View Full Version : TIPS AND TRICKS: Char Animation (Tell us your animation tricks with STANDARD LW)

10 October 2004, 01:26 PM
Ok I want to start a series of threads where tips and tricks for the use of Lightwave can be share. One are that is usually tricky is character animation.

I would love to hear your methods of animation with STANDARD Lightwave.
I only have two rules for the thread:

Lets keep the thread instructive.

As a user of Motion builder I am quite aware of third party solutions for this. But the topic of this thread is for a LW only solution.

Looking forward to your comments.


10 October 2004, 10:25 PM
I wanted to post a couple of threads that Splinegod had started about workflow solutions, but couldn't get at them with the current configuration of, or they're gone.

I think I saved three pages from "Speeding up character animation," in case you think I should post them here... This new config of cgtalk is weird.

Some of the better tips and tricks relating to character animation I've learned have been in the "1,001 Tips" book.

Some of this stuff is supposed to be in the OTHER LightWave areas, resources and tutorials.

It isn't though, nor is it the Preston Blair book, or Angie Jones' ( . Those web sites go into some detail about imitating 2D character timing and curvy motion with available tools. Preston Blair talks about fundamentals that can't be reproduced with a button, like staging by silhouette so that character motions "read."

The Newtek tutorials include the famous flattened eye tutorial.

The one "trick" I find myself using over and over is learning long-forgotten or never-used tools by running through all of the permutations of a tool using a subdivided box primitive, whether it's hypervoxel collisions or MD metamorphplug.

10 October 2004, 01:56 AM
Name everything well
exsample give all you main control bones and objects and X_
so you can uses the filter in scene editor to filter out all the other unused stuff

the new Lw 8 time line is So cool uses it :thumbsup:

uses my Free plugin Negative pase paste

get dual montors :thumbsup:

in your graph editor options
set your graph edit to update layout selected speeds things up
specially when you have autokey turned off.

that's it Lightwave got pretty good character aniamtion you just need to set it up like all other apps

10 October 2004, 02:40 AM
Heres that thread Scott:
I also agree that the the 1001 TnT book has a ton of great stuff on this topic. :)

10 October 2004, 06:35 AM
Keep an organized schematic view. I arrange all the bones/controllers to mimic the skeleton so I easily pick what I want, I also color code everything to make it easier to grab the right item. I always use dark red for right side bones, dark green for left side bones, white for hold bones, dark blue for muscle bones, green for left side controllers, red for right side controllers, purple for lights, magenta for special lights, cyan for objects, dark cyan for special objects, brown for props/scenery, black for cameras, grey for special cameras, orange for particle/HV's. I also keep scene elements grouped together and generally try to keep the schematic aranged similar to the way the items are arranged in 3d. For complex scenes it can take a little while to set up, but it saves a lot of time down the road, especially if you have to revisit a scene you haven't worked on in a while.

Use a paper dopesheet/x-sheet to use as a reference for timing and so you know where accents and inflections occur in the soundtrack/dialogue.

Thumbnail actions by drawing small stick figures before blocking out the animation.

After you've blocked out the animation, show the motion paths and make sure the arcs look good before refining the animation. Do this after each stage of refinement to make sure you didn't change the arcs too dramatically.

Learn to use the graph editor; shortcuts keys, footprints, tcb/beziers/ect, pre/post behavior, selection sets, expressions, modifiers, go through all the menus and options and learn what everything does.

