This post is an insight to the various steps involved from brief to final animated piece, and how even though this was a short animation there’s still a lot to consider upfront to create an efficient workflow and deliver on time.

Kingfisher Animation Brief

Web designer Ryan Gittings contacted us to create a looping animation of a Kingfisher diving for food as a background video for his new website. Excited by the opportunity to animate a kingfisher, we accepted and created a gorgeous scene for it to live in.

Watch the final looping animation below:

Research

The focus of this piece is the Kingfisher and working out what can be done to make this an interesting looping animation. First and foremost was studying how a Kingfisher moves and acts to help dictate the narrative of the video. Various segments from documentaries on Youtube helped us to piece together the action.

One of videos we took reference from was from David Attenborough’s ‘Rhythms of Nature in the Barycz Valley‘ (See below from 0.49 seconds). This clip became the foundation we built the animation and scene composition around.

Key Poses

The images below are the initial pencil sketches of the Kingfisher’s key poses which shows how the animation would loop. Each drawing is followed by a new pose going in a clockwise direction to create the loop. These initial sketches were scanned and put into Illustrator where the body pieces were colour coded to work out what pieces could be reused and save on drawing new assets. Once this was decided, it was drawn up with a colour set (that would later be built upon) to create a rough model to test the animation inside After Effects.

Preparing for Animation

When creating an object that’s going to move, you need to think about how many parts does it have that will need to be animated. Once you work out all these pieces, it’s then working out how to best control it as an animatable rig. The first test was done by putting in the separate body pieces (head, torso, left wing, right wing), with each body piece having multiple variations e.g. the wings flapping at different stages.

At this stage, that’s enough to test the animation from the key poses. After this test, it was down to fine tuning the rig to create a more efficient workflow. When animating, you want to have as few layers to work with as possible, as it can easily get into a mess, and a messy, unorganised timeline can disrupt your flow of animating when you’re having to look through a lot of layers to find the one piece you want to animate.

Not all rigs are the same, it’s down to understanding what needs to move and how best to control it to make an efficient workflow. You have to think far down the line as you don’t want to end up hacking your rig to do things it wasn’t built to do because you didn’t plan for a particular action. This adds unnecessary time and effort that could be used to perfecting an animation.

Rig Breakdown

The Kingfisher was broken down into body pieces inside After Effects. Each body piece was it’s own composition, which had all the positions of that piece laid out in a timeline, which was then controlled by time remapping. With me so far?

This meant, the main composition had only a single layer per body piece that could be switched out to a new shape/position by changing the frame number within the precomp.

Scene Design

The overall scene composition was based on the Richard Attenborough video we used for initial reference. Although the design evolved to become grander and allow room for text at the top, it didn’t move far from the original layout.

Here are screenshots on how the shot developed from the original sketch, to how it currently sits on Ryan Gittings website with header text and navigation over the top.

Creating a living scene

With the core animation in place of the Kingfisher, it’s time to bring the scene to life. To do this we animated small details within the scene, some of these details are so subtle, you may not consciously notice them on 1st glance. But brought together with other subtle movements, they collectively make the scene feel alive. Take a look at the fish in the water, the chimney smoke in the distant, the ripples in the water and the reeds in the foreground.

One of the secrets of post-production in animation is adding light. For this, we utilised Video Copilots Optical Flares to brighten up the sun, which adds a haze over the footage along with a subtle flare on the lens.

TL;DR Breakdown Video

Here’s a 1 minute video that quickly breaks down and shows all the stages involved to create the final animation.

Conclusion

Thanks to the upfront planning and research, there were very few problems encountered throughout the project. There are times we took shortcuts in the animation (such is the nature of animation) but we didn’t have to break the rig to achieve what we wanted. There are perhaps some elements we’d do differently next time, which is a great thing to take away after a project as you’re always learning and always improving.

Salt Bar that resides in Cardiff Bay’s Mermaid Quay, a location of food, drink and entertainment day and night. We were tasked to add our own animated touch to their new on-location promotional videos.

