Making Motion Graphics Animation Look More Analog in After Effects CS6

This Tutorial is part of a series.  Please read my Introduction to Hand-Drawn and Organic Looks Tutorials before proceeding.

Introduction:

Working with motion graphics in After Effects is very similar to animating 2D paper cut-outs underneath a down-shooter animation stand or a multi-plane if you’re working with After Effects layers.  The main difference is that when you animate a graphic in After Effects, the program interpolates the in-betweens for you so you don’t have to physically move the cut-out or graphic every time you take a picture.  This greatly speeds up animation production time, but the downside for many analog animators is that movement often looks extremely smooth and unnatural like the loop of this bouncing ball motion graphic:

This tutorial will cover some techniques for making motion graphics look more analog like stop-motion cut outs or hand-drawn animation.  This is the same motion graphics animation from before only the ball has been replaced with an image sequence, wiggler has been applied to the keyframes and then the keyframes were toggled to hold:

Making a Ball Image Sequence for Animation in After Effects CS6:

1.  If you did my tutorial Working With Image Sequences in Photoshop & After Effects CS6 then this part will be very familiar.  We’re going to start by creating an 8-frame looping image sequence of a ball in Photoshop.  That way we can bring a moving image sequence of a ball into After Effects instead of a static ball graphic.  To begin open Photoshop and go to – File – New or Command N on the Mac.

2.  Change the name to Ball_Sequence.  And, since we’re going to be working in HD, change the preset to Film & Video and set the size to HDTV 1080p/29.97.

The 29.97 refers to a video frame rate, but since we’re going to be using the Export Layers to Files Script in Photoshop, we can bring the layers into After Effects as image sequences and interpret the frame rate there.  The main reason I use this preset is because it yields a 1920 x 1080 pixel canvas that will match any of the HDTV 1080 composition presets in After Effects.  Plus, it has action safe and title safe guidelines, which can be useful for creating titles and credits.

NOTE:  In this tutorial we’re going to crop down this canvas, but I still like to use this preset because it gives me a good idea of how big to make my drawings so they’re right size when I bring them into After Effects.  You can of course start with a smaller canvas and skip the cropping step later if you’d like.

3.   Go to Layer – New – Layer or Command Shift N on the Mac.

4.  Make sure you have the new layer selected and click the brush tool.  If you’re really going for a hand-drawn look, I’d experiment with the brushes in Photoshop and find one that has an organic look similar to a medium you like using on paper.  One of my particular favorites is the one I used for this tutorial, the square charcoal brush.

If you have a Wacom tablet installed, use the stylus to draw 8 different digital charcoal balls to bring into After Effects as a looping ball sequence.  You could technically use a mouse for all of these tutorials, but if you’re really going for a hand-drawn look then using a tablet and stylus is going to give you the most organic results.  In the screenshot below you can see that I’ve drawn all 8 balls but I only left one turned on so you can see the transparency of the pressure sensitive brush-strokes you can achieve with a Wacom tablet.

5.  Before you export your layers to files, turn them all on, press the C key to activate the crop tool and crop closley around them.

NOTE: Normally you could do this by using the Trim layers function in the Export Layers to Files script in Photoshop, but since all of your balls are hand-drawn they will be slightly different sizes and that means that the Trim layers function will crop them all slightly differently.  Then, when you bring them into After Effects the anchor points will be off and when you play them back as an image sequence, they might move around.  Since we’re going for an organic look this could be desirable, but just to be safe I’d crop them.

6.  To export your layers to files be sure to turn off all of the layers you won’t need and leave on only the layers you’re going to use in your sequence.  In this case just leave on the ball layers and turn the background off.  Then use the Photoshop script located in File – Scripts – Export Layers to Files, and change the settings to match the ones in the screenshot.

a.) First click Browse… to determine a location for exporting your files, click New Folder, label it and click Open.

b.) Then give your file name a prefix.  In this case I called it Hand_Drawn_Bouncing_Ball.

c.) Make sure Visible Layers is selected.  This makes it so only the layers that are turned on in your Photoshop Panels window are exported.

d.) I prefer setting the file type to PNG-24 because the quality is excellent, the file size is relatively small and they support Alphas, meaning the transparency of the layers will be preserved just like they were in the Photoshop document.  PSDs and TIFF files also support Alpha’s and the quality is technically better than PNG-24, but TIFFs and PSDs are so much larger they tend to slow down performance in After Effects.

e.) Select transparency to preserve the transparency of the layers.

f.) Finally, make sure Trim Layers is turned off otherwise Photoshop will crop the unused spaced around each individual ball and they won’t play back properly in After Effects.  Trim Layers is useful if you just want to import a bunch of static graphics into After Effects, but not necessarily when you’re importing an entire sequence.

