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Certified Trainer

WarLord’s Workshop Beginners Guide: The Timeline Simplified


A timeline is perhaps the most important basic concept that an animator must grasp. The timeline allows animations to happen. Allows action to take place. In most cases a timeline is demonstrated with the simple act of moving a primitive like a box across the screen. While that adequately shows what a timeline does in its most basic form… it’s not much fun. 

With that in mind, we are going to replace the primitive with an aircraft. Something that will make this exercise a little more interesting to animate. 


I remember the first time I had to deal with a timeline. The concept eluded me at first because until then everything I did was static, digital art. Mainly for illustration and web graphics.  I had gone from Corel Paint to Photoshop, Windows was a beast that required backups if you worked with it and the growing demand from the web meant moving onto audio and video with apps like The Real Player and this new kid on the block, Flash. 

If you were involved with web graphics or site development in the early days of the internet, Flash was a real boon to your workflow. This was particularly so in the mid-1990s when 33.6kb was a common speed before any type of consumer broadband was even on the horizon. Security issues weren’t on the minds of many web developers either. We were just trying to get meaningful, interactive websites deployed which took a lot of time and expense.  

I knew Flash was vector graphics and was capable of animation and that was the extent of it all. The only “timelines” I was familiar with back then were in video editing but for some reason, the connection wasn’t made to what a timeline really meant. 

If you are reading this and you have no idea what the timeline is then you are not alone, as a lot of us have been there, but it is a concept you must eventually grasp.  

The timeline is quite possibility the most single important concept/tool that must be understood to be an animator. You don’t have to use curves even though they greatly improve animation. You don’t have to blend motions or use reach targets, but you do have to understand the timeline. 


What is a keyframe? From StudioBinder

A keyframe, also written as “key frame,” is something that defines the starting and/or ending point of any smooth transition. That something can be a drawing in animation or a particular frame of a shot when dealing with film or video. Any shot, animated or live action, is broken down into individual frames. You can think of keyframes as the most important frames of a shot that set the parameters for the other frames and indicate the changes that will occur throughout as transitions.  

You won’t really have to be concerned with a keyframe or what they are during this exercise, but it is a term you need to be aware of and become familiar with during your animation journey. 

The timeline is quite possibly the single most important concept/tool that must be understood to be an animator.


For this scenario, I used the free S-14 Jet over at Sketchfab  (“S-14 Fighter Jet (High Poly)” ( by Kamran Mughal is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ( as it comes configured for flight with the landing gear retracted and had a nice cockpit too.   

I loaded a Pilot character into the cockpit in a sitting position and placed the hands near the joystick and throttle on each side.  Any iClone humanoid character will work, just remember to link the character to the aircraft.  

The first method. Move the jet.


Step 1: Load the aircraft. Set the aircraft shadow to “Receive Only” in the Scene Manager. 

Step 2: Load, link, and position the pilot within the aircraft. Set the Pilot Shadow to “Receive Only”. 

Step 3: Load a sky from CONTENT->SET->SKY in the Content Manager. I used “Cloudy” sky. 

Step 4: Set the Z axis on the sky to something like –10000 to lower the sky and fill the viewport with clouds. This may vary depending on the sky you chose. 


Step 5: Select the PREVIEW camera and pull back until you see the aircraft and a lot of sky.  

Step 6: Use the Zoom tool to zoom out and the Pan tool to move the Aircraft to the left of the viewport.  

Step 7: Move the Play head slider to the last frame or click on the end button.  

Step 8: Use the move tool to move the aircraft towards the opposite side of the screen until the nose of the aircraft is almost off-screen. 

Return the play head to the start and play the animation. You will notice two things immediately. It takes a while for the aircraft to get going and moves very slowly across the screen. 

And… Congratulations as you have just created your first keyframes with the beginning and the ending frames of the aircraft movement. IClone takes care of everything in-between hence the term tween or tweener, which is not commonly used in iClone terminology but is a general animation term you may run across. 

The first problem in this exercise is the default curve that starts and stops each motion. If you don’t know what a curve is then just follow along as you need to be a little more familiar with animation before we go into curves. Curves are not a beginner’s topic for most new users but the sooner you understand and properly use curves the more polished your animations will be.  


