Blog by MVARTZ

For Sculpt January 2021 I made this “Bad Hunter” character, and immediately knew he had to be animated. I hadn’t had much time to fully dive into geometry nodes, So I decided to create a mystical forest around him.
For that I want to thank SouthernShotty and Erin Dale, they jumpstarted my geometry nodes journey, Gracias guys!

This won’t be a “How to” blog post, more an “Animator’s diary blog” and hopefully that is interesting too. An insight into my journey as an animator and also a testament to the fact that animators are never done learning.

Who am I?

That’s a deep question, give me a minute. Kidding, I just want you to know me a bit better and see the reasons why I do what I do.

I’m Menno van Roon, an animator from the Netherlands. At the moment I work for an in-house studio specialized in engineering. One of the perks of working for a smaller studio is I get to experience a lot of different styles of animation and segments of the production pipeline. 

I can’t complain, the variety in work is a blessing, some weeks are spent working on a 2D explainer animation, others I’m creating models for an inhouse game. 

Truth be told, this couldn’t be farther from why I got into animation in the first place. I wanted to be a character animator, seeing how a dull puppet can come to life, acting with a vibrant personality, that drove me to pursue a career in animation.

Frankly, it still does! I can’t lie, not on our first time meeting, I kinda neglected my character animation studies up until now. However, a man must eat, so I took the job I could get fresh out of Film School. I’m very glad I did, I had a chance to meet a lot of interesting people and make new friends along the way. At some point, I would like to switch to character animation.

One of the reasons I started a Youtube Channel is to share what I learned in the animation niche I’m in, and hopefully, help artists grow. On the other hand, it lets me work on personal projects, so I can keep exploring my own creative needs.

All that meanwhile I’m saving up to enroll in Animation mentor or Animschool for that matter.

What do you want to become, a character animator just like me, or maybe you fancy a job in VFX, motion graphics, or editing for that matter.

Where to start?

Back to the bad hunter, I had three objectives for this personal project. Play around with geometry nodes and get a feel for it, practice character animation, and don’t just make a boring walk on a plane surface. Lastly create a stylized environment, preferably a mystical forest.

From there I place Bad Hunter in a scene and roughly created a terrain. To get a random start, instead of a blank canvas, I used a displacement modifier to create an interesting starting point. 

By simply adding a plane and adjusting its height I could find a natural point for a creek. At some points, the stream was too shallow or even block by a sandbank, so I went in sculpt mode and manually crafted a path for the water to flow. While I was at it, I decided to add a hillside to the terrain.

So far so good.

Filling up the forest

Like I said at the start, I hadn’t had time to properly dive into geometry nodes. Populating the terrain with foliage should be easy enough with geometry nodes now. So I went over to Shouterns Shotty channel and watch his clear explanation on how to create an environment with geometry nodes. A very good place to get started. 

So I build my own assets to scatter around the terrain. Keeping the scene grounded and believable with recognizable assets as grass and rocks. Then going a bit more funky and abstract with the trees and the bushes.

It was all pretty straightforward, so I was happily filling up the scene with my fantastical foliage. Soon I realized that my scene was slowing down, and I hadn’t even animated yet.

Probably rendering wouldn’t be so fast either. RTX 2070 is a good card, but boy do these things add up quickly.

Luckily I follow ErinDale, If you don’t go and follow these guys. 

Erin is very capable with all things procedural and node-based, so surely he has a solution. For blender 2.93 he developed a toolkit that includes a camera culling and level of detail (LOD’s ) nodetrees. It is available on Gumroad here.

In a nutshell, this allows us to only populate the area in the field of view. On top of that, the further away an instance is from the camera, the lower its level of detail will get, saving a lot of memory.


Despite the intro of this blog, I’m not a complete beginner when it comes to character animation. But knowing my lack of training I try to be as prepared as possible.

