Learn to Animate

Cut-Out Animation in OpenToonz

Cut-out animation is based on the traditional cut-paper animations. Cut out animations keeps each moving body segment separate and connects them with an armature (sometimes called rig). An armature is an underlying skeletal structure that helps you to move your character in the animation.

Drawing Each Body Segment

Each movable body segment needs to be drawn on it's own layer/column. Any level type can be used for cut-out animation.
The more you separate out the different parts of the body, the more sophisticated the potential motion could be. At the same time, more moving parts are sometimes more challenging to control.



At minimum, you should include separate drawings for: the head, torso, upper left arm, lower left arm, left hand, upper right arm, lower right arm, right hand, upper left leg, lower left leg, left foot, upper right leg, lower right leg and the right foot. Make sure you plan for some overlapping.
When working with cut-out animation, it is important to plan out how the different body segments will overlap. If the segments overlap poorly, the cut-out approach becomes too obvious and then draws unwanted attention.

  • Use either vector or toonz raster levels (with both of these level types we can hide improperly overlapping line segments later on)
  • Give each level a descriptive name (ie. Fred_Left_Foot)
  • Draw each segment a little past the edge of the connected body segment
  • Round off the edges where two segments overlap
  • Use the fill bucket (shortcut F) to fill in areas of color (otherwise hiding overlapping line segments will not work)
  • You can clone cells to create an unlinked copy (Select the cell in the xsheet → Cells → Clone) if there are drawings you want to duplicate

Drawings do need to be in a specific order due to how the rig overlaps. In the Xsheet view, from left to right, place your drawings in the following order:

  1. Upper Arm (behind)
  2. Hand (behind)
  3. Lower Arm (behind)
  4. Foot (behind)
  5. Upper Leg (behind)
  6. Lower Leg (behind)
  7. Foot (front)
  8. Upper Leg (in front)
  9. Lower Leg (in front)
  10. Head
  11. Torso
  12. Upper Arm (in front)
  13. Hand (in front)
  14. Lower Arm (in front)
Stacking order example image is missing

If you need to reposition the order of your columns, use the top (or left) of the column header to drag and reposition.

In a Project and new scene, using any level type(s), create the drawings for a character that will across the screen. These drawing should show the side view. Make sure to include a separate level for each moving part including:
  • Head
  • Torso
  • Upper arms
  • Lower arms
  • Hands
  • Upper legs
  • Lower legs
  • Feet

This character can be used in your long term animation.

Centering

The center of each drawing needs to be placed at the location where each pivot point would be.

  1. Select the Edit Tool
  2. Set the property to "center"
  3. For each column/layer:
    1. Select the column in the Xsheet/Timeline
    2. Click and drag to move the drawing center (the pink circle) to the desired pivot point location
Head
(towards the bottom edge)
Neck
(towards the bottom)
Torso
(towards the bottom)
Hand
(at the wrist)
Lower Arm
(close to elbow)
Upper Arm
(close to the shoulder)
Foot
(at the ankle)
Lower Leg
(at the knee)
Thigh
(at the hip)
For each level (and body segment), move the drawing center to the location of that body segment's pivot point.