Salt Bar that resides in Cardiff Bay’s Mermaid Quay, a location of food, drink and entertainment day and night. We were tasked to add our own animated touch to their new on-location promotional videos.

Orchestrated by Fizzi Events, the project was to create a series of videos that promotes Salt Bars deals and events that would play and loop on the screens around the venue. With Joe Marvelly (creative videographer) filming and editing the final video, we were brought in to compliment his striking and creative footage by adding animation to help draw even more attention to the deals and events on offer in the bar, especially on busy nights.

Working closely with Joe, we were able to plan and shoot a series of motion tracked visuals that showed off the food and beverages available. This technique was especially effective when adding details to highlight the process of making cocktails.

Watching cocktails being made can be fascinating and the intention of adding extra details to the footage is to grab the viewers attention in the hope that afterwards, knowing a bit more on how it’s made and what goes into it, that they’ll head to the bar and buy themselves one.

Motion Tracking

One of the fun things about motion tracking is being able to put something digital into footage and make it look like it exists there. In order for us to achieve this we used Mocha. Mocha is an extra piece of software that comes bundled within After Effects and allows us to track objects with great precision.

However, depending on the footage, what you need to track doesn’t always go as planned. For example, in the video above, we added some spiky audio waves to the DJ Pioneer Decks. To do this you’d probably think of tracking each deck to apply the effect. As the camera was moving and the decks end up out of focus and off screen, we weren’t able to capture sufficient data to create an accurate track. The solution was in tracking the Pioneer name because it was on screen for the duration and stayed in focus enough for us to follow.

The result allowed us to capture position data that we ported into After Effects and apply to a Null that the visual would follow. Compared to After Effect’s own built in tracker, Mocha is a fantastic tool that’s quicker and smarter, with functionality to get an accurate track.

Mocha allowed us to capture a lot of position data quickly and easily, that in the end we could drop in any new visual and it would sit in place as if it already existed there.

The final result was a fun and stylised video with motion tracked visuals that complemented the appetising footage.

Credits

Footage: Joe Marvelly (http://www.joemarvelly.co.uk)
Client: Salt Bar (http://www.saltcardiff.com/) and Fizzi Events (http://fizzievents.co.uk/)

Have you ever wondered what the RBS Six Nations would’ve been like if it were a beat em up video game? Wonder no more as we went ahead and created a series of animated videos that followed Wales fighting it’s way through the Six Nations Fighter tournament.

Have you ever wondered what the RBS Six Nations would’ve been like if it were a beat em up video game? Wonder no more as we went ahead and created a series of animated videos that followed Wales fighting it’s way through the Six Nations Fighter tournament.

The idea came from a ‘what if’ conversation that escalated into a campaign to support Wales throughout the Six Nations. There was no doubt about the art direction, it had to be based on the old 16bit fighting games like Street Fighter. To pull off the style we wanted, we knew that the attention to detail was key. We studied and mostly took inspiration from beat em games on the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive with subtle nods to other video games we’re fond of (can you spot them all?).

Designing with Pixels

To do this, we would be working up close on a tiny image that we’d blow up later when it came to animation. The final size of the dragon is approx 4cm.
This was a learning curve that we got better at as the project went on. We studied and referenced a lot of video games in order to understand how sprite artists added detail.  By the end we understood how to add a lot detail with only a few tiny squares.

Animating The Six Nations Fighters

When animating these characters we used a modern approach of creating a puppet that we could easily manipulate i.e the limbs are separate pieces we could control and reuse, whereas traditionally each character is a single image redrawn for every frame of animation (see Ryu image below) – This is likely due to how games process sprites.

We animated the characters inside After Effects, but due to the nature of how they are animated, the movement was too smooth and clean. We would then take out every other frame (using time remapping) which made the animation stuttery but look more authentic.

