2D painting and animation for “Slope”

November 9, 2011
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For the short filmĀ Slope, we used a range of visual media: live video footage, 3D animation, and 2D animation. This articles outlines some techniques we applied to create the 2D animation and stills, using Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects.


The skier paintings were made with a digital workflow. This can save time; modern tablets simulate pen and paper drawing, and raster editors like Photoshop are more forgiving than traditional materials. This video demonstrates the painting process:

(Note that the video above is a real-time screen capture of Krista’s drawing and painting the skier. Feel free to fast forward, as needed for training purposes.)

To ensure accurate proportions, lines were traced directly from stills from the Women Ski Jumping USA video. The most challenging part of the render became the shading: using light and shadow to convincingly depict the form of the skier.

We used the medical illustration convention of an upper left light source. Cool shadows are in lower right areas, where this light would be occluded. At the bottom right edges of the skier, there are reflection highlights. This conveys a sense of a shiny, or reflective material. The sharper the highlight, the glossier the surface.

After Effects – Animating

After Effects is not only a powerful effects tool (for color-correcting film scenes, creating explosions, or masking out unwanted objects, among many others), but also a powerful compositing and animating tool. For Slope, we used After Effects in all three roles. It has an intuitive, graphical user interface. The timeline is easily navigated; you can zoom in to individual frames for fine-scale changes, and zoom out to see the entire timeline:

Graph editor

Just like Maya and other animation softwares, you can adjust speed, acceleration, and deceleration of any object’s key frames, by tweaking curves in the AfterEffects graph editor. To get a smooth deceleration for the skier in Slope, the graph editor helped to make her deceleration came to an eased stop:

In addition to tinkering with speeds (for spatial variables like rotation, position and scale), you can also adjust the values themselves over time (this is used by default for temporal variables like opacity, color corrections and other visual effects). Here’s a graph editor view showing change in opacity from 85 to 100%:

Cross-software workflows

After Effects integrates very well with tools such as Illustrator and Photoshop. For example, importing a Photoshop image into AfterEffects creates a composition with nested layers inside, corresponding to the Photoshop file’s layers. This feature can be used to animate paintings by flickering highlight layers on and off or by moving foreground objects faster than background objects (a parallax effect).

Animating drawn lines

To create the effect of lines being drawn on graph paper, you can import pre-drawn Bezier curves into After Effects. Here’s a set of curves drawn first in Illustrator:

Using the Effects -> Generate -> Stroke feature, you can copy and paste the curves into a solid layer in After Effects, and use key frames to time their drawing.

Here’s a screenshot of the working After Effects file, including many layers of images, sounds, and solids (containing the drawn stroke lines) for each scene:

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.

- Georgia O'Keeffe