Nythendra Guide — After Effects Animation Project

Introduction

This project was created as a part of Animation for the Web module at Southampton Solent University. Nythendra Guide includes mechanics for an in-game encounter (World of Warcraft) and is inspired by Line of Sight Gaming tutorial. Original video can be found here:

Nythendra Guide by LoS Gaming

By completing this project I hoped to explore various techniques used in Adobe After Effects and improve my animation skills.

Development Process

To begin with, I had to source in-game footage, which required setting up Open Broadcaster Software. I found this software to be very easy to use. It required basic adjustments, such as selecting the right window to record and setting the quality of the recorded video. Since my project involved different soundtrack I chose not to record in-game audio track. Coordinating a group of people, I managed to capture the most important n-game mechanics. Participants were so fond of the video idea that we decided to complete and capture more encounters, which I planned to use in the credits of the original video. I saved my footage in .avi format, which I found out was one of the formats compatible with After Effects.

I decided to start with creating new project in After Effects. In the new project window it is possible to set project preferences. I did not want my footage to affect size of the workspace, therefore I set the resolution to 1280x720p. as the project requirement stated. To begin with, once again I followed the tutorial for animated polygons I included in my report.

Polygon Tutorial

I had to create three different coloured polygons for each of the in-game roles: tank (blue), healer (green) and dps (red). After creating the first polygon it was easy to duplicate the composition and change colour of each item. In the Radio Wave effect options it is possible to use the drop-down arrow to show colour spectrum, which is a very intuitive visualisation of colour changes in time.

Polygon tutorial utilised Radio Wave effect and a Time Displacement. Radio Wave was responsible for creating the pulse effect. I was able to adapt an early step of the tutorial and use it as a pulse effect for the Rot ability and the Bugs. It is the white hexagonal outline around both elements. Time Displacement uses a black and white gradient as a representation of time, white being the start and black the end of the timeline. I used the angle gradient, which resulted in creating a clock wipe effect. Changing timing and sampling settings allowed me to transform the round gradient mask into more blocky, polygonal animated artefact.

To source other images used in the video I used Google Images. Links to the images used can be found here:

Green puddle:

https://t3.ftcdn.net/jpg/01/16/45/04/240_F_116450489_1HhSLRSeraW2P5wZI6tqYRbemu8CNNCE.jpg

Dragon:

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/f4/46/ff/f446ffacd773e52010b2ebcf5de871f6.jpg

Bug:

https://img.clipartfest.com/c2c88d6ada373ffac1bfb66088bdd120_cartoon-cartoon-eyes-clip-art-cartoon-bug-clipart_500-387.jpeg

Searching for images

Next, I had to process those images in order to use them in my animation. I had to replace white background with a transparent one. In order to do so I had to use Adobe Photoshop. It has an built-in option to select each colour channel. Since white is treated as a mix of all colours, all I had to do was create a selection from the channels list as illustrated below.

Channels Tab

This however did not work with the bug, since its eyes were also white. In this case I had to use magic wand selection tool and manually select and remove white background patches.

Dragon animation would require certain elements to be separate from the main body. I had to use selection tools to separate head and wings and place them in a different layer. Later, I was able to import this image as a ready to use composition with all the layers preserved and ready to animate.

Dragon with wings and head on different layers

To begin with, I created a Main Composition, where I included all the static footage and synchronised certain elements with the audio track. First, without any animations, I made images simply appear and disappear when appropriate. Then, I added the polygon animations I created. It was simply a matter of duplicating layers to add as many of those elements as I needed.

Main Composition setup.
Polygons added to the composition.

I managed to make items in the Main Composition appear and move around by adjusting position and opacity settings. To begin with, I planned to use a vanishing triangle to illustrate the dragon breath. However, I discovered a very interesting tutorial on how to create a realistic flame breath using Particle World in After Effects, which can be found here (video contains mild explicit audio content):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8_knWzrdXU

First, I created an orange solid and then applied Particle World effect to it.

Adding Particle World Effect

After changing gravity to 0, the flame-to-be was no longer bent. For the Particles to resemble real flames it was necessary to change particle type to bubbles. It was not a perfect solution but it looked more realistic than just a triangle.

Adjusting Particle World settings. Particle type changed to Bubbles.

After applying Motion Blur, the flame looked less like a bubble gun effect. I changed its colour to green, so it resembled an in-game mechanic. I saved my work as a Breath composition to use it in the main video.

After adding Motion Blur and changing colour.

After coordinating audio track with visual effects it was time to add in-game footage where appropriate. I created ToDo composition, featuring black solid wherever footage was missing to indicate which parts would need to be filled. I also added notes on what should be included on an additional text layer. This would help me coordinate the video editing.