10 October 2004, 06:44 AM
To be honest I used to use the schematic view. Its a pain to set up IMO. I hope Newtek makes some improvements on that. I do like to use CCP which is very easy to setup for item picking. :)

10 October 2004, 08:28 PM
CCP is cool but I don't find it useful for an overview of the whole scene, and I get annoyed by having a ton of windows floating around all the time. I hope in newer versions of LW viewports will be able to display any window/plugin interface you want. I'm already out of screen real-estate with two monitors, and I don't have any room for a third! I agree that the schemactic setup needs some improvements

10 October 2004, 08:42 PM
What I do like about CCP is that I can create nodes for other items and even commands. This is useful for being able to select or multiselect items and then set IK on certain channels just by assigning those particular IK channel commands to nodes.
I would be more inclined to use the schematic view if there was a simple/quick way of cleaning it up when you first open it. It takes a huge amount of time just to organize it just to make picking easier. Once you do that it is easier to select things from that as opposed to using the pop up lists. :)

10 October 2004, 08:50 AM
For the Newbies:


There are two kinds of animation using bones deformers: hingy doll jointed motion, and softer stuff like from a bouncing ball.

A bouncing ball is pretty tricky with this toolset, so you know. If you add bones to the center of a ball, and the ball is textured, like with a face, the head will have to land precisely where you need it to, based on where the bones were drawn, and this may lead to further compromises in the quality of subsequent bounces. So, instead, you have a single "spine" for squashing and stretching and a 180 degree rotation system buried in morphing to relocate the points to the spine, while counter-rotating the object, except that endomorphs aren't made for this. You have to go to MTSE and have four 45 degree rotations and that's just for one axis.

The plug-in's for handling this sort of puzzle are free, but it's a puzzle, or I'm ignorant, it wouldn't be the first time. I wonder what others are doing?

What you need to know is that although nobody is saying that it's possible, it is possible. So, keep noodling.

For instance, one CAN have a spine provide twisting/bending/swelling overlapping a weight-mapped skeleton system. For the purpose of this post, I weight mapped a box, and found that if I gave the non-weight-mapped bones limited range balls with the same distance for minimum and maximum distance, affecting most of the object (if all of the object is covered, one can run into a paradox that causes the object only to move up and down or rotate, so leave some out) and a small values of 7%, then give the weight mapped bones un-normalized values, the two seem to work together.

I've only begun to get into 2D style deformations for character animation, and the toolset handles a lot of tasks reasonably.

10 October 2004, 02:00 AM

First, model in the heaviest highest poly count you'll need.
The reason for this is that although you can go back in MD Metamorphplug and play an MDD file through an object that has more poly's, it's still involved, because you've got an object to add morph names, etc. to contend with. I have a character with some involved hair that I want to retro-morph with new phonemes, and this is turning into a headache. If a client wants to add a moustache, though, it's worth knowing and being grateful for.

Also, you need to bear in mind that unless you bones-rig facial gestures, which appears to be a very worthwhile approach considering the "Current Items and Descendants" control, certain facial gestures are going to need a higher number of points for morph targetting. Splinegod mentions the Elvis lip sneer that is impossible without geometry, or would require adding a specific bone.

The great thing about working high poly at the design level, is that when the time comes to animate, your endomorphs can get creamed by something like QLoss, and still function for morphing! ordinarily, you will cut the body from a model and look only at the heads, but this isn't absolutely necessary.

I only recently learned of "Ctrl + Shift" while keying morphs. It keys all the morphs of a group to prevent little surprises, especially for those of us who love the "Key Destroy" button. (Auto Key).

May I add. Auto Key. What a superb feature! I get a kick out of it, though I have to resist laziness and both make sure I adjust or key a root bone when I adjust some tertiary detail (to empower "current item and descendants" edits), and make sure I get more poses down than I think I need. Pretend like two seconds is five seconds, and save the slow stuff for when it's called for. That's one thing we learned in Animation School -- two seconds is forever.

1,001 Tnt has some pretty major suggestions for working with models, which I'll skip mentioning, it's a pretty necessary book, though I don't approve of poor documentation. There should probably be a thread of the LW bugs that have workarounds, like how to NOT lose "Favorite" sets by doing the "replace object" using a text editor.

To me, "Favorites" are a lot of fun. A set for closing the outer knuckles of a hand, spine flexing, cloth flexing, and a handy place for oft-used bones, besides the schematic view. I've only begun using the schematic view for chracter work as a selection tool -- I see how that color coding would make it hugely useful with split screen.

