Including characters in an animated video helps make the subject relatable and enables you to tell a story, personifying your brand. On top of that, it’s pretty fun to do! To bring any animated character to life we create character ‘rigs’. Creating a character rig allows you to influence complex movements such as walking, dancing and talking. It’s a technique used to determine how a character should be able to move. The approach we use is to create a base rig that includes interchangeable assets that can be hidden to create different looking characters.
We used this approach when developing several animations for Mind. On this occasion Mind approached VPI to create an animation series to support the Mental Health of University students. They wanted the video series to have expressive characters that are relatable to a diverse range of students.
We began this project by designing a generic body to determine the style wanted for the video. To do this we had to think about how we wanted the character to look and ask questions about how it should move. Questions such as whether we want the limbs to be cartoony lines or more realistic, or do we want the face to be full of expression or be more toned down? Ultimately, the style chosen is determined by the tone of the video.
Once decided, we start by parenting limbs together in sequence.
Repositioning ‘anchor points’ in the correct position make sure limbs rotate correctly. The anchor point is the point from which all transformations are manipulated. In a practical sense, the anchor point is the point at which your layer will scale and rotate around. We often find it useful to create reference layers in different software first, to make sure this process runs smoothly. While we use After Effects to create the characters, it’s the plug-ins that allow them to come alive.
Limber and Rubberhose are useful for animating limbs. They create two points joined by a line that bends automatically. Overall this makes animating something like a walk cycle a lot easier. Limber has several useful features for designing arms and legs but Rubberhose and Limber Lite are great simple alternatives.
Another useful plugin is Joysticks ‘n Sliders. It allows the user to create a slider or joystick-like control to change an attribute of several layers at a time. We used this in our videos for Mind to easily change the direction of a character’s face.
At this point animating some common actions like blinking and walking and using expressions will save you some time down the road. For example, make your character blink automatically by adding a looping expression to a character’s blinking animation or create a colour control layer by giving the effect change to colour to a null and parenting the colour of several other layers to the colour in this null layer.
Several base rigs can be made depending on how large your project is or depending on the body type of your character but using this technique to make a base character rig can save a lot of valuable time. Creating character rigs has become a streamlined process for Vox Pops International, that we have perfected over the years. Helping our clients tell stories with their animations by personifying whatever message they want to convey.
Animated Characters in Action
As mentioned, Mind approached VPI when they wanted to create a series of animations that focussed on different areas of student mental health and provide tools and technique for students on how to manage their wellbeing.
As part of their Mentally Healthy University’s program, funded by Goldman Sachs Gives. These videos would be aimed at students and so the content had to be creative and concise and, given the topic of the videos, we also aimed to approach the project with a sensitive voice while keeping the content engaging and informative.
As a result, we created five animations each focusing on a different topic: Five Ways to Wellbeing, Tips for Managing Stress, Tips to Help with Loneliness, Ways to Improve your Self-Esteem and Tips for Better Sleep. Each video was roughly three minutes long in order to include all necessary information whilst being short enough to stay engaging.
Having created an animation for Mind before, we built upon the existing style and adapted this to cater towards a younger audience, featuring a diverse array of characters and facial animation in order to relate closely with the viewer. We also ensured to use an empathetic and straightforward tone of voice to create an experience that is accessible and easy to understand. These video were used all across social media.