How to create an animated run cycle.

Run cycle is the technique used to create a running animation. But as the saying goes, you must walk before you can run! Creating an animated run cycle is very similar to making a walk cycle, though with some key differences. 

 

If you’ve been through the paces of the walk cycle and feel ready to hit the ground running, this piece will explore how a run cycle works - and how to make a run cycle animation that will get you racing towards your creative goals.

A selection of illustrative characters at various stages of movement.

What is the difference between a run cycle and a walk cycle?

Just as walking and running use the same movements and muscles in real life, animating a character running is a similar process to animating walking. But there are some essential differences between the run cycle and walk cycle, such as:
 

Back foot position.

In a walk cycle, one foot is always touching the ground. In run cycle frames, meanwhile, the back foot leaves the ground before the front foot lands. When the front foot hits the ground, the position of the back foot determines the speed of the run.

 

Angle of the character’s body.

In a walk cycle the body remains fairly upright. With running, the body angles forward slightly.

An outline of a female sprinter.

Arm swing.

In a walk, the arms are in their maximum stretched position when the foot is in the contact position. In a run cycle, the opposite is the case — the arms reach their maximum stretched position when the character is at the high point of the action and both their feet are off the ground. 

 

 

What are the run cycle’s key poses?

A grid of six chicks at different stages of movement.

To complete a run cycle, your character needs to move through eight frames. These are the run cycle key poses:

 

Frame 1: Right foot contact pose (right foot contact, left foot back). 

The right heel is in contact with the floor and the right arm is back, while the left leg is bent behind and the left arm forwards.

 

Frame 2: Downward pose.

Downward momentum lowers the body and head, while the legs and arms move to the centre.

 

Frame 3: Break pose (right foot down, left knee forward).

The body moves upwards and forwards, as the right leg extends and the left knee bends forwards. 

 

Frame 4: Upward pose (left foot forward, right foot back).

Both feet leave the floor. The character’s legs are extended, with the left foot forwards and the right foot backwards. At the same time, the right arm is forwards and the left arm back (arms are bent at the elbow — not fully extended). The character’s head is also higher than the other frames here, as the momentum of the run lifts them in the air.

 

Frame 5: Left foot contact pose (left foot forward, right foot back).

The same as frame one but with the limb positions reversed. The left heel is in contact with the floor and the left arm is back, while the right leg is bent behind and the right arm forwards. 

 

Frame 6: Downward pose.

The same as frame two but with the limb positions reversed. Downward momentum lowers the body and head, while the legs and arms move to the centre.

 

Frame 7: Break pose (left foot down, right knee forward).

The same as frame three but with the limb positions reversed. The body moves upwards and forwards as the left leg extends and the right knee bends forwards.

 

Frame 8: Upward pose (left foot forward, right foot back).

The same as frame four but with the limb positions reversed. Both feet leave the floor. The character’s legs are extended, with the left foot forwards and the right foot back and the right arm forwards and the left arm back (arms are bent at the elbow — not fully extended). The character’s head is higher than the other frames as the momentum of the run lifts them in the air. 

 

Knit the eight frames together and you’ve got yourself a smooth, running animation. Of course, it’s not that straightforward for everyone. 

 

If you’re a complete beginner to character animation, the step-by-step guide below can help you to create an animated run cycle.

Fascinated by the world of animation?

Keep learning by reading our beginner's guide to animation.

Run cycle animation — a step-by-step guide

Various cartoon characters running.

Draw some floor guidelines.

If your character is running, they will need a surface to run on! Drawing floor guidelines will help you to animate the footfalls, so they’re consistent and the running animation looks true to life. 

 

Sketch the body and legs of the character first.

If this is one of your first forays into creating a running animation, it’s best to start with a rough sketch or even a stick-person, so you’re not getting hung up on the finer details while you’re mastering the technique. Start by sketching the head, body and legs. We’ll get to the arms later. 

 

For the animation, you’ll need to sketch the eight frames explained above.

 

  • Left foot contact pose

Draw the head and body leaning forward slightly, with the left leg straight and angled so that the front of the head is directly over the toes. The heel should be touching the floor with the foot pointing upwards so that ball of the foot is off the ground. The right leg should bend at the knee so that the right foot is parallel with the character’s back. 

