Animating Eyes

A senior animator back at jadooWorks Animation Studio (Bangalore, India) would say that when people watch animation, they’re always subconsciously looking at the character’s eyes and hand gestures. This helps read the character’s body language. Thus, however big or small one’s animation production is, make sure to spend a good amount of time getting those two features nailed down correctly.
In this tutorial, I’ll be covering the basics of animating eyes using Flash. The tutorial includes step-by-step methods, supporting images, illustrations and a speedrun video.

Below is an eye-timing chart. This shows the traditional method of timing an eye blink animation.

eye-timing chart

From this chart we see that there are three keyframes, namely 1, 3 and 5. It’s at these keyframes that the eyelid has reached one of the positions before reversing the action. The position of the eyelid at keyframe 1 and 5 is open. The position of the eyelid at keyframe 3 is closed. Frames 2 and 4 are called “inbetweens” and help create the smooth closing and opening feeling of the eye.

We can elaborate more on timing with the help of Mister David’s eyes as shown in the illustration below.

eye-timing chart animated

Now that we’ve gone though the theory of animated eyes, let’s try and create the same example using Flash CS3 (or whatever version of Flash you have; It doesn’t matter as the principles stay the same).

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, listed below are the publishing settings I used for the example.
Dimensions: 585×400 pixels (width x height), Frame Rate: 24 FPS.

Upon opening the source file, you should see three layers, namely “eye1,” “eye2” (where “eye1” is the left eye and “eye2” is the right eye) and “Mister David.”

Open the Flash source file

Let’s lock layers “eye2” and “Mister David,” so that we don’t mess with those by mistake. This way we’re sure that we’re only working with the art on layer “eye1.”

Step A: Drawing the Keyframes

  1. Create frames at frame 3 and frame 5.
  2. Extend the timeline for layers “eye2” and “Mister David” to frame 5.
  3. On layer “eye1” at frame 3, delete the eye there and draw the new eye in the closed position.

Now we have three keyframes: 1 – where the eye is open, 3 – where the eye is closed and 5 – where the eye is open again. Looking at the eye-timing chart, we’ll now need to create positions 2 and 4 which are the inbetweens.

Step B: Drawing the Inbetweens

  1. On layer “eye1” at frame 2, create a frame and draw the inbetween there. Use the onion skin to compare keyframe 1 and keyframe 3.
  2. On layer “eye1” at frame 4, create a frame and draw the inbetween there.

Test your movie by either scrubbing the timeline or hitting the Enter key. Watch the video below in case you’re having trouble following the steps.

Now that we’ve completed the left eye, let’s repeat all the above steps for layer “eye2.” The timeline should now look like the below image.

animated eyes

Save your Flash source file. To test the movie in real-time, hit Ctrl + Enter. This creates a SWF of your animation.

Play around with the timeline by adding frames (inbetweens) and extend the timeline to get different eye-blinks.

Disclaimer: this tutorial was made using Adobe Flash CS3.