Devil Leonardo Combat Animation Guide

Devil Leonardo Combat Animation Guide

Myles Yeo shared his approach in the Devil Leonardo Ninja Turtle, where he worked on the animation and gave 5 essential rules of it.

Introduction and Career

Hi, I’m Myles, I am the animator of the Devil Leonardo. 6 years ago, after graduating from the institute, I have joined a local company called the Passion Republic, and I have been contributing to some of the in-game animation and cinematic animation of the 3A title from Sony and Xbox including GOW franchise, Shadow of the Beast, and a canceled project which consists of huge creatures. Currently, I am working as a Senior Animator on an unreleased title that is full of creatures and animals. Apart from the work, I focused on making projects that I hope would catch the attention or align with the things I loved. Earlier in 2019, I was lucky enough to be invited to The Unity Icon Collective Project to create the look.

A few months ago, Mickael Lelièvre released his Ninja turtle sculpture, a 3D sculpture inspired by the amazing character drawing from Daniel M Chavez. The Sculpture conveyed the evil humanoid and showed that it is not the ninja turtle that we are used to. He had a wicked glint in his eyes. I believe the drawing inspiration from the classic cartoon is based on the original Eastman & Laird comic book.

I have been addicted to Ninja Turtle Cartoon and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 video game) since I was young. I knew I wanted to do something personal and pretty wacky for the next character look. Everything starts at the heart of what I loved.

Peculiarities of animation art are motions that are developed to give a long-lasting emotional impact of animation. 


There is no way to skip the process and to go from the base sculpt to a rigged model. We turned Leo to low-poly mesh and came with a baking normal map. It is good for gaming animation without heavy polygon. For the rigging part, rigger optimized the bone to a minimal bone amount. We remained the basic body bone structures, only extra bone for Jaw and cheek were added.

The basic body bone structures

Low-poly mesh and a normal map

I would say do some research on how to retopo and work on the skin weight as the first step. Maya is the basic and the best tool for beginners. With a passion and curiosity from the heart to dive in the particular part to learn it and implement it.

About the Leonardo project

Leonardo project is one of my sporadic series built around a Look Development. Each test carries a different narrative with a different character, showcasing the raw appealing of the character. I wanted to challenge myself to develop something apart of work. 

Facing the fear of animating combat fighting is my biggest challenge in the Leo project. I had tough time animating the combat animation at the beginning of my career, even though I worked in the project for 1 year, I have not enough of knowledge of the realistic body mechanism, it is my nightmare. In the meantime, a single subjective characteristic was always my comfort zone.

For many years of experience in a realistic quadruped creature’s animation, I trained quite a lot in observing animal behavior to create the right appealing. It wasn’t easy, but there is no question that being thrown into the deep end is the best way to learn the job. Deliver the right appalling of the character with the wicked spirit of the ninja turtle and the intelligent spiritual character and face the fear are the goals of my Leonardo project. 

It has been in the animation stage for a long time. I go through the same pursuits pretty rapidly in my career. I think it’s mainly due to my passion for animation. I’m always hungry for different characters to animate in my workspace during the working hour. But noticeably unworkable in the compact production timeline for a project. Let’s animate something apart of work! This animation was the piece that started it all. It is an amazing free rig by Truong Artist.

The Animation Workflow

This is how I creating the Devil Leo.

  1. Set a few rules

Before diving into the character personality, I set a few rules for your own strictly reminder, understand and embrace limitations, use it to your advantage. As you know, a lot of work is based on requirements given by the client; hit the real goal within the limitations is a huge factor as a professional artist. Here are the requirements for myself.

 RULE 1: 10+- seconds animation

 RULE 2: A Special Move represents the character

 RULE 3: Lightly Stylized Realistic Animation

  1. Research the background of the character.

Ninja Turtle is a fictional character that is an athletic mutated creature, well trained by their Master Splinter in the art of Ninjutsu. They show surprising speed and martial art that goes along with their agility.  They remain hidden from society in sewers of New York City, but they are friendly and adorable as we knew in the animated series or the movie. But what I noticed that the original character is shown wicked and frowning, it must be displayed sentient, perceptive, sensitive, and alert.

  1. Looking for references

I started looking at the Tricking Battle footage. I get the dynamic sense of power and emotion impact that the motion has. But, of course, when you see the tricking battle, there are so many cool and combo tricking movements, and some more flips nonstop for 10 seconds. I worked hard in this stage to find out the balance between these suitable movements for Leo with his signature weapons and the rhythm of tricking that able to present the aggressiveness of the samurai spirit.

