Making an Animation: Nature’s Way

I have just completed my first ever cel-animation; A short advertisement for Original Source’s Mint and Tea Tree shower gel. I’m going to explain in this blog the whole process of how I made it which hopefully will be of some use if you are interested in creating an animation but not sure how to start.

Original Source - Nature's Way (Thumbnail)

Original Source – Nature’s Way (Thumbnail)

In early December last year I received an email inviting me to take part in a filmmaking competition for Original Source Experiences.

My background is in film, not animation, but it is something that has always captured my interest. I saw this competition as my chance to ‘give it a go’ and see if I can do it. I knew the principle techniques of cel animation and figured I could use elements from the old animating techniques as well as incorporating new ideas to achieve the final result within a short deadline.

The brief was as follows:

Original Source shower gels are packed with 100% natural fragrances to deliver intense natural experiences in the shower. Make a video which shows the Original Source experience.

We want you to create a video of up to 60 seconds which shows the experience that an Original Source shower gives, using one of our four core flavours.

We want you to use your imagination to dramatise the experience. The video can describe the feeling in the shower, the feeling afterwards, the anticipation of using the product or it might be about the ingredients.

Entries should feel authentic and not be too glossy or advert-like. The videos will mainly be used online.

Pre-Production:

It’s good practise to work in an organised manner. I always keep a notebook when working on a project to keep all of my ideas in one place. Pre-production is a vital stage in any form of media production. It’s how you weed out the good ideas from the bad ones and develop them into a strong concept so that when it’s time to move onto production, you have a clear plan of what you’re doing. Here are a few photos taken of the notes I made during the pre-production stages of this animation. They mainly show working out the logistics and composition of each scene.

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Once I had worked out exactly how each scene was to be made, I moved on to creating test shots. I began by drawing a quick version of one of the planned scenes. I scanned this into my computer and sent it over to my brother John, who coloured in each image using Photoshop. John then sent the drawings back to me which I uploaded onto Final Cut Pro X and animated by looping and adding keyframes to simulate movement. This video (below) demonstrates the process involved when colouring and adding depth to the animation.

After all of this work I had successfully found a way to create this animation and was finally ready to move onto production.

Production and Post-Production:

I’m finding it very hard to explain the differences between the production and post-production stages of this project because, well, it’s a completely different medium to film. Normally the ‘production’ stage would mean the duration of the project where you would physically film your scenes with actors and a film crew with an actual camera but instead I am just in my house with my little hand drawn actor. With animation, I have full control over the image in post and can change things that you would never be able to do with film like changing the composition or the lighting. This is why I have mixed these two sections together.

The main subject was created in a similar way to the way old fashioned cel-animators worked. I would hand draw each frame on sheets of A4 paper and scan them into my laptop. In order to save time I drew 6 frames for moments when the main subject was either still or making quick repetitive movements (e.g. brushing teeth) and looped them to give the illusion of a full animation. In all other cases I had to draw each individual frame (24 for every second) using the previous drawing as a reference.

Once I had finished scanning in all of my drawings I would send them to John who would colour each frame and send them back to me.

Before and after colouring the bathroom sequence in scene two

Before and after colouring the bathroom sequence in scene two

After receiving the coloured images, I imported them into Final Cut Pro X. I placed them in order on my timeline and set them to play at a 24th of a second. I carefully made sure that the first and last drawing would closely match up so that I would be able to put the whole sequence on a loop. This would allow me to prolong the sequence to as long as needed. Once I was happy with the length of the sequence, I would compose all of the images into a new clip to make it easier to edit. I then was able to add other objects and the background into the scene. In order to add more depth to each shot I used a variety of techniques. Firstly, I used the Gaussian blur tool in FCPX on any object in the foreground to imitate how it would look if a camera lens had a shallow depth of focus (This can be most clearly seen in the ‘Teeth Brushing’ scene when looking at the sink and taps). I also added keyframes to the background making the image ease in gently. Finally I worked on lighting effect and colour grading to make the main subject stand out from the background.

I’ve posted a few screen shots below of scenes before and after the colour editing process on FCPX to show how much of a difference it makes to the final piece.

I attempted mixing different techniques to create the effect I was after. This included photography, drawing, and CGI.

An idea I had early on in the pre-production process was to mix photography with animation. Originally I wanted to take macro shots of materials and use them to colour in the objects. I found that doing this with everything in shot was overwhelming, so I tried a minimalistic approach. A few items in the film are created from photographs (Most noticeably the Original Source bottle and tables and desks (Below)). This added an effect that sets it apart from other projects.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 15.20.54

Overall, the production stage lasted around two weeks. Two weeks of work to create one minute of footage may sound like a tediously long time but Nick Park took six years to create his masterpiece ‘A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit’ so all things considered, we didn’t do too bad.

121 drawings later, and after a lot of hard work, I am proud of what John and I have achieved and look forward to hearing the results from Zooppa. Here is the final video.

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