4 Day Animation: Retrospective

How Fast Can You Move?

Posted by Vance Feld on February 9, 2016
Here's an animation I made at the beginning of 2016. I churned this out in four days. Whew! The monologue is a little cheesy, but that was kind of the point. I think the fluid animation and transition techniques balance it out.

Watch the Animation:

  • Newtek Lightwave 3D
  • Adobe AfterEffects
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Pens
  • Markers
  • Paper

In-Progress Clips and Pics

A video posted by 2decks (@2_decks) on

A video posted by 2decks (@2_decks) on

A video posted by 2decks (@2_decks) on

Transition Informed Animation

Without transitional composition, is see film as just a random smattering of shots. I guess I've finally come to realize how much I think in transitions instead of just scenes. When I picture a scene it's not how it sits in the frame but how we got there and where it's going. I don’t mean cross-fades. I mean physically warping the spatial locations of objects in the scenes, permuting them and using geometry within the shot to define the next. It kind of harkens back to cubism in a way, thinking of how to "refactor" an object from multiple angles at once. For me, it's like riding that wave and applying that special distortion to time.

Motionboards: Storyboards in Motion

Thinking in transitional motion makes hard for me to storyboard, per se. For me deciding all the shots before the highly expressive animation process begins is short-sighted. Storyboards can be corrosive to creativity. I need to feel out how transition works much as a painter captures the essence of a pose before adding highlights and shadows. Therefore, my storyboards tend to be moving block animation rather than sketches of finite moments. Asking me to storyboard is

Improvised Standing Desk in the Kitchen

A photo posted by ForeverScape (@foreverscape) on

like asking a DJ to do their work by only presenting the knob or fader state at bars 8, 16 and 24. Most run of the mill animation pieces that are scrimpy on transitions. Even your big budget Hollywood action films are usually obsessed with getting the particular shot right instead of the flow of the overall composition. There’s tons of exceptions of course, I’m just speaking generally. Because generalizations are fun!

Difficulty of Motion-Driven Storytelling

I ran into a problem while sketching out the 2Decks animation. I offered a storyboard to my team, who was already pensive about, well, everything, since it was a startup and time is critical. Tensions were high to say the least. I was on the wire to demonstrate that the script was not insane or too complex. It took a lot of faith to green-light a wacky script based on the "Buddha Factory" scene from the ForeverScape. A rather complex scene in the drawing. The fear was that it would be too distracting. This is why I promised a storyboard. But for me that ended up being two days of secret animation. I couldn't tell the team what I was doing, as it may have been interpreted as a "waste of time." First, nobody would be able to understand the narrative in storyboard form... I don't think It would have been grasped, "What do you mean the truck with the pooped-out turntables flies into an ear?"

And the Solution is... Do it.

It boils down to this: the amount of time to properly "sketch" the transitions between scenes, would have take just as long as actually doing it with real assets. If you're going to have to pose the characters anyway, you might as well go ahead and rig the characters (align all the assets, set parent-child relationships with the pick-whip). If they're already rigged, heck, why not animate them? If I already have real assets on the table (the Aftereffects composition), it's faster to animate them while the hundreds of layers are still fresh in my mind than to come back to them. It's a dilemma for sure. Live bold and reap the rewards and risk having a dud that that has to be redone and take twice as long in the end.

Still Frames (Cells)

Here's a few of the source images. You can buy all the originals on Etsy.

Link between Visual Transition and Musical Transition

It is funny and quite appropriate that I was working at a startup company whose entire business model is built upon the act of creating transitions (musical though). While I've never really had a knack for mastering, EQ and beat matching myself, I have an ear for what's good and can appreciate it. But I'm terrible at it. I'm a visual person and I differentiate between "fine" animation and "limited" animation. I used to laugh at that distinction, but now I see it more in an economic sense of trading off perfection for brevity. I see the DJ doing that all the time. Animation is perpetual race between perfection and time-shaving tricks. I think a strong case can be made for transition-based animation since it eliminates the disruptive nature of the hard-cut scenes, opening-up the narrative to new possibilities as the frame extends beyond the initial frame, or dimensions, even. For the DJ, it's picking the best song for the moment, not an isolated moment, but one connected to all that came before it and all that will come after it. Then they have to mix, beatmatch it and surprise us under the tightest of conditions (a live audience).

More Project Notes

This animation was made in about four days. Two normal ones, and two long ones. Given the very little time we had to make this animation, I'd have to say... This animation moved quite well. It's not the most grueling one I've worked on, but it was satisfying to dream it up and complete it so quickly. Though my animation rig is better than ones of my past, it's faster than any of them, it's not ideal. I probably would setup a render farm and get all SSD drives, if I were to animate a longer film.

And usually the answer is, save it for a video painting where surface details matter. I'm not saying the surface doesn't count here. I drew and 3D modeled all the assets in this animation. The surface very much matters to me. Well, I guess the form does. The surface to me is just decoration that adds to (or detracts from) the suspension of disbelief while watching animation. It's implying some sort of plausible deniability that these are just pieces of paper moved around in Aftereffects or polygons mapped with UV coordinates and vertex normals.

Two nights of drawing between cooking dinner and annoying my girlfriend with markers all over the bed plus four 14 hour days hold up in the basement. I live in Portland Oregon where in an El Niño year it rains for 30 days straight so I'm not missing much. The fun part is trying to time daily activities like brewing coffee, sleeping or going to the restroom, around rendering. For those of you unfamiliar, that's the time it take for a scene to calculate all the lighting, motion blur and antialiasing and whatever other effects go into the source of the larger animation. The final render (of all the flat scenes) only took 12 minutes but it was the longest 12 minutes of my life.

A part of the animation process that can be lost on a lot of people is the sheer repetition. As an electronic musician you may relate to the hearing of the same 8 bar loop over and over while you perfect a reverb. As a software engineer you might relate to running unit tests or a compiler over and over, looking the same console messages or breakpoints flash by until you fix the problem. Well, animation is a lot like that. You hear the same audio clip over and over, the same little layers and motion loop like a skipping CD. It gets into your mind, your dreams start skipping and you wake up smashing a virtual ESC key or abort button with a mouse that's not there.

Obsession with Animation

As a child I dreamed of making a single-shot feature length movie. I've always had a passion for animating. I remember, when I was maybe six or seven years old, making Lego animations on a camcorder where I had to depress the rec/stop button at just the right tempo to shoot a "frame". As a college student I was able to put words behind this: a film without cutscenes or montage technique. My thesis ended up being a collection of "video paintings" consisting of 3D animation, video and cutout animation. They were narratives without dialogue, like paintings extended into the fourth dimension.Each video painting was essentially one big long transition. Now, as an artist looking back and forward, I see the true potential of transition-informed animation for storytelling in a more traditional sense.

One of My Favorite Historical Examples

On one end of the spectrum you have “full animation.” think classic Disney. On the other end of the spectrum, you have sitcom TV animation like South Park and Family Guy. I'd say my style fits somewhere in the middle. What I’m after in animation is flow. I’m not saying these animations have no flow, but the flow is featured in only limited ways, that is, it does'nt play a central role in constructing the story. I'll mention the Le Planete Fantastique because it is one of my favorites and the first art-house animation of note I saw on PBS while staying up past my bedtime. The attention to scale,

Trailer for Le Planete Fantastique

and the effect that might have on the temporal imbalances found at the "edge" of the macro and micro worlds, was awe inspiring. This edge is further explained and conveyed through the use of transition techniques. Transitions will be the focus of this wrap-up.