In part 1 and part 2 of this Behind the Scenes series of creating an animated infographic video I’ve shared the process of sketching out visual ideas for a script, storyboarding, and creating the visual elements for the video digitally and then staging them. In this final installment of the series, I’ll share some behind the scenes looks at the animation process.
The most specialized aspect of creating an animated video is the animation. You need special motion graphics software like Adobe After Effects, Apple Motion, or Adobe Flash to do serious animation. While presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote have some animation capability, it’s pretty limited. Both can handle basic movement of graphics, scaling, and rotation, but when you try to do complex animations or animate multiple graphics in one scene those tools get pretty unwieldy to use and you probably won’t get the results you were hoping for. For serious animation, you need After Effects, Motion, or Flash – all of which have some pretty intimidating learning curves.
Animation and using animation software also require getting familiar with some concepts that will probably be new to most who haven’t used After Effects, Motion, or Flash, such as a timeline, keyframes, keyframe interpolation, and more. It’s outside the scope of this article to cover those concepts in any detail but I’ll touch on some briefly with some of the screen shots below.
This particular style of animation in this video is much simpler than classic cartoon-style animations and doesn’t incorporate a lot of the standard cartoon-style exaggerated movements of characters and cartoon physics. The animation in this video is actually pretty simple and basic. The most commonly used animations in this video are just transformations of position of the scenery and the walking character.
After the initial title sequence, the video starts out with the animated walker whose starting position is off the screen to the left. The screen shot below shows this first scene open in Apple Motion. The stylized “30” with the stop watch for the 0 starts out off stage. Technically, it’s first keyframe has the z value of it’s position at about 1500 pixels and the the position transforms to where it’s z coordinate is 0. This makes it look like it’s dropping in perpendicular to the surface of the screen.
To give the illusion of the walker moving across the screen, the cityscape in the background is keyframed to move from right to left, while the walking character is moving from left to right. This is the essential animation technique that is used throughout the video – the same character is moving, mostly just left to right and scenery behind him is moving in the opposite direction.
The animation of the walker’s arms and legs moving is done by having the character’s arms and legs pivot back and forth around the shoulder or hip. The character actually consists of three graphics; the head and torso graphic, an arm graphic, and a leg image. Then there’s two versions of each leg and arm, each pivoting oppositely from it’s opposite counter part. It’s a pretty simple and crude walking animation, but since this character is just a simplified icon, it’s good enough. In the screen shot below, the lower portion of the screen is the timeline. The little diamond shapes on it represent keyframes which are defining the beginning and ending angles of rotation for the arms and legs. The attributes for those angles and others as well, can be seen in the left-most pane.
To transition from the scene with the cityscape in the background to the next scene in the park, I simply moved the bus graphic across the screen from right to left. The bus is the top-most layer of all the elements in this scene’s file so it obscures everything behind it.
As the bus moves off to the left, it reveals a new background, the park scene. This was just a simple trick to make transitioning from the cityscape to the park easier.
The remaining animation in this scene with the park and the bridge is essentially the same as in the prior scene – the background is moving from right to left and the walking character from left to right, but with the slight difference of making him look like he’s walking up the hill and then down the hill by creating a motion path for him that has a keyframe with a y-coordinate higher at the top of the hill than when he starts and finishes.
Incidentally the walking character climbing up the hill is meant to be a very subtle visual reinforcement of the text that’s on screen at that moment (“Improves health and longevity”) as if he were walking up a line graph that shows improvement. And then walking down the hill similarly reinforces the next bit of text about reducing coronary disease risk. These visual metaphors are both very subtle and I’m willing to bet very few people will even make the association, but I always try to visually reinforce what’s being said, either verbally or textually, with the graphics and animation.
At the end of the bridge is a clock tower, made to vaguely suggest Big Ben in London, but the clock is replaced by an old fashioned sphygmomanometer that measures blood pressure. Yet another subtle visual metaphor to reinforce the text that’s on the screen about reducing blood pressure.
Once the character crosses the bridge, and enters the building, there’s another transition, this time to the interior of the building. This is done by just “pushing in” through a window of the building using another z-coordinate transformation.
The interior scene is meant to represent a museum like a natural history museum. The reasoning for this is another subtle visual metaphor. The line of script for this scene talks about increasing bone density. One of the visual concepts that came to mind while brainstorming the visuals was to represent the bone density as a skeleton while the character walks through a museum with the skeleton on display. The text for this scene also has a subtle animation in that the tracking of the text changes, becoming more dense, again reinforcing the idea of increasing density.
The scene ends with our character descending a staircase, which again reinforces the message of the text on the screen about reducing (going down) cholesterol.
All of the animation for this piece was done in Apple Motion. I split the project into three separate Motion files, one for each scene (cityscape, park, museum interior) to make each scene easier to work. It also has the benefit of making rendering times faster as I’m working with the Motion file.
Each of the three scenes was imported into Final Cut Pro where I also added the background music for the video. I tried a couple of different other background loops but ultimately chose a Garage Band loop since the timing was almost perfect for this short, 31 second video.
And that’s it. I’m not sure the screen shots and the text descriptions will make sense to anyone who hasn’t done some animation work, but I hope it at least gives you a feel for what’s involved in the animation process for videos like this using these software tools. Check out the final result below.