Walk Cycle Process

The human form is often one of the most difficult things for an amateur animator to master. Even when simplified, human movement can be incredibly complex and can easily slip into the dreaded “uncanny valley”. However, there are plenty of exercises to both familiarize oneself with anatomy and grant better insight into realistic movement, such as animating a walk cycle. 

Walk cycles are simply a looping collection of frames that demonstrate how a character moves through a scene. They’re a critical tool in every field of animation, present in the production of everything from video games to big budget films. They serve as a reference for a character’s mannerisms and body language, providing the viewer with a myriad of visual cues that convey personality. For instance, an older, grizzled character’s gait would differ from a young, upbeat and healthy character. The former might take longer, sluggish steps or walk with a limp while the latter takes quick, bouncy steps.

This week, I tried my hand at making my own walk cycle. Before attempting any animating, I spent a lot of time brainstorming. There were a lot of things to consider. What would the character look like? How would they carry themselves? For this exercise, I chose one of my preexisting characters: a stoic young woman named Emelin. She is confident and stubborn, so I planned to incorporate that into her walk cycle with stiff posture, forceful steps, and clenched fists. Next, I had to deconstruct every step (no pun intended) of a walk cycle.

Walk cycles, as the name might imply, are a cycle of repetitive movements that depict the process of taking steps and shifting their balance between their feet. Every frame can be divided into one of two categories: contact and passing. Contact refers to a frame in which both of the character’s feet are making contact with the ground, while passing refers to those in which the character is passing between those moments. In my animation, I decided to use three passing frames between each contact frame.

The first half of a walk cycle, featuring a serious woman with a short braid.

Contact frames are relatively similar, only varying based on which leg is forward and which is behind. They determine the median height for the character. Passing frames, however, follow a pattern of down, up, up. The character’s forward leg bends as they step forward, lowering their height. Then, as the leg straightens again, the character’s height increases as they swing their other leg forward and return to their median height upon contact. I used horizontal guides for consistency in this aspect, but it can just as easily be achieved using graph paper or a ruler. The second half of the cycle is the same as the first, just reversed!

The second half of a walk cycle, featuring a serious woman with a short braid.

Each step mirrors that of the first half, only changed to indicate that the other foot is now going forward. If you’re working digitally, this can easily be accomplished by copying your previous frames and manipulating them a bit. The final contact frame is the easiest; it’s just the first frame again! No extra drawing needed. Finally, isolate your frames and plug them into your animating program of choice.

A looping GIF of a woman walking.

And there’s your walk cycle! This was a challenging experience, but I feel like I learned a lot about animating figures and body language in the process. For anyone looking to make their own, I’d recommend delving into the internet and studying both live action and animated examples of people walking. 

Of course, my finished product isn’t quite done yet, considering her blatant lack of clothes. Animating fabric is another beast entirely, so I plan to dedicate another exercise to studying clothing on a moving figure sometime in the near future. Animating a human character is a notoriously difficult task, but through plenty of practice, anything is possible.

Featured Image: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOJWgMNHnmY

GIF made with: https://imgflip.com/gif-maker

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