Most of you know me as a photographer so it may surprise you to learn that a few of my biggest professional projects to date have been animated motion graphics (including the one you see at the top of this post). A big part of multimedia storytelling is using the right tools for the job. While photography, writing, and video are the core of what I do, animation allows me to tell stories with dense information quickly and in a way that engages an audience differently than other visual media.
My most recent project was a graduation video for the University of Washington’s College of Arts and Sciences. Animation projects are time-consuming beasts and require a lot of thought to execute well. My team spent hours making sure we had the right information, brainstorming ways to present that information, and then creating the foundational graphic before animation ever began. It’s been great to work on a big collaborative project like this. While your own artistic vision can take you a long way, bringing in other viewpoints and skill sets opens doors you didn’t even know existed. It also helps you catch mistakes and that’s important when every export of your video takes several hours to render, and fixing one typo can mean almost a full day of work — trust me, I know.
There were a lot of technical challenges to overcome and many lessons learned. I now know that all those fancy cores your processor has won’t live up to their potential if there isn’t enough RAM backing them up — Adobe recommends 2GB per core. I learned that even when you have enough RAM you’re not going to get the fastest render speeds until you enable multiprocessing. Seriously, if you’re doing any video/animation work you need to learn about this. There were lessons about hard drive configurations and about optimizing Illustrator files for After Effects (better to use a lot of small files than one big one that takes 30 minutes to conform every time you make an edit). Probably the most valuable thing I learned was to set keyframe interpolation to linear before you draw a massive animation path. Leaving it on the default “Auto Bezier” is a sure way to make your animated paths look like bouncy boomerangs.
This project took about two weeks of solid work but I had a blast seeing it through. I feel like one or two of these a year is an ideal number for me. Enough to keep my skills from getting rusty but not so many that I spend more time hunched over my monitor than I spend behind a real-life lens.