Part 8: Animating Our Scene With Keyframes

In this eighth part of our Blender guide, we discuss what get’s a lot of people salivating: animating. We also touch on rendering as well here.

In the previous part of our guide, we discussed adding text and decorating our scene. It was definitely an involved process, but believe it or not, that part actually did a bunch of our heavy lifting for our next part: animating. Naturally, this means that we are taking our scene from our last part and continuing on with our next part with it.

Switching to the Animation View

When you open up your 3 project, it’ll probably look something like this:

Now, we can definitely re-adjust our view and get everything we need manually, but why do that when Blender has some nice nifty presets built in? To make things even better, you can quickly find them:

In the toolbar next to Help, there is a view drop down menu. Click it and you’ll see a number of different views ready for use. For our purpose, let’s pick “Animation”. We are, after all, going to be animating this bad boy right here after all.

Welcome to the Blender default layout for animation. We have dope sheets, camera views, timelines, and a bunch of other things going on, but what we’ll be doing should be pretty simple. Remember, we are just folding all the unnecessary stuff in our Swiss Army Knife and focusing on the tools that we need.

Setting Our Frame Rate

Before we do anything else (and I mean ANYTHING else), we should set our frame rate. The reason we set our frame rate now instead of later is because our project can get very messy very quickly if we don’t set it now.

Let’s say we have a hugely complex model running through an obstacle course. Arms, legs, and a whole bunch of other stuff are key framed. We’ve spent days key framing that. Then, while part way through the animation process, I smack the side of my head thinking, “Oh no! I’ve set the Frames Per Second (FPS) to 24. This is meant for a high definition animation and I wanted that sweet 60FPS. So, I set it to 60FPS and continue on. The problem is that this changes the speed of our animation as well. Now, everything is all out of place. It’ll take me at least a day resetting everything nicely! Ouch.

I don’t know if there is a shortcut of some sort that fixes this, but in the absence of this, I recommend setting the FPS now knowing where you want to take this later. This will eliminate the need to make adjustments later from the outset. So, let’s set it now:

On the right hand side, we see our frame rate. There is a drop down menu that we can pick from so we can set our FPS. I’m going to leave this at 24 because this is meant more as a demonstration more than anything else. Just know what you want to set your FPS before you begin this part of the project.

Setting Our Initial Camera Placement

Now, we are set to start animating our camera. Yes, the camera. We aren’t editing anything else because we are keeping this project simple.

Where should our camera start? Remember, we need to “g”rab our camera and “r”otate it accordingly. Now, I move it to where I think would be a good place to pan from left to right and…

… I quickly realize that there is a weird angle going on. Well, what should I do? To me, the easiest thing to do is to reset the camera angle. How do you do that? Make sure your camera is selected, then use Alt + R.

Now, the camera is pointed straight down. All the tilt is gone and now I can easily start using rotations to get a good angle.

Alright, honest question. Based on the camera perspective in the corner, how do I know I have a good angle? Simple solution, just go into the camera perspective mode in your 3D view. The hotkey for that is number pad “0”

Note that all the darkened portions are what some call the “dead zone”. For our perspective, it simply means it won’t show up in the final render. We are simply left with what is within that box. Check out the angle and reflection. Could you really tell based on the preview on the upper right corner that this is what you’d see? Maybe, maybe not. Seeing this, I’m going to just make a minor adjustment.

Note that I split the view so I could make the adjustments more easily.

The adjustments I’ve made are minor. I moved the camera up ever so slightly and then moved it to the side a little. To me, it looks better, so I’m going to stick with this for now.

Setting Our Animation Length

Now that we have our initial camera placement in a decent spot, the question question I should be answering by now is how long should my animation be? If you are doing a top 3 and these are just the quick animations between clips, you’ll want to have something noticeable, but at the same time, you don’t want to bore your audience with a long animation separating the clips. This is basically just an added “go the extra mile” effect thrown in here after all. To me, 3 seconds is a good time. It’s long enough to get the point across, but at the same time, it’s not long enough for someone to get annoyed, reach for the mouse, and begin scrubbing. Basically, it’s cool and not annoying.