Rigging

Before we can animate a cut-out animation, the skeleton (armature/rig) can be used to help connect the parts of the body together.
  1. Use the Skeleton tool (in the toolbar) to connect the different drawings together
  2. Make sure that the mode Build Skeleton is selected
  3. Start outward and work inward to connect the bones (i.e. start with the foot and move up the leg, then start with a hand and move up the arm & etc.):
    1. Start by selecting your foot. You should see a single bone segment starting at the center of the active drawing:
    2. LMB-click on square at the top and drag that square to the pivot point (the blue dot) of drawing you would like to connect to; in this case the middle of the foot (if there were only one level for the foot, this would connect to the ankle or the bottom leg)
    3. Front Hand (blue) → (red) Front Lower Arm (blue) → (red) Front Upper Arm (blue) → (red) Torso
    4. Back Hand (blue) → (red) Back Lower Arm (blue) → (red) Back Upper Arm (blue) → (red) Torso
    5. Front Foot (blue) → (red) Front Lower Leg (blue) → (red) Front Upper Leg (blue) → (red) Torso
    6. Head (blue) → (red) Neck (blue) → (red) Torso
  4. Be careful to keep track of which side of the body you are connecting. Ie. the front hand should not be connected to the back lower arm & etc. Hide and show the visibility of the drawing if you need to check the location in the Viewer.
The Stage Schematic (in the Animation Room) can also be used to connect the bones together:
  1. The Schematic has 2 modes (Stage and FX), if the FX schematic is active, toggle the button on the very bottom right of the window:
  2. If the Schematic window is too small, double click the window header to expand
  3. You can use the menu on the bottom left of the Schematic window to optimize your view. From left to right, you can:
    1. Fit to window
    2. Focus on current
    3. Reorder nodes
    4. Reset size
    5. Expand/minimize nodes
  4. For each pair of nodes you want to connect, click and drag from red socket to blue socket(or from blue to red)
  5. The torso (or upper torso) should act as the "parent", with all of the other columns/nodes connected
    1. Hand → Lower Arm → Upper Arm → Torso
    2. Foot → Lower Leg → Upper Leg → Torso
    3. Head → Neck → Torso
If any drawings move out of position when connected to the skeleton, you can use the Skeleton Tool's "Animate" mode to correct the problem.
  1. Switch the Skelton Tool to Animate Mode
  2. Left-click on the drawing you want to move
    1. Left-click and drag the green box to move the drawing to a new location
    2. If you need to rotate the drawing, move the cursor away from the body until you see the double arrows, then LMB-click and drag to rotate (be careful not to click on a different drawing)
Use either "Build Skeleton" or "the Stage Schematic" to connect the different levels of your character together. The Schematic might be a little easier to use.

Animating

With the Skeleton Tool, you can use either "Animate" or "Inverse Kinematics" to move and animate your rigged character. Using either mode, any time the position/rotation of a level is adjusted, keyframes are automatically created.

Animate mode is best when you want to move a section of the body without impacting other areas.
  1. Select a body segment, move the cursor away from the body until you see the double arrows, then LMB-click and drag to rotate
    1. Selecting the thigh or upper arm will let you rotate the whole arm or leg
Inverse Kinematics: allows you to adjust the position/rotation of one drawing while impacting the position/rotation of connected body segments
  1. IK is most effective when you select the farthest extremities of the body (i.e. a hand or foot)
  2. The control/root (the blue square), allows you to move the entire body in a single movement (this also impacts movement in animate mode)
    1. If the root is not placed in the lower torso, left-click directly on the lowest torso anchor point (this should change the circle to the blue square)
  3. Left-click a drawing and drag to adjust
  4. If you are not satisfied with the movement - make changes to any drawings and/or center positions as necessary

Creating and Utilizing Walk Cycles

A basic walk cycle usually has a character walking in place. The looping cycle is later tweened to create the movement from one location to another. This allows the cycle to be reused in multiple locations.
  1. Stretch the frame (for each drawing/body segment) down to take up at least 32 frames
  2. Still using the Animate (you could also use Inverse Kinematics) mode of the Skeleton tool, adjust your character:
    1. In the first frame, set your character into the starting position (called the contact pose). Arms and legs are traditionally bent at an angle and extended diagonally in opposite directions
    2. Make sure in frame 1 that every cell has a keyframe
      1. Right-click on the frame number (left column of the Xsheet or top row of the Timeline)
      2. Select "Insert Multiple Keys"
    3. In the last frame, do not change any positions but manually add keyframes to each level (this will give you an ending contact position that is identical to the starting position - really helpful for looping later!)
      1. Select the last frame in the X-sheet
      2. In the top menu, select X-sheet
      3. Select "Insert Multiple Keys"

