centre for animation & interactive media

Animation Project #4
The Walk Cycle

[ Contents ] [ Prev ] [ Next ]


Walking, running, shuffling, skipping, hopping, jumping, swimming and other forms of human and animal locomotion are rhythmic cyclic actions which can be described using a handful of drawings. (Also see Cyclic Animation Notes) Walking is a complex repeating pattern of movements consisting of all sorts of interesting counterplays. The up and down bobbing of the body, the swinging pendulum motion of the arms, the rocking motion of the pelvis, and the complex arcs described by the picking up and putting down of the feet.
Some of the complex paths of motion found within a walk cycle

Walking or running is a continuous process of falling off balance which is momentarily stopped by putting a foot out in front to save you from falling flat on your face. The faster a character moves, the
further the centre of gravity shifts outside the body until it leans forwards in the direction the character is headed towards. (see images below right)

Design a character or life form in profile facing to the right and walk it on the spot as though on the continuously moving belt of a treadmill exercise machine. This means that the feet of your character will slide smoothly underneath its body. Use pencil and punched paper for this exercise.

Think about your character's personality and the way it is feeling and see if you can capture this in your animation. Characters with bright, happy dispositions are usually light-footed and bouncy, spending more time up in the air than down. Sad depressed characters will plod along with the weight of the world upon their shoulders spending most of their time close to the ground. They drag their feet, never lifting them very high, in an effort to conserve energy. Animated characters can walk about a third faster than real life humans and yet still look quite normal so 8-16 drawings will be sufficient unless your character is particularly lethargic.

Bringing something to 'life' by yourself is one of the biggest creative thrills going. For the moment try to resist the temptation of referring to the walk cycles illustrated in various animation reference books. Your animation will be far more interesting to look at without copying these formulaic and well known walks.

So, get up off your chair and walk, run, skip, or hop around the studio. Feel what your body is doing. Where is the centre of balance? How does your weight transfer from foot to foot? What happens to your arms. Grab some props if you want to include them and observe what happens. Get a friend to mimic the kind of walk you want (its less embarrassing) and study the way they move.

Does your character have a limp? Is it walking the dog? It doesn't have to be a two-legged character, of course. It could even be half animal, half machine. Does it crawl, hop, skip, deform and reform?

Think of props like umbrellas, hats and bags crutches, walking sticks which might make your cycle richer and more interesting to look at. What happens to the loose bits - clothing, trouser legs, skirts, scarves, hair, fur, or even large ears and noses? All objects have some kind of mass and therefore inertia. Loose, floppy or springy appendages tend to lag behind the main action once set in motion and then become a kind of delayed echo.
You will have to consider the 'follow thru' and 'overlapping action' principles of animation to handle these elements of your design.
How to treat loose bits and appendages and even body fat. These are often up 180 degrees out of phase with the object they are attached to. A trouser leg (top) and hair and a hat (bottom) from 'The Animator's Survival Kit' by Richard Williams. The accompanying animation shows how loose appendages might trail the major initiating action.
The diagram below illustrates the 'wave' principle of animation. The first two diagrams are half cycles of the full action. The bouncing ball above with its tail is an example of this. The other two show a floppy appendage as though attached to the bottom, then hanging from the top.

Please work rough while you are still developing your walk cycle. Use this exercise to refine your cyclic motion by editing and reworking drawings. Save all your earlier versions on our pencil-tester so we can see the way your walk develops. You can clean-up the drawings once you are happy with the final pencil test. Later in the semester we will look at ways of scanning your drawings into a computer for electronic ink and paint, and/or to exhibit them on the front page of our web site.

It is always easier to start a walk cycle with the 'stride' position (the pose shown in the illustration of the rabbit above). This pose determines how much ground the character will cover during one step or one half of your final cycle.

