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Animation for Beginners: Animate Shape and Weight in Falling Objects

This post is part of a series called Animation for Beginners.
Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Bouncing Ball!
Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Flying Bird
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial we will observe different objects falling and then take note of what we saw. Then we will animate what we observed! Different objects fall at different speeds and paths depending on their shape and weight! Let's go!

1. See for Yourself!

Let's gather the actual objects and drop em! Find a rock! Find a feather! Find a pencil! You're an animator! You have pencils all over the place! That should be an easy one to find. 

Then go to your front yard, stoop, backyard, living room—some place where you have enough room to drop your objects and observe them! Drop the objects from a comfortable standing height. I dropped my objects holding them up four feet, but it is not etched in stone—every person is a different height, so just make sure you're comfortable. Careful! Don't drop that rock on your toe. Go!

Step 1

Drop your feather!

Drop your feather
Let your feather drop.

Step 2

Drop your pencil!

Drop your pencil
Now drop your pencil

Step 3

Drop your rock! Careful! 

Drop your rock
Lastly, your rock.

Step 4

Take note of how each object fell. 

When I dropped my objects, I noticed the feather took longer to fall than the pencil and the rock. The feather did not fall straight down but rather from side to side as it got pushed around by tiny changes in the air. 

The pencil fell straight down and then bounced a little. Since the pencil is a brittle object, the pencil's shape did not change at all when it bounced. The rock fell straight down super fast and bounced very slightly. Take a moment to thumbnail out how your objects fell.

Sketch out your observations

2. Animate Your Objects!

Step 1

Let's get to work on our animating our feather.

We'll start off by drawing in our floor line roughly an inch or less from the bottom of the page, so our animation is grounded.

Draw in your floor

Step 2

Start animating your feather! For this tutorial, instead of creating "key poses" first and then animating in-betweens, I animated straight-ahead. This is a more organic way to animate, because you are animating the movement as you go along. 

Traditional animation is usually 24 frames per second. I usually do 12 drawings per second of animation and I expose each drawing twice. This is what's known as animating on 2's. The slower our object falls, the more drawings we will create and the closer together our animation drawings will be. The faster our object falls, the fewer drawings we'll need to do and the farther the drawings will be from one another. 

Let's block in the animation and get the movement down first by just animating a simple pencil or pen stroke that is roughly the length of our feather. We'll worry about putting details in later. Let's just have fun animating, without getting bogged down worrying about getting the feather's details right. But we will try to keep the size of our pencil stroke consistent. 

Start to animate your feather
Our first frame.

As you animate, keep in mind the path of your feather and the little changes in the air that affect the feather's descent. Since the feather is falling slower than an object such as a ball, the animation drawings are closer together and there are more of them. 

Notice how our feather is falling more slowly and from side to side. The light grey stroke at the top of the page is our first frame, and the dark grey stroke is where we are now. Notice how close together the drawings are—since the feather is falling slowly, the drawings even overlap in some cases. Keep going! Looks great!

The feathers path

It's ok to check on your progress as you go along. Good going!

Feather animation progress

The feather doesn't have to fall at the same "speed" the entire way down. I made some of the drawings further apart from one another to speed up the falling, giving the illusion that the feather is being affected by small changes in the air. Air is organic and small changes can be caused by a door opening, a person walking by, wind or any number of changes. Also, I decided to have fun and have the feather turn as it falls.

Feather animation further progress

Nice! That's a good looking feather animation. But it still needs something!

Feather animation so far

Step 3

Let's add a little bit of a settle to our feather, so that the feather doesn't just fall and stop on the ground. Usually, once an object falls to the ground, gravity is not done with it yet! The object will usually bounce or squash. Even a subtle action like this will make your action so believable! 

After the drawing, where the feather makes contact with the ground, let's add a few frames where the feather changes shape to gently "squash" down before returning to its original shape. It's subtle but effective. Give it a try!

I want to show you the feather's settle, so let's zoom in to get a closer look. This is our feather's first contact with the ground.

Close up

This is our "settle". The feather lands on the ground and then gently "squashes" down. The other squashed pose is in dark grey. The feather's original position is in light grey.

Add a settle pose

Now the feather returns to its original position. See the space between the original position and the settle position. Its very subtle, but effective.