A challenge for me is getting a grip of the 3D cues I'm working with. I want to work in stereo 3D, basically, and I wish I had more clues on how to do this. I'm told leading studio's use the same lighting rig for keyframing all scenes to help hardwire character dimensionality. I also see grids being used for characters for not just texturing, and I've suggested parenting a light to a center null and using the light view as a perspective view for better keyframing.

Another "trick" would be the "world coordinates" bone orientation which is hidden and not redundantly represented n the top left layout menu button. It can't help with gimbal lock, but it's terrific for a lot of animation.

10 October 2004, 04:49 PM
Reference. You can't have enough...animation principles used in conjunction with reference will really help. Mirror near by? Use it...make faces act out your scenes yourself 500 billion times and then do it again. Study everything you can. Be observant and it'll help you greatly.

Tip: Keep your keys stepped until the very very end. Then switch them to tcb and work the curves. I spend alot of time in the curve's your really is.

If you're a newb....don't jump straight into the principles first get a firm grasp on them and then move forward...start with bouncing balls or something to work on timing. A simple ball is all you need to really start learning the fundamental principles. It might not sound fun...but it'll build your skillset tremendously.

10 October 2004, 03:39 AM
An earlier "bouncing ball" thread with some pretty classy replies.

remi, you so rock

10 October 2004, 08:42 AM
A great way to learn is to do what Remi suggested and shoot some video of yourself or someone else acting out the motions. Digitize the footage and use it in Layout as a background to "rotomate" to. You can go in and sweeten up the motion curves. Youll learn very quickly from doing it this way. Cheating is encouraged and it helps you get the job done more quickly. Use the technology and tools you have at your disposal wisely. :)

10 October 2004, 09:20 AM
A $40 WebCam will be sufficient :thumbsup:

When adjusting the poses and timming use Flat (Steped) Keys so that u see a kind of "SlideShow" when u press play or make a preview, dont start adjusting curves until u have the correct poses and timming!!! U will loose precious time later on adjusting animation if the poses and timming are not correct in the first place. :wise:

Link the Endomorph Sliders to regular sliders, this way u can use KeyTrack to adjust all the poses in one go. I dont have LW 8 but i suspect the Dopesheet doesnt "see" Endomorph Sliders by default like in LW 7.5, if it does disregard this :D

10 October 2004, 06:26 PM
Exaggerate, Exaggerate, Exaggerate. Push quote Shawn Kelly "If you think you've pushed a pose to it's limit and it can't go any further, chances are you can push it a little further." There are alot of resources at your disposal for learning animation online. Use them.

scott, you rock as well:):buttrock:

"Today, you hear people talk about 'thinking outside the box.' But Walt would say, 'No! Don't think outside the box! Once you say that , you've established that there is a box.' Walt would refuse to accept the existence of the box."
- Disney Historian Jim Korkis on Walt Disney Hope you find that useful....might not be up long....thanks Mooncalf you rock:buttrock:

10 October 2004, 08:02 PM

After using it, I'll never go back. It's like having dozens of muscle-bones without having to set them up. Faster too!

10 October 2004, 11:46 PM
Explain, Carm! Explain! :bounce:

I'm not an animator (yet) but my tip is to read The ANimator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams! You will SO learn something like no other time... :thumbsup:

10 October 2004, 11:41 AM
He might mean something like I slapped together here. Open the .zip archive, load the scene and make sure you hit the Calculate button on the SoftFX (on the FXMetaLink2PtPolyMuscle object's Dynamics Tab) to get it to work. The FXMetaLink is transferring the SoftFX motion from the ultra-low res 2 point poly muscle to the higher res 3D muscle object. Imagine using 2 point poly muscles on a whole body setup, run a superfast calculation, then just connect them to high res muscles via FXMetaLink! (Note: I think you have to place a centerpoint on the 2 point poly muscle to enable dynamic muscle jiggling though. I'm scratching my head on how to make that happen. :hmm: Additional muscle bulging could be made with a simple morph tied to the rotation of the lower arm bone.) If that isn't what you meant Carm3D, then by all means please enlighten me too! I never considered this trick until you shared it with us. Thanks! :)

10 October 2004, 02:49 PM
Put a Key on every animated item in the rig for poses. This will make retiming poses much easier.