 

  • Downward pose

The left foot should now be planted firmly on the ground, with the knee bending and the head and body slightly lowered to account for the bend. The upper-right leg should now be level with the left — almost overlapping. Have the lower half of the right leg roughly parallel to the floor and the toes of the right foot pointing downwards.  

 

  • Break pose

The left leg is now straightening to push the body forwards. As the run cycle is animated, the character should look like they’re running in place — so the left leg should be drawn further back as the right leg (still bent at the knee) moves forwards. The head and body should lift slightly as the left leg lengthens.  

 

  • Upward pose

Both feet have left the floor for the upward pose! Now the left leg kicks backwards while the right leg continues to move forwards and downwards towards the floor, ready for the heel to make contact in the next sketch. Don’t forget to lift the head and body to reflect the upward movement.  

 

  • Right foot contact pose

Now it’s the right foot’s turn to make contact. The heel should be touching the floor with a nearly straight right leg, toes pointed upwards and left leg kicked backwards. Remember, the toes of the front foot should be level with the front of the head.  

 

  • Downward pose

Draw the right foot planted on the ground, with the knee bent and the head and body slightly lowered to account for it. The upper left leg should now be almost overlapping with the right as it moves forward. Ensure the lower half of left the leg is roughly parallel to the floor and the toes of the left foot are pointing downwards.  

 

  • Break pose

Draw the head and body lifted slightly as the right leg lengthens. The right leg is now straightening to push the body forwards and should be drawn further back as the left leg swings forwards through the hip, with the knee still bent.  

 

  • Upward pose

Your character is in the air again! Now the right leg kicks backwards while the left leg continues to move forwards. Lift the head and body to reflect the upward movement. 

 

Congratulations, you’ve got the foundations of your very first running animation! Try watching it through and see how the legs, head and body move to create the run sequence. 

 

Add the arms.

With no arms to stabilise them, your character could have a nasty fall. So let’s add those in now.  

An outline of hands giving a ’thumbs up’ gesture.

Remember that our arms swing in alternate rhythm with our legs when running, to help stabilise us and keep that momentum going. So, if your character’s right leg is forwards, their right arm will be behind them, and vice versa. 

 

We also tend to run with our arms bent at the elbow, so don’t sketch your character’s arms outstretched or they might look like they’re marching instead. 

 

  • Contact poses — arms in front and behind in opposition to legs.

  • Downward poses — arms close to the body building that momentum.

  • Break poses — arms straighten somewhat as the character pushes up through the leg. Opposite arm starts to come forward as the leg moves in front. 

  • Upward poses — arms in front and behind in opposition to the legs. 

 

Now your character has a working pair of arms too! Watch the animation again and see how the arms add to the sense of motion and help bring your character to life.

 

Neaten it up.

Now that the motion of the animation is down, we can start to build depth to the character, adding form and shape. Do you want it to look realistic or like a cartoon? Will they be tall and slender, muscular or a bigger character? Do you want to add colour, clothing, hair or other details? 

 

Now is the time to play around with that. Adobe Animate can be extremely useful for helping with key animation techniques. Don’t worry if the thought of animating flowing hair seems daunting either - you can keep it simple for now. 

A selection of illustrative characters running across a street scene.

You might also choose to add a surrounding backdrop. Remember how Scooby Doo and Shaggy always ended up running down corridors with the same window and plant? Now you know why!

 

Running animations and more.

Ready to be inspired? Here are some brilliant examples of what animations you can create in Adobe Animate.

Run cycle animation: FAQs.

 

How many frames is a run cycle?

A standard run cycle should be at least eight frames. Some animators choose to add more frames in between the first and final frames for a smoother transition - this is known as ‘tweening’ - but beginners are advised not to exceed 10 frames when starting out.

 

What is the most framed pose for a run cycle?

The most important frame for a run cycle is the contact pose, when the front foot plants on the ground. It is advised to starting drawing from this frame, as the planted foot can anchor the character in position and establish where the ground is. 

 

How do you animate a run cycle in Adobe animation?

You can animate a run cycle in Adobe Animate by drawing your character’s eight frames of movement and playing them together. The eight frames include: 

 

  1. Right foot contact pose 
  2. Downward pose 
  3. Break pose 
  4. Upward pose  
  5. Left foot contact pose 
  6. Downward pose
  7. Break pose 
  8. Upward pose

 

Discover more about animation.