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Animating Sprites: Aki's method

Animating Sprites: Aki's method

My method may not be the most effective or efficient, but maybe we can pick up some tricks from each other! Okay, here's the process I go through when I animate sprites:

Step 1: The Sprite

Finish the sprite before doing any animation.
Make sure the sprite is already finished; like 100% excellent on its' own without being animated. It will be a pain to go back an make changes to the coloring or design during or after the animation process!

So, since I don't have a fakemon sprite on me right now that meets that requirement...I'll be using this Mew sprite by Speedxaaa:

Now this particular sprite is a bit big because it's hi-res, but I won't be using a different technique because of the size. If I am animating a regular sprite for Essentials, I do so before resizing it.

Step 2: The setup

Get set up in your program of choice.
The one I use is GIMP so you'll be seeing screenshots using that program, but in this tutorial I want to focus on the technique and not the program, so I'll try to leave GIMP out of my points.

Here's my setup right now, I've just opened up the sprite in GIMP and haven't done anything else yet:

Step 3: Preparation

Analyze the sprite and plan how it should move.
I like to think a lot about this before I begin...how will I bring out this Pokemon's personality with its' movement? Is it energetic and eager to battle, or is it an evolved veteran that's at ease on the battlefield? What kind of animal is it based on; a prey animal that might be on high alert, or a calm and focused predator?

Here is my analysis on Mew that I've drawn on for the sake of explaining my thoughts:

  • I'm not going to animate the eyes blinking, since I feel like that's easy to overdo.
  • I know that Mew is a psychic type that usually hovers instead of standing, so I'll probably add some kind of bobbing/floating movement to the entire form.
  • Mew is a powerful legendary Pokemon, so it's probably not nervous or afraid when battling. More likely it will be calm, or if I recall from the anime/movies, Mew might even be feeling energetic and playful! I'll make sure the body language remains very open and relaxed.
  • Limbs and ears are allways easy targets when looking for parts to move, but I'm also going to consider the nose, hands, and neck joint. Mew has very short arms, so I can't be sure where the elbows or wrists are.
  • There's a lot of belly visible, so I could add in some breathing movements, but I suspect that there will be enough movement without that.
  • For the tail, I'm going to try to make sure that it doesn't move as if it's made of jelly, but as if it is a tailbone with many joints. The tail is a large part of the design, so I think I'm going to target that first.

Since I'm animating an official sprite this time, I can look at some references if I feel stuck. However, I usually don't want to do that but instead come up with my own ideas. I'll compare my edit to some official sprites at the end though.​

Step 4: Simple Movement

Now I'm animating! The still sprite is going to act as my first frame for now, so I'm gonna get started on Frame 2! I decided to start with tail movements, so I've separated the entire tail from the body.

You can see a ghost tail underneath, and that's from Frame 1. I'll be keeping that there as a reference while I change Frame 2. Now here is the tail movement I've decided to go with, I'm gonna unwind it just a bit and spread it out more than it already is, starting with this:​

I made this tail by cutting and pasting several bits of the original tail, however I did not rotate any part of it. I simply redrew a couple of corners that didn't line up perfectly. I'm trying to keep 3 limitations in mind as I continue to position the tail:​

  1. The tailbone, as I noted in the planning stage.​
  2. The shading on the tail is showing depth and should change a bit as the tail moves.​
  3. The base of the tail should not move from where it is attached to the body.​

That's how the tail is going to look for Frame 2. Now I'm going to use Frame 2 as a ghost guide for myself as I work on Frame 3, and then use Frame 3 as a guide for Frame 4, and so on. I'll move the tail a bit more each time, and then bring it back so that the tail can return to its' original position and create a nice movement loop. Here's what I've got so far:

It doesn't look like much does it? But know I've got one body part moving in a way that I want, and it's the base I'm going to work off of.​

Break: Taking a look at some refrences

Next I'm going to add a little movement to the arms, but before I start, I want to bring up some things about the official sprites 2, 3, 5, and 6:

Firstly, As the Mew moves you can see that a lot of the sprite quality-especially the outlines-is lost (not as much in the gen 2 sprite on the far left because it hardly moves). This is because the pieces were rotated without redrawing them at all (not the gen 6 image on the far right, that's a rip of a 3D model turned into a .GIF it looks that way because 3D objects do not have flat outlines, but you can still see how it changes shape when it moves); I personally dislike it, but it is a huge time saver when you've got a lot of sprites to work on.

The second thing I want to point out is how the movement of the tail and arms on the 5th gen sprite (second from the right) has the same pacing. The arms are at their highest point when the tail is closest to the body; The arms are at their lowest point when the tail is reaching furthest from the body. They're in sync, which can be a great thing. But for myself, I want body parts that aren't connected to move independently of each other.

So now that I'm ready to move the arms on my Mew, I'm going to start with...hmmm...Frame 3, as if it was my first frame, and make a short loop with only frames 3 through 7, (as opposed to the tail, which loops its' movement in frames 1 through 8, which is all the frames.). Hopefully this will hide some of the "seems" where the .GIF loops, and make it feel a bit more natural. Let's see:

Mew still looks a bit stiff to me, so I'm going to add some movement to those dangling back legs. I think I'll start with...Frame 6, that's not the start/end of any other movement loops yet.​

Step 5: Finishing up

I hope you didn't skip the break tab.
I decided that I wanted the different parts of mew to move independently of each other, and not in sync. That's just a personal choice, let's see how it works out for me.
I did each part individually. First getting the tail movements perfect, then the arms, and then the feet.

Hmm, maybe it looks a little dis-jointed actually? Well, let's see what happens when I add that bobbing/floating movement:

There, I think that ties it together nicely. I saved this biggest movement for last specifically, because I wanted to be very specific in my smaller movements first, and those are easier to see when Mew isn't moving around as much. This might be a totally backwards way of animating though depening on your sprite, it's your call how to prioritize.

I'll call that finished! This process usually takes me 30 minutes or so, but there are flaws with my technique like having to do the backsprites separately, and having to recolor every frame for shiny versions. Also, I like to make .GIFs in order to see my results right away, but Pokemon Essentials doesn't usually use .GIF files for battlers. You'll have to separate out the different frames into the proper format.

Specifics fo GIMP

Here is the finished .GIF when I open it in GIMP

The frames play in order from bottom to top, the numbers will be changed to match the order when the image is exported.
Now as I was working I did use the layers to draw as normal, but when exporting as a .GIF the layers are individual frames​

  • In the first set of parenthesis, you see the 300ms? That's the framerate. That frame will display for 300 milliseconds. I use 300ms but it's very easy to change the numbers to whatever suits you best. Just change the number right there and it will apply.​
  • The second set of parenthesis is how the frames switch from one to another. It says replace so that the frame will completely replace the frame before it. There is another option called Combine which would lay frames on top of each other, but since Mew is on a transparent background, this would look terrible!​
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