10 October 2004, 05:18 PM
michaelb (and Fongool),

Yeah that's kinda what I meant. Only more elaborate.. Not just for a single muscle, for the entire body. I model a low-res "meta" version of my character. I rig and animate the meta character, then apply ClothFX (usually with everything set as 'fixed'). Then I use FXMetaLink on the high poly character.

The advantages are Layout will run faster with the bones driving less points. This speeds up animation. And for areas like where the pectoral muscle connects with the shoulder, I don't have any points in the middle. So when the arm is raised, those polygons stretch. It acts like a network of muscle bones that drive the high poly character. It's sweet. Modeling endomorphs for phonems and facial expressions is also much quicker with a low-res meta model.

Oh don't forget to turn on "Faster Bones" while you animate for even more speed.

10 October 2004, 06:52 PM
Why is the effect different than just animating a subpatch model with subpatch order set to last?

Surely, that would do the same thing? it subdivides after the bones have deformed the lowres cage resulting in the new polys stretching in the same way as you have described.

If not, I'm intrigued

10 October 2004, 09:39 PM
I should have kept my mouth shut... I tried to set up a demo rig scene showing how cool this is but Lightwave is glitching out on me.. some of the points aren't getting moved by the Meta object. Nevertheless here it is.. It *should* work, but it's only kinda working. Fortunately it's working for me in my own project.

Run a calculation pass for 60 frames to make it go.

-edit- Okay I fixed it.. Turns out the skelegons in the Meta object were trying to deform the model too... and 2-point polys don't make for good lattice deformers.

10 October 2004, 10:40 PM

I subpatched the low res object, and put it on subdivide last in layout.. To my eyes it's doing the exact same thing as the metalinked one..
maybe it's too simple a model to tell..

10 October 2004, 10:51 PM
this was a very quickie example.. Other advantages are Layout is faster when moving less points, and making morphs in the meta object is easier with less points as well.

10 October 2004, 06:34 AM
Go here and read the tutorials. Good Stuff!

Also go here to learn more: (

10 October 2004, 02:11 AM
This link has to do with animating a sleeve to follow another bone, while having some life of its own. It applies to weight-mapping and jiffy weight-mapping non-weight-map rigs. How to have an arm with weight map "a" drive a sleeve with weight map "b" that flaps in the breeze too.

The thread includes some extremely classy free plug-ins.

The Lango thread above refers to "arcs" which seem to have a magical quality. I remember one of my first models was a whale which accidentally was parented to distant nulls, and arc'd all over the place. I think we all know to create a favorite set in the Scene Editor of all the Spine bones or construct the rig to do this automatically, giving good round bending, but I'm curious if there is a way to parent an IK hand travel in an arc, for a waiter or a baseball pitcher?

I get the impression -- I've only browsed the Lango website, which has a lot of material -- that that leans towards off-character nulls moving the whole object, and then going back and animating upper and lower body elements? (Probably have to edit this bit later...)

10 October 2004, 03:11 AM
Many people tend to animate IK goals between point A and point B. While the bones being controlled via IK do rotate in arcs the general idea is that almost all motion moves in arcs. Arm swings for example.... To get a more natural look its best to animate IK goals in arcs so you have at least a Point A to Point B to Point C. Doing this also helps to keep the IK solver from stressing/doing weird things if the goal is too close to a joint. Animating in arcs helps keep the rig stable. :)

10 October 2004, 03:41 AM
To expand on what Larry wrote, I recently read a few interesting articles where they suggested using only FK on arms, specifically for the reasons Larry mentioned.

10 October 2004, 04:34 AM
With IK Key and FK Goal I tend to mix both on arms :)

10 October 2004, 11:17 AM
I find the best solution on arms is to have the hand AND elbow on ik, BUT the hand goal is parented to the elbow null.

