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Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Four-Legged Animal Walking

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This post is part of a series called Animation for Beginners.
Animation for Beginners: How to Animate a Head Turn
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial I will be taking you through the steps of how to animate a four-legged character walking in place.

Animating a four-legged walk is usually done when animating animals such as dogs and horses (or very athletic humans that like to walk that way!). In this case, we will animate a dog, because who doesn't like cute little doggies?

We will be creating a walk that loops infinitely. If we were to incorporate a walk like this into a movie, perhaps the background would be scrolling from right to left behind the character to give the illusion of forward movement. 

So let's get to it! 

If you have done my other tutorials on Envato Tuts+, you might be familiar with my walk cycle tutorial as part of my Animation for Beginners series.

When we see a human walking, we are working with a basic two-legged walk.

two legged walk

With a four-legged walk, not only do you have two legs to animate in front, you also have the two legs in back to keep track of. That’s a lot of legs! Take a look at this line-up of human and dog walking. Check out the dog. The front and back legs are not mirror images of each other; the back leg is a half step ahead of the front leg (more on this later).

4 legged vs 2 legged walk

A note on terminology: In past tutorials I have referred to the character’s arm or leg as the "west leg" since that is the leg or arm closest to the west. Or I've called it the "east leg", being the leg closest to the east side of the screen. This way we don't get caught up with “is it HIS left or MY left??” 

That's a good system, but a four-legged walk can be confusing as it is. We have four legs to deal with instead of two! So I will be referring to the legs as the dog's "front left leg” or "left back leg”, etc.

The dog’s front left leg and the back left leg will always be the leg farthest from us since the dog is facing right on the screen.

diagram of dog showing which leg is which

OK now that we've gotten that out of the way, time to…

1. Draw Our Animation!

Step 1

Start by drawing the floor guidelines. We are animating a simple profile walk for our dog. I also made a guideline for the top of the dog’s head so we can keep track of the slight bobbing up and down.

guidelines

Step 2

Let's start with drawing 1. I am going to be working rough, and we will clean up and add facial details later. The leg (back left leg and front left leg) farthest from us will be in red to clarify the legs furthest from us. I'm starting in mid-stride. The back left leg is in mid step passing the back right leg.

drawing 1

Step 3

Let’s do drawing 2. The back left leg is crossing the front right leg. Now look at the back legs; the back left leg is also passing the back right leg.

drawing 2

Take a look at this slide—drawing 1 is in light grey. Notice how the body is higher up now. In most cases, dogs (and people) do not stay the same height as they walk—they bob up and down as one leg passes the other. Even though the leg farthest from us is partially blocked by the front leg, let's make sure the leg “attaches” correctly to his hip on the side farthest from us. Don’t be afraid to work rough and sketch through the body to work out where the leg attaches.

Step 4

Let's do drawing number 3. The back left leg makes contact with the ground before the front left leg does.

The back leg is a half step ahead of the front leg. Watch any video of a dog walking and you will find that this is the case. This is also the case with horses and many other four-legged animals.

drawing 3

Step 5

Let’s draw our fourth drawing. The back right leg lifts up as it leaves contact with the floor, and the front right leg continues to slide back. And as the back left leg also continues to slide a little further back, the front left leg starts to swing further down toward the floor.

drawing 4

Step 6

Let’s do drawing 5. Now the front left leg makes contact with the ground as the back left leg slides further back.

The back right leg starts to pass the left leg as the front right leg is still planted but slides further back.

drawing 5

Step 7

Let’s do drawing 6! Almost there! The front right leg starts to lift up from the floor, and the back right leg swings forward. The back left leg slides a little further back, and the front left leg starts to slide further back.

drawing 6

Step 8

Let’s do drawing number 7. The back left leg now starts to lift from the floor, and the front left leg continues to slide back. The back right leg makes contact, and the front right leg starts to swing forward. The right back leg makes contact with the floor, being a half step ahead of the front leg. 

drawing 7

Step 9

The front right leg lowers further to the floor as the back left leg completely leaves the floor. And this drawing hooks up perfectly with drawing 1, making it our cycle.

drawing 8

Let's take a look and see how our animation looks so far!

work in progress

That is an awesome pup! Great work! Now it's time to tighten up our drawings and add a little detail.

2. Clean Up Our Animation Drawings

Now that we have our animation looking sweet, we can lose the floor guidelines. Let’s clean up and neaten the drawings and add facial detail. I'm working loose with a black ink line, but making things neater.

Step 1

Clean up drawing 1. We have a generic dog—I gave him a cute smiley face and kept the floppy ears. I gave him a cute lil' stubby tail.

drawing 1

Step 2

Let’s clean up drawing 2. Make sure the feet still look grounded.

drawing 2

Step 3

Clean up drawing 3. Notice how I am not closing off the line on the legs; the legs look more as if they are a part of the body.

drawing 3

Step 4

Clean up drawing 4. I didn’t give the dog a long tail; I give him a sort of stubby tail. The tail still moves and flows with the body.

drawing 4

Step 5

Let’s clean up drawing 5.

drawing 5

Step 6

Let’s clean up our drawing 6. Almost done!

drawing 6

Step 7

Now clean up drawing 7—we are almost there!

drawing 7

Step 8

And now drawing 8. You did it!

 drawing 8

Now let's take a look at all your hard work!!

That looks great! That’s one perky pup!

Preview

If you really want to be adventurous, you can add a blink or two to your walk cycle. In the below example, I extended my walk cycle so that it loops four times and the blink happens in the third repetition. Adding a blink really brings the character to life.

preview with blink

3. Bonus Round: Color Your Drawings

Step 1

Your animation is looking really great! You are really getting the hang of animating! Let's have some fun and color our drawings. Color is not the be-all and end-all of animation, but it brings a splash of life your animation. Let's color drawing 1. I had fun and gave him a white belly and a blueish nose.

drawing 1

Step 2

Now color drawing 2!

drawing 2

Step 3

Keep going and color the rest of your drawings! Keep the colors consistent from frame to frame so we don't have any colors popping.

drawing 3

Congratulations! You Did It!

That is definitely a dog that I would take home with me! Keep animating, and remember, practice makes perfect!

Congrats
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