So, remember when we set our FPS? This counts how many frames there are in a second in your animation. All you need to do is break out the calculator (the calculator in your brain if you are a math wiz of course) and multiply your FPS by 3. I have my animation set to 24 FPS. Multiply that by 3, and you get 72 frames in total. Now, all you have to do is set that length in your timeline at the bottom of the program window.

By typing in your final frame here, you are telling Blender that this animation is 72 frames long. It doesn’t go past this frame, so this is your last frame right here. That’s all you need to do to set your animation length. Now, the fun part: key framing!

Setting the First Key Frame

First thing’s first, make sure your playhead is set to the first frame. That weird window part that was hanging out at the bottom of the screen the whole time? That is your timeline. To move the playhead, click and hold on your right mouse button (not left, right). You can scrub that green line to the beginning on frame 1. Alternatively, you can also scrub with the indicator next to the end frame. All that is is showing the current frame.

Now, in our 3D view, we are going to hit “I”. This sets our first key frame. In the menu that pops up, Blender is going to ask what you want to key frame.

All we are currently after is animation the location and rotation of the camera. So, we are going to click on “LocRot”

After this is clicked, you’ll see that your dope sheet (upper left corner window) and graph editor (below the dope sheet) have been updated. There are diamonds that indicate the time in the animation that point is set. Each line represents a piece of information. Conveniently, some of those lines simply represent axis. They are green, blue, and red. Isn’t it great that those axis in your 3D view are the exact same colours? This should at least give you a hint as to what is going on in this animation.

Setting the Last Key Frame

Generally speaking, when something moves, there is a start point and an end point. So, when you are setting your key frames in anything, if it’s a simple movement, you can figure out your start end end point. Sometimes, animations need a few tweaks, but those tweaks can be made after your key frames have been set. In this case, we are going for a simple pan animation with a small amount of turning. So really, this animation requires two key frames.

The first thing you want to do is select your last key frame in the animation. Right click that play head in your time line and move it to the end.

You’ll notice that the graph editor and dope sheet above the time line will move in the same manner. This is because everything is synced nicely together.

Now, the next step is figuring out where the camera should be at this point in the timeline. Simply move it in your 3D view to where you want it to be and angle.

This seems reasonable. I’m going on a bit of a tilt down birds eye view from beginning to end. If I’m happy with this being the end frame, I just hit “I” again and choose “LocRot” again:

After I click that, I see that my dope sheet and, more importantly, my graph editor has updated:

Now, I’m going to turn of rendered view and just stick with solid view to save on processing power and hit “Alt + A” to play back the animation.

Reviewing and Tweaking the Animation

Generally speaking, what I have now is actually quite good. Normally, simple movements on default settings don’t actually work. So, what can I do to adjust the camera’s movements? All this can be handled in the graph editor:

First, I de-select everything with “A”, then I left click on a point in a curve I want to tweak. For those of you who are familiar with Illustrator, this will seem very familiar. I can take the handles and start adjusting the curve to adjust the speed of the movements and even make minor adjustments to it on top of it all. There are a lot of adjustments you can make.

Another way you can adjust is through the “N” panel. While hovering your mouse over the graph editor, tap “N” to bring up an additional list of options. A great way to remember your options panel speed keys is to think of them as dynamite. They are TNT and pressing those keys can allow you to watch them explode! OK, maybe explode might not be the best word for it, but as un-funny as that reference is, it actually helped me remember these two particular shortcuts. One of those two keys will get me what I want at least.

In this right panel, you’ll be able to see an option for changing your interpolation. As far as the graph editor is concerned, it’s the line that you see between two points. You can have linear movements, instant movements, or different methods of speeding up or slowing down. There is a lot of freedom in those options for movement if you are stuck on how you want to adjust those key frames. Feel free to experiment if you want to try something different.


So, we’ve made it up to the final step in getting this animation complete. Rendering. There are a few things you need to know about rendering.

