Faux 3D Pigeon

5 weeks | Animation Tutorial
Complete Motion Design School's Fake 3D Walkcycles course as a means to improve my animation skillset and gain confidence in managing more complex animations. Learn how to mix frame-by-frame, scripted, and keyframed animations into one piece.

Animator (following tutorial)
Learned Fundamentals
Illustrator to After Effects Workflow
Secondary Motion
Frame by Frame Animation
Animation Scripting

Adobe Illustrator
Adobe After Effects


I started by building the pigeon out of vector shapes in Adobe Illustrator. Once the character was complete, I prepped the file for After Effects by unmasking all masked elements, expanding all effects, and separating every element that would be animated into its own named layer so that everything would stay in order when the file was brought in to AE.

Keyframing for Faux 3D

The first step of the animation process was achieving the faux 3D turn of the pigeon's body. The following two images from the course are a useful visualization of the primary easing that I used for all the elements that "rotate" around the "cylinder" of the pigeon's body.

In figure 1 we're looking down on a cylinder from above, and each red dot represents one keyframe of an object rotating around the cylinder at a constant speed. Because the speed is constant, the dots are evenly spaced.

In figure 2 we're looking at a side view of the same cylinder at eye level. Although the red dots have not moved, our new vantage point makes them appear closer together on the sides of the cylinder (because more forward/backward movement is happening at these points, but our vantage point only allows us to see lateral movement).

By using the red dots in the second image as keyframe timing we can mimic the perceived speed of objects (eyes, feathers, etc.) rotating around a cylinder (the pigeon body).

Rotate That Pigeon Already!

Ok, but first let me isolate one eyeball to explain what's happening becasue it's not actually rotation at all.

The eye is simply swinging left to right and back again. It looks 3D because each time the eye swings back to the right I’ve made it invisible, and it becomes visible again only when it travels from right to left.

But wait there’s more! The swinging eye is then duplicated, and the copy is moved behind the body shape. The version of the eye that is behind the body is only visible when traveling left to right.

The cumulative effect of the front eye moving right to left, the rear eye moving left to right, and the keyframed timing illustrated above by the red dots is an extremely convincing 3D effect.

Pinning the Spine

Next up is giving the pigeon a spine of seven 'pins' that are used to control the movement of the body as it waves back and forth. The bottom pin — called the Center of Gravity pin (or COG) — is placed right in the middle of the pigeon's bum, where its hips would be.

Each successive pin is then parented to the COG and receives an exponentially-increasing expression-strength-amplifier via the AE effects panel. When the COG rotates a little bit, the pin above it rotates a little further, the one above that even a little further, and so on.

The body shape is parented via the puppet warp tool to the positions of the pins, which are collectively functioning as the character's spine. When the pins waggle back and forth the body moves along with it.

Squash & Stretch

Now that the pigeon is rotating and wobbling it’s time to set up the strut. The pigeon will eventually be walking towards the camera, and when two-legged characters walk their hips move up and down. In this animation, the vertical hip movement will be used to inform the timing of the pigeon’s footsteps.

To animate the hips I gave the COG pin an up and down animation via the Y position property. Then, in much the same way that I parented the rotation properties of each pin to the COG, I parent their Y position properties, give them an exponential strength amplifier, and offset them in time. The result is an accordion-like effect of squashing and stretching as the pigeon’s body elongates and compresses.

Walking the Walk

Before jumping into the frame-by-frame animation of the feet I keyframed some guides that would help inform the general size of the shoes in every frame.

To explain how the guides should behave my instructor built a much simpler side-view of a basic human walk cycle over 12 frames. These references remove the complexity of the 3D perspective from the equation. With their help, I was able to set up the foot-guides for my pigeon in a way that looked believable.

Adding A Smear Frame

You can see in frame 12 of the side-view walk cycle above that the foot is stretched unrealistically as the heel strikes the ground. This 'smear' effect gives the impression of snappy steps, and I re-created that effect for the pigeon.

Finishing Touches

The penultimate step in this animation was making the rocks and grass recede into the distance to give the impression that the pigeon is walking forward.

This is achieved by animating each ground element on its x-position from the outer edges of the composition to the center point. The ground elements are simultaneously animated in scale from 100% to 0% with a heavy ease-out value on the tail end of both of those keyframes. The effect is a convincing recession into the horizon.

Finally, to make the pigeon extra stompy, the entire animation is precomposed and given a vertical shake effect that is looped to the timing of each foot hitting the ground.

More Work