Walk Cycles, Part 3

In my previous pixel tutorials, we explored the basic walk cycle. We looked at the differences between the 3-frame and 4-frame walk cycles, and finally completed a smooth 8-frame cycle for a front-facing sprite. The lift-plant-push motion of the legs, which we discussed at length, is the key motion for the walk animation. This is the guy we’ve been working with for the past couple of tutorials:

8 unique frames

Full 8-frame front walk cycle

Now it’s time to dive in to the side-view walk cycle. The first step is simple: we create the basic side-view of the main sprite. This is covered in a previous tutorial: The RPG Base’s Four Directions. I’ll often create a version without arms first, to show the character’s outfit. Remember that the animated walk will have arm movement, so it’s helpful to know what the side will look like behind the arms. From there, we can just put the arms on top of it.


Side idle; no arms.

Next, it’s easy enough to make a version of the same sprite with the arms in their basic idle position:


Side idle; with arms.

Now we begin animating.

Blocking the Moving Parts

I’m going to use the armless version as the base. Since we want to avoid the hideous step-idle-step walk cycle (for reasons explained in part one of the walk cycle tutorial), I’m also going to delete the legs. We start with just the torso, and it’s used mainly for positioning.

The easiest way to begin an animation is to create the moving pieces as “blocks” of solid color. It will help you visualize the animation without the details getting in the way. Using a different solid for color each major piece will also help keep each moving piece separate, which will become incredibly useful when we have multiple limbs moving on their own.

Side walk, single leg blocked

Side walk, single leg blocked

I start out with four frames: the above image only uses the four main keyframes. I explained the motion of the cycle in-depth in the first two parts of the tutorial, so I won’t go over it again here.

Trainer Tips!

These might look pretty small in your browser. Please feel free to open these images in your image editor and zoom in. Take a look at the details. You’ll see plenty of sloppy pixels in the animations at first (don’t be afraid to be a little sloppy when laying down your forms in the early phases of the animation), but if you use a program like Photoshop or GraphicsGale, you’ll be able to open the animated .gifs and see how each frame transitions to the next.

Once your major keyframes are in place, add the other frames to smooth it out. When you add the other frames, you’ll probably need to reposition other elements of the sprite as well: notice the way the entire body moves up and down twice during this cycle. In the initial 4-keyframe animation above, the full-body movement was different.

8 frames, one leg blocked

8 frames, one leg blocked

Once we’re happy with the way that the full animation looks for the first leg, we add the second. I used the same method as above. First, I filled in the major keyframes. As a result, the back (pink) leg appeared to flash a little bit, because the full 8-frame animation was still intact. But from there, it wasn’t difficult to create the inbetweens and smooth out the entire animation.

8 frames, both legs

8 frames, both legs

Trainer Tips!

In this example, I finish the full 8-frame cycle of one leg before I created the other. You might approach it differently: it might be easier for you to create the 4 keyframes for both legs before expanding the animation to the full 8-frame cycle. Use whatever approach you feel most comfortable with. Your workflow is your own.

Here, you can see the 8 frames next to each other. Notice how each leg moves the same way, but with different timing. The pink leg and the blue leg follow the same lift-plant-push cycle, but when one leg is being lifted, the other is being planted.

All frames

All frames

We’re happy with the motion of the legs, so we can fill them in with details if we want. For the time being, I’m going to keep them like this, because I want to move on to animating the arms.


The motion of the arms in a walk cycle is much simpler than the motion of the legs. The legs have a more complex motion, because the legs are used to propel the body forward.

The arms, during a simple walk cycle, will simply swing back and forth. A simple pendulum motion is enough to begin thinking about the arms. The pendulum motion becomes slightly more complexs when you factor in elbows and the way that arms naturally bend when they swing. When the arm moves forward, the elbow has freedom to bend, but when the arm moves backward, elbows don’t bend that way, so the arm tends to be straighter (except during a run, when the runner will typically keep his elbows bent through the cycle).

In the sprite below, you’ll see that I have the full motion of the arms laid out. In most frames, the arms are represented by blocks of solid green. In two of the frames, the arms are the same ones that I’ve already made when I created the idle sprite. When I animate the arms on a walk cycle like this, I’ll begin by using the basic “straight” arms that we already made. I can copy them into the “passing” positions, when they hang straight down.