The first thing is CPU vs. GPU rendering. CPU simply uses your main computer to process the information and give you a final render. Meanwhile, GPU takes advantage of your on board graphics card to handle the process of rendering the file. Which one you want to choose depends on your computer setup.

The second step on our tour is the resolution. You can set the height and width of your video to whatever your personal preferences are. There is one very critical thing to notice on those three options: the percentage. This feature allows you to do test renders to make sure your final product is going to look great. By default, this is set to 50% so you are actually rendering in half the resolution. This means that you can spend less time rendering test footage and more time tweaking if you still need to make an adjustment. This isn’t the only thing that helps determine render time, but when you move on to the final render, make sure this is set to 100% to get the correct aspect ratio.

Next in our render panel tour is the output. Where do you want to save this video to? Additionally, what format do you want to save this as? Do you want this to be a series of pictures (hence the PNG format) or do you want Blender to create an AVI movie instead?

The next step in our render tour is sampling. An area of attention to notice is the Render Samples. When your computer is rendering, how many samples does it take? If you have a low sample rate, then the final render will show a lot of noise. This is just a whole bunch of grain left over on the picture. The higher the number of samples, the higher the quality of the finished image.

A big downside to this? The higher the sample number, the longer the render time. Generally speaking, a small amount of grain is normal in any image, so if you don’t remove all the grain, it’s no big deal – especially for something as quick and dirty as this. A tip, however, is to leave the sample rate lower for test renders. When it comes to the final render, you might want to shoot for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 – 800 samples. Think about what is practical for you and go for it.

The final spot in our render options tour is the tile size. You might be wondering what this tile size business is all about. When Blender renders, it actually makes tiles across the screen in the final image or movie. By default, it starts in the middle and then goes out in a spiral until the image is complete. Now, these settings can most definitely impact render time. What is optimal? It depends on whether you are rendering via GPU and CPU.

If you are rendering via CPU, generally speaking, modern computers have multiple cores. This means that it can calculate multiple tiles at the same time. If you’ve selected CPU as your method of rendering from earlier, you might want to try and make your tiles really really small. 16 and 16 might work great for you.

conversely, if you are rendering via GPU, generally speaking, graphics cards don’t have multiple cores (multiple graphics cards notwithstanding of course). So, you might as well go for larger tiles to reduce render times. In that case, try 256 and 256 for both numbers to see how that goes.

So, that’s a quick rundown of rendering, so the next step is to actually go ahead and render once you have your settings the way you want them.

Since we are rendering an animation and not a still image, we need to click on the “Animation” render button. Again, depending on the specs of your system, doing a final render could take a half hour long or even several hours long. This is normal as it has long been a major drawback to 3D rendering. When you try and render something out, it takes time for your computer to process this information. One angle of looking at the math is that, sometimes, a still image can take a minute or so to render on a fast computer. Now, multiply that with however many frames your animation is (in my case, 72 frames). So, you are multiplying that time by 72 for all 72 frames.

Once you are done, you’ll have a nice fresh render sitting on your hard drive. If you haven’t done anything special to name it, you’ll want to move it to a different destination. Otherwise, some of the default settings in Blender will tell it to overwrite your file. This isn’t good when you want to render out your next number.

When all three numbers are rendered out (or however many numbers you wound up making), it’s time to put them to use. You can use whatever video editing software you have on hand to start putting together your video. Alternatively, if you don’t have video editing software on hand, believe it or not, Blender also has some video editing software built in as well. In the next part, we show you how to utilize this part of the software package should you not have another piece of software to make use of.

Keyboard Shortcut Roundup

For those of you who are practising and don’t want to read through paragraphs of content to get to the keyboard shortcuts, here is a list of everything we covered in this part:

  • (With camera selected) Alt + R = Reset camera angle
  • Numpad 0 = Camera perspective
  • (In Animation) I = Set key frame
  • Alt + A = Play / Stop animation
  • N = Open / Close right panel

Below is a list of commands previously covered in other parts of the guide and mentioned in this part:

  • G = Grab / Move object
  • R = Rotate
  • A = Select All / De-select All

< Adding Text and Decorating a Scene | Index | Video Editing in Blender >

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