body positions, morph values and other information about the selected actor (in Poser, anything that can be animated is an actor; this includes figures and individual parts of figures, props, cameras and lights.) When we move a body part in a particular frame, for example, Poser sets a keyframe for that body part in that frame.

One other thing might help to make the work easier- by default, Poser is set to display the scene in Fast Tracking mode, in which whenever you move anything the figure turns to boxes. This is a holdover from the days when computers were too slow to display full real-time previews of moving 3D objects; these days we can set the mode to Full Tracking and avoid this distraction. At the bottom left of the Preview Window, there's a drop-down menu- select Full Tracking as shown-

Now, we have Gramps ready to animate. His first move is, as one might anticipate, just a jump to the left. Stop for a moment and think about what you would do, if you were going to jump in the real world- you'd start by squatting down just a bit, to prepare for the upwards spring of the jump. To make Gramps' movement look realistic, we'll have him bend his legs a bit, to "wind up" for his jump. This is pretty easy- just go to frame #5, select the Move/Translate tool (with the four arrows) from the Editing Tools, as shown in the two pictures above, and click-and-drag down on Gramps' hips, to get him ready to jump.

Posing him in this way is made easier by a feature of Poser called Inverse Kinematics- a technical term for a process in which the feet (or hands) of the figure stay in place until you move them. You can turn Inverse Kinematics on or off for Gramps' limbs in the Figure menu; we'll leave it on for now.

To make Gramps jump to the left, we'll want to move down the timeline to frame #10 (as shown below) and drag his hips up and over to his left (our right)- see how Inverse Kinematics makes his legs stretch out behind him?

Now to make him land. We'll go to frame #17, drag his hips down and then use the Move/Translate tool to move each of his feet into position as shown. There- we've just made our first bit of animation!

And Then A Step To The Right

We're not through, though- now we'll delve a bit deeper into Poser's keyframing capabilities to make Gramps take a step to the right and then repeat that step a couple of times.

Starting in frame #20, Gramps is already in position to take his step as shown above- all we have to do is move his foot. While we could just move it over to the right, the end result would have him sliding his foot across the floor, which isn't what we want. Instead, we'll go to frame #25 and lift his foot up, moving it over a bit as shown here-

- and then advance to frame #30 and drag his foot back down into its final position over to the right as shown. OK, now Gramps has taken his step, and we're at the end of the scene (for now.)

If we were to play this scene back, step through it frame-by-frame or render it, we'd see that during Gramps' step, his right foot goes down through the floor. This is a problem- but the solution is easy, and illustrates one of Poser's lesser-known animation tools.

Select Gramps' right foot by clicking on it, or from the Current Actor menu in the upper border of the Preview pane. Now, from the Window menu, select Graph, and the Graph palette appears. This palette shows the values of the various parameters for the selected actor over time- we can choose which parameter to see by choosing its name from the drop-down menu in the upper right of the palette, as shown-

As we see above, the yTran value for the right foot goes into negative numbers from frame 17 to frame 22- as Poser automatically moves the body part along, its default way of creating movement in between keyframes is to use smoothly accelerating and decelerating values, so the movement is more natural. Problems arise in situations like this, where those curves produce unwanted actions as shown below.

Fortunately we can fix this without creating any new keyframes- click on the graph at the first keyframe of the "bad" section, frame 17. Now, we want Gramps' foot to stay on the floor- with a yTrans value of zero- until it starts to go up again in frame 22. To do this, click the Constant Section button as shown, and the yTrans value will stay the same until the next frame before the next keyframe (thus, the value will stay constant through frame 21, then go up to the keyframe at frame 22.)

Now Gramps can take a proper step to the right. What if we want him to repeat that same step a couple of times? We could recreate the step by hand twice, but that's a lot of work. Here's where we can take advantage of Poser's keyframing setup to make actions repeat without too much work.

First, let's make room in our scene for Gramps to take another couple of steps. We're at frame #30, which is all we had in the scene by default. However, adding more frames is as easy as clicking in the second frame counter and entering a higher number- we'll add 60 more frames, to bring the total up to 90 as shown-

Now we have another 60 frames to work in. The next step is to bring up the Animation palette so we can work with it. We can get to the Animation palette by selecting it from the Window menu, or by clicking the little button with the key on it, in the Animation controls at the bottom of the Poser workspace.

When the Animation palette comes up, we can scroll down to the entry for the right foot. Notice that the keyframes show up here as bright green squares; the darker green squares are tween frames, which Poser uses to move or change things from one keyframed value to another. Orange frames are linear section frames, where the change from one keyframed value to the next is applied in a straight line rather than a curve. Grey frames are frames for which no value has been set.

To duplicate an action, we select the appropriate keyframes by clicking and dragging, or clicking then shift-clicking, as if we were selecting cells on a spreadsheet. In this case we'll select the frames for the right foot, from frame #17 to frame #30. Now, choose Copy from the Edit menu to copy the frame values.

Then, we click and drag to select the part of the timeline where we'd like the copied action to occur (we actually only have to click the first frame) and choose Paste from the Edit menu, and Poser pastes the keyframe data into the timeline right where we want it. We'll allow a couple of frames for Gramps to get his foot back into place before taking the second step, as shown-

And we can repeat that as many times as necessary (we'll do it twice in this case, for a total of three steps.)

I'll leave the rest of the dance as an exercise for the reader.