Recently, I had the tremendous opportunity to design and animate the Mograph Mondays event banner for the design meetup here in Detroit. I was inspired by fellow community member, Billy Chitkin, when he presented his banner a few months prior and used the project as a chance to practice something new and different from his traditional style.
I've always had an interest in traditional cel (frame-by-frame) animation, but, outside of some small flourishes or burst lines, have never really had a full project on which to practice this style of animation. My background is in 2D animation, specifically animation in After Effects, so the idea of leaving behind my keyframes to, instead, paint in every frame was a daunting task.
Below is a look at my process of learning the concepts of cel animation and applying them to the design and animation of the final piece above. I would be remiss if I didn't shout out the artists who generously lent their time and attention and answered my novice questions while I tried to both learn a whole new animation style and develop a fully animated piece. Please go check out their awesome work!
Julie Craft - Mograph Mondays event organizer, artist
Mel McCann - traditional animation artist and teacher
Justin Foren - animator, director, nice guy
I knew I wanted to explore cel animation and came to realize that some of my favorite pieces always have this fluid, liquid quality to them. After an initial sketch and some color exploration, I tried to pin down the final composition that would be used for the event banner. Ultimately, for both the final look of the composition as well as what I thought was possible in terms of animation scope for the project, I chose to have the liquid appear as a full wave instead of a series of wispy, liquid drops.
After the final banner design was locked, it was time to move onto animation. The story of the piece would be a small character sitting on top of a large wine bottle and struggling to get the cork off. Once the cork popped off, the wine inside the bottle would rocket outward creating a wave of liquid that would reveal the Mograph Mondays logo.
It was definitely daunting jumping into a new animation style, but it helped to use some familiar tools to ease into the process. I used the layered assets in After Effects to do preliminary animation and get the timing of the piece in place. This allowed me to experiment with different ideas before painting in each frame for the final piece.
After the character animation timing was in a good place, it was time to start exploring how the liquid was going to move. This was easily the most challenging portion of the project.
In early tests, I was stuck on the idea that the liquid needed to crash on the floor and then arc upward with the camera sweeping by what would be the final logo. I also kept making the liquid disperse as individual wisps or blobs, which wasn't giving me the wave effect I had imagined.
Do the Wave
After some of these initial tests, I had a breakthrough with the movement of the liquid coming out of the wine bottle. I chose to animate the liquid as a full screen wave that acts as a wipe and use the small details inside the wave to create a sense of movement to progress up toward the final logo.
The final piece of the wave was getting one frame to match as closely as possible to the final design of the logo. It was ultimately my wife's great idea to have the wave reverse direction and dissipate like water on a beach. The final piece combined the reversed, downward motion of the initial wave with a separate water disappearing animation to rest on the final logo.
A huge thank you to the Detroit Mograph community for giving me the opportunity to challenge myself and learn something new. It was an honor to give back to this community and share what I learned along the way.