When your settings are correct, click the “Run” button to run the “Export Layers To Files” script.

7.  When the Script is finished your files are ready to be imported into After Effects.

Importing and Animating your Ball Sequence in After Effects CS6

1.  If you did the tutorial Working With Image Sequences in Photoshop & After Effects CS6, you can simply open up that project file and place the background sequence behind your ball animation, otherwise if you’re opening up a fresh After Effects CS6 project, you’ll be prompted by the welcome screen.  If you get no welcome screen or accidentally cancel out of it, just follow step 13 in part 2 of my first tutorial Doing Hand-Drawn Animation Using Photoshop & After Effects CS6 (PART 2).

For now I’ll continue as if prompted by the welcome screen.  Click new composition and use the following settings:

First change the Composition Name to Background_Sequence, second choose the Preset: HDTV 1080 24 and third change the duration to 0:00:10:00.  When the settings look like the screenshot click OK.

2.  When After Effects opens go to File – Save As – Save As or press Shift Command S and Save your project in your desired location before you continue.  Then go to Window – Workspace – Animation so your set up looks like the screenshot below.

3.  Go to File – Import – File, double-click the Project panel or press Command I on the Mac.  In the Import File dialogue box locate the Ball Sequence files you exported from After Effects with the Photoshop Export Layers to Files Script and choose import as Footage – PNG Sequence – Force alphabetical order.  The dialogue box should look like the following screenshot:

4.   Once imported, click on the PNG Sequence in the project panel and press enter/return to rename the file to Ball_Sequence.  Right click the PNG Sequence and go to Interpret Footage.  Then follow the steps in the screenshot below to change the Frame Rate amount of times your sequence will loop.

5.  NOTE: In step 13 of the tutorial Doing Hand-Drawn Animation Using Photoshop & After Effects CS6 (PART 2) I had you create the Composition after Importing and Interpreting your footage.  Since we created the composition at the welcome screen we can skip ahead to the next step.

6.  Now drag your Ball_Sequence onto the Background_Sequence Composition Timeline.

7.  Since the Background_Sequence is semi-transparent, make a white solid to put underneath the sequence so it shows up better.  Go to Layer – New – Solid or press Command Y on the Mac.  Click Color and change the B setting to 100% or drag the circle to the upper left corner of the color picker so B changes to 100%.

When you press OK in both boxes, the new white solid will show up above your Ball_Sequence.  Move it underneath so it shows up.

8.  Now we’re going to keyframe some animation.  Position the Ball_Sequence in the canvas as it’s shown in the screenshot below.  Use the light blue square handles that surround your Ball_Sequence to squash and stretch your ball against the side of the composition.  Then move your playhead to frame 0 and twirl open the transform menu by pressing the little triangles to the left of your Ball-Sequence in the timeline.  Click the stopwatch icons next to the Position, Scale and Rotation properties.  This will add three diamond shaped key-frames in the timeline.  The diamond shaped keyframes are the standard constant velocity keyframes.  Continue by following the steps in the screenshots:

NOTE:  If you change the scale in timeline window below the canvas you need to turn off the little chain-link icon next to the settings so you can scale each parameter separately.  Also, you may have drawn your ball a different size than mine so the scale parameters won’t necessarily match up.

9.  Now you’re going to add an Easy Ease to those keyframes, so the ball eases into its first movement.  Select all three keyframes, right click them, go to keyframe assistant and select Easy Ease.

As you can see I’ve already set up all the other keyframes for the rest of the animation.  Below are screenshots of all the settings.  Feel free to examine them closely, follow the steps and adjust the settings as you go through them.  You’ve also probably noticed the motion paths in between the key-frames.  They show up when when you drag a graphic or sequence with a position key-frame from one point to another.  The curvature in the motion paths exists because I used bezier handles to pull out the curved motions paths.  But, don’t worry about this right now.  I’ll explain how to add the bezier curves once the position keyframes are set.

10.  Make your 2nd Position, Scale, Rotation keyframes, but only convert the position keyframe to an Easy Ease.  Don’t worry about the extra Scale and Rotation keyframe before this.  These are extra squash and stretch in-between keyframes you should add at the end.  First make all of your position keyframes then go back and add the other scale and rotation keyframes.

