11. Control panels

10. Monitors | | 12. Sequences

A while back you learned about animation elements. A control panel is the tool you can manipulate animation elements with. By creating the new animation, a control panel has automatically been added for you. It's called "Control panel 1". Locate it in the animation object tree and double click it to open its window. You'll see a window like the one below.

control panel window overview

Not much to see at the moment, but this window is a very powerful control board which enables you to adjust any animation element in your animation. The window consists of a big grid. Each of the cells in that grid can be filled with a control. A control is ether a slider or a switch that lets you control ether an analog or binary animation element.

Organizing controls

Like I said a control panel is used to control a collection of animation elements. This is done by controls. To keep things organized these controls are first placed in control groups represented by tabs at the top of the control panel. The control groups are needed to keep things manageable, because the number of controls can literally go into the hundreds. You can of course create more control panels but usually it's more effective to use the group functionality.

While using the groups it's also good practice to put controls for a particular function together. For example, you could create a group for all your camera controls and one per character, and if you're using a complicated character you can spit it into groups like 'legs', 'arms', etc.

Before we actually add groups and controls lets take a minute to examine the control panel window toolbar.

control panel window toolbar

1Enable/disable automatic control of the number of control rows in the window. When your window is resized and this feature is enabled the number of visible control rows will be kept optimal. When disabled you can control the number of rows manually with the #2 and #3 buttons.
2Decrease the number of control rows (if auto control is disabled).
3Increase the number of control rows (if auto control is disabled).
4Add a new control group.
5Delete the current control group.
6Reset all controls in the current group to their rest (zero) value.
7Rename the current control group.
8Navigate to the previous control group.
9Navigate to the next control group.
10Manage poses for the current control group.
11Link a joystick to the current control group (more about alternative input devices in a later chapter).
12Link the tablet to the current control group (more about alternative input devices in a later chapter).
13Add a control to the current control group.
14Edit the current control.
15Delete the current control.
16Reset the current control to its rest (zero) value.
17Navigate to the previous control in this group.
18Navigate to the next control in this group.
19Open the advanced control panel editor.

Ok, lets start by adding our camera controls to the current (automatically created) control group. You do this by clicking the #13 button. It will open the dialog displayed below.

Animation element selection dialog

This dialog lets you select the animation element you want to create a control for. A list of available animation elements is displayed at the right. Depending on the amount of animation elements in an animation this list may be huge. To help you find the wanted element fairly quickly there is a filtering mechanism represented by the list on the left.

Every item in the filter list will limit the list of available animation elements by adding conditions. For example, checking the 'Character' item will limit selection to only character related animation elements. When you also check the 'analog' item, it will only show analog character animation elements and so on.

By default only the 'enabled' item is checked so let's limit the list by checking 'Camera'. Remember to uncheck the 'Character' item first (if you clicked it), otherwise the list will be empty. This is because no animation element can be both character and camera related.

By using the 'template' panel at the top of the dialog you can optionally store some favorite filter combinations for later reuse. This is done by using the buttons 'new', 'save', 'save as', 'rename' and 'delete'. These control the current filter template shown in the 'name' editbox. When ever you reopen this window you can reapply any stored filter by selecting it in the 'name' edit box' drop down list. These templates will be stored in the configuration file and therefore be available in any project.

Before you select any animation element let's first talk about the 'information' panel at the right top of the dialog. Here you'll see your current selection. At the moment it states 'dummy'. You can use a dummy to create a control without an animation element assigned to it. This is useful for working with joysticks or creating 'spaces' between subgroups of controls.

Secondly you'll see the edit box for 'tag color'. Tag colors are yet another tool to manage lots and lots of controls while retaining your sanity. For example, we want to add controls for the two cameras in our animation on the current control group. To distinguish them visually we give both sets of controls a different tag color.

Now select the 'camera 1.angle.x' animation element and select blue as it's tag color by clicking on the '...' button besides the tag color edit box. When done click on the 'Ok' button to close the main dialog.

Back at the control panel you'll see there is now a slider for the camera 1 X angle. Lets also add a control for 'camera 1.angle.y' and 'camera 1.distance' to the control group. Don't forget to give them both a blue tag color. You should end up with something like the picture below.

Camera 1 controls

Adding controls is pretty easy but doing it one at a time can be boring. So lets add the controls for camera 2 the advanced way, by using the control panel editor. You open this editor by clicking button #19. This opens the below dialog.

control panel window toobar

This dialog is partly the same as the normal animation element selection dialog. But with this one you can add multiple elements at once. It's also possible to remove controls and change the order of controls on the control group. You can even edit other control groups, change the control group name or add a new control group.