This diagram from 'The Animator's Survival Kit' by Richard Williams, maps out what happens during a single step. The first and last poses are the stride positions for each leg. It also shows how the head might bob up and down. As this figure is in profile, the silhouettes of these poses are almost the same. This is how our drawings would look if we were to animate a figure across the page. However in this assignment, we will walk your character on the spot.

In a walk cycle, the feet either slide back underneath the body if the character is walking on the spot, in which case the background is made to pan through frame as if the camera is following the character, or the feet remain fixed against the background as if the camera is stationary and the character walks through frame. The advantage of walking your character on the spot as though on a stationary treadmill is that you minimise the amount of work to be done. If we were to walk a character through frame without using the advantages of a repeating cycle, we may have to create 75 or 90 drawings. In the old days, walking-on-the spot cycles were traced off onto wide cells which could be panned through frame at a rate which matched each foot position. Now we can get a computer to either push our character across a background, or to pull a background past our character.

This is an example of a head-on walk to camera by Tony White taken from his book ' Animation from Pencils to Pixels: Classical Techniques for the Digital Animator. This character is baring considerable weight. Note the bow-legged stance of the legs (which makes for clear a silhouette) and way the feet kick out as the body rocks from side to side.

When creating a walk cycle for the first time, there is probably a tendency to make your character cover too much ground in a single step. You need to think very carefully about your character, its temperament, any idiosyncrasies, and the constraints of any physical impediments (a limp, carrying a heavy object, pushing or dragging something) and of its working design. Those things may determine the length of its stride. A little old lady with a walking frame, for example, will only shuffle along in tiny steps which might only be half the length of her shoe, while a young fit sprinter, by comparison, could cover lots of distance in a single leap.

This is a great character design but the figure's stride pose (shown here) is excessively exaggerated. This walk is arguably trying to cover too much distance in a single step. This could be a visual gag in itself, of course, as this chap looks pretty cool and aloof as he covers so much territory. The legs work well but the body seems to freeze every now and then. It is better to keep the body constantly moving even though you may want its action to be subtle. This 8 drawing walk cycle is only a half cycle - the arms and legs swap sides at the end of each repetition.

The distance between the heels of each foot when divided up by half the number of drawings in the cycle can be used to set the position for each foot in the cycle where it makes contact with the ground. Work these divisions out on a piece of paper and number them. If you keep this reference sheet on the pegs bars at all times and turn on your back light, it will provide a guide as to where to place the feet in each of your drawings. The use of this guide helps avoid feet that unintentionally slip against the background. Part of the illusion of creating a believable world is that certain laws of nature still appear to apply. To move about the world we have to push off something. Our feet usually push against mother earth, or if we are swimming, against the water. So remember that one foot usually stays in firm contact with the ground so that it can propel the mass of the body forward. Feet that slip all over the place break that precious illusion. For this exercise, your character is to walk on the spot, therefore its feet will slide underneath the body according to the distance you've determined.

Typical foot action from 'The Animator's Survival Kit' by Richard Williams.


Other things to consider is whether your character might twist or roll its torso, pelvis or shoulders, or rock from side to side as it walks, or indeed lunge forward and back the way a bird's head does as it stalks insects. You can put quirky and rhythmic visual accents or beats into your cycle by emphasising a particular pose. To do this you either bunch your inbetweens around the chosen pose to give that gesture more screen time, or you deliberately give it a 'bump' by making a particular drawing quite different from the previous ones. For example, if a character is walking with a very determined angry stomp, you will need to have a strong contrast in terms of distance between the leading foot when it is reaching out into the air before it strikes the ground, and the point where it makes impact with the ground.

Remember, part of the challenge of this exercise is to convey something of your character's personality and current emotional state both
within its design and the way its these qualities might be expressed through its movement. You'll have to figure that out first before anything else.


Roll over the images to study their movement.    


Master Melbourne character animator, Frank Hellard, demonstrates the various poses within a walk cycle - the stride, the crossover, the cushion, and the reach or lift positions. Frank was lead animator for Melbourne's first animated feature film, Grendle, Grendle, Grendle written, directed and produced by Alexander Stitt.

