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Blog / 01.03.2017

Spline Control To Major Tom – the principles of animation - part 1.

Andy Smith
Senior Animator
/ 1 min read

Creating amazing looking animation is easy, right? Just move stuff from A to B, sit back with your feet up, grab a coffee and a biscuit yeah? WRONG! OMG... so wrong!!!

Lean in a little closer and let me introduce you to the secret of great animation... splines!

Meet our hero Bob, the confused - and equally terrified blob

Bob has absolutely f*****g awful time management skills, he won’t invest in a watch, and being a gelatinous blob he has no real need for a smartphone, obviously. As a result he is always late for the bus. He needs to get from where he’s stood (we’ll call that point A), to the bus stop (let’s imaginatively call that, point B).

Now, the lesser experienced animator is thinking “Sweet! 2 keyframes and I’m outta here in time for a beard trim and a shoe-full of the latest craft beer”. Not so fast “Simon”, let’s see what that would look like...

So, Bob does indeed get from point A to point B, but it’s just... boring! There’s no character, no emotion, no Michael Bay-esque explosions! Let’s see what happens behind the scenes of Bob’s Journey...

The straight red line is what we animator types call ‘a spline’. It’s a visual representation of how an object moves through time and space. Bob’s spline, much like his uneventful journey to the bus stop is very linear. Let’s kick “Simon” to the kerb and take the wheel of this crazy rollercoaster ride. Let’s sex this baby up! Look at the spline below after a real animator has given it some love.

That’s much better! Take a moment to gaze in wonderment at that breathtaking curvature. So what does this all mean for Bob? Will he still catch the bus? Will he still walk into the sunset with the cute girl blob?!

As you can see, it still takes Bob exactly the same amount of time to reach the bus stop, but the animation is so much more appealing on a visual level. The motion eases as he reaches his destination rather than coming to an abrupt halt. It just all feels more natural. Even in this simple example you can see how spline control is so important when creating great looking animation.

Keep tuned for further instalments of ‘The Animated Adventures Of Bob The Blob!’


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