First I had to import my video footage. Unfortunately I encountered and error, suggesting that the file extension is not supported by After Effects.

.avi not supported

It was very surprising since my footage was in a very popular .avi format and Adobe specification suggested that it should be supported by After Effects. After checking if the source file was not corrupted (it was not), I searched for an answer to this dilemma. Here is a link to the thread on creativecow.net forum:

https://forums.creativecow.net/archivethread/2/294195

Suggested solutions were:

  • File folder might be corrupted, move files to the desktop
  • It does not work with certain codecs, it might be a DirectX issue
  • Re-install After Effects
  • In the end question author managed to use Premiere Pro to export .avi file with a different codec. Apparently After Effects is not compatible with DV codec.

Instead of finding out what was wrong with the codecs I decided to simply convert .avi file to .mov. To do so, I used Freemake Video Converter. After Effects had no further problems with importing my footage and I was ready to begin the most time consuming part of this project.

Footage successfully imported. Default opacity was not set to 0% and it is fading through the background.

Next part of video editing required me to synchronise footage video with the audio track. I had to find the right moment in the video and cut it out. Unfortunately I was unable to replay my converted footage using VLC or Media Player, since every time i skipped forwards to find the right part, the video froze. I had to add full footage track to the composition and watch it in the After Effects Preview. This created a lot of mess and confusion in my composition and I would certainly not do it again. I chose to duplicate layers and copy default opacity keyframes.

Changing opacity settings is fairly simple but can be tricky, especially when set keyframes are copied to a newly added item. Default item opacity is set to 100% therefore every time footage is added to the composition it was necessary to remember to set it to 0%, otherwise after copying keyframes it will fade through the original video as illustrated. Picture below illustrates how footage with duplicated keyframes can behave depending on initial settings.

Different footage behaviour depending on initial settings.

I managed to synchronise footage with the main video and the audio track. I created mini previews in the bottom left corner illustrating certain abilities. This required me to scale down and move the original footage to the corner. At this point, my project animation was almost complete.

At some point, when I came back to my project an tried to open it, After Effects opened a prompt window informing me of running out of disk space. It suggested I should open Memory and Storage settings and clear my cache. Since I had auto-save enabled, I had almost 30GB of backup files. As I found out, After Effects auto save does not overwrite existing file, but creates a directory of backup projects. Each auto-save creates new, fully functional project. The good side: you can access your project at various stages of the development, the bad side: with big projects you might start running out of disk space. I could not find Memory Settings as suggested, however I found Purge menu, which, after reading Adobe’s Learn & Support article, was another valid tool to clear cache.

After doing so, I discovered that It also removed my pre-rendered preview and I was unable to preview the work I have done so far in real time. One way to fix it was to play through the whole video once more and let After Effects cache the preview again. Another solution was to pre-render the main composition, as I found out following this easy tutorial:

Pre-rendering tutorial.

After applying all the changes and making sure I would not have to edit the main composition again, I decided to pre-render it and add more effects to it later on. In order to preserve the original high quality of the video, I chose to export it as a TIFF image sequence, which was the most lossless export format.

Composition rendering.

This indeed helped me to speed up my workflow, at the same time preserving quality of the work I have done so far. Only thing I had to add at this point was few text layers, indicating certain in-game abilities. After that my project was complete and ready to render.

Final project rendering.

I decided to render my project as a high quality Quick Time Movie format, since .mov file was one of the suggested formats supported by YouTube, where I would upload it next. Final video file’s size was almost 8GB. I decided to upload it in high quality, which took about 6 hours complete.

Uploading to YouTube.

Final Project

This is the final artefact created in this project:

Nythendra Guide by Judy

Feedback

Initially, feedback was supposed to be received from DeviantArt community, however I did not receive any responses. I decided to ask some of my friends, aslo World of Warcraft players, for their opinion, since they would definitely understand context of this project. Overall feedback I received was very good. People seemed to enjoy simple animations and found video very informative. One person said she had problems with reading the font used in the project. Later on we established that this was an issue with her being unable to watch the video in higher quality due to technical issues.

Feedback p.1
Feedback p.2
Feedback p.3

Conclusion

This project helped me understand better animation principles and taught me new After Effects techniques. In my opinion, the most enriching part of the development process was the error solving, which gave me a very good insight into processes behind certain actions, such as importing footage or importance of double-checking default settings. It also kept me interested in discovering new methods to achieve my goals, the Breath composition being one example. Overall, I find this project to be an example of successful animation and improvement of my skills.