An historic moment - this sequence was shot in 1984 on our brand new Lyon-Lamb VAS single frame Video Animation System. It was the first one to arrive in Melbourne and won an Academy Award for technical innovation the year before. The arrival of this marvelous device meant that our students could now get immediate feedback on their animation tests without having to wait for a roll of film to be developed.

A walk cycle pose at the 'stride' position. This should be the starting point of any animated walk as it determines the physical distance your character will cover for each step. Divide the stride length, i.e. the distance traveled in one step (above) by half the number of drawings in your cycle. The red line indicates the off-balance lean required of a typical walk cycle.
The above example is from a running cycle. The red line indicating how much the character needs to lean forward off balance to move faster. The example below is of a fast run. This character is way off balance and the fully extended arms reinforce this state. Let's hope it doesn't trip over otherwise a serious a injury could occur.


Roll over the image to study its action.
A character walking into a strong wind. When pushing against something, even if its wind, or when a character has to pull something heavy, the feet must have lots of contact with the ground. In this case, when each foot swings forward to take a step, it does so only momentarily so as to gain traction as quickly as possible. Note the random cycle of shapes on the coat tails. No need to think here, just some shapes to indicate busy fluttering. This is a 24 drawing cycle, hence it moves slowly.

By way of contrast to the above walk, a run cycle by Michael Vandenhoven. Notice how the body leans forward to attain a greater state of unbalance than for a normal walk. The faster we run, the more we lean into the direction of travel. The feet work really well and there is a great sense of them just dabbing onto the ground momentarily with each step but with sufficient power to keep the character moving. Also note the way Michael has treated the mouse's ears and extended hands which work in counter balance to the body's up and down motion. This 8 drawing cycle is very competent indeed. Look at the way the pelvis twists.

A lovely lilting limp by Sal Cooper. This was an accident. The limp comes from the fact that the left and right feet are slightly asymmetrical in their motion and because the foremost foot lingers in the same spot for two consecutive drawings as it touches the ground. This produces a rhythmic 'bump' in the cycle. The rough sketchy linework looks great and gives this animation lots of vigour. This cycle was digitally colourised from black and white pencil drawings using 16 shades.

A stomp by Sally Allard which illustrates a walk with a strong visual beat. The 'bump' in the action results from the fact that the leading leg is raised very high before making contact with the ground providing a lot of contrast between it and the preceding drawing. You can almost hear the foot stomping on the ground.
This cartwheeling naked man by Al MacInnes is a locomotion cycle with lots of spontaneity. Perhaps this is the kind of joyous uninhibited freedom nudists experience when away on camp. This is a 13 drawing cycle. To go to Al's web site
<click here>

Nicholas Kallincos produces naive but always interesting animation. The feet are working is a stead fast and believable fashion with a good sense of a limping action which reinforces the design of one shoe and one bare foot. By way of contrast, the movement in the top portion of this cycle is jigglely, chaotic and uncertain but looks fabulous. First timers often get the feet working okay, but the top half of the body is all over the shop. Using a path of action can help sort this out. Just make a circle or an oval shape, put some fairings around this with the same number of divisions as your walk cycle as find some feature on your character's heads, the tip of its nose for example, which can follow this prescribed path. You can have a drawing of your head on a scrap of paper, then position it on the path and trace it off. This will keep things moving smoothly. This is a 9 drawing cycle. To go to Nic's web site <click here>

