Digital Art Clip Studio Paint Animation: A Comprehensive Guide

Clip Studio Paint Animation: A Comprehensive Guide

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Animating can be a lot of fun, but the tools to get there can be frustrating. That’s where Clip Studio Paint (CSP) comes to the rescue!

In this article, you will learn how to animate using this fantastic artist’s toolbox, and soon you will be ready to bring your ideas to life. 

The final goal of the article is to reach this cel frame animation:

I am much too excited for further introductions, let’s get started!

Note: All screenshots have been taken from CSP (EX – version 1.13.0) in Windows.

(Wait a minute, what’s the difference with CSP PRO? Some features differ between the PRO and EX version; in PRO you will be limited to 24 frames, but that is more than plenty for this article; no need to worry.)

Check out this list of Drawing Programs that are Suitable for Beginners!

Timeline Window In Clip Studio Paint

The timeline window helps users manage and organize frames over time. 

Sequencing Frames

The primary purpose of the timeline window is to arrange and sequence individual frames. In animation, each frame represents a single image or drawing.

The timeline allows you to organize these frames in a chronological order to create a sequence of images that, when played consecutively, simulate motion. Cool, right?

Frame Management

It provides tools for adding, deleting, and manipulating frames. You can add new frames to extend your animation, remove unnecessary frames, and rearrange frames to adjust the timing and flow of the animation. 

Timing and Speed Control

The timeline window allows you to control the timing and speed of your animation. You can set the duration of each frame, determining how long it will be displayed before transitioning to the next frame.

This influences the overall speed and smoothness of the animation. Timing alone can make a big difference on the look and feel of how your Sketches come to life.

Onion Skinning

It displays a faded version of previous and upcoming frames, making it easier to maintain consistency in movement and poses across frames. It is the equivalent of traditional animator’s “light tables” where they could see their previous drawings and let that guide them on the new ones.

Playback and Preview

This preview functionality allows you to review your animation in real-time, helping you identify any adjustments needed in terms of timing, motion, or transitions. You are the director, after all.

Keyframe Animation

Keyframes are frames where you define specific poses or changes in your animation. CSP then automatically generates the in-between frames to create a smooth transition. Nice!

To recap this side quest, the timeline window is a central hub for managing the temporal aspects of animation, providing essential tools for frame organization, timing control, and playback. Like we said, it’s a heavy-hit player.

Cels, Frames and Timing In CSP

In traditional animation, animators work on transparent sheets called cels. Each cel represents a single frame of the animation. The term “cels per frame” refers to how many of these transparent sheets are used to create one frame of animation.

For example, if an animator uses three cels to create a frame, they might draw different elements on each cel and then layer them to form the complete frame.

In the CSP world, we have one cel per frame, at max and at minimum. In other words, only one cel per frame is allowed, not more. But what we can play with is cel timing in a frame(s). Cel timing refers to the duration each cel is displayed within a single frame of animation.

The timing of each cel influences the speed and fluidity of the animation. An animator may choose to display a cel for a longer or shorter duration to create specific effects. For instance, holding a cel for a longer time can create a slower motion, while shorter durations can convey a faster motion.

As you saw, by default when creating cels in CSP, they are “held” for at least 3 frames.

How Cel Timing Affects Animation

The timing of cels within a frame directly affects the perceived speed and fluidity of the animation. Varied cel timings contribute to the illusion of movement.

Adjusting the timing of specific cels can emphasize certain actions or moments in the animation. For example, holding a cel for a longer time on an important frame can highlight a key pose or expression.

Cel timing is crucial for creating convincing animations. By carefully controlling the timing of each cel, animators can mimic realistic movements, expressions, and reactions.

Cel timing can be used creatively to achieve specific effects. Quick cel changes might convey surprise or excitement, while slower changes can convey contemplation or tension.

The possibilities are endless!

How To Animate a Bouncing Ball

Step 1: Create a New Animation Project

Open CSP. In the menu bar, up top and left, select File and then New, a pop up window will appear.

Select Animation as the document type.
Set the canvas size and resolution, for this article we are going with 1920px by 1920px (hello square!) and 100 dpi for resolution.

Tip: The options and preferences available on the Animation project window are numerous. Explore around, you will find that setting the appropriate preferences (like timeline naming, frame naming, file management) can spearhead your animation work. CSP offers all of these settings so you can concentrate on what’s most important, animating!

Step 2: Open the Timeline window

As an illustrator, your layers are your forte for keeping a complex illustration tamed. When animating, look to your Timeline to give you that same power.

It looks like this (usually located at the bottom of the screen). 

Don’t see it? Oh, no, panic! I’m joking,don’t panic. Just go to the menu bar up top, select Window, and in the drop down search for Timeline(X), and click on it.

The Timeline window is a heavy-hit player, if you are new to it, you might want to take a side quest for a moment to briefly learn about its power. However, if you feel equipped to skip the quest, just move on to Step 3. 

Step 3: Add frames to the Timeline

You can add/delete frames from your Timeline by right clicking over a frame (you know what frame because the one in focus is highlighted as red) and selecting Insert/Delete frame.Make sure you have 24 frames in your Timeline!

