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  2. Animation

Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Flying Bird

This post is part of a series called Animation for Beginners.
Animation for Beginners: Animate Shape and Weight in Falling Objects
Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Character Walking
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Animals are really fun to animate. In my early days as an animator, a flying bird was one of the first things that I learned how to animate!

This is our bird—cute little fella, right? We're going to make this little guy fly! I decided to make him a blue bird, but this is your special character, so you can totally customize the bird to your style. OK, let's go!

Our character

1. Draw the Bird Poses

The main poses are called the extremes. The drawings that smooth out the action between the extremes are called the in-betweens. 

I work rough, just blocking in the general shape of the body, the wings and the head, using circles and linear shapes. The wings are basically roughed-in rectangle shapes—I'm going to add the feathers later. We will add details later, so let's not get bogged down worrying about detail right now. 

I am going to animate the bird flying in place on the screen, so we can have a nice loop going.

Step 1

Draw our first pose. My first extreme is of the bird with his wings in the up position. Since I am working rough I am also working out what the back wing is doing, and how the movement of the back wing matches the position of the wing closest to us. As you work rough, it's OK to overlap with your sketch lines as you work out what the back wing is doing.

Step 1

Step 2

Let's draw our second extreme. The bird is flapping his wings, so the wings in the second extreme are in the down position.

Second pose

Looking good! To show you the two extremes that we have so far, I placed them next to one another in this slide. 

Notice as the wings flap into the down position, the bird is a little higher up in the second extreme. It would look fine if you just animated the wings flapping and the body and head stayed in the same position, but I like to show how the movement of the wings affects the whole body. The body also swivels down a little at the neck in the second extreme as the bird's wings push down. 

Extreme 1 and 2

Now I have the two extremes in the same slide so you can see the movement of the body shifting. I made extreme 1 red and extreme 2 green so you can see them easily.

Extreme 1 and 2 together

Step 3

Add an in-between! Now that we have our two extremes 1 and 2, let's draw an in‑between, a drawing that smooths out the action between extreme 1 and 2. Work rough—don't worry about detail. 

As the bird's wings come down from the up position, I like to show that the bottoms of the wings have a little flexibility to them and bend slightly as they come down against the drag of the air, since there are feathers at the ends of the wings.


Here is our in-between shown with extreme 1 and extreme 2 in light grey. When I add in-betweens, I like to favor the extreme that I am drawing towards. So since I am working towards extreme 2, my wings are a little closer to that position.


The bird's wings follow an arc. The wing is slightly foreshortened since we are looking at the bird almost from the side.

Wings follow arc

Step 4

Draw our in-between between extreme 2 and extreme 1. The wings are moving from the down position back to the up position. Since we are animating a loop, our last drawing will loop back to our first drawing. 

Notice how the bottoms of the wings show the wings' flexibility, and as the wings travel back up, the bottoms curve down a little to show the feathers' flexibility. The back wing is almost totally behind the bird's head, but you still see a little of the wing.


Take a look at all of our drawings so far. You might have noticed that as I animate I've left the front wing a little transparent so you can see what happens to his legs as he flies. The wings will not be see-through when we color it in. It's not necessary to show the legs through the wings.

I have numbered all of our drawings accordingly now that we have added the in‑betweens.

Drawings 1 through 4

Let's see how it's looking so far! That's coming along nicely! Good work! Now let's sweeten the animation and add more in-betweens!

Work in progress

Step 5

Let's add an in-between between our drawing 1 and drawing 2! Notice how I am still working rough. Also don't forget about the back wing!


Step 6

Add an in-between after drawing 2! We added one between drawings 1 and 2, and now we're adding one between drawing 2 and 3. Once we have finished adding our in-betweens, we are going to renumber all of the drawings accordingly.


Step 7

Now let's add an in-between between drawings 3 and 4—still working rough, still just working in shapes and not worrying about facial detail.


Step 8

And lastly, for our in-betweens let's add one between our drawing number 4 and drawing number 1 to complete the loop. Drawing number 4 is in blue and drawing number 1 is in red. Our in-between is in black. Notice how our last drawing is also our first drawing!


Let's take a look! That looks really nice! Good work sweetening our animating and making it really smooth adding all of those in-betweens!

Work in progress

2. Add Detail

Step 1

Add facial detail! Our bird can't smile without a beak, so let's give him a face!

Add facial detail

That's coming along nicely—that's a happy looking bird!

Work in progress

Step 2

Neaten, sweeten and add feathers!

I decided to zoom way in to show you how I am adding detail and neatening up the line. You can see my clean line on top of my rough line (the rough line is in light grey). I am cleaning up my character and choosing to work in a loose style, like a brush line. As I tighten up my drawings, notice how I am adding feathers to the wings and tail. See how the feathers follow the overall shape of my rough wing? Same goes for the tail. 

Clean up our rough

Keep going! It's looking good! Its not a perfect line—it's by hand, so it has a nice, loose quality to it.

Continue to clean up our rough

Here is our bird at regular size. We've almost finished cleaning up the animation!

Clean up

Looks great! That is a happy flying bird!

Work in progress

3. Ready, Set, Color!

There is only one thing left to do. And that is…

… color your animation!

Blue is my favorite color, so I chose a cheerful shade of blue and gave him a yellow beak. Fun! But your bird might be a different color if you choose—it is your special animation!

Color our drawings

That's It!

Let's take a final look… Looks GREAT!!

Final animation

Congratulations! In just a short time you animated a flying bird. That's one of the coolest things to animate, because what's cooler than flying? Keep animating! See you next time!

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