  1. Design the 10 seconds animation

After locking down the decent super movement, it is time to fill it in with the design of the rhythm of the 10 seconds. As you can see the tricking is rapid and done in 3 seconds, there is a cool and big impact. Going the contrast way will bring up the flow of the overall shot. I decided to fill in the looping walk cycle for the big picture of the shot. Back to the original idea of the character design, the walk cycle must display the aggressiveness, confidence, and ruffian.

  1. The Rigging

I am responsible for the animation aside from the character rigging. The rigging is done by my friend, Sia Ding Shen. He is the rigger behind Leonardo. The skin weight and the Human IK Rigging of Leonardo are done in Maya. I was animating in MotionBuilder due to the smooth playback, all the waiting time for play blasting in Maya will fully be utilized, there are some great features especially story mode to blend your complex animation, and time wrapping for the animation is one of the best in MotionBuilder. 

Autodesk designed to be consistent with other Autodesk applications, Maya’s HumanIK tools let animator transfer character assets between applications in the animation pipeline. For example, create and rig your character in Maya, send the rig to MotionBuilder for animating, then continue to refine the animation using layers in Maya.

  1. Focus on the Character animation

The animation is broken into 2 major parts. There are walk cycle and the Special Move. I started tracing the special move and animating the right walk.

There are a lot of different techniques with the sequence. I hand-keyed the walk cycle and the special move, most of the behaviors and performance expected of the character.

In the meantime of refining the flow of the sequence, it was incredibly fun to explore the way of ending. There was a standing up movement that backs to Idle for my initial idea, it wasn’t used in the sequence. I decided to make the action looping forever. Obviously, I broke my first rule, which is 10 -+ seconds, but I am happy with the infinity momentum.  

  1. The Camera and the Shader

I continued bringing it back Maya, set up the camera and apply the template lighting and shader. There is always back and forth in this stage for the amendment based on the camera view. It’s always fun to be a cameraman in Maya, there are about 5 versions I did before the sequence was rendered.

Working on the Video

The recoil of the body mechanism is one of the important to sell the right weight. The more of recoil, the heavier the body. Aside from the animation, the mix sound plays an important role in the whole shot. The Sound Design, Ben Vlad deliver a solid and grounded look for every movement. Even the sound, when the Turtle spins in the air, feels intense and fortitude. You can’t achieve a strong weight without the sound. 

Honestly, I am not a fan of Tricking. I am so thankful to the people online who write in the comment session to tell me there are Master Scoot, Gainer Switch, and Hyperhook. 

 Based on step by step introduction video of the Cascadeur, it seems an interesting animation tool that is designed for animators! It is getting easier for artists to get better results. There are some incredible features such as the Angular Momentum tools, Ballistics, and Fulcrum Forces that will change the way we animate. The value of the gravity force can be adjusted to achieve different results of the physical parameters and balance in a few seconds without adjusting any key in the timeline. The Fulcrum Forces is a force algorithm to generate physical parameters. In other words, the weight shift and the body mechanism will be generated by the speed of the character and gravity force.

 Another next coming feature, the new deep learning pose prediction tool is a surprising tool! The tool will auto-adjust based on the pose; the pose will not turn weird at all. In conclusion, Cascadeur will simplify the animation workflow for realistic animation, and it saves a lot of time in enhancing mocap data during the production. 

About the Camera Work

The camera seems like it follows his movements, but actually, it is not. Leonardo’s animation is looping at the point. It works in this way due to the empty background. But I would say the camera set up in the project is an inappropriate way for the production. 

The camera movement is inspired by my favorite directors, movies, and games! Especially, Quentin Tarantino stages wide shots, it is his shot choices that bring the audience deeper into the narrative. Tarantino's direction isn't content to simply present a static wide shot on a tripod. No, for maximum effect, Tarantino makes this a low-angle tracking shot. It's heroic and highlights why this movie is all about the character. This shot was applied to Tarantino’s staging the wide shot. To archive the shot, the camera shakes were purposely applied to deliver the feeling of the handheld camera. Adjust the camera based on the position of the character in the view. Last, manually add some subtle effects based on the impact of the movements.

Below is the set up of the camera shake I applied in Maya. 

5 Basic Rules of Animation

  • Make the right decision and reason for every single movement
  • Never despise a subtle movement 
  • Never get the same feedback from the previous critique
  • Hit the goal with “no feedback at ALL”
  • Impress yourself


Myles Yeo, 3D Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Sergeev

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Comments 1

  • Corey Max

    Anyone have basic animation tips? just anything u know about animation that will help me.. (


    Corey Max

    ·3 years ago·

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