DIY Animation

Animation develops our creativity, and it lets us bring imaginary worlds to life.

Using different animation techniques, you can animate all kinds of things: everyday objects, toys, plasticine figures, paper characters, dolls, even people. In animated film, nothing stops you from creating fantastic creatures or planets nobody has ever seen before! When you're creating an animated film, it's useful to organize your work in advance. If there are more authors working together, everyone should choose their task: director, screenwriter, set designer, animator, editor, and so on.

With the help of these instructions, we'll guide you through the complete process of creating an animated film – from the basic idea all the way to uploading your finished work online. Skipping any of the steps usually isn't good, because the creation and understanding of animation requires an exact approach. In all the phases of making your film: pre-production, production and post-production, you will find useful advice on the internet, in many great books and in different education programs.

1. Idea, story

To make a good film you need a good story, and a good story requires an interesting idea. The story is one of film's most important elements. When writing your story, you can be completely original, or draw inspiration from literature, comic books and other written works by making your own adaptation. In that case, you have to respect the copyrights of the story's original author and get their permission by contacting a copyright agency.

A good start is to try and write a short story or a funny gag. It's also important to consider the genre of your story: is it a comedy, a horror story, a romance, a science fiction or crime flick? Or maybe something completely different?

When writing a story, it's useful to draw inspiration from your own thoughts, your surroundings and the things you like or know well. Try and imagine a convincing setting where the story is happening. When things occur in some kind of order, we get a logical sequence of events that translates well into animated film. It's important for the audience to understand your film, so ask yourself if the plot and message of your story are easy to see.

You can share your story with others and ask them what they think, or if they have any ideas.


2. Character development

If you want the audience to relate to your characters, they should seem "real" the way persons or animals do, and fit well into the story you're telling. Since animated characters aren't always people, but can also be moving and talking objects, it's important they have their own recognizable looks and gestures, their own manners of speech and moving around, which will make them believable. No matter if the protagonist is a tea pot, a paper doll, a Lego robot or a plasticine hero, their appearance and behavior should be developed in a way that makes them convincing to the audience. We call this process character development.

When creating characters, you can try to find reference images on the internet that look like something you have in mind. Images, photos and sketches are useful tools for explaining our ideas and visual concept to other authors of the film. They are also useful for organizing our own ideas when we are working alone.


3. Screenplay

On the basis of the story and the characters, you create a screenplay for the film and establish its dramaturgy – story structure and sequence of events. Animated film is a visual art, which means it's smart to make a screenplay that contains a lot of visual information. Every detail counts!

When writing a screenplay (which is also called a "script"), try making it so that it follows the sequence of events in the film. If you put each individual shot in a new paragraph, the person reading the screenplay will be able to picture how the sequences follow one another. This helps us plan editing in advance. If there is dialogue (speech) in the story, or there is a narrator telling the story "off screen", all the dialogue that happens in the film should be written in the screenplay, so that everyone knows what the characters are talking about.

Each sequence starts with its number, location and time of day.

Example:

1. EXT. – IN FRONT OF THE HOUSE – NIGHT or 7. INT. – FACTORY – DAY

(where EXT means exterior or outside, and INT means interior or inside) If the screenplay contains dialogue, write it in the center of the page below the name of the character who is speaking, like in the example below.

Example:

J.KOOL : Kool animation is just kool animation!

The style and rules of writing screenplays are important to follow, because they will tell everyone a lot of valuable information about events in the film: the location, the time of day, the characters appearing in the scene, the dialogue ...

Special software you can find on the internet will help you write screenplays and format them correctly without too much effort.


4. Concept art

The concept art is made by drawing all the characters, settings and props that appear in the screenplay. We draw the characters from all sides (front, back and side view), which lets everyone see how they look. We also draw characters in various poses and with different facial expressions.

The setting, backgrounds and props should be drawn in detail. Pay attention to the colors, since characters have to stand out from the background – which means they shouldn't be of the same color as their environment.

In this phase of pre-production, reference images and photos are again very useful.


5. Storyboard

The easiest way to imagine the storyboard is like a comic book of some sort, in which the sequence of images represents the whole story in a visual way. In the storyboard, we show what kind of shot size and composition we plan to use for each shot, and the format of our film. The most common format used today is 16:9.

