After Effects – Animation with Expressions (Pt.2)

This exercise carries on from last week and will continue to look at rigging and animation controls with After Effects. We’d be animating a robot named TIX with expression controls, however the exercise will be broken up over two weeks, the first being learn to rig. As always Peter has provided all the necessary files and the robot design too!


Opening up the composition immediately gave us all the layers present in the Illustrator file, to make sure they stayed crisp and wonderful we switched on every vector layer, ensuring After Effects wouldn’t treat all the artwork as pixel layers.

Much like creating a hierarchy in Maya, a system of parent/child relationships needed to be setup for all layers. This will be crucial for the rig working correctly later. L_ARM 7 was the robot claw, connected to L_ARM 6, the robot wrist and so on. I’ve made the joke before but sing Dem Bones and you won’t go far wrong. The only exception was the plunger/base.


The next step was setting all of the pivot points for joints and body parts. For this we used the pan behind tool as we’ve done in the past, turning on snapping for anchoring pivots on the main body parts. Snapping had to be turned off for the arm joints as we would need the rotation to happen between two layers. This was done by eye.

Finally time to add expression controls Effects > Expression Controls. We would only be using two, angle control and slider control. First we created a new adjustment layer which would hold all of our expression controls, this was named CONTROL. An angle control was then added and named L_ARM Shoulder. Naming conventions are crucial due to the amount of expression controls we’d end up with. By the end the arm had a shoulder, elbow, wrist and claw control.


Time to begin setting up the controls. Starting with L_ARM 7, we opened up the layers rotation (R) and Alt-clicking on the clock to get access to its parenting tool. This was then parented to the L_ARM Shoulder angle control, the expression box auto populates.


For the rest of the arm the rotation values/expression was copied and applied to L-ARM 6 – 1. Until now I didn’t know this was possible and made the rest of the setup quick and easy. The process continued this way for the whole arm and the other arm. Make a new angle controller, name it, parent rotation of the first layers its controlling, copy this info to the rest of the chain.

Rigging complete, for this lesson there were just a few cosmetic changes that needed applying. Insert a background, pre composed footage for head light animations and heart, an explosion to show the robot was short circuiting and audio. I’ll run through these changes in quick bullets.

  • Imported the head movie clip and put it above the head layer, then set screen mode to screen. Parented this to the head layer.
  • Repeated the same process for the heart clip.
  • Imported the background and made it the bottom layer, darkened it down with a curves adjustment.
  • Imported the brain pan layer and set it to screen mode.
  • Imported the explosion, placed it at the top of the list and set to screen mode. Positioned it as required and duplictaed it to give a stronger effect.
  • Imported the audio file (we followed organisation advice to keep audio at the bottom of the stack).


TiX is now ready to be animated, and I’ll catch up with that next lesson.


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