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Create a walk cycle in 5 easy steps (Free project files)

Walk cycles can look a bit scary at first. Before you create your walk-cycle, make sure you know the Basics of how After Effects works. Creating a walk cycle that looks natural can seem like a big challenge, but it is not that difficult to create one if you follow the rules. 

Today, we’re going to cover everything you need to know when creating a walk-cycle and what to avoid to make your animation look realistic. Let’s get started. 


#1 Use walk cycle reference 


Before you start your rig, find a good reference. Having a reference somewhere on screen would help you make a more realistic motion and ensure you’re not adding many keyframes that can make your animation look messy and weird.

We always have our reference somewhere on screen in the main After Effects composition.

Remember, every walk cycle has three main poses – contact, passing, and contact again. These are the extreme poses. Of course, to create a flawless animation, you’ll need to add the in-between shots as well, but we’ll be talking about these shots later in this article.

We’ve created a walk cycle reference for you to use.

2D Walk cycle reference

Feel free to download and use it in your next walk cycle animation.


#2 Import your character and parent the layers


Now, let’s get to work. The first thing that we’re going to do in After Effects is to important our character.

Make sure everybody part has its own layer. Like this:

Parenting the layers in AE

Once you ensure every body part is on a separate layer, it is time to parent the layers. This would help you connect two or more layers. For example, when you parent the eyebrows to the head, the eyebrows would move with the head every time you move the head. That way, we can ensure everything is connected correctly, and that would help us create a great walk-cycle.

Here’s how to parent your layers in after effects:

1. Every face layer needs to be parented to the Head layer
2. The Head layer needs to be parented to the neck
3. The Neck needs to be parented to the body
4. The Hand – to the forearm
5. The Forearm- to the arm
6. The Arm- to the body

Follow the same process for the legs too.

#3 Rig the character

Here’s a list of the best rigging tools that you can use in After Effects to rig your character:

1. Duik
2. RubberHose
3. Character Tool
4. Limber
5. PuppetTools

In our opinion, Duik is the best tool for rigging in After Effects, and we use it for all of our animation projects.

Rigging a character in Duik is as easy as this:

1. Move the Anchor point of each layer to make it connect properly
2. Select the layers you’d like to rig ( for example, the hand, the forearm, and the arm)
3. Click on ‘Auto-rig.’
4. Boom! Your rig is ready.

Walk cycle rig

It is important to rig the character to easily adjust the position and rotation of our arms and legs for our walk cycle animation.


#4 Create the extremes using your walk cycle reference


If we go back to our reference, you’ll see the extreme poses that every walk cycle has- the contact, passing, and the contact again.

After ensuring our character is rigged correctly, the first thing that we’re going to do is to add the extreme poses.

Add keyframes at the start and the end of your composition, making the first contact pose.

Extreme poses walk cycle

Then, go to about the middle of your composition and add the second contact pose ( this is pose after he switches his legs)

Extreme poses walk cycle

Now, add keyframes in the middle of the first and the second contact pose, creating the first passing pose.

Extreme poses walk cycle

And finally, add the second contact pose between the second and the third contact pose.

Extreme poses walk cycle

Your rough animation is ready! Now it is time to polish it and add the in-between shots.

Walk cycle Animation reference

#5 Polish your walk cycle and add the in-between shots


There isn’t a strict formula for this part. Feel free to experiment and make your animation come to life by adjusting the position, rotation, and movement of the legs and arms.

However, when you polish your animation, keep these tips in mind:

1. Always offset the keyframes to make the animation look more realistic ( when we walk, we don’t move every body part at the exact same time)

2. The arms are always opposite to the legs

3. If you want to add an animated background or your character is part of a scene, always move the background and not the character ( otherwise, it would look like the character is sliding and not walking)


If you’re an animator, you’ll inevitably stumble upon walk cycles in your work. It takes time to master the techniques and be able to create realistic animation. But if you follow the tips we mentioned in this article, you’ll have a solid base about how to create a walk cycle in After Effects.

You can download our project files below and use them in your next animation projects.

    Author avatar
    Kashu Team
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