Animation is one of the key pillars that brings our creations to life. And we all know that the 3D software Blender stands as a powerful creative tool.
Although Blender is not a friendly program for people who learned to animate using Maya or 3ds Max, the truth is that the possibilities are still endless. And let's not forget the fact that it's a totally free program.
We present you our little collection of tricks that we compiled after having to animate some models that were needed in GLTF. Find out how to make better rigs, how they work in Blender and some shortcuts and where to find certain tools!
Here we go!
Essential Tools for Animation in Blender
To follow this tutorial, all we need is one of our favourite 3D software tools. Well, you guessed it…
There are hundreds and hundreds of ways to bring our objects and 3D characters to life in Blender. We are going to focus on the following 4 methods:
Double Joints or Add a Bone between two Bones. An additional bone is introduced between two existing bones in a skeletal structure, and acts as an intermediary, enhancing the flexibility and control over the joint's movement.
Inverse Kinematics. By setting up these chains within the armature of a character, animators can ensure that complex limb interactions remain realistic and smooth.
Custom Bone Shapes. To enable animators to replace those shapes with more intricate and specific geometry.
Default Bone Display & Color Coding. The visual presentation of bones within a character's armature and the practice of assigning different colors to bones based on their roles or functions.
Pose Libraries. A repository where you can save specific bone configurations or poses, making it easier to reuse and switch between different animations or positions.
Without further ado, let's go through these techniques one by one, adding our top tips to make your Blender animation experience enjoyable and satisfying.
Double Joints or Add a Bone between two Bones
Sometimes, when attempting to animate arms and legs using two bones, odd clipping issues may arise. In a simple mesh for a mobile game or low-poly game, this step might not be deemed crucial.
However, if you aim to address this minor concern or are endeavoring to construct a more intricate rig, considering the addition of double joints is advisable. This involves introducing a compact additional joint between the two existing joints, specifically in the regions where the clipping occurs.
In order to do that first we select the bone we want to rotate and press Shift + P, to clear the parent in Edit mode, and we move the joints to create a small separation between them.
Once you have the joints separated select the two of them (remember the order is important) select, for example it is a leg, first select the hip and then the shin.
Press right-click on the mouse and select FillBetween Joints to create a bone in that space. Finally, rename the new bone on the right panel and make that is the parent of the shin.
This small fix will also help you in creating the inverse kinematics. The example depicts an imaginary leg, to make easier to identify the different parts of the model, but you could repeat this in arms and other type of joints.
With inverse kinematics (IK), the program calculates the position of the joints based in a given position and rotation relative to the start of the chain. How can we do this in Blender? To explain it we will use the "leg" model we used before.
First we will select the feet joint in edit mode and press Ctrl + E to extrude a new joint we will rename it FeetIK, repeat the shame to create a point in the knee to act as pole target.
Then press Shift + P to clear parent of both joints. Now move the KneeIK away from the model to where you want the leg to bend to.
Then got to Pose Mode and select the shin bone, go to the right panel bone constraint menu and select Inverse Kinematics. Select as the target the armature, and then pick the bone you want to control the IK, in this case the feetIK.
Choose the armature as the pole target (where the chain of bones will try to bend to), select the bone you want it to go, in this case the kneeIK.
Change the pole angle if the model rotates in a different angle. And change the chain length, if you have double joints select 3, if not select 2.
Select the the feet bone in pose mode, and in bone Constraint properties select Copy Rotation. Select the armature as the target and the feetIK as the bone.
If the inverse kinematics is bending the wrong way or is going stray without bending that means that your joint needs to be closer, to the bending point. Go to Edit Mode and move the joint then check the inverse kinematics.
Custom Bone Shapes
In the previous segment, we learned how to generate a bone for implementing inverse kinematics. However, encountering numerous bones with identical shapes can lead to confusion. Fortunately, there is a solution: altering the bone shapes to enhance identification simplicity.
To accomplish this, we will begin by creating a new collection named Bones. Within this freshly established collection, we will proceed to generate a new shape. This shape can be any mesh of your preference; it's not obligatory for it to be comprehensive or even composed of curves.
Once you've selected the meshes, navigate to the bones you created earlier. Choose the specific bone for which you intend to alter the mesh. Then, access the display properties and locate the Custom Shape option. Within this option, you can designate the mesh you wish to use as the replacement.
Sometimes the mesh doesn't look right when you change it, but you can edit in on the original mesh and it will change on the bones too. Remember to apply the changes from the object menu anytime you change something. And yes, you can only view the custom shapes on Pose Mode!
Default Bone Display & Color Coding
To further edit your bones, you can change the shape you view them: just go to the menu on the right panel called Object Data Properties (it has running man as an icon), and click viewport display. There you can check in front of always see the bones in front of your model and change their shape. Notice that by default they are octahedral.
You can also change the color of the shapes you made to substitute the bones, select the bone and on the Object Data Properties, bone groups, create a new group and change the default colour. It's recommendable if you have symmetric bone select different color for the left and right side.
In Blender, you have the capability to save various poses for quick access. To achieve this, position the bones into the desired pose and subsequently select them.
Go to Object Data Properties —> Pose Library and there you can create a new pose library. Important: it's crucial to ensure the shield icon on the right side of the name is checked. Failing to modify this name can result in the loss of progress within the pose library, even if the scene is saved.
1. Shield, remember to check it to save it
2. Add a new pose, select all the bones to save the position
3. Deletes the pose
4. Applies the pose to the bones
I recommend saving the base rig in an initial pose, so that you don't lose the original rig.
Mastering Blender Animation
These are a small collection of tricks that I recopilated after having to animate some models that were needed in GLTF. The process was somewhat challenging, given Blender's non-intuitive interface for individuals accustomed to Maya, 3ds Max, or similar industry software.
Although strides have been made to enhance the learnability of Blender—incorporating industry-standard controls, for instance—there's still room for improvement. Notably, certain controls undergo changes when transitioning to industry norms.
As we have already seen, there are different methods that will help to make our Blender animations more fluid or realistic, or to make the process easier and more intuitive.
What are your tricks to animate with Blender? We'll read you in the comments!