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Android: Using Physics-based Animations in Custom Views (SpringAnimation) 👩🏻‍🔬

Learn how to use physics-based animations in a Custom View implementation for natural looking animations in your app.

You’ve used all the standard Android animation techniques, but you find that they sometimes just don’t give you that extra sparkle you are looking for. You’ve wondered how to get more natural looking animations and had no luck thinking about how to do it yourself. So here you are, reading this article in the hope that you will learn how to create beautiful, natural, physics-based animations in your app. 🌈

The Problem 🕵🏽‍♀️

The physics-based animation library is not new, but it was largely unexplored territory for me. Having always used the “standard” animation options (i.e. view.animate()), I had never found a need to use the physics-based animations, until I started with this particular custom view animation. This animation required that we animate a view between two points, decided by the user. Using the standard ValueAnimator, the result was not good enough for the polish that our app requires.

Here is how I previously animated the custom ColourDropperView using the ValueAnimator and PropertyValuesHolder class:

The PropertyValuesHolder is useful when creating custom animations on our own properties. When using it, the animated property values can be fetched from the animation in the AnimationUpdateListener callback. At this point, the values are interpolated between the start and end values we initially provide. We can then go ahead and perform the draw operation (by calling invalidate() on our custom view) using these new animated values and the view will animate 🤩. In our case, the setPoint() method calls invalidate() and the draw() function uses the new point values to draw itself.

Value Animator example

Don’t get me wrong — the above animation is okay in most contexts but we would like it to look more fluid. We need to animate it elegantly between these two positions.

One of the problems with the above animation is that we needed to specify a duration that the animation should take. We specified 100ms which moved the view at a high speed. But you may also notice that the ColorDropperView moves a lot faster when the distance between the start and end point is larger. We could play around with the duration property until it looked more acceptable. Ideally, we want the velocity to remain the same and the animation to look consistent, no matter the distance between the two points.

The Solution: SpringAnimation ✨

In order to make the animation more fluid, we need to switch to using the SpringAnimation class (documentation can be found here). The SpringAnimation class allows us to set the property which we will be animating, the velocity and the end value that the property should use.

To use the SpringAnimation class, we need to include the dependency in our build.gradle file:

implementation "androidx.dynamicanimation:dynamicanimation:1.0.0"

There are a bunch of built-in properties that we can use to achieve some standard effects, such as SCALE_X, ROTATION and ALPHA properties (check the documentation for the full list here). In our case, we needed to animate a custom property — the colour dropper’s X and Y point (the underlying data structure that the view depends on for drawing). So we need to do things a bit differently.

We need to take a look at the SpringAnimation constructor that takes in the FloatPropertyCompat object as an argument. This property will link up our custom view implementation to the animation. The SpringAnimation class uses this object to call into our custom view class on every change of the float value. Here is the implementation of the two custom FloatPropertyCompat objects for the X position and the Y position on screen:

These two objects access two custom methods on the ColorDropperView class and the setValue methods will be called whilst the animation is running, which will set the new interpolated values. In this case, setDropperX() and setDropperY() are custom methods in our ColorDropperView class. When these methods are invoked, they change the underlying value and call invalidate() which will trigger another redraw of the view.

Once we have our properties defined, we can then go on to implement the SpringAnimation effect with these properties.

Now we can see, our animateToPoint() function uses the SpringAnimation class, passes in the reference to the ColorDropperView (this) and we can set a few properties on the animation (such asstiffness and dampingRatio). We then call start() and the animation will run.

It is worth noting, that we don’t need to (and we can’t) specify the duration of this animation, which makes total sense! In the real world, when something is falling or moving, we can only calculate how long it’ll take based on its mass, stiffness, velocity and other factors. We cannot tell the object how long it should take.

Here is a recording of how the animation works now using the SpringAnimation class. Much smoother and more natural looking, don’t you think?

SpringAnimation in action.

Damping Ratio (bouncy-ness) 🎾

The dampingRatio that we can set on a SpringAnimation determines how much bounce the animation will have. There are some built-in options for the dampingRatio that’ll produce different results:

  • DAMPING_RATIO_NO_BOUNCY
  • DAMPING_RATIO_LOW_BOUNCY
  • DAMPING_RATIO_MEDIUM_BOUNCY (default)
  • DAMPING_RATIO_HIGH_BOUNCY

We are also able to set a value between 0 and 1 for this ratio if preferred. Here are three examples of the effect the dampingRatio has on our custom view:

dampingRatio demonstration

Stiffness

Another property that we can set on a SpringAnimation is the stiffnessof the spring force. Like the dampingRatio, we can choose from a few predefined options:

  • STIFFNESS_LOW
  • STIFFNESS_VERY_LOW
  • STIFFNESS_MEDIUM (default)
  • STIFFNESS_HIGH

The stiffness affects how long the animation will take: if the spring is very stiff (STIFFNESS_HIGH) the animation will perform quicker than if the stiffness is low.

Below is an example of some of the different stiffness values in action:

Different Stiffness values for the SpringAnimation

Velocity 🚗

SpringAnimations can also have their startVelocity set using setStartVelocity(). This value is specified in pixels per second. If you would like to specify it, you should convert from a dp value into pixels to ensure the animation looks consistent across different devices. The default startVelocity is 0.

Here is an example of how to set the startVelocity to 5000dp per second:

This is what different start velocities look like on the custom view:

SpringAnimation — different velocity values

Cancel SpringAnimation ✋🏾

Another great part about physics-based animations is that they can be cancelled midway through the animation if required. Calling SpringAnimation#cancel() will terminate the animation. There is also the option toSpringAnimation#skipToEnd() which will immediately show the end state of the animation (this can cause a visual jump — as if the animation wasn’t implied).

Dynamic Animation — KTX Functions

There are currently some extension functions provided by the following KTX dependency (check for the latest version here):

implementation "androidx.dynamicanimation:dynamicanimation-ktx:1.1.0-alpha02"

Take a look here at the extension functions that are provided. The clean up of creating the FloatPropertyCompat objects is particularly interesting and will help clean up this code in the future.

We no longer need to create FloatPropertyCompat objects and we can just use springAnimationOf and provide the reference to the setter and getter functions. Here is the cleaner version of SpringAnimation we’ve created:

springAnimationOf(::setDropperX, ::getDropperX, point.x).apply {
spring.stiffness = SpringForce.STIFFNESS_MEDIUM
spring.dampingRatio = SpringForce.DAMPING_RATIO_MEDIUM_BOUNCY
start()
}

Finally 🧚🏼‍♀️

The physics-based animations in Android are great alternatives when you have animations that need to look more natural. They are also great for when you are moving things around on the screen and you aren’t sure how long the animation should take. Rather don’t try to guess those duration values, use physics animations instead. 👩🏻‍🔬

For our animation, we ended up going with the DAMPING_RATIO_MEDIUM_BOUNCY ,STIFFNESS_MEDIUM and the startVelocity set at 0. This was the final animation that we stuck with:

Final SpringAnimation

Where else have you found physics-based animations to be useful? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter! 🌈

Thanks to Josh Leibstein, Garima Jain, Nick Rout and Dan Galasko for reviewing this post. 💚