How To Create a Run Cycle Animation: The Ins and Outs


In this article, we will go through the various ins and outs of a run cycle animation.

A run cycle is basically a loop of a character running. The character starts on one leg, goes to the other leg, and then starts over on the first leg.

A run cycle is quite similar to a walk cycle. However, there are a few key differences. Moreover, in everything you do, you need to keep close to the 12 principles of animation.

From a Walk to A Run Cycle Animation

You know how they always say sometimes you have to walk before you can run. So, let’s start with walking.

In a walk cycle, you always have 4 key poses: contact, down, passing, and up. In all these poses, you always have at least one foot planted on the ground. Therefore, there is nowhere in time that both feet are off the ground. Otherwise, it’s not a walk cycle.

So, how about running?

Well, you could say there are 4 key poses in a run cycle animation as well. But they’re different.

The 4 Key Poses to a Run Cycle

The 4 basic poses of a run cycle animation are the same as walking. You’ve got the contact pose, the down pose, the passing and the up pose. However, to speed things up, animators combine the down and the passing poses together and add a new Up pose. Therefore, no foot touches the ground in this pose.

So, to sum it up, now we have:

  • Contact
  • Passing
  • Kickoff (the old “up” pose from walking cycle)
  • Up

Fundamentally, you want to give a running character more air time than ground time. This is how you mostly differentiate between walking and running in animation.

The arms in a run cycle animation should be opposite from the legs. They should pass each other at the passing pose and be the furthest apart on the contact pose.

Now, let’s take a look at each separate pose and analyze it.

1. The Contact Pose

This is the frame where your foot makes the first contact with the ground. Which foot you want to start on is completely up to you. For the sake of this example, we will start with the left leg forward.

So, the left leg is straight and the foot points upwards. The right foot is back and off ground, while the knee is bent.

Don’t forget about the arms. In the contact pose, the arms are in their full swing.

One more thing, in the contact pose, the legs and arms are opposites. If the left foot is forward, then the left arm is at the back.

Run cycle animation contact pose

2. The Passing Pose of a Run Cycle Animation

This is where the body moves a bit down. The left foot is planted on the ground, and the left knee is bent. The right foot is still off the ground, but the right leg is now bent forward.

Therefore, at this point, you make the switch as the right leg begins to move ahead and overtake the left leg. Therefore, the left leg goes back. The same happens with the hands, only in opposite directions. The right arm is moving back, while the left arm is moving forward.

3. The Kick-off

Moving right along, the left leg is all the way back, stretched straight, and the heel is up. This is the leg’s maximum stretch. Like a spring, it’s ready to take off and the right leg is bent forward ready to keep the movement going.

In addition to that, we now have the right arm at the back, while the left arm is bent forward.

4. The “Up” Pose of a Run Cycle Animation

This pose is also called “the take-off”. In this pose, both feet are off the ground, and the body reaches the highest point of the whole run cycle animation.

The left foot is off-ground, with the left knee bent backwards. The right leg is moving forward, in preparation for the landing. Please note that the forward right leg should be lower than the back left leg.

The next and last frame is the contact pose. Here, the right leg makes its first contact with the ground. It is stretched forward.

Then, you apply the same concepts, only to the other leg. And so the animation rolls. Let’s see how you make a mapping of it.

How Do You Make Someone Run Across the Screen

This is probably the best training you can do in animation. If you can figure out a correct run cycle, you can draw and animate almost anything. So, let’s see how you nail that run cycle animation!

Well, first, you need to map out the run before the character is even there. Think where its feet will hit the ground and create a trail of its passing through. This will save you a lot of headaches.

The first pose you should draw is the Up pose. This is where the character is “in the air”. Secondly, draw the passing posses. This is where you will need to decide where your characters’ feet make contact with the ground. Moreover, you also need to determine how high your character will be jumping with each step.

Thirdly, you can add the kick-off and contact poses. Furthermore, you can add in-between poses as desired. For example, you can add one additional drawing in between the up and the contact poses to personalize the run for your specific character.

If you’re really into it, here’s a very complex tutorial on all the mechanics of a run cycle animation.

Source: TipTut

What About a Skip Run Cycle

Skip Running or walking is a tad different from the walking and running cycle animations. However, it’s way cooler.

When skipping, your character does not kick off with one foot and land on the other foot. No, the character will instead kick-off and make contact with the ground on the same foot. Then do the same with the other foot and so on.

So, the basic poses and order are essentially the same. Only the position of the legs is different.

Personalize Your Run

A personalized run cycle animation depends on three essential factors: position, timing, and offset. Let’s look at some examples of run cycle expressions. You can basically suggest what a character feels like by altering its running.

Scared Character Running

Timing – the same

Body Position – arms up, body leaning back

Offset – the same

Confident Run Cycle Animation

Timing – the same

Body Position – lean forward

Offset – their hands offset backwards by 1-2 frames

Really Fast Run Cycle Animation

Timing – double the speed

Body Position – arms behind body

Offest – the same

Carefree Happy Run Cycle Animation

Timing – 2x slower, emphasis on skipping pose

Body Position – raising arms

Offset – the same

So, this is about it when it comes to basic run cycle animations. There are countless variations you can try with timing, position and offset. So, let your imagination fly away !

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