Creating Walk Cycles with Character and Personality

Creating a walk cycle animation is typically the most fun and challenging thing to tackle. As most character animators know, a normal walk is usually a twelve frames per step cycle with four main key poses. While this formula is definitely good for creating a default walk cycle there is so much more that can go into a walk. When a character walks, a lot of their personality and who they can come through in their cycle. A walk cycle should be more than just a way for the character in your shot to get from point A to point B. Everyone walks a little differently, and if you stick to the typical walk cycle formula then you're not using the chance to really help sell your character's personality through their walk cycle. This article will give you some great tips and techniques for how you can put more character into a walk cycle and how you can experiment with exaggeration to help push your character's personality.

Examining Walks

Walks Next time you're at a mall, take a moment and sit down on a bench and just watch how the people walk around you. Chances are you can get a sense of their personality just by the way they're walking. A person's walk is not only indicative of their personality, but it's also an indication of their current mood at that moment. If you see a man walking with huge arms swings and very large up and down movement as he steps, you'll likely get the sense that this person is trying to exaggerate their walk to make themselves appear cooler or more macho. Alternatively if you see a child walking with very drawn out steps and their arms crossed in front of them you'll probably get the sense that this child is upset about something. You can gain so much information just out of a person's walk, without even having to speak to them you can get a sense of their personality or current mood. If you're creating a walk for a character you need to know their personality, who is this character? The character's walk should be indicative of their personality, it should be an extension of it, the audience should get a sense of who this character is by the way they walk. For example, if you have a women character who has a very snooty personality, chances are the walk for her would be an extension of that trait. She would probably glide across the ground, with very minimal up and down movements and very small arm movements.

Exaggerating a Walk Cycle

Exaggerate Putting character into a walk cycle can be an extremely fun exercise. When creating a walk your first thought might be okay, twelve frames per step with the typical poses for the contact, down, passing and up positions. Sure, this is a great formula for a default walk cycle, but it's not that exciting.
Find ways to exaggerate a walk cycle. If a character is very happy and is walking down the road push their poses to really communicate this, and vary the timing where you need to in order to really help sell the character's current mood. You can see an example of an exaggerated walk in the video above. In the same way, if a character is extremely angry show it in their posing and timing. While twelve framers per step works for a default walk cycle, it might not work when trying to communicate a certain personality or mood of a character. A great way to experiment with a walk cycle is to switch up the typical posing for a default walk, as well as the typical positions of each key pose. For example, you could have the contact pose be the down position, or have the highest position be the contact pose. In this example the same approach was taking with the kid walk cycle, but the posing was switched up and the timing was changed up quite a bit. You can see that by just varying the timing, and playing around with the posing for the four main poses, contact, down, pass, and up you can drastically change a typical default walk cycle in just a few minutes. Of course, this is a very exaggerated walk, but you can see how easy it is to add more character into a walk cycle.
It's important to not feel like you're restrained by what a typical walk cycle should be. Sure, the normal formula for a walk works great, but it doesn't always help to push the character's personality. So use your creative license to switch things up and experiment with your own formula. Creating a walk cycle with character and personality is a challenging process, but if you can think outside of the default walk cycle formula you'll be sure to come up with some really unique walks for your characters that will help enhance their personality and create something truly unique to them. That being said, it's still important you master a default walk cycle before you try and tackle a walk cycle with personality, check out this great step-by-step tutorial that will teach you how to animate a walk cycle.