So as it turned out someone wrote the following message to me:
nah, i gave up on it ages ago... its not only hard but also frustrating and depressing... approx. 1 month for 1 min motion duration = got burned-out before i'd even finish it... so i raise up my hands in the air and just retire... don't have any spare time to make it. still have life and work to do after all... ahahaha...
Now this is not the first time I've seen something like this written and so I felt it would be a nice idea to write down the method that I use to do my animation work.
First off, to save you alot of time, this is not a tutorial on computer animation. There are plenty of excellent tutorials around on this topic all over the Internet. Rather this article gives you a method; specifically mine; on how to approach the process of producing animation. So if you're looking for a "How to" guide, this is not it.
Before anything else, let me categorically state that computer animation is hard work. Although the computer takes away a lot of the drudge work, it still is hard. However, it is extremely rewarding and actually a lot of fun PROVIDED THAT YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING.
And this is where I think a lot of MMDers come to grief when it comes to trying to make their own animations. MMD is actually an extremely powerful tool and makes a lot of things very easy to do. Especially since there are plenty of models and motion data to work with. Literally, you could be an absolute idiot and provided that you're willing to invest a little time to learn the basics of the program, you can have your model of Miku dancing to a favorite tune in no time.
THIS PRINCIPLE DOES NOT APPLY IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR OWN ANIMATION DATA
If you want to animate in MMD, you need to know at least the basics theories of animation. If you don't understand how animation works, you'll just be setting yourself up for disappointment when trying to use MMD to create your own motion data. On the otherhand, if you understand how it works, you'll appreciate how great the program is for creating this type of work.
STEP 1: Learn to animate
You don't have to goto animation school to learn how to do this. There are plenty of excellent animation tutorials on You Tube (for example) that teaches the basics of animation, traditional or with computers. Spend some quality time with these material. You will not regret it.
STEP 2: Learn how to use MMD
This may be an obvious statement, but I'm still putting this out there as it is important. Just like when you learn how to draw in art school, you need to learn the nuances of how to use, for example, how to use a pencil, to do animation in MMD you need to understand all the tools available to you in MMD. Honestly, MMD just gives you what you need with no thrills, so it's an excellent computer animation package for a complete beginner and still a useful tool for someone with more experience.
STEP 3: Don't climb mountains before ...
If you're new to animation, don't start out by trying to animate an entire dance sequence. You'll just be setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. Just as you have to learn to walk before you run, learn by beginning to animate, well a "walk" for starters. You'll be amazed at how much you'll learn by doing simple things to begin with.
STEP 4: Have a plan
When you're ready to seriously develop an animation sequence, for goodness sakes, have a plan. Once again, this may seem to be an obvious step but you'll be amazed at how much difference having a plan makes. In case you're wondering what this is, it is a clear picture in your mind of what it is exactly that you're setting out to do. Write this down on paper if you have to. Better still, create a story board.
STEP 5: Have a methodology
There is a method to this madness and I will outline what it is. This is what I've learnt from professional animators so they must know what they're talking about so here it is:
[A] Have a very clear vision, at least in your mind, of what it is you're trying to animate. If you're going to animate a walk, you need to know exactly what the body is doing to take a simple step. Get hold of whatever references you need and do the motion yourself so that you can see exactly what motions are involved with your eyes closed.
[B] When you're ready to program the animation, make sure you're in the mindset to do some real work and in an environment where you will not be disturbed when you're in production. This means no music, noise, noisy siblings, barking dogs, etc. You need to be TOTALLY FOCUSED or you're not going to be able to accomplish much. When you're tired or run into a roadblock, STOP. Take a break and comeback to it later on. Just save your work so that you can comeback to it later on and continue. Don't try to force it, it just won't work.
[C] Block out your motion. What this means is to identify and create the key poses in your animation sequence. These are not hard to recognise. These are the positions your character will be in at either the begining of, or at the end of an individual motion. So for example, to animate a character waving, start with the arm position at rest, the arm raised to wave and then returning to rest. If you learn to block, it makes things really easy.
[D] Go back in and fill in the details. So in the wave example, this is where you'll actually animate the wave. Play it back and fix any obvious flaws. Keep at it until you can see something you're happy with BEFORE going to the next segment in your animation. If you're tired, save your work and comeback to it later. Don't try to force yourself to do this, for us it's a hobby not work.
[E] Look at your work again later. See if anything can be improved, made more lifelike, etc. This is the step where you make your animation shine and the most rewarding part of the production process. Take your time, you're not working to a deadline.
When it's all done; finally; make a movie with your motion data and watch it and if you've gotten to this step, congradulations!
It's not impossible to make custom animations in MMD even for an absolute beginner. IT WILL TAKE TIME TO LEARN and IT IS HARD WORK. I'm not going to try to disguise these facts from you, but IT IS WORTH THE EFFORT TO PERSEVERE.
(1) MMD 7.39. Don't bother with earlier versions. This version has much better tools overall.
(2) MOGG Project MMM (Miku Miku Moving). This is a good alternative for making animation with MMD models. It is not as good as MMD for the final rendering but in some ways it is vastly superior to MMD for preparing VMD files.
(3) MOGG Project Face ad Lips. This is a great tool - almost an absolute must - if you want to build accurate lip sync animations. Very easy to learn and it's extremely powerful.
(4) Pen and paper. This should be obvious. Make notes, sketch things out. It's a wonder what stick men can do in trying to resolve a pose.
(5) References, lots of them. There are literally thousands, if not millions of images of people in all sorts of poses which can be easily referenced from the Internet.
(6) Your body - yes your body. Assuming that you're not a paraplegic (and sorry if you are), this is one of your most useful references. Doing the motion yourself can help you understand all the nuances of a pose or motion.
(7) A mirror - yep a plain simple mirror so you can see your good ugly self. Especially useful if you're doing lip syncs.
(8) Your brain ... use it.
I hope this helps. Cheers.
PS. I'm a rank amateur at this too. Honestly, other than learning how to use MMD, it only took me two to three weeks working on this part-time to learn how to animate in MMD good enough to start creating presentable results.