Counting Sheep


Last week I finished up a new series video for rezlife’s upcoming series Counting Sheep. It will be focusing on discipleship as well as the understanding that God cares for us and so we should care for others.

Since the title is Counting Sheep, I wanted the video to have a somewhat dream-like quality to it. This was the over-riding aesthetic for the music, the visuals and the animations. I spent a few hours finding this track, which I got from FirstCom. Music is probably at least as important as visuals and animation, since it sets the tone, the mood, and pacing, whether you want it to or not. When I first started out making videos, music was kind of an afterthought. However, I have come to realize that it should be one of the foremost considerations whenever one approaches making a video. Thus, spending hours finding the right track is time well spent.

I ended up hand-drawing all the visuals for this piece, and probably could have made it a little easier on myself if I had planned it a little better. I started just by sketching a sheep and a tree on some notebook paper, more just trying to get some ideas on paper than trying to create the visuals. Once I had drawn them, I kind of liked the raw look that they had- I was initially going to re-trace them on non-lined paper, but I liked the eraser scuffs and uneven lines; to me it felt more like the kind of fuzzy feeling that a dream might elicit, so I made the decision to go with them.

I scanned in the sketches, and then spent a little while in Photoshop getting rid of the lines. For this I just used the clone and healing brush tools, sampling the white around the lines and painting them out. Tedious? Indeed.

For most of my videos I usually end up pairing them with a main series graphic. This usually helps me envision the direction I want the video to go, and sometimes gives me hints as to motion and movement. While I would like to be the kind of person who storyboards things out with precision, I usually don’t have the time to do that. Also, sometimes allowing it to organically unfold gives me the feeling that the visuals are creating themselves, and that I am merely arranging them and pulling them out of themselves. For this one I had a very vague sense of where I wanted it to go, so I began building the visuals in Photoshop for the series graphic. I wanted to keep it sparse, but still have some depth, like a dream you are trying to remember.

Once I had the graphic built, it was time to prepare the artwork for the video. Motion 4 handles layered Photoshop files, but I don’t usually like to do that, mostly because my Photoshop files are horribly unorganized and I generally don’t name the layers in any recognizable way, opting to group things and organize them that way. My preferred method is to simply build out multiple .psds with alpha channels of the individual objects so that they are easier to work with in the video. This can be really tedious as well, but it’s easier, in my opinion, once it comes time to animate. For this one I baked the textures onto the files in Photoshop so I wouldn’t have to mess with it in the video.

In Motion 4 I began by creating the particle effects that would be prevalent throughout the piece. In Photoshop I simply created a white, soft edged circle brush, made a separate file for it, and saved it. In Motion 4 I took that spot and used it as the source image for a Particle Emitter. The Particle Emitter will take any object and allow you to animate the parameters of the multiple instances it creates of that object. For the opening scene I had the emission range set to have the particles rise up, set the Life to be fairly long so that they would remain for awhile, and set the Birth Rate fairly low in order to not have the whole scene saturated with them. Particles from the emitter normally just ‘pop’ into and out of existence, so I set an opacity gradient on them so that they would fade into existence and then out, which worked for the most part. (There are a couple places where there is a pop, but it’s not often enough to be problem.) You can play around with quite a few parameters as well as animate every one of those parameters, making the Particle Emitter a fairly robust particle tool. There are definitely better ones out there for After Effects, but for something that comes with the program, it worked pretty well I thought.

After creating the particles I wanted, I turned them off, only to turn them on when I was rendering. They take a lot of processing, so it’s faster to either keep them inactive or set the image to wireframe when animating the rest. The next step was to start building the scene. I kind of had this idea of floating to the ground through a canopy of trees to see a house with a window, so I worked on setting up my objects to give the best feeling of this dream world I was trying to create. Once I had them set, I started to animate the camera movements. Since it was supposed to be a dream-like scene, most of my camera movements are kind of slow and just a little bit plodding. I wasn’t in any hurry, so it worked out well I thought.

I was happy with the placement and movement of the camera, and I had the grass blowing around a little bit but it still wasn’t selling it to me. At this point I decided to give the objects in the scene movement of their own. It was pretty easy- on one object I simply added a oscillate parameter animation to the Y Rotation axis and then a distortion filter. For example, on one of the trees I started by setting the anchor point at the bottom where it touched the ‘ground.’ Then I went into its parameters and set an Oscillate on the Y Rotation Axis, which caused it to twist back and forth towards and away from the camera. Then I set a distortion filter on the tree that caused it to wobble along the Z axis. I made sure the overlaps of the Oscillate and Distortion weren’t in sync so that it would be more fluid, random and organic. I then copied these parameters and pasted them on the other objects, but then went in individually and slightly modified the parameters so that they weren’t moving in unison.

From there on out it was merely a matter of placing and animating. For the sheep jumping over the fence I wanted to kind of simulate them being raised and lowered by these strings. At first I was going to just hand animate the whole thing, but then thought of a better way. I started by animating the sheep how I wanted it to go move, and then set a motion track on it. I then set the anchor point of the strings all he way to place where they would meet the places on the sheep that they were folding, and then added a Match Move parameter to them. This kept them locked in place for the whole of the animation without me having to set a whole lot of keyframes. For the rest of it I simply animated the Z rotation axis of each string, and then copied and pasted the entire group to make multiple instances of the jumping sheep. Unlike the randomness I wanted in the first scene, I wanted this one to be uniform, and I think it worked.

My videos usually consist of two building phases- the first is where I create a general skeleton of animations- the basic movements from scene to scene, the basic placement of objects, timing, etc. The second phase is where I fill it out and try to add the little details that hopefully make it decent. I was nearly finished with this thing, and decided to add some leaves in there. I figured I had these dead trees just waving in the (non-existent) wind, so perhaps it would give it a more surreal quality if there were some leaves clinging to the tree as well as blowing in the wind. For the leaves on the trees, I merely set the anchor point at the bottom of the stem, placed them where they would be ‘attached’ to the tree and then animated some of the rotation parameters so they would organically move around as if buffeted by a light breeze. I then had some leaves blowing across the screen, which was easy enough to accomplish. I began by placing a basic ‘Throw’ behavior on them. I usually don’t use Motion’s basic Behaviors, but since all i wanted them to do was move left at a continuous rate indefinitely, why not? I then set a Wiggle parameter on the Y Position of the leaves, which caused them to randomly move up and down as if they were being carried on the wind. Easy to animate, but I thought it really added that little detail that gives it a bit more visual interest and more fully creates this dream-world.

The last thing to do was clean up any camera movements and animate the focus. I added some depth of field to separate the subject from the background, as well as to give the whole thing a bit more depth. I manually animated the focal point at certain times to emphasize certain things, and hopefully it works. All that was left was to turn on the particles, motion blur and hit Export.

Once it was Exported, I brought the video back into Motion to sweeten up the colors a bit. I began by duplicating the layer, adding a fairly significant Guassian Blur to it, and then setting the blending mode to Multiply, with reduced opacity. This punched up the blacks (which, since there were a lot of outlines, gave more separation) and also softened them, which lent itself to a more surreal feeling. I did a little bit of color correction added a slight vignette, and finally decided to leave well enough alone. All in all, I think the video turned out pretty well, and hopefully you agree. 🙂


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