Smith Micro is launching a series of weekly Featured Artists to promote skilled digital artists who use our software; Anime Studio, Poser, and Manga Studio aka Clip Studio Paint. These featured artists are also promoted on our Twitter page and a piece of their work will be shared on Twitter every day of their featured week. Thanks for reading. Enjoy!
Motionlab came about late in 2010 when freelance animator of 10 years, Luke Heise, decided it was time to take that big next step towards a more collaborative way of working. Being just an ‘animator’ had it’s limitations, so the desire was always there to hone in on the skills of specialized creatives to produce higher quality work in a greater range of styles.
Fast forward 5 years and Motionlab is now a core team of 4 that includes Luke Heise, Daniel Cordero, Smog and Vascolo. Together, they produce all types of animated work ranging from TVCs and Broadcast Design through to Explainer Videos, Short Films and even Music Videos.
It all starts with a great story. Whether it’s your own short film or a job for a client explaining their products or services, a memorable story is key to engaging your viewers. Then, it’s time for the fun stuff (at least we think so). Depending on the length of an animation, we spend anywhere from 1-3 days working up a rough storyboard. It does not need to be thoroughly detailed. As long as we can make out camera angles, scene composition, characters, design elements etc… we are pretty happy.
When the storyboard is finished, key frames are chosen and turned into finished frames of art that reflects the overall ‘look and feel’ for the entire animation. These are called ‘Style Frames’. We often experiment with a few varying styles before eventually settling on the one that we like the most. We then finish the remaining artwork and record a voice over (if required) so that the animators can finally get started.
Animation takes us 2-3 weeks per minute on average to complete. We usually produce our character animation in Anime Studio Pro, importing bitmap images into the software and rigging the characters up with bones. If certain body parts need more detailed animation (usually in the face), we trace just those elements when required, giving us increased flexibility to animate individual points. We then export all our character animation scenes from Anime Studio Pro on an alpha channel background. This allows for easy importing into software such as After Effects where we can composite the character animation into existing scenes, move the camera around, add effects such as depth of field, motion blur or film grain and adjust the colours.
Finally, music and sound effects are added before we hit the final render.
Inspiration is everywhere we look. I remember in my early days as an animator, always watching people around me, observing their movements and body language. You learn the most as an animator just by watching people and studying how they move.
Inspiration can also come from just browsing websites like vimeo.com, behance.com and youtube.com, finding the best creative content you can, and then analyzing what appeals to you in the video (eg. camera movement, scene composition, texture & colour, motion graphic elements etc.)
Connect with other creatives, learn from them, trade tips and techniques. If they have skills that you don’t have, maybe even collaborate with them on a job.
Advice for other animators:
Using video references to help you animate is not cheating. If your walk cycle isn’t quite looking right, then find yourself a good reference. If you’re animating something a bit trickier and can’t find a good reference, then act it out in front of a mirror and observe your movements. You can even use your cell phone camera to record yourself acting out a scene, and play it back to learn from it. This is not cheating and will only help you grow as an animator.
Learn some Compositing software such as After Effects. Anime Studio Pro is a great tool for character animation, but knowledge of compositing software will help take your animations to the next level. You’ll be able to import your Anime Studio Pro renders while gaining more control over things like camera movement, special effects and colour adjustments, which can all contribute to giving your animation that extra little bit of polish .