To animate, an artist will create a series of drawings, which is then strung together to give the illusion of movement in an animated sequence. To make the transition of movements fluid, compelling and life-like, the illustrations must depict the minute details of the action.

What are Keyframes?

One of the best ways to create compelling animation is by using keyframes. In traditional hand-drawn animation, a keyframe refers to the frame within the animated movement, which the artist uses as a guide to building the rest of the animation.

In computer animation, the keyframe marks the beginning and end of a transition. It defines when a transition starts and stops. The frames in-between are interpolated over time between those definitions to give the illusion of movement.

Of all the drawings that an artist makes, the keyframes are the richest in details. When animating something, it’s possible to leave some details on the in-betweens but with the keyframes, you cannot afford to cut a lot of corners because you want to make sure that the subject goes back to the base. You want the keyframes to tell a story.

Setting Up Keyframes

When it comes to setting up keyframes, focus on two things: the starting time and the condition. Create a key event for that specific time and condition then move to a later time to change the condition. Repeat for the second time and condition and the third time and condition. Repeat until all the key events have been generated for all the different conditions that occur in the animated sequence.

To illustrate, say you are animating a ballet dancer who’s about to take a leap. The first keyframe could be the dancer getting ready to jump. The second keyframe could be the ballet dancer suspended in the air mid-jump and the third keyframe is the dancer landing on his or her feet after the leap.

Another example would be a character throwing a ball in the air. The first keyframe could be the character getting ready to throw the ball. The second keyframe would depict the ball being thrown in the air and the third keyframe could be the character catching the ball back after it’s been thrown. The keyframes are meant to highlight the most important pose of an action. The remaining frames are filled with in-betweens.

Producing Key Events

How to create keyframes will depend on the animation software package you use. Many parameters could be adjusted for any one object.

Auto-Key On

Using the Auto Key is one way to generate key events. This functionality automatically sets keys on attributes each time the current time and attribute value is changed. With this feature, an artist could set the key events manually for different changes in the objects over time.

When enabled, all the changes you made to an object will be saved, which can be a good thing and a bad thing depending on the results you are trying to achieve.

The great thing about this feature is it simplifies the thought and work process needed to produce keyframes for every action that your objects have to make. When working with the auto key, it’s important to know when you are in relation to the attribute you are revising.

Auto-Key Off

This process involves producing keyframes manually. The artist would set the initial condition at the beginning of the time, add the keyframe to record the initial condition then move forward to a new time and change the condition repeatedly until all changes have been applied.

When the auto key is disabled, you have to be mindful of every change that you make to the object or environment in a sequence. With the auto key off, you have to exercise precise control when adding the keyframes to the sequence. You have to know what you are modifying. And for attributes with keyframes that are set in tandem, you have to save the keyframes for both.

Turning off the auto key means you have to record all the results of every change. All your hard work will go down the drain if you forget to hit the record button before applying the changes in a sequence. This option should be used only when you have complete mastery over the settings and you have followed all the animated attributes.

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