Cartoon Animation

by Kitiara   |   12 February 2003

  Have questions? Discuss this Flash tutorial with others on the forums.

Flash is one of those wonderful programs that can be put for a plethora of uses. But one of the most common things people want to be able to do with it is make cartoons and animations. There's a lot of ways to do this, but I'm going to show you a very simple, scripting free way of bringing some characters to life.

[ you'll be making something similar to what is shown above ]

Steps to Create Animation

Before we begin our animation, we need a character. This little guy below is one that I quickly drew using a similar process to that described in another tutorial, Line Art In Flash. He looks a little bit lost, bless him. Let's call him Dexter.

[first draft of character]

At the moment, Dexter is just a collection of lines and fills, and not much good for animating. What we need to do is break up the character into his component parts (ouch!), and save them all as Library items.

Of course, the easiest way to do this is to simply draw each body part on a different layer as you go. That way, you can see how the fit together in relation to each other, get the sizes right etc etc. But if you've already drawn the character, then you'll just have to get your mouse dirty, get in there and pull poor Dexter to pieces. Select the lines and fills that make up a body part (say the head) then cut and paste into a new symbol. In a lot of case, you may find that a piece isn't complete, where it intersected with other areas. If that happens, then you just add some more lines and complete the part.

[ individual symbols ]

You can see from the picture above that Dexter is now split up into sections. Notice that although we only had one original eye image, I've duplicated the symbol and made three more versions, each with the lids closing. We need this to make him blink. I've also made a short movie clip for the mouth, containing a couple of lines / states for a talking mouth. A little tip for arms - make sure that the registration point is located at the 'shoulder' joint of the image. This makes it easier when you come to rotate them.

Make sure you have all your symbols saved in the library, and a clear Stage. Now, we can begin to create a small animation.

  1. Make a new movie clip symbol, and call it M Eyes Blink. Inside it, place your open eyes in frame 1. Insert another keyframe at around frame 40 or so. In this one, replace the open eyes with the next level down eye image, where the lids are starting to close. Put another keyframe in the next frame, and repeat the process, inserting the almost closed eyes. Put the fully closed eyes in the next keyframe. Then insert another three frames and reverse the process. No need to put any scripting on the end, we want this to loop continuously, so Dexter will blink every few seconds.

[your eyes go in this order]

  1. Create a new movie clip. We're going to use this one for our character, so give it a couple of layers. Call each one something meaningful, like R Arm, L Arm, Legs, Head. etc. Remember that some body parts will need to be behind others. In the case of Dexter, one of his arms is partially behind his body, so I have to make sure that the layer containing his left arm is behind the layer containing his T-Shirt.

[ layer structure ] 

  1. It may also be worth making a new clip for the characters' head, although this depends on how complex you want the animation to be. For the more detailed movies where you're trying to sync voice files and mouth movements, it's probably not worth doing, and you'll find it better making individual movies for each line. In this case though we just want to see an example, so we'll combine the head, eye animation and mouth animation into one, and place it on the top layer of our character movie.
  2. But that's not enough! How about we get him to look at his watch every now and then? That's just a simple motion tween of our arm and head symbols. Go into the character movie clip, and F5 up to around frame 43 on each layer.
  3. On about frame 15 of the R Arm layer, make a keyframe. A few frames later (depending on how long you want the action to take, make another. In this second one, rotate the arm (this is where you need the registration point on the shoulder axis, it makes it a lot easier) to the point you would like it to be. You may find that the arm overlaps part of the body image. In that case, edit the arm symbol so this doesn't happen. When you've chosen your finish position, select a frame in between these two states, and apply a motion tween. Give him a few frames to look at his watch, the reverse the process, moving the arm back to its original position. Do something similar with the head, so that he actually looks down at his watch.

[animation timeline]  

  1. Now run your movie, and you'll see him getting the time every few seconds, still chatting and blinking as he does so.

And that's the basic principle. It's very handy to make a small collection of body parts (not literally, I do mean Flash images here) in your library. Draw various positions of arms, so you'll always have the one you need on hand. Different expressions can be made by using different mouths and eyes, so have a good selection of these too.

Certain motions (like the watch checking) can be put into small clips, then re-used as and when you need them, so you can build up a collection of mini movie actions too.


Add more characters, backgrounds, anything you like. Below you will find the .fla file for the basic movie (including a selection of other characters for you to break up) ready for you to animate and warp to your hearts' desire.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them on the forums.

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