Go back to original feather pose

If we want to really smooth out our action, let's add an in-between between our settle and our original contact position. Notice the in-between in dark grey.

Add an in-between to feather settle

That looks great! Adding the settle really gives the feather weight and depth. That's a great-looking feather animation! We'll add details later—let's move on to our pencil!

Animation with feather settle

Step 4

Animate our pencil! Again, we'll worry about details later—let's block in our movement first, using a rough brush stroke.

Start animating your pencil
First frame of our pencil animation.

As you animate, keep in mind that the pencil will fall much quicker than the feather. The pencil is heavier and more streamlined, so it has less resistance than the feather and will fall straight down.

Keep animating your pencil

Notice that the drawings are further apart and there are fewer drawings. The pencil is falling much faster than the feather. 

Pencil path

When I dropped my pencil, it landed on its end. This image is the pencil's first contact with the ground. But it might fall differently for you. You can tweak what you learn here depending on the conditions around you when you dropped your object. This is your special animation. Everyone's animation will differ a little, and that's fine!

Pencil contact with ground

My pencil made contact with the ground and then tipped over onto its side. I reflected this in my animation!

Pencil falling over

Step 5

Add a slight bounce! The pencil is a rigid object, but most of the time it will still bounce a little when dropped to the ground. The pencil's contact with the ground position is in light grey, and the pencil bouncing up position is in dark grey.

Pencil bounce

Let's check it out. Looks great! I think it can use one more thing...

Pencil animation progress

When I observed my pencil falling, it bounced a couple of times. Again, everybody's pencil might fall slightly differently. In my animation I added one more tiny bounce. It's a very subtle motion, yet effective!

Good job animating your falling pencil! We're almost done! Let's get to our rock!

Pencil animation progress with bounce

Step 6

Lets ROCK! This is our first drawing. I just blocked it in in solid grey.

Start animating your rock

When I observed my rock falling, I noticed that my rock fell in a straight path down. Take a look at my progress. The rock in light grey all the way at the top is the first frame. The rock in dark grey all the way at the bottom is our second to last frame. I noticed that the rock fell quickly, so I made my drawings further apart to reflect this—the action will happen very quickly. 

The rocks path

Contact pose! Our rock has hit the ground. Good job!

Rock contact with ground

Looking good! For some reason I feel that it's missing something, however. The rock is lacking the feel and weight that a real rock would have, so it just looks as if it comes to a stop.

Rock animation progress

Step 7

Add a very slight bounce to our rock. When I dropped my rock, I noticed that it bounced very slightly when it hit the ground. Give it a try!

That's better! Adding a one-frame extra bounce gives the rock so much more believability! The rock is heavy, so the rock barely leaves the ground when it bounces. Good job! You animated all of your objects!

3. Add Detail to Our Objects

Clean up! Now that we've animated all of our objects, let's give our rough animation drawings detail—or clean up the drawing as we say in the animation biz. I'll just go over my rough animation with a fine black pen stroke. 

Step 1

Let's add detail to our feather.

Close up of first feather drawing
This is a closeup of our first drawing—it's just a simple stroke.

Working on top of your rough stroke, add your details but have the feather keep the same position and tilt as our stroke.

Details added of first feather drawing
Close up of second feather drawing
Here is our second feather rough sketch.

Let's add detail to our second drawing and continue cleaning up the rest of our frames.

Details added of second feather drawing

That looks great!

Finished feather animation

Step 2

Now we'll add detail to our pencil.

Here is the first frame of our pencil. Let's do the same thing with our rough pencil animation that we did with our feather.

Close up of rough pencil drawing

Let's add detail—keep going until you've cleaned up all of your pencil frames.

Details added of pencil

Perfect! That looks great!

Step 3

Now let's move on to finishing up our rock. I added a clean black line and I also added a few hatch lines, to give the rock some dimension and texture. Not essential, but it's a nice effect.

First cleaned up drawing of rock

Lets go ahead and clean up the rest of our rock drawings.

Add your details to all of your rock drawings

Looking good! Perfect!!

Congrats! You Did a Great Job!

In a short time you animated three objects falling a short distance to the ground. You learned about how different objects behave differently when they fall due to their size or shape or weight. Not every object falls or moves in the same way. This is knowledge that will benefit you in your animation endeavors! Keep animating!

Complete animation of falling feather pencil stone
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