So I started looking up stealth walks, apparently, they’re called fox walk. Making a conscious effort to place them outside of the toes first and slowly rolling the rest of the toes to the ground. Then softly bring the heel down to connect with the soil. All this to be as silent as possible while walking in a forest, the sound of a branch snapping, could potentially scare away prey. 

But how do you walk with a gun, I’ll be honest, the times I held a gun are limited to the three times I want laser gaming. Does that really count?

So back to referencing on youtube. A good gunman keeps his upper body as still as possible, to eliminate the movement of the barrel. Getting lower on your legs by bending the knees will take over the balancing work of the torso. 

Isn’t it funny how much you learn while animating: general knowledge +1 

The idea was to have the hunter walk into his own trap, bad hunter indeed. First I thought of a trap in the ground, a hole covered with leaves. A fall could be interesting to animate. I also liked the idea of a net being pulled up. That would be a pain in the butt to animate. Not suited for my level of confidence right now. 

So I fox walked with a ukelele through my house pretending to be a hunter. Silly as that might have been. Of course, I couldn’t act out the part of the rope pulling me up. So I resorted to some very crude thumbnailing, exhibit A: 

Fantastic thumbnailing

Menno van Roon

With that in place, I felt confident I could start properly animating. 
I underestimated how difficult it would be to adapt my straight fox walk to rougher terrain. Blocking out the walk was just that, I put on some music and did the work. Working my way up to the trap, now this part I dreaded. 
It seemed daunting, with a lot of switches in IK/FK and parent constraints.

So I took the rest of the night off and continued the next day with refreshed spirits.

When it came to blocking I learned to put in enough keyframes and leaves as little to the computer. This would help to combat the spline feel of the animation. 
After I felt tired and not sure how I could push it further, I decided the main animation was done. In the end, I can learn more from 10 finished animations than from 1 very polished one.

All that left was some clean-up. The rig wasn’t perfect, that’s not me trying to find excuses. From the start, I knew I had to fix some deformation mistakes. So I went over the animation and noted all the places of deformation errors. Then I came back to fix them up with shape keys.

To give the animation some more life I animated the grenades falling, hoping it would add to the comedic effect.

Sound design

As you all know, we like to be creative in all directions. If possible we’d animate a feature film, direct, and do the voice acting even, all by ourselves. 
Because it is fun!

Then reality kicks in. I’m not an actor, I’m not a sound designer.

So I went on Fiverr and found a great sound designer. Sound effects really elevate the animation to a new level. So special thanks to Michael Williams (@Soundonsilence)


I watch a podcast by Andrew Price. He told me or us, that most artists don’t take the time to reflect on their projects. In my case he is absolutely right, what about you?
So here it is, these are all I could spot. I’m not saying there isn’t much more wrong with it, but that’s where I’m unconscious incompetent.

During the fox walk, there are moments the hips feel disconnected. Same area different side of the coin I guess, the hips feel spliney or floaty. In comparison with the trap animation I places way fewer keyframes as breakdowns and so on.
Also, the feet have out-of-place movements. The spacing of the second step with the right leg has some serious spacing issues.
Some steps were too big perhaps, which in turn lead to some wobbly knees. 

When the hunter looks down at his feet and then starts to reverse. At that moment, the ease out of the head and neck could have been smoother. 
The most obvious error in the render is the disappearing butterflies, it is a magical forest, but I doubt this would happen. 

This is more of a backend thing, nevertheless, after a Windows update, all my software was deleted, but not properly removed. Things got messy, when I started to render, after 15 frames or so, the pc would shutdown. I later found that my Nvidia driver was corrupted. When reinstalled everything went smoothly.

Some positive notes! 

The drag-up animation turns out to be my favorite part of the animation. The part I dreaded most, is now something I’m proud of. The environment looks cheerful and complements the animation if you ask me. 
Really happy with how it turnt out.

I’m not sure how interesting this is for anyone out there, on the other hand, this is super helpful to me. I never took the time to look back at projects, and now realize how much I could’ve benefited from it

That me for this Animator’s Diary

As always, stay creative, hope to see you next time!