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Template for future "Animating Running Cycles" tutorial

Animating Running Cycles

by artisticdude

Note: This is a work in progress.


I've heard some people say that running cycles are the hardest animation to create. Personally, I disagree with the idea that running animations are harder to create than any other kind of animation. It's true that creating running animations generally involves more work than creating most other animations (attack, death, defense, etc.), but usually running animations also follow a very strict set of rules. Once you understand these rules, creating running animations should be little more than investing enough time to see it through.

Note that I assume at least some level of competence in pixel art and animating throughout this tutorial. I also assume that the graphics program you are using supports layers and transparency (while those features aren't strictly necessary in order to create a running animation, they are huge time savers and will make your life a heck of a lot easier). If you haven't already, I suggest reading the Basic Animation Tutorial and From Base Frame To Full Animation before following this tutorial any further.

In this tutorial, I will demonstrate how to create a standard south-east/south-west facing run cycle by using the Goblin Impaler unit from mainline. Running animations for the other directions (north-east/north-west, south, & north) are drawn at different angles, but the concepts and theories discussed here apply to running cycles in all directions.

Chapter 1: The Theory Behind Running Cycles


Wesnoth running cycles are split into four distinct poses. Not frames, poses, as in anatomical positions. These positions are:

  • Contact
  • Recoil
  • Passing
  • High Point


As you may have noticed in the poses example above, there is a a certain amount of rotation happening over the course of the animation in the hips and shoulder areas. If you


Movement Arcs

Chapter 2: Understanding Your Subject

This is the most important part of the animation. You can come up with eight beautiful frames for your animation, but if those frames don't read as a realistic and fluid motion when played together as an animation, you might as well have just doodled random scribbles instead. Understanding your subject's anatomy, equipment, and weight will help you immensely in creating a realistic and fluid animation.


It is vital to any animation that you understand your subject's anatomy: where their joints are located, how far and in what direction those joints can bend and/or twist, whether there is a bone beneath the surface of a certain area or whether that area is composed of flexible membrane, etc. etc. This is especially important if your subject is not humanoid, but even for humanoids with non-human appendages or modified human appendages (tails, enormous ears, an extra set of arms, etc.). Before you even open your graphic editing program, study the baseframe of your subject and learn as much as you can about its anatomy. Find and study references, both still images and videos, if possible. Even creatures that don't have any real-world counterparts to study often have anatomical structures similar to those of real-world creatures.


In addition to anatomy, it is paramount that you understand the equipment your subject is wearing/holding, since this will have a significant impact on how the character actually moves. I follow a list of simple steps to help me understand the equipment of the subject, in the form of a series of questions:

  • What exactly is each piece of equipment?

Most of the time it will be fairly obvious what each piece of equipment on your subject is (it's really hard to mistake a properly-drawn sword for a toothbrush), but there will be occasions where you won't be able to decide what that blue dot at the side of the subject's waist is.

  • What is the three-dimensional shape of each piece of equipment?
  • What is each piece of equipment made of?
    • How flexible/rigid is that material? Obviously a cloth tunic will have different dynamics than a solid metal breastplate.
  • How much does weight is the subject carrying?

Weight is a huge factor in animations. How you convey that weight in your animation can either make your subject look light and etherial, or heavy and ponderous. If you're animating a fairy, chances are the subject's movements will be swift and graceful. Likewise, if you're animating a troll warrior, the subject's movements are likely to be clumsier and more ponderous. The movement of your subject will also be heavily influenced by the weight of their equipment; for instance, an elf in lightweight leather armor will be able to move much faster and easier compared to a human wearing a suit of heavy steel armor. In order to produce a convincing animation, you will need to make sure you know approximately how much weight your subject is dealing with.

Note that these questions are only to assist in drawing the motion of the object, not in drawing the object itself. To successfully draw and shade an object well, you must ask many additional questions which I won't go into here. If you do not know how to shade an object, I suggest you stop reading this page right now and do more reading up and practice on the subject before continuing.

Chapter 3: Direction and Perspective


So now that we understand how the character should move, it's time to start planning the direction of the movment. In this case, since we're doing a south-east running animation, we have to have the subject move from one hex to the neighboring south-east hex:


So what now? Obviously we can't have the unit running at the wrong angle, otherwise it will look like he's sliding when the animation plays in-game. In order to help us avoid that potential pitfall, let's draw a three-dimensional graph to visualize the direction in which the unit will be running:


Viola! When in doubt, draw a graph. As you can see, we want our unit to run down the X axis (the red line) in order to reach the adjacent hex. If we were creating a north-east/north-west running animation, we would want the unit to run up the Y axis (the pink line). For now, however, let's stick with the south-east/south-west animation down the X axis.

So this is the path we want our unit to take during the animation:


In terms of individual pixels, the line that shows the path our subject will take has a pixel angle of "two over, down one, over one, repeat", that is to say, over two pixels, down and over one pixel, then over two pixels again, down and over one pixel again, etc. To illustrate:


It may be helpful for some to have the line be two pixels tall rather than only a single pixel tall, as I did in the first three images above. Note that the same angle still applies. Think of it as just placing another single-pixel-tall line on top of our existing single-pixel-tall line, like so:


So, now we've established the direction in which our subject will be moving and the path the subject will be taking. We've even set up a helpful guideline to make sure the subject doesn't accidentally wander off that path at some point during the animation. Having gotten this step out of the way, let's talk about the perspective of your animation.


Chapter 4: Planning Your Animation

Chapter 5: Details, Details, Details

Chapter 6: Testing Your Animation

This page was last edited on 4 April 2013, at 18:29.