2D Animation: Creating A Zombie Walk Cycle

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Walk cycles are among the very early topics that animators learn as beginners, both in formal training as well in self-learning situations.

I’ve covered basic 4-frame and 8-frame walk cycles in an earlier post using a simple stick figure character. In the demo, I animate the character in side view, which is pretty common and straightforward.

This time, I’ll share something a little less common, but a little more interesting. In this post, I’ll show the very high level steps in creating a walk cycle from the front view. And instead of doing just a regular walk cycle, let’s create a walk cycle for a zombie!

Smiling Zombie


I’ll provide the basic steps without going into the detailed walk cycle theory. I’ll also point out my special technique that’s tremendously helpful in posing and animating my characters. As usual, the animation is done using Toon Boom Studio.

First, have a look at the following video to see the basic progression in my character animation from a simple stick figure model to a zombie.

The Basic Steps – From Stick Figure To Zombie

As you can see from the demo video above, I started with my pre-made stick figure character. This helps me in easily and quickly setting the keyframes for the walk cycle. In this phase, I’m simply concerned with the proper placements of the limbs and joints. Using my stick figure Poser character allows me to set the key poses without obstructions from complex drawing elements of the character’s parts.

Posing & Animating The Walk Cycle

Posing the character involves moving and rotating only the joints (the bright green circles in the video), which act as the character’s control points. The limbs simply follow the joints in a forward kinematic fashion. This works very similarly to the way the bone system works in Toon Boom Studio.

Screenshot - Rotate Or Move Joints

Note that using the Poser character lets you easily set poses based on references from real life or from reference images or videos. While this is still basically a cutout or puppet animation technique, the animation does not have to be in strict side view, 3-quarter view, or front view. Your puppet can be set up for interesting poses in any angle!

Adding & Editing The Zombie’s Limbs & Clothing

Once you’re happy with the key poses, all you have to do is turn the Poser stick figure into a zombie. To do this, you can recolor, resize, and reshape the existing limbs. The most important thing to remember here is to only use the Select Tool (see Figure below) when starting. This lets you adjust the drawing layers in all frames, while avoiding the creation of new keyframes to your animation. At this point, your poses are done, and you just want to change the drawing elements (your character’s art) without changing the animation. So remember NOT to use those tools that set keyframes such as the Transform, Rotate, Scale, or Move tools when you start.

Toon Boom Studio Select Tool

You can even add additional drawing elements to the limbs for added details. For example, in the video (at 0:53), I added knee drawing layers to the zombie. Also at that point, you can see the zombie’s right hand appear with additional details. That came from simple edits to the original rectangular hand drawing.

When you’re done adding all the limbs and clothing parts, run the animation and check your keyframes to see whether the limbs and clothing need adjustments in specific frames. Now you need to adjust the drawing elements by setting their keyframe, usually with the Transform Tool.

The possibilities are endless. You can add as many more details to your character as you wish to get the exact results you’re going after.

In this example, I set the poses and keyframes BEFORE adding in the character’s limb and clothing, which is not a common flow. This is just to highlight the flexibility of the rig, which allows you to quickly animate and crank out character variants if that’s what you need. There is nothing that prevents you from completely designing the character first, and then posing and animating it while still taking advantage of the control points. I’ll show examples of this in future posts.

I hope you realize that with today’s computer animation software programs like Toon Boom Studio, it’s very easy for anyone to learn and start creating their very own animated cartoons and show it off to friends and family, or even to the whole world. There are lots of available resources to help you learn 2D animation for free. Don’t worry that you’re not going to create great animation when just starting out. Even the best artists didn’t create masterpieces when they started out. The skills come with lots of practice and dedication. First, you have to start!

Let me know if you have questions about this technique in the comments section. Better yet, you can join my 2D Animation Mailing List and we can have detailed discussions about the technique by e-mail. I’ll send FREE updates about the latest examples, developments, and tricks in this area, exclusively by e-mail.

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Finally, if you know of someone who is trying to learn 2D animation on their own, you can help them by sharing this content and the website with them.



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