A human walk cycle is some of the most difficult motions to animate, regardless of whether you’re using PowerPoint or not. Capturing the simple motion of a person walking and looping the cycle of left foot to right foot, may take a while to set up and create, but it can be very useful for adding live and movement to your animated character or avatar.
A note to consider when animating is that the more cartoony/stylised the figure you are animating is, the less obvious it will be when the walk cycle isn’t completely realistic. This is because the simplification of the figure suggests this is just a representation of a person, rather than a replication. This is the reason why 2D animation cartoons look the way they do; they are easier to animate, exaggerate and essentially fake human motion – particularly when animating at scale.
It helps to begin with a vectorised illustration of a figure. You can make your own, or download them from a stock image site. We suggest a vector illustration rather than a flat image (like a jpg or png) because it is easier to edit individual limbs/layers. The first steps for animating any kind of human figure in PowerPoint is to first separate all the individual parts of figure. We do this so that we can add individual animations to each part. Of course you don’t need to go overboard with separating all the parts (be aware that every part you separate is another part you have to animate), so think logically about what actually needs to move in this animation.
For our example, we have separated the main body into three: head, torso and hips. Each arm we have split into two: upper and lower arm (optionally you can also separate the hand for more realistic movement). Then each leg we have split into three: upper leg, lower leg, and the foot. Again, splitting the foot into two parts could help create a more realistic bend in the foot, but for our example and the cartoon style we’ve gone for, leaving it as one piece will work just fine.
When separating parts, especially from a file that did not have animation in mind, you’ll find you might have to edit the illustration quite a bit. For example, separating arms from the torso, you might have to recreate the sleeves, or edit the torso to have no shoulders. Take your time in perfecting these parts – it will be noticeable later. Have a go at rotating, moving and positioning limbs to see where a break in the joints or jagged edges might be noticeable. I like to make all joints (such as knees and elbows) completely rounded so that you don’t see a sharp edge during the animation.
Rigging for walk cycle animation
Before beginning to frame or animate, you must first prepare all the separate body parts of your figure for animation. This is called rigging. The aim of rigging is to change the centre-point of each part so that they will pivot at the joints, and not the centre of the limb. This is because PowerPoint’s Spin animation will always try to spin from the centre of an object – and we need to spin from more specific anchor points.
To change this, group each limb with a pinwheel shape, with the cross at the pivot point, and the outer circle encasing the whole limb. This will make the whole pinwheel essentially, be the limb we animate (see image below).
Having the pinwheel shape have no fill and only line will help you see where you should align. The easiest way to add a pinwheel is Insert > Shapes > Flowchart > Or (see below).
After Grouping the entire limb with the pinwheel (using CTRL + G or by selecting both, right-click and clicking Group), you can make the pinwheel invisible by changing the Line Colour to No Line.
You will need to do this rigging process for every limb you anticipate will need to rotate at some point in the animation, and needs its centre-point changed. This will be every arm and leg part, and feet/hands. Possibly the head and hips (however, for our example there was no need to change the centre-point).
When you’ve finished rigging every limb, you’ll want to rename each Grouped limb in the Selection Pane. This will be extremely useful later on, as this name will also show in our Animation Pane, and can get very confusing if left with default names.
To open the Selection Pane, you can go to your Home tab on the top menu, then Arrange, then Selection Pane. This will bring up a sidebar on your right with all the layers on your slide. Clicking a Grouped limb on your slide will highlight the corresponding group in the Selection Pane. Double click on its name in the Selection Pane to edit the name.
We recommend naming them clearly and simply, such as Right Arm Upper and Left Leg Lower to avoid confusion. Don’t use ‘front arm’ or ‘back leg’ as names, as the arms and legs will swap over during the walk cycle and can confuse you later.
Framing your walk cycle
Now that our individual body parts and rigged, renamed, and ready to animate, we can start Framing the walk cycle. The full walk cycle we’re going to animate has essentially nine frames (see this tutorial here) which has four specific poses: contact, recoil, passing, and high-point. It adds up to nine frames because each of those four poses happens twice (once each with the left and right leg), then the ninth frame is identical to the first to loop it back. Use the image in the tutorial above to help understand and pose your figure for each of the nine frames.
Before beginning to pose your figure, you might want to double check the size of your figure is exactly how you want it in the end (especially if you have a background you want to add in later) as it is difficult to resize the figure afterwards without wiping hours of animation.
Starting with frame 1, make a new slide and label it with a 1 somewhere. Pose your figure to match the 1st frame, which is a Contact pose. The more exaggerated you make the movements, the more exaggerated your walk cycle will be. If you want your figure to run, their legs and arms will move in wider motions, and if you want them to walk, then they’ll make smaller motions. Keep this in mind as you pose your figure, as it will become more obvious as you animate.
Once you’re happy with frame 1, duplicate the slide exactly, and start posing frame 2. Make sure you duplicate the exact positions of your previous frame to start with, or your figure will be all over the place. When you’re done, duplicate the slide and move to frame 3.
Continue until 8 frames are done, then duplicate the 1st frame to make the 9th frame. This will make sure we loop back to the exact same frame. You should now have 9 slides with 1 frame on each.
Now flick through the slides quickly to see how the animation will play. See how your figure moves? Use this time to do final adjustments, as we will be using these exact frames as references in the next step, so getting them perfect is important. When you’re done, it will look a bit like your figure is moonwalking on the spot.
Next time, we’ll start the animation process. To see the final results and download these digital assets for free, check out our Walk Cycle Animation asset here.