11.  Make your 3rd Position, Scale, Rotation keyframes.  Convert all three keyframes to Easy Ease.

12.  Make your 4th Position, Scale, Rotation keyframes.  Only convert the position keyframe to Easy Ease.

13.  Make your 5th Position, Scale, Rotation keyframes.  Convert all three keyframes to Easy Ease.

14.  Make your 6th Position, Scale, Rotation keyframes.  Since the ball is bouncing backward you can copy and paste the keyframes from your second position using the Edit – Copy and Edit – Paste Commands or Command C and Command V on the Mac.

15.   Make your 7th Position, Scale, Rotation keyframes.  Since the ball is bouncing backward you can copy and paste the keyframes from your first position using the Edit – Copy and Edit – Paste Commands or Command C and Command V on the Mac.  Then follow the instructions in the screenshot to create curved motion paths using the bezier keyframes.

16.  Now make your 8th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

17.  Now make your 9th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

18.  Now make your 10th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

19.  Now make your 11th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

20.  Now make your 12th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

21.  Now make your 13th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

22.  Now make your 14th squash and stretch keyframes by matching your scale and rotation settings to the screenshots below.  You won’t need to convert them to Easy Ease, so you can just leave them all as the diamond constant velocity keyframes.

23.  Now that you have your animation keyframed you should play it back by pressing the RAM Preview button in the Preview panel in the upper left hand corner of the workspace.  I’ve set up the work area so it ends right before the last set of keyframes.  That way the first frame doesn’t repeat when the loop restarts.  To do this, move your playhead one frame before the final set of keyframes and press the N key.  This will make it so the end of the work area lines up with the playhead.

24.  When watching your animation you’ll notice that it has especially smooth motion.  To fix this and make it look more organic we are going to use the wiggler plug-in.  First select all of the Position keyframes across the timeline without selecting any of the scale or rotation keyframes so it looks like this:

25.  When the keyframes are selected properly you should see that the apply button in the Wiggler panel becomes active.  Use these settings and click apply:

By setting the Fequency to 12 per second, we’re telling After effects to wiggle the position 12 times per second, which is almost the equivalent of an animation that was shot on “2s” or played back at 12fps.  The only difference is that when wiggler adds its key-frames it converts them all to Easy Ease so there is actually one frame of interpolation that happens in-between each one of those keyframes.  But, when we shoot something on “2s” with a down shooter, we usually photograph twice in the exact same place.  To achieve this effect we have to select all of the key-frames added by the Wiggler plugin and convert them to holds so they don’t move at all during the in-betweens.  To do this make sure that all of the position key-frames are selected, right click one of them and press Toggle Hold Keyframes.  This will cause all of the keyframes to hold during the in-betweens.

26.  Now when we play back the animation it might look a little sporadic.  This is because the ball is looping at 24fps while the hold keyframes are causing it to play back at 12fps.  This can be fixed by copying and pasting the following frame randomizing expression into the Time Remap function:

fr = 12; // frame rate;

numFrames = 8;

seedRandom(index,true);

seg = Math.floor(time*fr);

f = Math.floor(random(numFrames));

for (i = 0; i < seg; i++)

f = (f + Math.floor(random(1,numFrames)))%numFrames;

framesToTime(f);

If you don’t know how to do this please see my tutorial Working With Image Sequences in Photoshop & After Effects CS6.

27.  To give the animation a fully organic look, you can also apply the Wiggler plugin to the scale keyframes and the rotation keyframes.  I would also suggest converting them to hold keyframes afterwards.  These are the settings I would recommend starting with for the scale and rotation properties:

28.  If you did the tutorial Working With Image Sequences in Photoshop & After Effects CS6 you can import the after effects project and copy and past randomized the randomized background we made behind the bouncing ball.

29.  To render this animation, see steps 25 – 27 in Doing Hand-Drawn Animation Using Photoshop & After Effects CS6 (PART 2).

6 thoughts on “Making Motion Graphics Animation Look More Analog in After Effects CS6

  1. Pingback: Introduction to Hand-Drawn and Organic Looks Tutorials « A Blog by Benjamin Ariel Markus

  2. Pingback: Doing Hand-Drawn Animation Using Photoshop & After Effects CS6 (PART 1) « Benjamin Ariel Markus

  3. Pingback: Rigging a Puppet Made of Image Sequences in After Effects CS6 (PART 2) « Animation, Filmmaking, Techniques & Tutorials

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