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USER STORY SEPTEMBER 5 , 2001
All-Purpose Animation

[Page 2 of 3]

I imported my layered Photoshop files into After Effects as compositions to begin animating. A comparison of my layers palette in Photoshop and my timeline window in After Effects illustrates the benefits of this workflow. The layers in both programs retain their naming and stacking order, and settings for transparency. My intended output would be 640x480 or 480x360 pixels depending on which of the prop department's computers the animation would be playing back on, but I built my Photoshop layouts at 720x540 so I could retain the option of scaling them for broadcast quality output with non-square pixels at 720x486. I used two different import approaches depending on the complexity of a given layout. If a layout involved complex interactions between two characters or between a character and his environment, I would import the entire scene (characters, props, foreground overlays and backgrounds) as one file with anywhere between 30 and 60 layers. Although organizationally complex, it allowed me to see and manipulate any element in the scene. If a layout were more simplistic, I would import each character as a separate comp so that I could cut down on the number of layers I had at one time. After Effects allows you to precompose any number of layers at any time (thus creating an intermediate composition within the main composition), so I could rearrange my layer groupings as needed.


The animated horse in Adobe After Effects

After the character set up was achieved in Photoshop, I moved each layer's anchor point using After Effects' pan behind tool so that body parts would pivot at the intended location rather than at the geometric center. After Effects 4.1 did not allow parent/child relationships between layers. This was an annoying limitation to character animation that forced clumsy workarounds to character set up. To move a character's arm required animating the rotation of the upper arm, then animating the position of the lower arm to maintain the illusion that the two objects were connected at the elbow. This workflow meant that all joints downstream from an animated joint had to be animated as well.

To deliver work-in-progress samples to the producers, I rendered DV Quicktime files out of After Effects, which I output through Firewire and a DV/Analog converter to VHS tape. Sending VHS insured that the production team could easily view the animations in any office at the studio. As the production dates drew closer and the animations became more polished, I rendered them to Sorrenson video and burned the files to CD. The producers could see the cartoons in the proper context on the same type of screen that would be used on set.

On occasion, the producers would come to my studio for over the shoulder fine tuning of the details or timing of the animation. My choice of After Effects and Photoshop really paid off. While developing the look of some chunky vomit, I was able to quickly alter the source art in Photoshop and have the results instantly update in my After Effects composition. When minute timing changes of two or three frames were requested on actions that were nested deep within other actions, After Effects' time remapping feature allowed me to assign new frame numbers to existing frames, allowing complete control over the pacing and order of the entire sequence. The combination of round trip Photoshop editing, time remapping and RAM previews allowed me to provide the producers with what seemed like real time results on what was actually not a real-time system.

The final Quicktime files were delivered to set on CD for playback within a dummy Web page. The night before one sequence was scheduled to work, the director asked for a significant change in timing to tie in with his intended staging of the live action scene. The new version was on set and ready to go first thing the next morning.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.

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