Friday, 3 February 2012


I feel like I was a little less organised with this week's lesson than the first one, so I'm going to just go over the process of animating in a little more detail here (big apologies to those who came in late who I never really got a chance to properly go over the basics with, hopefully this will help).

Pretty much all the stuff related to animation in 3DS Max is here at the bottom of the screen. Here you can see the timeline (which you can scrub back and forth through with the playhead), and all the buttons related to Keyframes (Auto Key etc).

By default, your timeline is set to 100 frames, and the default framerate is 25fps (the standard for PAL). To change the length of the timeline, you can use these shortcuts -
  • Ctrl + Alt + Click & Drag RIGHT Mouse Button --- change the end frame of the timeline
  • Ctrl + Alt + Click & Drag LEFT Mouse Button --- change the start frame of the timeline
To do this you have to click & drag on the timeline itself, i.e. the bit with the numbers. This is often useful if you want to focus on one small bit of animation to concentrate on it.

If you click on an object, you can see its keyframes as little coloured dots on the timeline. Keyframes are exactly the same as in After Effects or even motion tweens in Flash - they are literally "Key" frames in your animation that 3DS Max will automatically animate in between. 3DS defaults to smooth animation between keyframes, but you can edit all that later on.

If there aren't any keyframes then the object probably isn't animated at all, but REMEMBER - some keyframes might be outside the current frame range, e.g. your timeline might go from 0 - 100 and your object has a keyframe on the 150th frame, which is outside the timeline so you won't see it.

If your object is moving and you can't see any keyframes, try expanding the timeline in both directions and look for any stray keys that might be stuck out there.

for reference, the coloured keyframes stand for -
 Keyframes can be multicoloured, too, so a red/green keyframe has both a position and a rotation value. This really helps when you want to "overlap" one kind of animation with another (say if something's moving and you want to make it rotate at the same time).


The easiest way to animate something in 3DS is using the AUTO KEY function. Press this button to activate Auto Key mode (you can tell when it's on thanks to the giant red border that appears around the viewport). In this mode, whatever change you make to the stuff in the document will become a keyframe, so be super careful as to when you turn it on!

You can also use this button with the key icon on it to make a keyframe of whatever state your object is currently in. With Auto Key on, you have to actually move your object to make a keyframe - if you want to create a key without moving it, use this button. I usually use this to create a keyframe on the first frame of the animation every time I animate, but it's much better to animate with Auto Key for everything else.

Remember on the timeline you can select, move around and copy keyframes just like you would objects on the stage. To copy them, you just select them and then hold SHIFT & drag them with the mouse. If you right click on the timeline and go to Configure > Show Selection Range then you can also select groups of keyframes and condense or expand them by using the little bar that appears (see above).


Animating the way explained above, you'll see that 3DS Max automatically smooths out the inbetweens between keyframes, so that all movement looks floaty. If you want a different style of movement, you can either:
  1. add a bunch more keyframes to try and define what you want, OR
  2. keep the number of keyframes down and use the CURVE EDITOR
 The curve editor just shows graphs for any animation on the selected object. The x-axis shows whatever value we're looking at (eg position) and the y-axis shows time.

So, the steepness of a line shows how fast something is animating between two keyframes. The steeper the line, the faster the transition.

By default, 3DS Max "rounds off" these lines whenever there's a keyframe. The animation term for this is "cushioning" - stuff speeds up to start and slows down to a stop. In some cases this looks natural enough, but we want to be able to have more control over the animation.

Keeping the number of keyframes down is a general rule of thumb. Animation is a LOT easier to make changes to when there are just a few essential keyframes rather than a million of 'em.

Open the curve editor by pressing the button to the left of the timeline in the bottom left part of the screen. With an object selected you'll be able to see all the edited properties of the object as coloured lines that show how fast it's transitioning from one value to another.

Here, another Red/Green/Blue system is used - this time
So the graph above is of an object being animated in its X-Position, but its other two position values are staying the same. If your curve editor looks like this:

It can be confusing to work on. It's good to limit yourself to looking at one or two values at a time, so say you want to just look at ROTATION values on this one - scroll down the panel on the left (click the middle mouse button on it and drag to move this panel around), then find the ROTATION values and click on them (hold shift and click to select multiple curves). Now only the rotation values will be shown in the curve editor, so you can concentrate on them.

You can click on and move around individual keyframes in this mode, too. If you hold CTRL whilst dragging a keyframe it will lock its value, so you can move it perfectly horizontally. Just like with objects you can also hold SHIFT and drag a keyframe/selection of keyframes to copy them.

These buttons at the top of the curve editor change what's called the "interpolation" of the keyframes. They don't change the keyframe itself, but change how fast animation goes into a keyframe and out of a keyframe. Click on a keyframe and click on each of these to see how it visibly changes, both in the curve editor and in animation. Generally the ones you want to use are 1 and 2 as you can customize your curve completely with the bezier curve tool handles (see below).

Each of these curves will make the object animate in quite a different way.
If you hold SHIFT while moving one of the handles you can grab them individually (without this they are locked and move together):

Eventually you'll remember the way certain movements look in the graph editor, like that bouncing ball excercise:

I was going to do some proper modelling with you next monday but I feel like I didn't take you through animation as well as I could have last week, so I'm gonna combine some modelling elements from week one with some animation from week two. See you there!

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