Step 4: Create an animation folder

The animation folder will allow us to hold our drawings and animate them. In the Timeline menu, click on the icon as seen on the screenshot. 

Once we click on it, in the layers window we will see the new animation project.

Step 5: Add animation cels and draw

We are going to draw the three main key animation cels for a bouncing ball. The ball will come in from the left, bouncing in the center bottom, and go off screen on the right. To help us with animation we will define the three key positions of the ball first, before we get started on the in-betweens.

Wait, cels? What is that? Think of cels as the sheet of paper animators use for each drawing. The amount of time a cel is in a frame is adjustable by the animator, depending on the amount of time we want the cel to appear (makes the animation style look different!).

Click on the first frame on the Timeline, then click on the icon for New animation cel (it’s right next to the one for creating the animation project).  The frames have numbers at the top, that’s how you know which is the first, middle, and last frame based on the 24 we have on screen.

Draw the ball coming in from the left of the screen.

Repeat the process for the next two drawings:

– Click on frame 12, add animation cell, draw the ball in the center bottom of the screen (squashed)
– Click on frame 22, add animation cell, draw the ball leaving screen on the right

Step 6: Playback in Clip Studio Paint

The moment we have all been waiting for, play that animation! Click on the Play icon on the Timeline’s menu.

Once you play it, you will feel like it goes by so fast and definitely choppy. That is because we are playing at 24 frames per second, and we have only drawn three cells that stay in view at 4 frames per cel.

For a slower playback, frame by frame (very useful when seeing how two drawings look without having to play the whole animation folder), click on the icon next to the Play. For it to work you need to manually click it for every frame. 

If you are not sure as to why the animation looks so choppy, then it is time to follow me on another side quest! On the other hand, if you just rolled your eyes because this is not your first rodeo animating, then go ahead to step 7.

Step 7: Refine the Drawings with Onion skins!

Now that you are well versed in frames, cels and timings, let us refine the current animation by adding cels and drawing more positions for the ball to go through so the animation can be a bit smoother.

As you start to add new cels, you will notice something missing. How do I draw if I don’t know what the last position was and what the next position will be? Here’s where onion skin comes through for us. Onion skin allows us to see the cel before and the cel after, while drawing the current cel. 

Those are all the tools you need to finish this animation, great job! Now go ahead and finish drawing the ball positions in between the three main ones we already have established in the project.

Step 8: Export

To export the animation, we will go to the menu File, then Export animation, and then choose what version to export. In this article we are exporting as Animated GIF.

At this point, when you export your wonderful animation, it will look like this. 

Virtual high five!

Now that we have presented the amazing tools Clip Studio Paint has for animating, you have the necessary knowledge to spice this animation up. Here’s how: add a second animating folder and use it for adding color to the bouncing ball.

Create a cel on the new folder for every cell in the old animation folder holding the drawings, but instead fill the ball up with color. Add a background color through the paper layer in the layer menu, and now you have a polished animation!

How to animate a walk cycle in Clip Studio Paint

Now that you have survived the bouncing ball animation, we can move on to more exciting ground, walk cycles!

The final goal of the article is to reach this cel frame animation:

I am much too excited for further introductions, let’s get started!

Note: All screenshots have been taken from CSP (EX – version 3.0.2) in Windows 10.

(The differences with PRO version are the features; in PRO you will be limited to 24 frames, but that is more than plenty for this article; no need to worry.)

Before we start

Animating a walk cycle needs a bit of theory introduction. The goal is to depict the main poses of a character’s walking motion, including the contact, down, passing, and up positions.

These keyframes serve as the foundation for the animation, which is then refined by adding in-between frames to smooth out the motion and create fluid movement.

Attention to detail is crucial, as animators must consider factors such as body proportions, balance, weight distribution, and secondary motion to achieve a natural and convincing walk cycle.

Timing and pacing play a significant role in bringing the animation to life, requiring careful adjustments and fine-tuning throughout the process. You can make a walk cycle as personal as the character design itself! (Amazing right?)

Our plan of attack

  • Setting up our canvas
  • Sketching the Keyframes: they will represent the main poses of the walk cycle; contact, down, passing, and up. We will use the pencil tool to sketch each keyframe on separate layers
  • Refine the Poses: once we have the keyframes sketched out, we refine each pose to ensure smooth transitions between them.
  • Add In-Between Frames: this will help us smooth out the animation, we´ll lean on onion skinning for extra support.
  • Animate the Movement: finally, we can start to use the Timeline window to fine-tune the animation and see those legs start walking!

Enjoy jabber, let’s go!

Tip: If you are serious about animating, I strongly recommend The Animator’s Survival Kit by animator and director Richard Williams. It will help you bring your drawings to life.

Step 1: Create a New Animation Project

Open CSP. In the menu bar, up top and left, select File and then New, a pop up window will appear.

Select Animation as the document type.
Set the canvas size and resolution, for this article we are going to use the Preset dropdown and select 1920 x 1080 (192dpi) option.

Step 2: Open the Timeline window

Hello Timeline window, our old friend.

It looks like this (usually located at the bottom of the screen).