This dialog also has the filter template panel the single single control select dialog uses. It will hold the same filter templates for easy access to often used filters.

Lets add the interesting animation elements of camera 2 to our control group. In the available list (which should already be limited to camera elements due to saved filter settings) select 'camera 2.angle.x', 'camera 2.angle.y' and 'camera 2.distance' while holding the CTRL key down. After that click the 'Add' button next to the list.

The three items will be moved to the 'used' list at the bottom. They will all be given the blue tag color automatically (because the last one in the list had that color). But like I said we want a different color for the camera 2 items, so select them in the used list also by using the CTRL key and your mouse. When selected click the 'color' button. The same color picking dialog you used while adding the controls one at a time will appear. Use it to select 'dark blue'.

We are done adding controls for the camera, so close the edit dialog. The control group will now hold six controls. You might wonder why we only added these three animation elements of both cameras. This is because for 'simple' animations we won't need the other ones. We need only to rotate the camera around our character and change it's distance (zoom level). But of course you're free to add any animation element you feel like.

Seeing is believing

Ok we've got six controls, but what the hell are they good for at this point? You can move the sliders but you won't have any feedback on the current workspace environment. We need the monitor to see what's happening, but unless you have a dual screen setup you can't have both the control panel and monitor window in view. This is where the tabbed mode of desktops come in play.

You might remember this feature from the interface chapter (if not read it again). Lets put the desktop in tabbed mode and open the monitor window. Now by resizing and positioning both windows you could end up with something like below.

Control and monitor desktop

Now you can play with the sliders and see what effect it has on the current animation frame. I suggest you create an additional control group and add a couple of excavator character joint angle elements to it. This way you can play with the joints as well. A suggestion for this control group is displayed below, but you're as free as a bird on this :)

excavator controls

Some tips and handy keyboard shortcuts

In some cases it might be handy if you could slide more then one control at once. The red, green and blue animation elements of a light color for example. This is possible by holding the CTRL key while left clicking on controls on the board. When selected you can control all of them at once by using the slider of the control you selected first.. Do note the sliders will move relative to each other. So if you change the main slider's value from 30 to 55 the others will also increase with 25.

While playing with the sliders you might have noticed they are extremely (maybe even absurdly) precise, namely four digits behind the decimal. To have a more 'rounded' control over the slider position there are some good to know keyboard shortcuts. Do note these shortcuts only work while a control is selected. So first select the control of your choice by clicking on its cell space.

ENDRounds the value (to a whole number by default).
HOMEResets the value to its 'rest' value.
Arrow up/downIncrease/decrease value (steps of 1 by default).
Arrow left/rightPrevious/next control.

By holding CTRL and/or ALT while using END or UP/DOWN you change the stepping used.

CTRL + ALTstepping .1 or rounds to one decimal.
CTRLstepping 10 or rounds to 10s.
ALTstepping 100 or rounds to 100s.

This stepping also applies while using the mouse wheel to move the slider up and down.

Saving poses

A handy tool available to control groups is the pose manager. With it you can store all control values of the current group. This way you can restore those values at any time. You manage poses by clicking the #10 button. It opens the dialog below.

Pose manager

This dialog is quite simple. You have a list with poses and with the buttons below you can: New, load, save and delete poses.

To store a pose simple click the 'New' button and supply a name. Or if there are already one or more poses select one and click 'Save' to overwrite the pose with current values. Selecting any pose and clicking 'Load' will restore the values to the control group. And 'Delete' of course deletes the current selected pose.

The control object

With all these nice sliders you might not have noticed there is also an object for those controls in the object tree. With it you can do quick or precise changes. The object has six properties, namely: 'name', 'tag color', 'min', 'max', 'rest' and 'value'. There all quite self explanatory. Keep in mind when changing 'rest' you will (just as with 'value') be manipulating the linked animation element so in short changes are GLOBAL. This does not go for 'min' and 'max' cause these are readonly.

Tip: you can also change the tag color by clicking on the colored area of a control while it's selected.

No need to tidy up

Up till now I directed you to close windows after you were done reading a chapter, but now we are wandering into real animation territory. While animating you will need the control panel and monitor very frequently, so it's a good idea to keep the desktop we have set up. In the next chapter you will even be extending your work area by creating a second desktop to continue you LD4DStudio learning adventure on, so feel free to save your project in the current state to prevent reopening windows the next time.

10. Monitors | | 12. Sequences
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