Ultimately the animation needed to look slick and have a lot of detail, but at the same time look like it was done in as few frames as possible.

With a character designed and assembled, it’s a case of working out the choreography of the fight itself. If you watch through all the videos you may notice a homage to many video games. When we weren’t referencing other games, it was a case of acting out the moves ourselves around the studio.

The Results

Before and after each match Wales played, we put up a video on various social networks. Depending on the result of each match, we would put up a video of whether the Welsh Dragon had defeated its opponent or not. This meant we had to create both outcomes beforehand, so each match had three videos: The fight, the Dragon winning and the Dragon losing. However after the first Six Nations match of Wales V Ireland, the result was a tie which we foolishly hadn’t anticipated and quickly posted a picture instead in bias of Wales.

The results of the campaign has been documented on the Six Nations Fighter landing page. The video below shows what would have been if the results were different.

Ellie Makes Music is a singer-songwriter from Cardiff and ‘MOUNTAINS’ is an animated music video we made to promote her second EP ‘Are You Listening? (2015)

Background

We were approached by Ellie to create an animated music video for the lead single ‘Mountains’ to promote her forthcoming EP Are You Listening?’.

The song is about empowerment and resilience, It was discussed early on that the video essentially be a literal interpretation of the song and follow a scenic journey of overcoming obstacles.

Our aims for the video was to reflect the song and make it feel big, colourful and up lifting. Focusing on Ellie as the protagonist, the animation follows her as she overcomes varying obstacles of size. Starting with tying her shoelaces, jumping over a river, to ultimately succeeding in climbing a mountain.

Ellie along with Bounce publishing were terrific to work with, making it a fun project to work on.

Animating Ellie

To create Ellie as an animated character, we called upon the DUIK character rig for After Effects to bring her to life.

Ellie was designed in Illustrator, then imported into After Effects where she was rigged for animation. The DUIK rig is a huge time saver that’s built upon using Inverse Kinematics for it’s movement.

Using IK helps to add little nuances to the movement that you’d perhaps miss if using Forward Kinematics. This is especially useful when you’re animating to a deadline and wouldn’t otherwise have time to spend on those little details. To give an idea of it’s efficiency we’ve included a time lapse of a scene below.

Ellie Makes Music Links

[vc_row css=”.vc_custom_1449761599311{padding-top: 80px !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/6″][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text el_class=”lead”]Newport’s new city centre shopping and leisure scheme opened its doors on November 12th, a project that cost around £100m and saw over 102,000 shoppers visiting on opening day, it’s safe to say the Friars Walk launch wasn’t short of fanfare and attention.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]To kick things off an opening ceremony performed by the Leader of Newport City Council, Councillor Bob Bright, accompanied by the First Minister of Wales. Then the shoppers were let loose, with freebies and prizes coming from all directions.

All that followed by an evening of live music organised by Fizzi Event with such acts as Bite The Buffalo, Supergoose, The Earth, Soul Strutters, Afro Cluster, Captain Accident, HMS Morris, Rusty Shackle, Houdini Dax, Cut Ribbons, We’re No Heroes and Keys performing over four nights.

The Friars Walk guys know how to throw a party.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]

That’s Where We Come In

[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/TAXReyGuGT0″][vc_column_text]Fizzi Events asked us to create a series of backing visuals to be shown onstage during the four nights of live music that could be used for multiple bands and songs. That meant creating a series of eight videos that were different enough to fit both the style and rhythm of the tracks while also working as a set. It was just as complicated as it sounds! We were all very happy with the outcome, though, as were the organisers and the bands themselves.

On top of the music visuals we also created a set of Friars Walk Idents showcasing famous local landmarks to be used between acts, including the castle ruins, the Wave sculpture and the locally significant train mural of the coal exchange.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_separator][vc_column_text]We’re extremely happy to have been a part of Friars Walk’s memorable launch, and are looking forward to seeing the positive effect it has on Newport and the surrounding areas.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/6″][/vc_column][/vc_row]