If you don’t see it, remember you can always open it through the Windows panel. Go to the menu bar up top, select Window, and in the drop down search for Timeline(X), and click on it.

Step 3: Outline our walk

Everyone has their own style of walking, and usually, it means following an arc. When we walk, as we move leg our hips adjust for the knees going up and down.

(go ahead, take a moment to get up from your chair and mindfully walk, take one step at a time and see how your hips and body follows an arc, you go up and down, like rolling hills as you walk).

The steps here have been modified for ease of viewing since each position will start where the last position finished; otherwise, if you animate with this set up, you will see your character teletransporting as it walks.

For us to mimic this natural way of walking it will be easier to first define the arc, and the walk from left to right where the right leg is leading. Let’s define the contact points, where the feet touch the ground.

These are the three contact points, try them out yourself physically. When animating, it really does help to know what your body is doing to help you mimic it digitally.

Now that we have the contact points, let’s do the pass points. The pass points are the in-betweens of the contact points.

That’s the outline of our walk. Once we animate this bit, to animate the rest of the walk, it’s all about repeating the animation folder, but redrawing the leg connection to the hip so that the dominant leg is alternating after every step. (Yay digital drawings!)

Let’s go animate!

Step 4: Create an animation folder

In the Timeline menu, click on the icon as seen on the screenshot.

This animation will have plenty of frames, it’s important we keep our house tidy for the sake of our sanity. Name the folder “Right leg”.    

Set up the timeline to 83 frames. Move the blue cursor that marks the grames to the number 83:

Go into your animation folder.

Step 5: Setting up the contact and passes

Create the following list of frames in your folder:

  • contact 1
    • The first contact drawing goes here
  • contact 1a
  • contact 1b
  • contact 1c
  • contact 1d
  • pass 1
    • The first pass drawing goes here
  • pass 1 b
  • pass 1 c
  • contact 2
    • The second contact drawing goes here
  • contact 2a
  • contact 2b
  • pass 2
    • The second pass drawing goes here
  • pass 2a
  • pass 2b
  • contact 3
    • The third contact drawing goes here

The next step is rather tedious, but we have to get through it before we can begin the fun. Animating requires attention to detail, the base that you set up will help you down the road as you animate. This is our base set up, let’s keep going.

We need to assign the layers we created inside our animation folder to our Timeline. To do that, select the frame we want to assign the layer to, right-click on it, and a menu appears where you will see all the frames available, choose the one you want to be associated with the frame by clicking on it.

Carry out the following assignments:

  • contact 1: frame 1
  • contact 1a: frame 3
  • contact 1b: frame 4
  • contact 1c: frame 5
  • contact 1d: frame 6
  • pass 1: frame 8
  • pass 1 b: frame 10
  • pass 1 c: frame 12
  • contact 2: frame 16
  • contact 2a: frame 19
  • contact 2b: frame 21
  • pass 2: frame 24
  • pass 2a: frame 26
  • pass 2b: frame 28
  • contact 3: frame 33

Uf, well done! Take a break, stretch your back and move your legs. Come back when you are ready, because now we can get started animating, yeah!

Step 6: Animate

Remember that you have the onion skin feature to help you when creating frames that move you from one place to the next. We will animate by drawing within the layers we created in the previous step, and your goal is to make the legs get from one layer to the other.

Time to get some elbow grease and get drawing! You got this!

We will add the white color to the legs at the very end, it’s the cherry on top, but the main even is exactly this, animating!

Alright, now that you’ve got this now you can probably tell what comes next. The same walk cycle, but leading with the left leg. Here is where digital work is going to save us a bit of time.

  • Copy the “Right Leg”  animation folder and paste it with the name “Left Leg”.
  • Hover over the folder in the Timeline until you get the “hand” icon, and then move it so that the first frame is right after the last frame from “Right Leg”.
  • In the “Left Leg” Timeline right click on the first frame and delete all the frames until (but not including” pass 1.

The important part here is that you align the foot between the two animation folders, so that when you play between one frame and the next it looks like this.

Go through the entire folder in “Left leg” animation, and flip the way the legs connect to the hips. That way, what used to be the “right leg” becomes the “left leg”, and we get a whole cycle “for free”.

Cool, right? You are well versed into this, so now you know exactly what’s coming. We are going to do the same thing, and copy the first “Right Leg” animation folder, and connect it to the end of the “Left Leg” animation folder we just created.

For the folder we just created, delete up until (but not including) contact 1b. Make sure you align the foot properly and that’s it!

We are finished with the animation, we actually have a walk cycle! Yeah!

Be careful now, animating is addictive!

Let’s add the cherry on top now and go back to all those layers and add color to those legs so they are easier to see. This is the moment where you also get to play around with the base template we have created, think about:

  • Add more frames to make the walk even smoother
  • Adjust speed of the walk
  • Make it faster: close the gap between the number of frames it takes to get from contact to pass layers
  • Make it slower: increase the gab!
  • Focus on secondary animation action
  • The feet
  • If the character were wearing a skirt, how would that animate?

Above all, have plenty of fun!

Good to see you persevere and get through this tutorial, see you next time.