The storyboard shows the directions the characters or objects are moving in. In it, we also draw the props and backgrounds that will appear in the shot, except for minor details. The images can be drawn in a simple or detailed manner, depending on your drawing skills, but each shot should have at least one image. The more images you draw, the better you are able to present the events in the shot, so others reading the storyboard can see what you have in mind.

Each shot in the storyboard has its own number, and the time of its duration is written down, so we know exactly how many frames (photographs) we need to film. This information is very important for planning.

When animating objects or toys you already own, you can use a web camera to create a photocomic instead of a storyboard, and establish the exact positions of the camera for each shot. Again, the scenes in the photocomic should each have their own number, and the time of their duration should be written down. When you have a storyboard, you can start making the animatic.

When you have a storyboard, you can start making the animatic.


6. Character and set

Take your storyboard and write down everything you need to build your characters and backgrounds. If you prepare everything now, you won't have to worry about it later when you're making your film.

When building the characters, backgrounds or props, you have to remember the format (scale) of the film. Be careful that your characters or settings aren't too big or too small to fit properly in the shot. Use the most suitable material for the technique you have chosen. The characters should be well made and stable, so you can move them around and film one photograph (frame) after another without anything breaking or falling apart.

The scenery, props and backgrounds must be made in a way that allows them to be fixed to the foundation, because you don't want anything moving around while you're filming. If you are filming in a real location, like your home kitchen, the props and backgrounds must be fixed in place, so that a tree, rock or house doesn't change position between the shots.

Take a look at how the J.Kool&Hyde character is made. Better yet, visit an animated film workshop!


7. Technical equipment and studio

To make an animated film, you need a computer, a web camera, a stand holding the camera, some lights and the Kool Capture software.

You also need a space that will be your studio. Be careful to cover all the windows, because you don't want light from outside changing your shots. The reason we use artificial lighting while filming is so we can control the exact amount of light.

When shooting sequences outdoors, pay attention to the weather and especially changes in the amount of light.


8. Animation

Before filming animation, try to film yourself or a friend and act out all the scenes in front of the camera. In this way, you can plan all the gestures and positions you need to photograph for a particular scene – and make your animation process easier. Look around!

Find different shots of people or objects moving and watch how they look. Observe how animals move in nature, or imagine how objects can "walk". For every character in your film, you can also create special kinds of movement, like hopping, crawling or rolling. There's no limit to imagination.

In Europe, one second of film is made of 25 photographs or frames. You have to decide between single-frame animation, where each position of your character is photographed once, or double-frame animation where it is photographed twice. If you film double-frame, you will need half as many photographs (frames) for one second of film.

You can also combine the techniques, because fast motion, such as a character falling or an arrow flying, look better in single-frame since they appear more smooth.

Look at the shots frame-by-frame to see how many frames you need for a certain movement. Before you start animating, do some tests. If the story has dialogue, record it before starting your filming, so you know how long the shot has to be to fit in the text. The mouth of the character should move according to the sound of the dialogue, so it appears like the character is talking.


9. Image post-production

Post-production of images means editing the film and creating the opening and closing credits. You can make the credits (text that contains the title, artists and other information at the start and end of the film) during filming already. Since credits are part of your film, try to make them look similar.

The film is made of photographs (frames), so try and experiment with these. Double or triple some frames of the shot to create different smoothness of motion. If the movements are too slow, take some frames out. Editing, as we call this process, creates the final dynamics of your film – the rhythm of changes between shots and scenes, and puts everything together.

Image post-production also includes color correction. All the shots should have matching colors, and you sometimes have to correct them. If you want, you can also add special visual effects here.


10. Sound post-production

Post-production of sound means adding music and sound effects. Sound helps create the atmosphere of your film and adds a lot of emotion and excitement. Sound is a very important part of the film, as it helps make everything "real" and also contains information the audience can't see on the screen, like different noises or the sound of animals, cars, water or wind.

Remember, you can't use music from the internet or recordings that belong to other people unless you ask for their permission!

On the internet, you can also find sound banks and music databases that are free to use, which means they are not copyrighted. Find something you are allowed to use and create sound for your film. Of course, you can always grab a microphone and some recording software and record your own sounds!


11. Distribution

When post-production is over and the film is complete, you need to prepare various digital formats for distribution (which means sending the film around so people can see it). If you are uploading your film online, you need a different format than, for example, showing it on television. To present your work, you will also need some images from the film, a photo of the authors, a short synopsis of the film story, technical information, and things like that.