By copying these arms onto the right frames of the animation, it creates a solid base around which I can animate the pendulum motion.

With arms

With arms

You can only see the back arm in its extremes, it’s hidden behind the body during a lot of the animation, but when the front arm is at its furthest points, the back arms is the most visible. This is a great way to show the depth and three-dimensionality of the character in the animation.

Also, note that the arms move in reverse of the legs. When a leg moves backwards, the arm on the same side will swing forward. And vice versa. This is the body’s natural way of retaining balance while walking. If your legs and arms move in the same direction at the same time, it will look very unnatural.

Below, you can see the full 8 frames, and see how the arms move counter to the legs.

with arms, frames

with arms, frames

The next step is pretty straightforward. It’s also the most tedious and boring part of animation, in my opinion. Now that you’ve animated the limbs to your satisfaction, all you need to do is fill in those blocks of color with details and shading. Use your original idle sprite as a guide, and draw in the details of the arms, legs, hands and boots for each frame.

Now you should have a fully functional walk cycle. In the next part (and hopefully the last), we’ll finish up the walk cycle tutorial by polishing the animation with some additional small details.

Walk Cycles, Part 2

Whew. It’s been a while, but I’m here with the follow-up tutorial on Walk Cycles. Make sure to check out the previous tutorial on the subject before continuing.

In the previous tutorial, I went over what a walk cycle is. How they work, and how they are commonly implemented in video games. I discussed the pros and cons of walk cycles of various frames.

Today, we’re going to dive into the actual creation of such a walk cycle. We’ll begin with the front (south)-facing direction. Let’s start with a new sprite:


This guy.

I intentionally made this guy asymmetrical. His arms are different. This will force us to pay attention to each frame and prevent us from simply copying and flipping the sprite. Continue reading

RPG Pixel Art: Working Fast

One of the things that I’m proud of is that I’m relatively quick when it comes to pixel art. Sure, most of that come from experience. But a lot of it has to do with my process. It’s especially useful for working on large-scale projects, such as RPGs, which can very quickly become overwhelming. Doing all of the graphics for a large RPG (or even doing a lot of them, like all the characters or all the tiles but not both) can be daunting. Today I’m going to teach you some good habits and some bad habits that will help you manage your time in ways to maximize your pixel art output.

Note that this article isn’t going to be like my other pixel art tutorials. Instead of discussing the pixel process, we’re going to look at some tricks that I use to keep myself productive and not get intimidated by large-scale projects. Be aware that knowledge of pixel art is required before you can expect to start pumping out graphics at a quick rate, so follow through on my other tutorials before diving into pushing yourself for speed. Get the techniques down first. Still, if you have some experience already, hopefully you’ll find these things useful. Continue reading

Walk Cycles, Part 1

It’s been a while since my last pixel art tutorial (over a year! sorry guys!), in which I introduced the basic ideas of animation. It’s time we dive into animation itself, and we’re going to start off by looking at one of the most important animations in game development: the walk cycle.

Dat walk.

We’re going to be looking at the side view walk cycle (the front and back cycles will be explore in the next tutorial). Why? Multiple reasons. For one—it’s the most complicated, from a pixel art perspective. It typically takes more time to create the side view walk than the front or back views (the front and back walk cycles are easier to “cheat”).

But there’s a reason: the side view walk cycle best shows the motion of the limbs. Continue reading

The RPG Base’s Four Directions

In one of my previous spriting tutorials, we created the south-facing view for an RPG base. Before we can jump into animating that base with a walk cycle, we’ve got to spin him around! In most RPGs, your characters will be able to walk in four directions (some RPGs use eight-directional movement, but we’re not going to get into diagonals right now—maybe in another tutorial). Continue reading

Basics of Animation

Animation is a huge topic, and I’m not going to pretend to cover everything. This tutorial is only going to cover a few of the most basic ideas that will be important going forward in pixel art—if you’re interested in animation (and even if you’re not), you should search around for more detailed articles (or books) about animation.

Watch any old school cartoon (Mickey MouseLooney Tunes) and you’ll see the following techniques used all over the place. Animating for pixel art is different from traditional animation because you won’t be animating entire scenes at a time—most of the time you’ll be working with individual sprites: characters and objects. But the useful tools and principles are the same.  The following techniques are used to give an object weight.

As weight guides motion, simulating weight is how good animation becomes believable. Continue reading