    4. In the frame 16 (the middle frame), rotate the arms and legs into the opposite positions (this is the inverse contact pose)
      1. In Animate mode, select the upper arms and legs to move the entire arm/leg
      2. Each adjustment you make on a different frame should make a keyframe automatically (you can always use the shortcut Z to add a keyframe manually if necessary)
  3. Play the animation in the viewer to preview your motion and make adjustments to the pose as necessary. More poses can be added for better believability.
The Passing, Descent, and High-point poses add to the sense of realism for a walk cycle.
  1. Add 2 Passing poses at frames 8 and 24 (or midway between the inverse contact pose and each contact pose)
    1. Adjust the angle of the legs as necessary
    2. Refine the angle of the feet
    The passing poses are almost identical - except the legs switch positions in the 2 poses
  2. Add 2 Descent poses at frames 4 and 20 (midway between the passing pose and the previous contact/inverse contact pose)
    1. Very slightly lower the entire body (selecting the torso should let you do so)
    2. Adjust the angle of the legs as necessary
    3. Refine the angle of the feet (make sure the foot on the ground is still at the same height as it was previously)
    Again the poses are almost identical - except the legs and arms switch positions in the 2 poses
  3. Add 2 High-point poses at frames 12 and 28 (midway between the passing pose and the forward contact/inverse contact pose)
    1. Very slightly raise the entire body (selecting the torso should let you do so)
    2. Adjust the angle of the legs as necessary
    3. Refine the angle of the feet (make sure the foot on the ground is still at the same height as it was previously)
    High point pose example is missing Inverse high point pose example is missing
    Again the poses are almost identical - except the legs and arms switch positions in the 2 poses
  4. Play the animation and make adjustments to the poses as necessary
    More walk cycle poses example is missing
  5. Save All (CMD-S)
Walk cycles for a single character are often reused multiple times in an animation or series of animations. For this reason, it is usually best to add the walking character into the scene as a sub-xsheet.
  1. Open (or create) a background scene
  2. Add your character as a sub-xsheet to your animation:
    1. In the X-sheet, select the cell in the column you would like to add your character
    2. Right-click and select Load Level
    3. Select your character scene
  3. Set the walk cycle to loop a few times with one of the following methods:
    1. Using the Command Bar:
      1. Select all of the frames for the sub-xsheet (Left-click on the left edge of the column or the top edge of the layer)
      2. Click on the "Repeat" button Repeat button image is missing
      3. Specify the number of times you want the cycle to repeat and click on repeat (likely at least 4 or 5 times)
        Setting the repeat example is missing
    2. Using the Xsheet/Timeline:
      1. In the X-sheet/Timeline, copy (Cmd-C) the starting frame and paste it (Cmd-V) after your last frame
        Copy frame example is missing
      2. Select all of the frames for the sub-xsheet (Left-click on the left edge of the column or the top edge of the layer) and drag down on the bottom handle for as many frames as you want the walk cycle to repeat
  4. In the Animation Room, use the Edit tool to set the horizontal starting position
    1. In the X-sheet, select the first frame of your sub-xsheet
    2. In the Viewer, move your character to the desired starting position (a keyframe should be created automatically)
      Starting position example is missing
  5. Use the Edit tool to set the horizontal ending position
    1. In the X-sheet, select the last frame of your sub-xsheet
    2. In the Viewer, move your character to the desired endinging position (a keyframe should be created automatically)
      Ending position example is missing
  6. Play your animation and make adjustments as desired
    Complete cycle example is missing
    • If the walk is too slow, try adding more repeats of the cycle or move the character across a smaller distance
    • If the walk is too fast, remove some frames or move the character a larger distance
  7. Save all (CMD-S)
Create a short animation that includes:
  • A sub-xsheet of an original character (not a stick figure) walking in place using the following poses:
    • A contact pose
    • An inverse contact pose
    • Descent poses
    • Passing poses
    • High point poses
  • A tween on the sub-xsheet to make the character move from one position of another
  • A background layer