TCS 131: Introduction to Character Animation


This course provides students with a thorough introduction to 3D computer animation. It focuses on the art and practice of character animation, using practical assignments and critiques, along with reference material and analysis. Theoretical material will include introductory movement theory, the principles of animation, and animation timing. Practical work will focus on how to use motion to create a sense of character, how to develop a sense of weight and timing in animation, and how to animate motions such as walking and gesturing. Students will also learn technical skills, such as using forward and inverse kinematics for character animation, and advanced keyframe techniques. This course will have a heavy project emphasis with students creating several short animations during the quarter using 3D computer animation software.

Note: Participation in all critiques and all movement work is a mandatory part of the class.

Meeting Times

Class Sessions: Tuesday and Thursday 1:10-4:00 PM, Art Annex Mac lab.
Office Hours: Fridays 1pm-3pm, Art Annex Mac lab (103) and/or room 115 (if I'm not in one, I'm in the other!)

Contact Info

Instructor: Nick Toothman
Email: njtoothman AT ucdavis DOT edu (best way to reach me)

Required Supplies

USB storage media (flash drive, etc.) for transporting and backing up work.


A few things to keep in mind:

Reference Material

Course website:

Autodesk / Maya resources:

Useful references:


Note: subject to change!

Week Lecture/Day Topics Deadline/Handout
1 1) April 4 Introduction, Syllabus, Review Assignment 1 out
2) April 6 Techniques/Fundamentals
Work time
2 3) April 11 Assignment 1 critique
Sound and timing
Work time
Assignment 1 due!
Assignment 2 out
4) April 13 Principles of Animation
Work time
Begin reading: Principles of Traditional Animation Applied to 3D Computer Animation (Lasseter)
3 5) April 18 Discuss Lasseter reading
Movement basics
Work time
6) April 20 Floor exercise
Work time
Begin reading: The Uses and Abuses of Cartoon Style in Animation (Bishko)
4 7) April 25 Assignment 2 critique
Floor exercise
Assignment 2 due!
Assignment 3 out
8) April 27 Discuss Bishko reading
Work time
5 9) May 2 LMA
Work time
Assignment 3 due!
Assignment 4 out
10) May 4 LMA
Work time
6 11) May 9 Assignment 4 critique
Walking Workshop
Assignment 4 due!
Assignment 5 out
12) May 11 Using reference material
Cycling and baking keys
Storyboards and character development
7 13) May 16 Work time Assignment 6 out
14) May 18 Assignment 5 critique Assignment 5: Locomotion due!
8 15) May 23 Animation software
Work time
16) May 25 Presentation of storyboards and characters
Work time
Storyboards and character sketches due!
Animation Show of Shows! 4:10 pm, location Art Annex rm 107
9 17) May 30 Assignment 6 progress update
Work time
18) June 1 Animation research
Work time
Assignment 5: Dance due!
10 19) June 6 Assignment 6 critique Assignment 6 due!
20) June 8 Wrap-up


Click on a link below to view the assignment description. For assignments 2 through 6, students are encouraged to include a one-page summary describing what you were trying to achieve, how you went about it, and possibly what you feel did or did not work. This will be considered when grading assignments!

  1. Assignment 1: Bouncing Balls
  2. Assignment 2: Timing: Musical "Synesthesia"
  3. Assignment 3: Movement Observations
  4. Assignment 4: Action Drives
  5. Assignment 5: Locomotion and Dancing
  6. Assignment 6: Pantomime

Files and tutorials

Click here for a listing of shared files
Click here for a list of tutorials


Assignments will be weighted as follows:

Course Component Weight
Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 15%
Assignment 3 10%
Assignment 4 15%
Assignment 5 20%
Assignment 6 25%
Class Participation 5%

As of now, there are no plans to include a midterm or final.

Late Policy

Students are required to have material to present at all critiques! Failure to present at least work in progress at a critique will result in a zero grade. Final versions of material may be submitted at the penalty of 5% per day late. A weekend counts as one day. All material must be submitted by the end of the quarter.

Grading Criteria

The following general criteria apply to all assignments. Specific criteria are included with each assignment description.

Peer Critiques

Throughout the course, you will be given the opportunity to critique multiple projects of other students (and vice versa). These critiques will be a source of valuable feedback on your work and an opportunity to develop your critical judgment. They are a key part of the learning in this course and you are encouraged to participate fully.