Therefore, to move the hand, the elbow can be rotated keeping Arcs like FK, but having advantages of IK.. the main one being automatic locking of hand to surfaces without any FK/IK blending.

Also, by dynamicly parenting the elbow to parts of the body, a hand can be rested on a hip, or stay locked to face etc..

I also have a slider that can blend the locking emphasis from hand to elbow, for when someone is leaning and you want the elbow still rather than the hand. In this scenario, the IK extends into the shoulder to buffer any movement.

10 October 2004, 01:26 PM
Also, an Isner style spine rig makes animating SO much easier.

I'd never go back to FK on a spine - it takes ages to animate and its hard to re-adjust on the fly.

10 October 2004, 05:39 PM
Carm3D, You are completely right... after playing with it, I agree, Metalink is absolutely amazing.

You can set up a squash and stretch rig, which is only really possible on a very low resolution character, then apply Metalink to an equivalent object with tons of detail and it does the exact same thing.. I can hardly believe this is possible, but it works...

Plus, you can add buttons,buckles etc (ie..hard objects) with hardlink and they just dont distort, but do move properly with the squashing and stretching..

I complained a lot about L8 being a bit feeble when it came out.. I'm eating my words now.

10 October 2004, 11:18 PM
I hate to take the attention away from "Metalink" or its older 7.5 MD version, because I'm about to use it on a character that I'm changing hair cards for, and that would've been a drag to remorph all over again; but there are some other tips n tricks I've been wondering about not being here.

From what I gather, most animators are using weight maps, and I hope some of the better weight mapping threads get linked back here at some point. Weight maps allow sockmonkey, and sockmonkey allows FXlinking to particles and such.

I'm not using weight maps, except for tertiary movements, which may mean that I'll be using them a lot more. I hope the description of how I'm using them above is adequate, since it's different from starting with lots of weight maps. Simplified: you have a rig, and create duplicates of all the bones, and your character on two levels; one is weight-mapped "a" and the other "b" : and this allows one to adjust the child level, the clothing, without too much grief, and using the spreadsheet, to set it up fairly quickly.

I actually describe a "shortcut" to this, in which I only create child bones for the areas of the model I want to have tertiary movement, like sleeves. This uses the trick of creating a "new" weight map with the same name "a" in Modeller for most of the b level, then mapping "b" where the child bones will deform.

Kooky, huh?

This is pretty basic stuff that you only realize you don't know when you actually try to animate but your results are consistently crap. Yeah, I tried morphing the cloth -- what a joke. Glad I didn't lose as much sleep as I did over trying to understand other little animation doo-dads.

While on the subject of archaic approaches to animation -- anybody remember modelling the eyeballs outside of the character? or texturing the mouth inside-out? -- I wonder how many other things are only in books for 5.6 or not widely known. Does any body actually use "proxy pick" or are you all drawing bones outside of the model, and using "move pivot point" so that bones stick outside of the model for easy access, especially for arms?

And am I using Xray bones wrong, or do I have to switch to bones mode in order to select an object's x-ray bone? (Only one character, but dozens of objects, it's not letting me select the bone, maybe a CPU or RAM thing..)

10 October 2004, 12:03 AM
I dont know if most animators use weight maps or not. Theres always times when you need to but its usually the DEGREE that theyre used. Ive never had to use lots of weight maps and I usually tend to avoid using them whenever possbile. It just adds a level of complexity that I would rather avoid.
Instead of sockmonkey I tend to use Bezier Bend or Shift Spline Transform and link the control nodes to particles or whatever. You can also use them with IKBooster.
I also tend not to use proxy pick. Again its just a pain to setup. Ive found it to be easier just to color code bones and soft lock/hide ones that wont be animated. I also tend to use selection sets as well. CCP is also a nice plugin for selecting things.
IVe also used jointmorph plus to control wrinkles. It works pretty well especially if you use clothfx to do the gross cloth movements and morphs for finer or local wrinkles.
Bones should be visible when XRay is on.

