Blender 3D: Noob to Pro/Animation Editors

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Blender offers several different kinds of editing windows specifically to do with animation.

Timeline[edit]

You have previously come across the Timeline Blender270TimelineIcon.png view as the simplest way to see the keyframes in an animation. This window also includes transport controls that you can use to start and stop the animation, jump to a particular frame with  LMB , and scrub by dragging across a time range with  LMB .

This window also lets you define markers which you can name to identify important points in the animation, for informational purposes. Also, using the “Bind Camera to Marker” function, you can dynamically switch the active camera at marked points in the animation, to cut between different viewpoints.

Graph Editor[edit]

You previously saw how to define keyframes for animating a property, such as an object position or material setting. But what if you get a keyframe definition slightly wrong? Perhaps the timing is slightly off, or the movement is not quite right. You could delete the keyframe and try again. But, in many cases, it would be easier if you could get into the actual definition of the keyframe and tweak it around a bit, move its time position, adjust the animated property values, that kind of thing.

This is the purpose of the Graph Editor Blender270GraphEditorIcon.png. It gives you the most detailed, low-level view possible of your animation, by drawing an FCurve for each animated property of the selected object, representing how the property value varies over time. Each curve has control points located at each of its keyframes, and you can move these points around—horizontally to change the timing, or vertically to change the keyframe value—as well as add and remove points.

Dope Sheet[edit]

The Dope Sheet Blender270DopeSheetIcon.png gives a high-level view of your animation, similar to the Timeline, but slightly more detailed. Here you see the separate keyframes for each animated object, and you can do some limited editing, like moving the keyframes around, and duplicating and deleting keyframes, but you can’t seem to add entirely new ones.

Actually, this window can show any of five different editor submodes: Dope Sheet, Action Editor, Shape Key Editor, Grease Pencil or Mask. The Action Editor is useful in conjunction with the NLA Editor (below).

NLA Editor[edit]

The NLA (“Non-Linear Animation”) Editor Blender270NLAEditorIcon.png represents a different way of setting up an animation: instead of thinking of it as a single linear sequence of keyframes, you break it up into actions, which are separate sequences that can be arranged in various ways. You can also duplicate an action any number of times, position the copies at different times in the overall animation, and even attach them to different objects. But they still share a single set of FCurve contents, which you can edit in the Graph Editor as you would a monolithic linear animation sequence, and your changes will take effect in all copies of the action.

To edit the contents of an action in the Graph Editor, you select the action and  TAB  into “tweak mode” (analogous to Edit mode in the 3D view).  TAB  again takes you out of Tweak mode.

Note:

Actions do not appear in the Timeline or Dope Sheet. This means that, once you start to use actions, you no longer get a correct overview of your animation in these two windows. The Timeline is still useful for its transport controls, but otherwise you should stick to the NLA Editor for your overview.

 

However, the Action Editor submode of the Dope Sheet now becomes useful, for creating new actions. These start out initially empty of any keyframes or FCurves, but you can add these in Tweak mode.

To Summarize...[edit]

The above description may seem rather confusing in places. Basically, there are two ways to organize your animation:

  • Linear, as a single sequence of FCurves and keyframes
  • Non-linear, as a sequence of actions, each consisting of a sequence of FCurves and keyframes. The nonlinear data can be further divided into multiple overlapping tracks, which combine together at any moment in time to produce the complete animation.

Objects that can have animation data attached to them can have both kinds, linear and nonlinear. You can even attach both kinds at once, though then the linear animation data takes precedence. It is easy to change your mind and switch back and forth; typically, the development of a simple animation might start out linear, then change to nonlinear as it gets more complicated.