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TimelineMax: An Introduction to Tweening

This post is part of a series called The Beginner’s Guide to TimelineMax.
TimelineMax: Understanding the Mechanics
TimelineMax: Controlling Playback With addPause()
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

In the olden days of animation tweening was a term used to describe a frame by frame sequence, or what’s sometimes referred to as “in-betweens.” It’s that place where a single movement leads into the next to create one fluid motion. For those that have gray hair you may recall Flash; an application that used this term when referring to frame movements. Let’s take an insightful look into a few examples and give this tweening thing a good ol’ fashioned college try.

Tweening With TweenMax

For both examples in this tutorial I’ll be loading TweenMax.min.js which will give us access to TimelineMax and all the other amazing core tools GSAP has to offer. If you think back to our TimelineMax primer I discussed loading TweenMax.min.js as it’s more convenient, plus this one file contains pretty much all that we’ll need (also what’s recommended by GreenSock 99% of the time).

TweenMax extends TweenLite, adding many useful (but non-essential) features like repeat(), repeatDelay(), yoyo(), updateTo(), and more. TweenMax was built for convenience, providing a single JavaScript file containing everything you’ll commonly need for animating DOM elements. It essentially allows authors to specify single movements whereas TimelineMax will accept chained methods to create a more complex set of tweens/sequences.

Loader Sequence

Loaders are those objects given to users when they’re waiting for a process to load. They give us the power to explore tiny, micro-sized elements that can have complex or even simplistic interactions–plus they’re a blast to make.

Take a quick look at this “String of Pearls” demo:

Let’s break the sequence down for a better understanding into how this whole “tweening” thing works.

In order to create this sequence it will require use of the staggerTo method. If you don’t recall what a method is then I encourage you to stop right this minute and read my tutorial on mechanics.

According to GreenSock’s documentation, the staggerTo()  method:

“tweens an array of targets to a common set of destination values. 

In our case those multiple targets will be each of the circles within the entire SVG. 

  1. Our first argument for staggerTo will accept the selector we’re using for the circles (in this case circles).
  2. The second argument will be our duration (how long the animation will last). 
  3. The third argument is an object literal containing the properties we desire to tween.
  4. And the last argument will hold our stagger value (the amount of time between the start of each animation). 

This would result in the following; assuming circles contains three objects…

Loader Setup

To start off right, we’ll need to define a new timeline and a few settings for our configuration.

To make this timeline repeat in the reverse direction I’m using the yoyo key and setting its value to true. Again, this will cause our sequence to play in the opposite direction once the animation reaches its ending frame. Triggering the animation will require targeting each circle inside the SVG and exactly why we’ll need a reference using the power of jQuery.

There are a number of ways noted by the docs to pass selectors (feel free to read more about that here). For this example I’ll select all the circles at once using jQuery’s typical selector syntax. It’s also a bit faster to store our reference in a variable for reuse later on, hence circles = $('svg circle').

The stagger_options variable is an object literal which contains the properties to give this animation its life. We move our objects using the y key because the GSAP CSSPlugin intelligently converts transform values to matrix equivalents and ultimately speeds things up for us. There are a whole list of transform short-hand properties that are far superior and much easier to use versus typical CSS transforms:

GSAP equivalent to CSS properties

translateX() x
translateY() y
translateZ() z
rotate() rotation
rotateY() rotationY
rotateX() rotationX
scaleX() scaleX
scaleY() scaleY
skewX() skewX
skewY() skewY

We can also control the easing (the feel of the animation) and pass in various motion types. For the visual lovers out there you can checkout the ease visualizer by GreenSock to gain a better understanding into the myriad of eases available.

The final piece to this creation is attaching the staggerTo method to our timeline and inserting the variables defined earlier and in the correct order for this particular method (elements, duration, options, stagger amount).

Chaining a Second Tween

If you hunger to create another sequence once the stagger sequence is complete you could certainly chain another method such as fromTo like so:

Taking it Further

Let’s give this a try with an SVG I call “Polyman.” Recently I wrote an article for CSS-Tricks on animating polygons and decided to use that similar example for another tweening exercise here. Let’s try using the staggerFromTo() method and see what kind of magic we can conjure up.

The following SVG output (the XML) is slightly abbreviated for the sake of discussion, but as you’ll see our SVG comprises a few tags; specifically <g> and <path>. Also note the paths correlating to the man’s face are grouped together as sections in order to have finer control over the stagger (e.g. ears, eyes, nose…).

For the initial timeline setup we’ll define our global options using an object literal that will delay the initial animation, repeat the sequence, delay the animation on repeat and finally play the animation in reverse.

Forcing Transform Values

Next up is a rather new and undocumented property that forces transform values to be placed in the SVG transform attribute (as opposed to a CSS style). 

This property was added in order to make things easier for developers to get around a bug in Safari where combining opacity and transforms (such as transform: scale() for example) would produce an odd result. As of 1.16.0 useSVGTransformAttr is set to true automatically and specifically targeted at our pal Safari so it’s no longer required for authors to define as I have above.

Since the staggerFromTo method accepts separate arguments for from and to positions I like to setup both object literals outside the method for organizational and readability purposes.

We define two object literals because we need all our from and to properties defined in order for this animation to do its thing. If it isn't clear we're going from the values defined in our stagger_opts_from and ending with the values set within stagger_opts_to.

The force3D key forces GSAP to apply a 3D value to the element’s transform; meaning matrix3d() instead of matrix(), or translate3d() instead of translate(). This typically results in the browser putting the targeted element onto its own compositor layer allowing for more efficient updates with animations. 

By default force3D is set to auto (as of 1.15.0) so there’s actually no need to use it at all (unless you specifically want the behavior of true instead of auto for that tween).

You can set the global force3D value for all tweens using the defaultForce3D property provided by CSSPlugin:

Or you could set this on a per-tween basis instead:

Hide on Window Load

If your animation is attempting to override CSS properties you need to make sure that your particular specificity isn’t colliding with what’s declared in your JavaScript otherwise the native CSS values will take precedence and your animation will not react as expected.

The CSS above will hide Polyman on initial window load so we don’t initially see our bearded fellow much like you would experience with what’s commonly referred to as FOUT (Flash Of Unstyled Text).

Since the majority of our configuration is defined we can finally begin setting up our timeline, targeting the SVG paths, defining a stagger value (stagger_val) and finishing by defining how long the entire animation will last (duration).

Just like that and with the delicate wave of our magic wand and a slight sprinkle of unicorn dust we pass all the required variables that were defined as arguments into the staggerFromTo method!

Viola! In one simple line the Polyman starts to breathe and become a real living thing (well not really). Pretty cool huh?

Next Time

In the next tutorial of our TweenMax series we’ll look at how to create a pause point on the timeline, so the animation automatically pauses when it reaches the desired point. The addPause() method is relatively new and allows you to place a pause anywhere in a timeline. It’s much more accurate than using a callback which calls a function to pause the function (which is what you had to do prior to addPause() existing). Until next time happy tweening! 

A special thanks to those readers following along on this GreenSock journey!

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