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Posing Characters

Now that you've had a bit of practice posing a simple character, you can move to a more complex character, such as a human body. When posing a human body, you need to understand anatomy, the skeleton, and how they all tie together. This knowledge will help you create strong poses. Strong poses are one of the fundamental building blocks of animation. They're read well the instant they're viewed. If your poses are strong, the audience knows exactly what's happening and will understand your character's actions better. Also, a good pose is almost always balanced, giving your digital characters the distinct feeling of weight and life.


Keeping a pose balanced is very important. The body is simply a system of joints that is trying to stay in balance. Each bone acts as a tiny lever, distributing the weight of the body through the spine to the hips, and then down through the legs to the ground. If a pose is out of balance, the character will appear as if it's about to tip over. If the body is slightly out of balance, the eye will still pick it up and see the pose as wrong without an apparent reason.

In the human body, all balance starts with the hips. The spine and the upper body rest on the hips, and the hips rest on the legs. Any forces generated by the legs reach the upper body through the hips. The hips are also close to the center of gravity of the body and thus are close to the center of most motions.

Because everything stems from the hips, they're the best places to start when posing a character. In a relaxed stance, the body usually rests on one leg, not both (see Figure 7). If you've ever watched people waiting in a long line, you'll know what I mean. People constantly shift their weight from one foot to another as they wait. Rarely do they place their weight equally on both feet, except when standing at attention. As the poses get more complex, you need to pay attention to balance very closely. If a character picks up an object, for example, the object's weight should be balanced by the rest of the body. When a person rests on one leg, it throws the whole system off center (see Figure 8). When the weight is on one leg, the free leg pulls the hip down and out of balance. This, in turn, curves the spine and forces the shoulders in the opposite direction to maintain balance (see Figure 9).

Figure 7 This is an unnatural pose. Rarely does the body rest equally on both feet.

Figure 8 Placing the weight on one leg, however, forces the hips to lean. This puts the body out of balance, making it look like it's about to tip over.

Figure 9 Twisting the spine so the shoulders are turned opposite to the hips places the body in balance.

If the body is about to move forward, the shoulder may drop on the same side as the hip. Either way, the body's natural state of balance is asymmetrical.


Because the body is so symmetrical, it is very tempting to place it into symmetrical poses. Not only is this dull and boring, it is very unnatural (see Figure 10). To keep your characters looking natural, you need to keep them asymmetrical in almost every way--from the positions of the eyes, hands, and feet to the motions and actions that they do (see Figures 11 and 12). Symmetry has this odd habit of creeping in at the worst times.

Figure 10 This pose is symmetrical in almost every respect. It is also boring in almost every respect.

Figure 11 This pose breaks symmetry in a number of places.

Figure 12 And so does this one. Both of them are more interesting and look more natural.

Avoiding symmetry means avoiding what animators call twins. A twin is simply a part of the body that mirrors another. Even minor details in a pose--such as both feet pointing in the same direction--can make a character look strange (see Figures 13 and 14).

Figure 13 This character is locked in a very symmetrical pose. This is full of twins, such as the legs and arms, and it is not very interesting.

Figure 14 Rotating the hips forces the spine to twist to maintain balance and makes the pose asymmetrical. This makes the character look more natural.


Another point to consider is the weight of the character as well as the weight of everything else in the scene. Consider a character standing on the edge of a diving board. A heavy character will bend the diving board considerably, and a tiny character will hardly bend the board at all. A character lifting a heavy suitcase will need to lean its body away from the suitcase to get it off the ground (see Figures 15, 16, and 17).

Figure 15 How heavy is the bag? Until the character lifts it, we do not know.

Figure 16 This bag is very light. You can tell this by the pose.

Figure 17 This bag is very heavy. Again, the pose gives us the information.

Another important point to consider is the weight of the character itself. Skinny characters have no problem supporting their own weight. In a hurricane, however, they may tend to blow away. Heavier characters, on the other hand, will be more stable in hurricanes, but may have problems supporting their own weight when they are simply standing. This can cause the knees of a heavy character to bend outward to support the extra weight. Be sure to take these factors into consideration when posing your characters.

When animated, a heavy character moves much slower than a light character and needs a lot of force to begin moving. Think of a dinosaur--it needs momentum to get moving. But a mosquito is quick and light and needs barely any momentum to get moving.

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