10 October 2004, 03:55 AM
I was just revisiting one of the first links, here, the thread about speeding up character animation, and I couldn't help noticing that chopping a character up and parenting each new object/layer to its respective bone results in a character that isn't going to NEED global deformations in the Scene tab of Layout to be turned off, since the parent object is the only one to be affected by more than one bone.

If the parent object is a null, it's going to produce a little gi joe doll.

I would only make two other observations about this system: getting the chopped-up objects to match the original -- this is like lip-synching, you either exhale and hit a stride and try to find it relaxing, or moan through thirty bones.

I'd also like to add-in here to have a single "wrinkle" texture for brow furrows, alpha'd into different sections, each corresponding to morph targets with channel followers. Since we were mentioning wrinkles, dialing down the alpha envelope seems like a fun way to go, though there seem to be a half dozen envelopes one opt to link with for bump mapped face wrinkles.

Initially, I was going to step graph across a checkerboard of animated wrinkles, which is a viable, if overblown, alternative. I saw "GI Joe" used a single texture, though, and didn't seem to suffer for it.

10 October 2004, 04:30 AM
If you have the subpatch object and the chopped up pieces sharing the same bones you may want to turn off deformations since even if the subpatch character is invisible it will still slow down the scene. Its the deformations that slow things up.

You could also have two rigs, one for animating and one for deforming. You could use colin cohens plugins to copy motions from one rig to another.

10 October 2004, 11:43 AM
Also, an Isner style spine rig makes animating SO much easier.

I'd never go back to FK on a spine - it takes ages to animate and its hard to re-adjust on the fly.

I still prefer an FK Spine over an IK one :shrug: Probably because im more used to it, it gives somehow more control to achieve certain poses.

10 October 2004, 01:46 PM
I don't mean an IK spine, Ik spines are very difficult to control.
This is a different thing.

With an FK spine, you always have to rotate from the base up, or have a middle Root.
This is really awkward to do subtle movement and even harder to adjust as you have to key all the bones. There's keys everywhere

With an Isner style spine, there is not an obvious direction of rotation, so you can swing the hips about keeping stability in the shoulders and visa versa.
And there are only 2 controls, so it's extremely easy to manipulate into any pose and to adjust.

10 October 2004, 02:56 PM
I work with and also own XSI so i know what the Isner Spine is, i used it lotīs of times but i still prefer an FK approach for the Spine, some animators prefer IK for the Arms while others cant stand it (i prefer FK for the arms too :p ), so itīs a matter of "taste" or getting used to it.

I only animate toony characters, and for those FK Spine does just well, in a realistic human animation i see "advantages" in the Isner Spine though. :)

10 October 2004, 04:10 PM
Fair enough.

I guess if you are doing snappy pose to pose animation then FK works just fine.

10 October 2004, 08:41 PM
Head animation: Most people use a bone and rotate the heading and pitch rotation to animate it since we can just click and drag in the viewprot to modify those two channels. I noticed that we actually usually should use mostly the pitch and the BANKing instead. It gives results that are IMO more like what humans do.

This can easily be done with applying a null and follower.

12 December 2004, 03:06 AM
Put a Key on every animated item in the rig for poses. This will make retiming poses much easier. So how do you do this in LW.
Do you select teh "Master Null" and Keyframe descendants so you set a keyframe for every bone and control null?
Do you set up separate favorites lists of bones and nulls and each pose you select everything in Graph Editor to keyframe all of them?

Do you have a script you hit that keyframes every item in a set list? (soemthing I'm dreaming of writing if it don't exist.)

Thanks for information.

12 December 2004, 03:22 AM
You can do it via channel sets and/or using selection sets. :)

12 December 2004, 03:48 AM
Be sure to use the classic Scene editor for making selection sets, not the new one. The selection sets you define do not get saved in your scene in the new Scene Editor (unless this was fixed in 8.01?).

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