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Animator Controllers
The Animator Window
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The Animator Controller Asset

When you have an animation clipsAnimation data that can be used for animated characters or simple animations. It is a simple “unit” piece of motion, such as (one specific instance of) “Idle”, “Walk” or “Run”. More info
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ready to use, you need to use an Animator ControllerControls animation through Animation Layers with Animation State Machines and Animation Blend Trees, controlled by Animation Parameters. The same Animator Controller can be referenced by multiple models with Animator components. More info
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to bring them together. An Animator Controller assetAny media or data that can be used in your game or Project. An asset may come from a file created outside of Unity, such as a 3D model, an audio file or an image. You can also create some asset types in Unity, such as an Animator Controller, an Audio Mixer or a Render Texture. More info
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is created within Unity and allows you to maintain a set of animations for a character or object.

An Animator Controller Asset in the Project Folder
An Animator Controller Asset in the Project Folder

Animator Controller assets are created from the Assets menu, or from the Create menu in the Project window.

In most situations, it is normal to have multiple animations and switch between them when certain game conditions occur. For example, you could switch from a walk animation to a jump whenever the spacebar is pressed. However even if you just have a single animation clip you still need to place it into an animator controller to use it on a Game Object.

The controller manages the various animation states and the transitions between them using a so-called State MachineThe set of states in an Animator Controller that a character or animated GameObject can be in, along with a set of transitions between those states and a variable to remember the current state. The states available will depend on the type of gameplay, but typical states include things like idling, walking, running and jumping. More info
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, which could be thought of as a kind of flow-chart, or a simple program written in a visual programming language within Unity. More information about state machines can be found here. The structure of the Animator Controller can be created, viewed and modified in the Animator WindowThe window where the Animator Controller is visualized and edited. More info
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.

A simple Animator Controller
A simple Animator Controller

The animator controller is finally applied to an object by attaching an Animator componentA functional part of a GameObject. A GameObject can contain any number of components. Unity has many built-in components, and you can create your own by writing scripts that inherit from MonoBehaviour. More info
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that references them. See the reference manual pages about the Animator component and Animator Controller for further details about their use.

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Animator Controllers
The Animator Window