Character creation WIP: Scootaloo

Hey, everyone.

It’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been working on getting the hang of setting up characters on and off. Right now, here’s what I got: my own version of the MLP character Scootaloo, based on some older show references and a chart off Double Rainboom, a fan project. Thought it was kind of appropriate to start there, all things considered.

I’m setting it up for posing using both the Group Widgets method and the Z-layer animation method, hoping to emulate how Flash characters are set up. The reason I’m not using bones is because the Z-layer animation means I’d have to bone parent a metric ton of points to single bones (my laptop started whistling when I selected all the snout layers, which doesn’t strike me as a good sign), and besides that bones don’t seem to like me very much. I tried to open a newer version of my file just now which had bone values, got an error message like the one I got last time I posted here, and I can’t seem to do the XML editing that was suggested last time, so I think I’m better off avoiding bones altogether.

The face shapes are a little wonky, the arm shapes are not much write home about, and there’s still a lot of drawing that would need to be done for this to come anywhere near cartoon quality (there’s only one eye blink set up as it is, and in one perspective only), but I do think most of the mechanics are in place now. It’s been a good learning experience, even if it’s not finished. Not all of the pivot points have been added to the set, either, and the reason for that is that I hadn’t considered how to handle the different perspectives. The pivot points shift, so maybe each perspective needs its own set of controls, maybe it’s okay to link rotations and whatnot. The left arm and right arm won’t move the same way, either: in the left arm, I’ve made it so the rotation of the lower arm carries over between the shapes, it might make the animating process easier if I do the same across all the joints (and leave less values in the library), it might backfire horribly. Then there’s naming conventions, still figuring out the best way to go about it all. Oh, and the Offsets aren’t linked yet; I focused mainly on the rotation aspect of things. Again, one of those things to figure out.

But it works, or it should, mostly. I’ve got a front pivot point and a back one on the torso, with the arms and legs included or excluded as needed, so it could rise up on its hind legs as well as buck backwards easily, and the Skew angles for the torso chain are linked, so the head skews with the neck and whatnot.

Anyway, it’s messy, but it’s a start, and it’ll (hopefully) lead to other, bigger things in the not-too distant future.

So, your thoughts?
ScootalooPrototypeSet.sifz (522 KB)

The artwork is great. I am not a fan of MLP, but judging from other similar works that come out on dA pretty much often, I can tell that you got all right :wink:

The source is a little bit messy, yes. It takes much time to load (~1 minute on my i5) and there are a lot of unused layers like DraftStroke, TorsoSketch and others that was surely used, but now I guess useless and personally I would just delete it so they don’t distract. Plus, animation will load/render a bit faster.

Good luck with your cartoon!

Yeah, most of the drawing was done in Inkscape first. I am deleting some of the unused layers right now, if only to make it easier to navigate. Some of the layers were meant purely as a frame of reference, especially regarding where to put the rotation centers, but, yeah, they’re probably not going to be needed in the future.

The main purpose of doing pony art first was to see if it could be done in Synfig at all, make a library of expressions and poses so making cover art for my stories gets a little bit easier. Besides that, I am aiming for a job as a technical writer, and if I can master this and write a good tutorial on the subject, that might help. I will have to start over on something original then, though. Animating this… might be feasible once the rest of the drawing work is done. I’d have to think of a story for that first.

Anyway, thanks for the feedback. I’m on a laptop, so render and loading time doesn’t bother me that much atm, but I can imagine once you have to render a couple thousand frames, shaving off a little bit of time will help. Won’t know unless I try it, suppose.

Gonna let it rest a bit while NaNoWriMo is going on, and maybe get started on writing down a proper workflow for the next project… and make this a full-fledged pony rig in the meantime, if need be. The design makes it easy to make several characters out of one baseline, which is what I wanted to aim for. Reusability (is that a word?) was the main objective. Anyways, I ramble. Thanks again!

Hey all,

Just a little update to say that I’ve split up the different perspectives into three different ‘characters’ to hopefully make things more manageable. I’ve also completely given up on using bones or switches for anything, and will try to make files with as little linking or exporting as possible as a sort of bare-bones exercise.

But anyway, here’s how talking would be implemented with this workflow. All the muzzle shapes were drawn in advance and imported into Synfig, grouped into one big layer. This overlapping layer has Z layer visibility switched on, and the whole thing just animates Z-value to go over the list. This layer can then be copied over into character or shot files as needed. Actually animating it would involve just grabbing the keyframes and duplicating and moving them as needed. Basically, it’s how I’ve seen it done in Flash tutorials. It also has the same weakness, though: the length of the animation itself needs to be adjusted so all the visible keyframes are, well, visible.

The upside to this would be that you can do the basic animations without the muzzles, or unneeded muzzles, and cut down on file size, which, yes, I am starting to notice facial animation makes it swell up a lot. If you only need smiles, you can store those in a separate file and import only those. If you only need frowns, ditto. The mouth shapes can be nested with switches, if that makes any sense. Separate super deformed mouth shapes for unique bits of acting can be added in the same way, in theory.

I’m not sure if anyone has planned to make a tutorial on this, but it seems like something I could try, on an original character, one that has less shapes.

This version isn’t rigged yet, though. The profile one and front, I think, do have the layers set up at bare-bones level (so just chains of layers, no exported values) but I don’t think the snouts in profile are up to snuff. Heck, they’re not all up to snuff for this, but it’s close enough as proof of concept. I hope.

Edit: turns out I derped and put the snouts on the non-rigged version. The current file is the full one, with the joints marked in the Sets screen. It may provide some trouble when using multiple imported animations, but I’ll see how that goes when implementing blinks. It’s still messy, but again: proof of concept is there.

Oh, speaking of rigging, I found a neat trick for fellow noobies: when drawing with Synfig or Inkscape, if the basic shape contains a large circle, duplicate it and shrink it, then move it to another layer. That marks the centre of the circle, which can be used as the rotation centre for the limbs. Or, if only using hindsight, just draw a big circle in Synfig, move it so the radius touches as much of the body’s stroke as it needs to, and use the centre to line up rotations. It might seem obvious, but with non-human characters the centre of the hip can be in a non-intuitive place, as it turns out.

So, err, yeah, I think I have my base now, at least for cover art and stills. Not entirely sure where to go from here, aside from trying to make tutorials…
3QVersionRiggedTalking.sifz (266 KB)

Nice work! You kept your (b)lines clean with well placed vertices and without to much clutter in the vertex department. I am a big fan of bare-bone characters without to much exported values. It’s easier to reuse them and import them into an existing scene. You can always rig them with bones afterwards depending on the animation. Keep up the good work.