The Animator’s Toolkit: Video Reference

An animator’s job (at its core) is to make things move. A good animator can capture a performance, bring to life inanimate objects, or make you connect with something as silly as a sack of flour. Being able to inject life into anything, whether it’s drawings, graphics, or 3D models means we – as animators – need to study life. Especially life in motion.


That’s why video reference is such an incredibly powerful tool for animators.


There are sites out there dedicated solely to video reference.


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Honestly though, I just go straight to YouTube and search for exactly what I need. Some of my latest searches include, “pecking quail” “field of wheat blowing in the wind” and “horse trot”. I’ll download the videos, open the clips up in QuickTime, scrub through them frame by frame, and make note of things I want to include in my animation.


I usually lose count how many times I watch through the clip, but ideally by the time I’m done, I’ve figured out which parts of the body move first, how the weight is shifting, what parts of the character or object need follow through motion and how to exaggerate the timing so it all makes sense together.


Occasionally (well… most of the time) I run into the problem of needing reference that’s more specific. When the internet fails you, there’s nothing left to do but you make it yourself. As silly and embarrassing as it sounds, acting in front of a mirror or finding a friend to record you is a great way to work through an action or performance. You find what works (or what doesn’t) right away. Does it feel natural? No? Well then it probably wouldn’t make sense animated either. Spending a few minutes goofing around on camera before launching into the project can save you an enormous amount of time and stress in the long run.


If these guys did it, you know it’s the way to go.


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