Animation – turtle

So, I’ve just started using Studio12 in Leeds Central Library (if you’re under 30, seriously go there – really friendly, really helpful, and you can learn to use all sorts of good stuff).

I’m hoping to learn more about using After Effects for animation (it is apparently a bit more intuitive to use than the likes of Flash). So I thought I’d document some of my process and progress. My first session at Studio12 was an introduction to some basics but I hadn’t brought any prepared artwork or assets, so I was a bit limited.

On my second session, I brought SEA CREATURES! I’m not aiming for dizzying heights of animation here, I’m just aiming to get to grips with After Effects basics to then improve from there.

So, first things first; in Illustrator, I created the artwork file to the same output size as the intended After Effects project. In this case, it

was 1080 HD.

screenshot of sea waves being prepared in softwareIf I wanted a wavey background that moved at different speeds, I’d need to create the waves at least twice as long as the active area.

The next thing I had planned was a turtle to swim up and across the screen. On my first session, we actually cut out a very low-res turtle from one of my website images and managed to make him move. So I had a vague idea how to plot this one.

I took the turtle from my original design and redesigned his flippers slightly. His back flippers were much bigger and his front flippers were straight. He looks a bit odd like that, I know, but there’s a method to the madness.

screenshot of a vector turtle

In After Effects, you can use a tool called ‘puppet pin’ and it allows for all kinds of animated goodness. It allows for a style of animation you often see in games like Odin Sphere or Dragons Crown. There is similar functionality in Flash (which actually allows for full bones and IK rigging, whilst After Effects requires a plugin to do the same). The main difference being that After Effects distorts the artwork to fit the puppet pin movements whilst Flash does not (at least to my working knowledge, which only goes up to CS5). Don’t worry, I will create a little video to show the difference – I need to get back to Studio12 first.

That’s why his flippers are straight – it will allow for the puppet pins to be placed and manipulated and give a fairly accurate distortion of the artwork. If the flippers were already bent, I’d have a hard job straightening them out during the animation.

The screenshots also show that all the flippers have been made bigger than they need to be under the shell. This allows for rotations without seeing any hard edges of the graphics. You’ll also notice that every flipper has to be a separate asset. Yup, animation is done by layers, not objects. Makes for files with a large number of layers.

A tip for all creative folk there – NAME YOUR LAYERS WELL.

So, after a post showing how I prepped the initial artwork for the turtle, here are a few screen shots showing how I placed those magical puppet pins.

With his front flippers stretched out, a pin was placed at each major joint. For example, a pin at his ‘shoulders’ under the shell, a pin at his ‘elbows’ and a pin at the end of his flipper (which isn’t a joint but still needs to move to create animated movements).

As you can see from the middle and end frames, changes to the artwork are created by changing the position of the pins. The changes are seen in real-time so you can see exactly how you are changing the artwork.

And you can combine the puppet pin with other common features of animating in After Effects, like rotation, scale, etc. To make the turtle move, I first plotted his course over the timeline to move from one end of the screen to the other. Then I went back to key positions and altered the rotation of the front flippers, creating keyframes of these changes. It was only AFTER getting the motion right in the flippers that I went back again to put pins in place and start creating more detailed movement.

What I’ve been learning so far in regards to animation in After Effects, and in general, is the importance of planning and fine-tuning.