November 26, 2018
For my After Effects animation project, Origin Story, I wanted to animate visuals for a personal audio project I recorded earlier this year. My mom recounts the unconventional and memorable events of the day I was born in the original audio. There’s over 20 minutes of audio material from my mom, dad, and brother. But to keep the scope of this animation project reasonable, I condensed my mom’s story into a quick two minute clip. I wanted to combine “2.5D” family photos with other animated elements for the visuals — similar to the aesthetics of Kids Stay in the Picture and A Subway Story. Here is a link to the first audio cut I did for this animation.
The first step I did after creating the first audio cut was to storyboard the audio story.
The storyboard process also allowed me to brainstorm possible visual assets to match the different scenes. I found two family photos that could work for the animation — one was a picture of my mom and me in the same bathroom I was born in, the other picture showed my pregnant mom with my two sibilings.
I unfortunately couldn’t find any pictures of my older brother in his Halloween Dick Tracy costume. So I looked for a clip from the Dick Tracy movie that could establish the Dick Tracy look. This Youtube clip featured both Dick Tracy’s iconic yellow costume and also provided a scene setup that Gabe suggested could be used for a rotoscoped animation effect.
For the other animation scenes (e.g. folding baby clothes, my sister calling 911, catching the baby), I planned to animate stock images (baby clothes source) or film original footage and animate over it.
The next step was to prepare my visual assets for After Effects animating. For the “2.5D” effect, I relied on my Introduction to Animation week 3 class notes about the After Effects camera and this YouTube tutorial. I used Photoshop to clone stamp the background layers of my family photos so that when the camera moved in “3D” space, there would be no empty pixel gaps between the photo layers.
I then tried After Effects’ Puppet Pin Tool on my baby clothes image, but the animation looked strange and wonky. So I opted for a more stop motion effect and cut out the foldable parts and reflected their position using keyframe animations.
For the dialing of 911, I thought about animating stock imagery again. But because 911 is such an iconic number that could be dialed with muscle memory, I decided to create my own keypad in Illustrator and animate the three number keys being pressed.
I wanted all the text in the animation to have a handwritten style to them because of the story’s personal nature. However, I didn’t want to handwrite each title and scan each one. I relied instead on After Effects’ turbulent displace effect, based on this YouTube tutorial.
Finally, I filmed some basic hand movements using a homemade green screen (i.e. a blue blanket) because I wanted to key in the hands footage.
Animating is a time intensive process. Cold. Hard. Fact. After Effects also can overload your computer if a particular composition has a lot of camera movements and animation effects — making it difficult to animate to audio cues.
This led me to cut storyboard scenes and audio, simplify animations, and re-use assets. But this doesn’t have to be this project’s final cut and as Gabe pointed out, parts of this project could be incorporated into our upcoming Augmented Reality project by tying these stories to physical photo frames.
Some thoughts I have as I continue to iterate on this “origin story” project:
A perpetual work in progress blog documentating my NYU ITP projects. Words are my own.