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For an animation, I want to set up a bug moving along a tree branch blowing in the wind, which involves complex curves deforming. Previous methods don't seem to work for this, but I remember seeing in a blender game that someone used this kind of projection downward from a character to always hit the surface of any mesh that was locally below it.

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I came up with two methods which might help you. See this blend file for an example of both of them:

This is what the results look like (the deforming cube is shrinkwrap method, the curvy one is the curve method): enter image description here

Curve deformed by curve and used as path

  1. Create a 3D curve to define the branch (and use Bevel and Taper Curves to give it thickness etc.)
  2. Animate the branch curve any way you like (I used hooks, but it should be irrelevant)
  3. Create another 3D curve to serve as a path for the bug and painstakingly put curve points around the branch curve's resulting mesh and don't forget to adjust the tilt in case you want the bug to around the branch
  4. Add a Curve-Modifier to the bugs path and choose the branch curve as deformer and make sure you check the button so the modifier is applied to the curve points, not the resulting mesh: enter image description here
  5. Add a Follow Path Constraint to your bug and choose the path for the bug Done!

Shrinkwrap-Contraint

This one is a bit simpler and might be sufficient depending on the complexity and strength of your branches animations.

  1. Create a 3D curve to define the branch
  2. Create a mesh for the branch
  3. Add a Curve-Modifier to your mesh and choose the branch as curve deformer
  4. Animate the branch curve any way you like (I used hooks, but it should be irrelevant)
  5. Add a Shrinkwrap-Constraint to your bug and choose the branch mesh as target
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  • $\begingroup$ I have a problem where the tilt changes frame by frame. If I make the tilt perfect in one frame, it's completely different in the next frame, and blender isn't sophisticated enough to allow tilt to be animated or even a simple setting that keeps tilt tangent/perpendicular to the mesh. $\endgroup$
    – DaneJoe
    Commented Oct 14, 2017 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ Most likely the trouble you have with the tilt is because you didn't look at the tilt values from one curve point to the next. Make sure the tilt values get bigger (or smaller) gradually and dont jump up and down. I ran into the same problem. $\endgroup$
    – TeeTrinker
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ I have no idea what language you just wrote in. I definitely looked at every tilt value, and then I adjusted every tilt value to be nearly perpendicular to the mesh. Then it got mostly ruined in the very next frame when the branch moved. $\endgroup$
    – DaneJoe
    Commented Oct 15, 2017 at 23:59
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry if my english is confusing, it's not my first language. Could you provide a blend file? Maybe that way I can help finding out what's going on with your tilt values. $\endgroup$
    – TeeTrinker
    Commented Oct 16, 2017 at 18:38

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