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Animate with the Action Editor

Blender 3d tutorial

Action Editor

The action editor is very similar to the dopesheet other than one key difference. The dopesheet shows what animations are going to be used in the render while the action editor saves animations for a particular object. Action editor animations aren't actually in the final render unless you use them in the NLA editor.

To store various animations on a single object in Blender 3D, we will create two basic animations, store them as actions in the action editor, and use those actions in the NLA editor to create our final animation. Finally, we will go over some common pitfalls when using actions in your animations.

Creating the Model

Rather than waste time telling you how to model, I have provided a blend file you can start out with. It's fairly simple. I took a cube, subdivided and chopped the middle of the faces out and scaled them in to make inner panels, which we are going to be animating. You could also animate your own models if you like, so the download isn't absolutely necessary to follow along.

Blender should already be opened in the animation layout, but if not, you can do that now. You can find the layout selection list by clicking the button to the right of the help menu.

Finding the Action Editor

Before animating, we need to open up the action editor. If it is not opened already, you can find it within the Dopesheet editor, in the dropdown next to the Summary button in the menu. In that dropdown you will want to select Action Editor. By default it is on Dopesheet.

The action editor saves animations to an object similar to the way materials are saved to an object. After selecting the inner panels, you should see a button labeled New in the menu of the action editor window. Click on it. This creates a new action which we will rename Inner Rotate. As long as the Inner Rotate animation is activated, Blender will save keyframes to that animation.

Inner Rotation

To start, go to frame 1 and let's insert our first keyframe. Inside the 3D View window, press I and select RotScale. This is the initial state for our cube.

Go to frame 10. For this keyframe, we will scale the inner panels so they fit inside the cube. Select the inner panels, press S to scale and type in 0.8. Like before, press I to insert a keyframe and choose RotScale.

Go to frame 60. This time we are going to rotate the panels. Instead of rotating three times, we are going to open the Properties panel by pressing N. Then change the Rotation values (X, Y, and Z) to 180, 180, and -180. Then insert a RotScale keyframe.

Go to frame 70. Then press S and type 1.25 to scale our panels up to their original size. Insert a RotScale keyframe. If you test your animation, the panels shrink, spin around a bit, then grow back to its original size.

Create A New Action

Since we do not want to overwrite the animation we just created, we need to create a new action in the action editor.

Go to where we named our first animation and make sure the F button is turned on. This forces Blender to save actions even if they are not actively used. Then press the button with the X on it.

Press on the new button and rename our new action Outer Rotate. Even though we removed the Inner rotate action from the editor, it still exists in Blender.

Outer Rotation

Creating the animation for the outer rotation is very similar to the animation for the inner rotation, so I'll run through this more quickly.

Go to frame 1 and insert the initial keyframe by pressing I in the 3D View and choosing RotScale.

Then move to frame 10. After pressing S to scale, type 2. Insert another RotScale keyframe by pressing I.

Now on frame 60, we will go back to the Properties panel. Under the Rotation setting change the X, Y, and Z values back to 0, 0, 0. Once you have done that, add a RotScale keyframe.

On frame 70, scale our panels down by pressing S and entering 0.5. Then enter the final RotScale keyframe.

NLA Editor

The NLA editor is used to take many different actions and sequence them together to create the full rendered animation. To get to the NLA editor, go to the F-Curve Editor window in the lower left and click on the window selector popout. Somewhere in there you should find NLA Editor.

In the window that appears, you should see that the Inner Cube (which are our panels) have already been put into the editor. This is because we have an action attached to it and set up in the action editor.

To enable the use of the animations we created, click on the little snowflake symbol to the right of the Outer Rotate action in the orange bar. You may notice that the action in the Outer Rotate action in the action editor disappears and a yellow strip representing the Outer Rotate action is automatically placed in the NLA Editor.

Completing the Animation

Playing the animation will result in our panels running the Outer Rotate animation. To add the Inner Rotate action, press Shift-A in the NLA editor and choose Inner Rotate. You should see the two strips on the same track, one right after the other. If you play the animation now you should see one play and then the other.

There are a few fun things you can do with your strips. To speed up or slow dow a strip, scale it by pressing S or extend the action by pressing E. However, make sure the current frame is within the action strip for Extend to work properly.

One final fun fact I will point out is that you can make a strip repeat as many times as you like by changing the repeat value in the Action Clip section of the Properties panel (Press N), very good for looping animations.


I want to make a final note about a potential issue you might run into before ending this tutorial. When you play the animation, you might find that only one action will play. What gives? Well, there are a few possibilities.

You might have what I call the 'dominant' track. (I don't know the official term). This is identified by the star to the left of the name of the track. If the star is orange, then the track is the dominant track and that will be the only track that will be played.

The other reason a strip might not be working is if you have the animation open in the Action Editor. You cannot be editing the animation and using it in the NLA editor at the same time.

Keep Learning!

No single tutorial will cover everything, so if you want to dig deeper, here are some resources for you to check out. If you have other resources you think I should add to this list, feel free to let me know!

Blender Docs



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  •  irascibleone / 2562 / AAA
    I'll try to get that fixed. Dunno how long it will take though, I've been having major issues with my internet provider going super slow and cutting off connections...
  •  anonymous / 39 / rookie
    The blend file won't work. I can't download it, it says that it's gone.
  •  irascibleone / 2562 / AAA
    Yeah. I probably need to make a run through all of my tuts, update all of them. I'm not even entirely sure which version I did this with, it was 2.5x, but I don't know which one specifically. Maybe something in there changed since then.

    Not much to the original file. I think it was something like this: Add a cube. Go into edit Mode. Subdivide it a few times. Select all the faces except the ones touching edges. Scale those faces down a bit. Press P. Choose 'Selection'. Then you are done.
  •  blanco111 / 5 / unranked
    I can't seem to change anything in the second action other than the same faces that were selected in the first action. I would have liked to change the camera and floor location in my second action. Here's mine: http://s1130.photobucket.com/albums/m539/Blanco111/Blender/actionmovie30001-0200.mp4
  •  anonymous / 39 / rookie
    Thanks for the tutorial! I like the simple overview, and interesting form. I've never seen a tutorial presented this way before.
  •  anonymous / 39 / rookie
    waw,,, nice tutorials bro,,,
    thanks's u so much,,,