Top-five tips to animate your comics

I recently delved into the world of hand-drawn comics-style animation, after a lifetime of just sketching on paper. While I have a long experience with video editing, I had no experience with video animation of that kind. When I first got the idea to do the video it felt like a mountain to me, excessively complex. But the steep learning curve got easier with time. This is my top-5 cheat list to get you up and running.

The finalized video is my tribute to philosopher, indie artist, and fellow sci-fi junkie, John Maus: an unofficial music video for his track “Quantum Leap”. Tools used during the two months of production: A Wacom tablet, Photoshop (The Gimp would work fine too), Sony Vegas Pro (compositing), After Effects (for the lazers in the final battle only).

1. Don’t draw everything
This project would still be in its infancy now if I had to also draw the backgrounds (and it would look worse too). This is where the beauty of Creative Commons came in, all the backgrounds in the various scenes are licensed under the “Attribution” license. The space pictures are from NASA. Only a single scene in the whole video is fully drawn (the one where indie musician Ariel Pink hides the heroes behind his curtains from the “Man in Black”), and that’s only because I couldn’t find the proper picture I needed under the CC-BY license.

2. Don’t draw everything, No2
While you could animate every movement, it is far faster to draw the body without hands, and then animate these seperately. Each moving element lives in its own transparent PNG or PSD image, and it’s then animated in the video editor instead of Photoshop, after its placed on its own video track. Only the full-body scenes (e.g. the ones where the heroes are chased) are animated frame by frame.

3. The story is most important
I must have played the story in my mind, and the pacing of that story, 500 times before I layed down the song file on my video editor’s audio track. Next thing to do is to put markers with text in the timeline, describing each scene. Each scene must follow the beat, so it has to start/end on obvious auditory stimuli.

4. Keep it simple
If you can’t draw something, draw something else. There were 3-4 scenes that I wanted them to be different originally, but they were very complex to achieve, so I settled for something simpler. Overall, I used only 5 video tracks, 1 for the background, and 4 for the animation.

5. Blend frames to give illusion of movement
In certain occasions (e.g. blinking of eyes, smiling) you can use a simple transition from the end of one PNG with the beginning of the other. This gives the illusion of more frames than what are actually drawn.


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