Step 1: With the plane selected, open the timeline by pressing the Show Timeline button in the play area. Hold down the Alt button and scroll the middle mouse button until the complete timeline is visible.   
Step 2: Right-click on the last keyframe (small green symbol on the right side of the timeline) and select Transition Curve.  

Step 3: Change the transition curve from Default to Linear. The aircraft should now be moving at a constant speed between keyframes. 


To speed up the aircraft as it goes across the screen you need to select the last keyframe on the right (in the timeline with the aircraft selected) and move it towards the left to about halfway. You have now doubled the speed of the aircraft.  Keep moving this keyframe to the left to increase speed.  

You should now see the relationship between the aircraft and the timeline as it gives the animator an opportunity to mark the beginning and end of this animation (the fly across), its duration, and speed. 


If you want the aircraft to move from offscreen left to offscreen right, then all you need do is move the play head to the first keyframe (frame 0 in the case), and with the aircraft selected move it to the left until it is offscreen enough to not be seen. 

Do the same thing on the last keyframe of the animation and move the aircraft offscreen to the right. You must be on the first frame and last frame as instructed above for this to work. It uses those frames as a starting and ending point and then creates the frames in between.  

NOTE: To increase the distance the aircraft flies you will need to zoom out far enough to have the space needed for the longer distance. 

How did this Involve the Timeline? I used it to time the movement from frame 0 to the last frame which captures the movement of the aircraft.  

A video tutorial covering both methods described in this article.


For one plane it does not really matter if you move the aircraft or the sky. If, however, you have several aircraft then it becomes much easier to move the sky (one object) versus multiple aircraft objects.  

This is my preferred method of making this type of shot with multiple objects. This also allows for easy animation of the various aircraft bobbing up and down or moving about. It cannot be done with a standard sky but instead, it needs to be a prop so it can be moved and keyframed. 

Method two… move the sky.


I used Props->Props->3D Space->Dome as the sky.  

  • Increase the Dome scale to 2000 
  • Add a cloudy sky to the Dome diffuse channel or Drag and Drop it directly on the Dome. 
  • Add Water, I used Water 8 in the Still Normal folder. 
  • Set the Water to –100 Height, 270 Direction (so it will flow opposite the direction of the aircraft) Water size to 1000. 
  • Set Wave Size to around 335 to increase size. Set Wave Speed to around 100. 
  • While at Frame 1 move the Sky down to the water or its edge just a little below the surface.  
  • At Frame 1 select the sky and move it all the way to the left while still being able to grab the gizmo to move it. 
  • Go to the last frame and move and move the sky to the right side of the screen making sure not to go too far or the curve of the dome may show. 
  • We now need to select the last keyframe (last frame) and right-click then select Transition Curve and select Linear. You will see a short preview. Now the sky should move smoothly from the first to the last frame. 
  • If you duplicate the Aircraft, make sure to select the Aircraft and the Pilot. Relink each pilot to its appropriate aircraft if you get a popup message regarding strange behavior from links. 

As you can see it doesn’t take that much for a simple animation of moving an object or objects across the screen, up and down or in any direction for that matter. You would basically do the same steps for launching a rocket changing the object to angle across or go straight up for a launch. 

This is for props, walking characters are another issue as they depend on distance and speed to not have foot sliding issues. If, however, you want to fly a superhero across the screen then the same principles would apply.  


The timeline will hold the keys to the animation kingdom and the more you understand what it can do, the more complex your animations can be. What you have seen here is just a starting point. And, in this case, particularly, utilizing the manual and Reallusion resources will limit frustration while you grow as an animator. 

MD McCallum - WarLord

MD McCallum – WarLord

Digital Artist MD “Mike” McCallum, aka WarLord, is a longtime iClone user. Having authored free tutorials for iClone in its early years and selected to write the iClone Beginners Guide from Packt Publishing in 2011, he was fortunate enough to meet and exchange tricks and tips with users from all over the world and loves to share this information with other users. He has authored hundreds of articles on iClone and digital art in general while reviewing some of the most popular software and hardware in the world. He has been published in many of the leading 3D online and print magazines while staying true to his biggest passion, 3D animation. For more information click here

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