ILLUSTRATION FEATURE Animating your Illustrations

Anne-Marie Perks runs through some techniques to get your pictures moving in the form of a GIF!

It has been written about Leonardo da Vinci that if he were alive today, he would be a film maker and animator. After all, who doesn’t want to see their drawings come to life?

Animation in and of itself is a huge area to explore, not only in the broad variety of techniques, but also the film approaches that are inherent to illustrating children’s books and graphic novels. Though there are several different timeline and drawing software programmes, I'm using Photoshop and Motion Workspace to create a GIF.  Whether you work digitally or traditionally, with GIF creations you can improve your animating skills through developing short sequences or just making a simple movement.

In the example shown here, I am taking you through a process that combines traditional and digital methods to create a blink. The first step is a little research into the movement you want to create. You can do this through videos and if you want to go a bit further, a great book to have on your shelf is The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams. Videos are part of that important practice of observation showing you what something looks like and giving you a sense of timing.
Page from Richard Williams' book, The Animator’s Survival Kit, showing a range of blinks.

Using tracing paper to draw out blink sequence exact size to artwork.

Close up on drawing outline of eyes.

Final drawn sequence of eyes blinking. Including the already painted open eyes, there are seven frames to this sequence.

In the images above, I drew the eye sequence according to the shape of the eyeball (even a cartoon eye has a shape that hints at depth and roundness) and the direction of the pupils. As the lid comes down the line of the lid changes as does how much of the eyelids we see. The pupil also automatically comes down slightly when we close our eyes, though this is a detail that could be left out and still create a believable blink.
Final sequence finished in watercolour, matching as close as possible the value and colour from the original painting.

I could have accomplished the sequence digitally, including drawing the eye shapes, but it is near impossible to match the granulated surface and subtle tone changes digitally from a traditional watercolour. It could possibly have come close and with the quick timing of the blink, be believable, but I wanted to show a hybrid approach that many illustrators might use. I’ve seen tutorials where the Smudge Tool was used to create a blink simulation, and it kind of works.
Placement of each frame making up the blinking sequence. The Opacity level on eyes being added to the layer above the painting is set roughly between 60 - 70%.

After opening the painting in Photoshop, I created the layers I knew I would need, naming each according to the frame number, 001, 002 and so on up to 007. Do you need to do this? Well no, though pro tip: naming your layers keeps you from getting lost and in terms of animation, keeps you on track as to what frame you are on.

Using the Opacity level in the Layer’s box allowed me to accurately match the new eye shape to the eyes the layer below. Once placed and the areas of the image I didn’t need taken out with the lasso tool and eraser, I put the Opacity back up to 100%. Other adjustments I needed to make were in Image - Adjustment - Hue/Saturation, and in Image - Adjustment - Selective Color. This was to match the colour and value better to the original art. I needed to bring down the saturation a little and to bring down the magenta and bring up the yellow a little in the Neutral Color Channel. 
All frames are ready for animating!

Moving into the Motion workspace in Photoshop

Now it’s time to move onto the Timeline in Photoshop. You can find this under the Workspace Icon (in the upper right hand corner of the Photoshop window) and select [Motion]. Immediately the Timeline will come up at the bottom (default setting) of your work window. Inside that window you can choose to animate in ‘Frames’ or ‘Video’. There is a drop down menu at the top right hand side of this box that allows a range of choices that also includes choosing ‘Frame’ or ‘Video’ timeline, as well as frame rate, onion skinning, Premiere Pro shortcuts and more. I decided to use ‘Video’ for this GIF as it allows me to choose the frame rate used in animation, 24 frames per second.

Animating in 2s.

In 2D animation, sequences are worked out in 1s and 2s referencing how many frames in a second a frame is held. Two frames held in a second is 1/12 of a second (of course this is dependent on the actual frame rate of your animation). In the end, Frame 006 is a ‘1’ or 1/24 of a second for better timing. In animation it is also important to understand the concept of spacing. Spacing references how much a movement changes between frames. The smaller the change between frames, the slower it moves. The larger the change between frames, the faster the movement.

With a closer look at the time line, you can see that the entire animation is a little over three seconds, the timeline is numbered in frames. The average person blinks every three to four seconds. The actual time of the blink is roughly a third of a second.

When you choose the ‘Video’ timeline, all the layers now become Video frames. This is important for you to know as you work, whatever you do to your layers will show up on the timeline video frames, and you can add directly any mark making to the video timeline, but that is a different technique. All the video layers will line up at 00, requiring the next step to be moving each video layer over by selecting them, to expose the number of frames wanted in the video layer below. Then you will need to cut each specific layer in the sequence to the correct frame amount. Remember, just like Layers, the Video layer on top is what you see in the image window above.
The Scrubber moves you through your animation timeline. You can scrub forward and backward.

When cutting your video layers down to the number of frames needed, you will need to place the ‘Scrubber’(image above) where you want to make the cut, then click on the Scissor Tool at the top of the Timeline box. The video layer will split where you cut it (at the line of the Scrubber on the video layer selected) into two layers. Deselect everything by clicking into the blank space between layers, then click the video layer above the video layer you just cut, and delete it. Keep going until your video layers look something like mine!

The timing I used was, 24 frames (1 second) for 001, then cut at 2s from video layer 002 - 005, 1 frame for 006 (though not shown here as it was a tiny adjustment) and 007 is 48 frames, or 2 seconds.
Two ways to save your Photoshop file as a GIF.

The last step to turn your Photoshop file into a GIF can be done either as a File-Save-As command and choosing GIF as the file you are turning it into. Or if you want more options such as optimising your GIF, go to File - Export - Save for Web (Legacy). You can also export your animation as an MP4 movie file by going to File - Export - Render Video.

Above is the final GIF animation, The Boy Blinking. If you are really new to working with timelines and animation, try not to get frustrated. After all, I bet you drew flip through drawings when you were a kid! Keep at it, do your research and have fun! There might be more ‘How To’s’ on creating GIFS, animating your illustrations, trying out different movements and maybe just a little about animation principles of design. I’ll leave you with this resource on YouTube by Alan Becker on the 12 Principles of Animation
Header image: © Anne-Marie Perks

Anne-Marie Perks has illustrated picture books, book covers, older fiction and non-fiction books for US and UK publishers. Also an animator who teaches illustration and animation at Buckinghamshire New University, recent books include the wordless When Dad Hurts Mum, and A Safe Place from Domestic Abuse (Books Beyond Words Publishing, London). The Silkie (Clucket Press) a middle grade novel, is now available.

Anne-Marie’s most recent personal project is a graphic novel called Wolf Girl.

1 comment:

  1. I have been wondering how to do this, thanks Anne-Marie! And I love your gif!


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