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Adventures in Animation

In the realm of media production there are a lot of things that add high quality to the end product: resolution of the video, how crisp it is, or the choice of music and overall sound quality. There are other things that create a higher quality end product that often go unnoticed because they are on screen for such a short period of time: motion graphics or animation. These are just as labor intensive as the rest of the edit, sometimes more so depending on the complexity.

 

As an editor here at Fili, I take on a variety of tasks, sometimes editing together footage into a video, sometimes gathering footage with the drone. My colleague Amber also completes both of those tasks. Animation jobs, however, fall squarely on me. Usually I animate logos for the various organizations and companies with which we do business. However, some projects require elements that we rarely think about like custom transitions or lower thirds. With each of these the final result is usually on screen for five seconds or less. Depending on how complex the animation is, it could take hours to complete a project, and that’s just 2D. 3D takes  considerably more time. Now let’s take a step back and I’ll walk you through what it takes to animate something.

 

I want to preface this by saying that I do the majority of animation using Adobe After Effects (AE). So that is what you’ll see in the pictures below. There are plenty of other options out there. I have tried Apple Motion, Blender and even the Fusion tab in Davinci Resolve (very briefly), but for what I do at Fili, After Effects works best for me.

 

The first thing I do when a project is slated to come my way is to make sure the file type I am given is something I can work with. The best scenario is when I’m given something that was created using another Adobe program that I can open in Adobe Illustrator, so I can begin separating and organizing all the elements into layers which I will then import into After Effects. Sometimes they are already separated! I am not always so lucky though. Sometimes the organization has had their logo for so long that the person who created it is no longer there, and nobody has any idea where the original file is. On good day, this means I at least get a PNG. On a bad day, it’s a JPEG. With either of these options I have little choice but to extract elements from the logos using Illustrator and hoping they will be as close to what I was given as possible. I’ll show you how this works below.

That is the logo for the Friends of the River Foundation here in Salina, KS. Their logos was a photoshop file. While it was at least compatible with Illustrator, when I brought it in, it came in as one layer because it was in one layer in Photoshop. This is not conducive to animation. I could have tried to duplicate the layer several times and crop everything into their own layers, export them as PNGs and then import those into After Effects. But I would have had to try to resize and line everything up in the exact same position as it in the original logo. I know from experience that wasn’t the best option.

I won’t go into too much detail here, but in order to separate all the elements I had to run what’s called an image trace. This usually does a pretty good job outlining the different objects. I then separated the elements into their own layers and resized the whole thing to better fill the standard 16:9 format for videos.

 

 

 

 

 

Once I get this far, I really start to focus on how I want to animate the logo. Some stuff is simple like the words and the line. In this case I ended up having the line grow out from the middle and have the words move to their respective positions from the opposite direction. So “Friends of the River” moved up and “Foundation” moved down while they faded in. This is before I learned about how to set a track matte so the words or object only appear in that space.

As I moved on to the rest of the logo it became apparent that it was missing something. If you look at the picture above, you’ll notice the logo designer made use of negative space by using the green to form the outline of the river. This is a solid design choice and one I wouldn’t normally try to alter. However, in this case I felt the absence of any color for the river was a little sad and the goal of the foundation is to revitalize and redirect the river back onto its original course. So, I wanted to try and have a river look like it’s flowing through that space. Symbolically showing what the end goal of the foundation is in the animation of the logo. As there was nothing there originally, I had to create my own. I should mention that I did have to run this by the client to see if they would be okay with my alteration. Thankfully they were.

With the river complete I could finally import and begin animating. I knew what I wanted to do with the words, line and river, but I had to decide what to do with the rest of the logo. Should I try some masking techniques and make the sky look like it’s growing out and down from the center? How about the opposite, having it grow towards the center? I ultimately decided to have the whole section come in at relatively the same time and have it shrink into its final position. I also wanted to pay special attention to the sun. I wanted to make it look like it was rising from behind/under the grass and river section to its final position and add a little bit of a shine to it. I would have done it a little differently now that I’ve learned more, but you can see what I was going for.

Next I moved on to the river. As I mentioned before, I wanted to make it look like it was flowing through the grass. I won’t go into all the technical aspects of how I did it, but one thing you’ll notice is that the end of the river is a little hazy. I chose to do this as I felt it would add just a little extra to show the movement, so it wouldn’t look like such a solid line simply filling in the space.

Once all those general animations were in place, I could start messing with the timing of it all and how it flows together. This is really a personal part of it, as it comes down to what feels right. But I’ll give you a little screenshot of the chaos involved. You’ll see in the picture below my various layers as well as all my keyframes for this project. Just a glance at this, and you’ll see what I deal with. I’ve had other projects that were nearly 40 layers deep. Keeping track of it all can be overwhelming at times. But let’s move on.

Once I have the initial animation complete, I like to run it by my coworkers and get their take on the timing and overall animation. This is very important as it’s so easy to become blind to possible issues since you’ve seen your design a bazillion times. And as a bonus your coworkers might come up with an idea you didn’t think of! One of my coworkers, Gus, had the idea to bring in some sound to add to the design. In this case it was the sound of a river, bird calls and other nature sounds. This adds a whole other dimension to the final product. Sound isn’t necessarily applicable to all logos or animations you might do, but for some it really adds to it. I’ll let you judge for yourself.

 

 

That whole animation was only four seconds long. Seven seconds with the audio added in. It might be on screen for a little longer than that in a video but not much longer. I don’t remember the exact amount of time it took to complete this project, and I could probably do it better and faster now, but it took me hours to animate this. The reality is that if you saw that in a video, you’d see the logo at the beginning or end and most likely not give it a second thought. And that’s okay. There are a lot of things that go into an edit that are rarely noticed like transitions or sound design, color grading or motion graphics. But it’s there, and someone took time to make it. Whether you notice it or not, it all adds to the quality of the final product.

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