This puppet by Al MacInnes has to be one of my favourites and is extraordinarily rich to look at. This is an 18 drawing cycle. Note the way the strings move. To go to Al's web site <click here>
Yes. its that damned dinosaur again. Possibly the most boring cycle on this page. However there is a lot going on here. When the arms of your character swing forward, its often a good idea to make the forearm bend at the elbow as a kind of 'follow-through' action. Similarly, the arms can straighten up on the back swing. Dino has big floppy feet, so his toes make contact with the ground some time after his heels do. His feet kick up clods of clay which animate out of frame. His tongue lolls about, his body twists from side to side and he blinks regularly (not a good idea in a walk cycle as its too mechanically repetitive). Dino's snout is quite massive and therefore lags behind the action of his head as a sort of echo making it look kind of rubbery. This is a 12 drawing cycle. There is one alternate step for every 6 drawings, however dino's tail works across the entire 12 drawing cycle as does his floppy ears. You will also notice that this walk is not strictly in profile. Its a 3/4 view and because this particular perspective, the entire cycle needed to be worked out rather than tracing off a half cycle.

This is a very interesting walk cycle by Anthony Nevin. The feet are well under control and are doing just what they should. Using the hands as a wheel is a great idea too. You can't see it at this resolution, but the figure's amputated hands are tied to its ankles. But it is the hip and lower spine area which are engagingly chaotic, moving wildly all over the place. This is an 11 drawing cycle.

You can even use cyclic animation for your 3D characters too. This is a 12 image cycle. The wind-up toy doesn't actually go anywhere. The black and white checks just animate into each other giving the illusion that the ground is moving beneath the toy. To read more about this chap
<click here>


Suffering from considerable performance anxiety, David attempts a couple of walk cycle demonstrations live in front of the class of 2005. These are both 7 image cycles using the grid system to guide the positioning of the feet. The one on the left is a typical plod, plod walk cycle giving the illusion that the character is firmly held to the ground by gravity. The example on the right is a considerably more upbeat and happy character since it spends most of its time up in the air, and boy, it gets a long way off the ground. By comparison, with the first example, the figure in this cycle only dabs its foot on the ground for 3 positions. Since these examples are in silhouette, they are both half cycles. If they were to be drawn fully with a clear indication of which arm and leg were to the fore, and which was furthermost, we would need 14 drawings. These demonstrations were done in Deluxe Paint, a 20 year old program running on an old Amiga computer. <click here> for a tribute to that machine.

With love from Kate:
Not known for any kind of performance anxiety, here is a walk cycle made in Flash especially for you by Kate Cawley <click here>


To reflect upon the 'save-time, save-work' advantages offered through using a repeating sequences of drawings over and over again. To create a locomotion cycle that is rich and interesting to look at. To see if you can express the personality or mood of a character not only by the way it looks through its character design, but also through the way it moves. Remember, this doesn't have to be a figurative character. Think of the way the slime crawled out of the Coke bottle in 'Allegro Non Troppo' and morphed and oozed its way along.


Today! Not only that, we want at least 3 of them!!! No, just joking - sort of. Some students have been able to create several cycles in an afternoon by using the formula demonstrated for a profile walk, i.e. dividing the stride length by the number of frames in half the cycle, you can get things under control very quickly. There is no reason why you can't get a locomotion cycle working by the end of the day. Remember - work rough while testing your cycle. You can refine your cycle(s) ready for submission by 5pm Friday 27th March. At a later date you can clean-up your drawings ready for scanning and digital painting. This cyclic animation might also appear on your personal web-page.


The AIM walk cycle collections. Refrain from copying the excellent but formulaic walk cycles you find in animation books. These are known throughout the industry and a slavish copy is not acceptable. Besides, you can come up with far more interesting and idiosyncratic walks. We'll give you a copy of these after you have a go yourself.

Oh, okay, we'll give you a copy now - but you promise not to cheat will you?

Preston Blair two legged walks (side view)
Preston Blair four legged walks (side view)
Preston Blair two and four legged walks (front view)

says dino...
"At last I've found
a page where I belong"


Cyclic Animation Notes

The AIM walk cycle collections (ask David)

The Animator's Survival Kit - by Richard Williams
ff Press, ISBN 0-571-20228-4

Animation - by Preston Blair
Published by Walter T. Foster (1950s)

[ Contents ] [ Prev ] [ Next ]