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The Weight of Walking

July 17, 2007

Walks and runs are primarily a weight distribution problem. In fact, every motion is primarily a problem of moving weight. Energy is expended to move an object from a standstill. One of the problems we faced with Meteor and the Mighty Monster Trucks is that the trucks did not look like giant 2 ton monster trucks, not because of scale or lens choice, but because the animation usually lacked a sense of weight. The trucks rather behaved like 1 lb radio-controlled toys.

A walk is an exercise in moving weight. A human is a bipedal transport. The legs must distribute the weight of the torso in any motion.  If you imagine a pair of legs supporting a stack of various sized steel balls you will have a good understanding of the weight of walking.  The legs must balance and transport the weight supported above. They must start, move and stop in relation to the balls.


Let’s consider weight in an extreme case: An extremely over-weight person. How would a 350 lb person walk and move compared to a skinny, 85 lb preteen? Mr. 350 would have a much more labored walk. No only are his large thighs in the way, he has more mass above his legs that must be distributed on a wider base–which means his feet must be further apart for balance. When you walk with your feet farther apart you waddle more, which means your body rocks left to right more to stay above your legs as you change feet. Mr. 350 also cannot stand still when he’s not moving. He’s carrying a lot of weight, and so he constantly shifts his weight from one leg to the other as he stands because his legs tire more quickly.

If Mr. 350 is going to run, stand up, or sit down, there is a greater degree of energy expended, and takes more time to get it moving. Starts and stops are more labored. It takes him more time to start or stop any motion.

Now consider little 85 lb Johnny. Johnny is a fireball of energy. His movements look effortless. He stands, stops, runs and turns with little apparent effort. Yet his body must still wrestle with weight, no matter how imperceptible. He still has weight. But compared to Mr. 350, there is a huge difference.

Now, imaging little Johnny saddled with 80 lbs of sandbags strapped to his torso. He’s not going to be able to move as he had before. His movements, posture, even the distance between his feet will be more like that of Mr. 350.

You will have a great deal of opportunity to work with this in Avraham. 13-year-old Avraham is basically an 85 lb preteen. He will move light and quick, yet he will not be weightless. Yet, compared to Stargazer, he will move with less weight and effort than the portly astrologer.

To get a good sense of weight in your animation you need two things: 1.) Good posing, and 2.) Sensitive timing. Both need to work together to convey weight. They do not work independently.

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