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Design

Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Character Running

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:MediumLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Animation for Beginners.
Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Character Walking
Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Character Walking From the Front View
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial we will be animating a cycle of a character running. In this case, the character will appear to be running in place. If this run cycle were to be incorporated into a movie, perhaps a background scrolling from right to left would be behind the character. Walks and runs are somewhat challenging, but also extremely fun to animate! 

1. Animate the Character

Step 1

Start by drawing our floor guidelines. As with a walk cycle, when I animate I like to draw a guideline for each foot so the footfalls are consistent. 

Floor guide lines

A run is similar to animating a walk cycle. When a character walks, the character’s head is usually highest in the passing position of the legs. Then the character “catches” himself with one leg, and then the next leg goes into the passing position.

The walk

When a character runs, both feet leave the ground, whereas in a walk cycle one foot is always in contact with the ground.

The run

Step 2

With our first drawing, I like to start with the foot contact pose, heel first.

I like to work rough and sketchy. It's good to get the animation and posing right before we add the arms. Let’s worry about getting the footing right, and then we’ll worry about the arms. In this tutorial I am going to animate "straight ahead" instead of doing poses and in-betweens.

Drawing 1

Step 3

Plant that foot! In drawing 2, the foot farther from us makes full contact with the ground. The leg closer to us (his right leg) then starts to come forward. Notice how the right leg is overlapping the left leg as it comes forward.

Drawing 2

Step 4

Let's do our drawing 3. Since we are animating a cycle and the character is running in place, that left foot that is planted on the ground “slides” back as the leg closer to us comes forward.

Drawing 3

Step 5

In drawing 4, the foot comes forward.

Drawing 4

In this slide, I have overlapped our first four drawings so that you can see how our most recent drawing is placed in juxtaposition to the other drawings. Our fourth drawing is in black; note how the foot planted on the floor slides back. This creates the illusion that the character is running in place. In a movie or video, perhaps a scrolling background would be added.

the first four drawings over lapped

Step 6

In drawing 5 we have lift-off! Both the feet are off the ground!

Drawing 5

Note that in drawing 5, the character is higher compared to drawing 6. 

Drawing 5 over lapped with drawing 6

Step 7

In drawing 6, the character is still in the air. The character now begins the inevitable descent to the ground.

Drawing 6

Step 8

In drawing 7, the character's foot makes first contact with the ground, heel first, Now we are repeating the same action that we just animated, but on the character's left leg.

Drawing 7

Step 9

Then that foot gets planted nice and firm on the ground. Make each drawing look balanced, or the character looks as if he will fall over! We don't want that!

Drawing 8

Step 10

As with the character’s right leg, in drawing 9 the leg farther from us now moves forward, passing the other leg. Work rough! Don't be afraid to draw through the character to determine how that back leg is anchored to the body.

Drawing 9

Step 11

Lift-off! In drawing 10, the leg pushes off and the character is higher up. We are repeating the action that we did for the right leg.

Drawing 10

Step 12

As before, the character’s feet leave the ground in drawing 11.

Drawing 11

Step 13

Still off the ground, the character moves a little forward/lower for drawing 12. And since this is a cycle, when we play this animation back, drawing 12 hooked up with drawing 1! Good job!

Drawing 12

You've been working hard! Let's take a look at our animation so far. Good job!!

Work in progress

I have highlighted the leg closer to us in red so you can clearly see the legs in relation to one another.

Work in progress with leg highlighted

2. Animate the Arms!!

When animating a run, the right arm usually swings forward when the left leg moves forward, and then when the right leg comes forward the left arm swings forward with the leg.

Step 1

Let's work on adding our arms. Remember, the leg farther from us is forward, and the arm closer to us is forward. The leg closer to us is back, and the arm farther from us is mirroring its action and back as well. 

Don't worry about the getting details perfect—work sketchy and rough get the movement right before you worry about detail. My arms are basically skeletal sticks. Sketching's the way!

Add arms to drawing 1
Add arms to drawing 1

Step 2

As the right leg crosses the other leg, the arms are basically in the middle as they pass each other.

Add arms to drawing 2
Add arms to drawing 2

Step 3

Keep those arms pumping!

The left arm starts to come forward as the right leg starts to come forward, so too, with the arm closer to us as it moves back along with the back leg as it slides back.

Add arms to drawing 3
Add arms to drawing 3

Step 4

Keep going! Work rough, and notice how the arm closer to use is further back to match the movement of the left leg? 

Add arms to drawing 4
Add arms to drawing 4

Step 5

Keep going! You’re doing a great job!

Add arms to drawing 5
Add arms to drawing 5

Step 6

 Finish up those arms.

Add arms to drawing 6
Add arms to drawing 6
Add arms to drawing 7
Add arms to drawing 7
Add arms to drawing 8
Add arms to drawing 8
Add arms to drawing 9
Add arms to drawing 9
Add arms to drawing 10
Add arms to drawing 10
Add arms to drawing 11
Add arms to drawing 11
Add arms to drawing 12
Add arms to drawing 12

That looks great! Let's see how our run animation looks with our new arms!

Work in progress

3. Neaten and Sweeten

Now that we have our action down, we can clean up our line with a dark line. Make it really look sweet. Add details. In our case I'll indicate an eye, but I won't make it super detailed—just enough to make it convincing.

Step 1

Clean up drawing 1
Clean up drawing # 1

Step 2

Keep going—it's looking great! I use a medium-sized brush tip to ink my character. The line doesn't have to be perfect—actually, the more imperfect, the more your special style shows through. Some studios work with a flawless ink line. In this case we'll have fun and work kind of loose.

Clean up drawing 2
Clean up drawing # 2

Step 3

As the character pushes up on one leg during the run I took the liberty of adding a little bit of a "bob" to his head by making the eye on his head lower. This gives the head a "swivel" effect as his head swivels down on his neck.

Clean up drawing 3
Clean up drawing # 3

Step 4

I made his eye even lower to complete the "bob" effect.

Clean up drawing 4
Clean up drawing # 4

Step 5

You're almost done! Finish cleaning up all the frames.

Clean up drawing 5
Clean up drawing # 5
Clean up drawing 6
Clean up drawing # 6
Clean up drawing 7
Clean up drawing # 7
Clean up drawing 8
Clean up drawing # 8
Clean up drawing 9
Clean up drawing # 9
Clean up drawing 10
Clean up drawing # 10
Clean up drawing 11
Clean up drawing # 11
Clean up drawing 12
Clean up drawing # 12

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

In a few steps you created an animated run that you can be proud of! You can try experimenting with different character types in your special style! Work rough, sketch out your character, and just have fun!  Keep animating!

Finished
Congratulations!
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