Dec 11

New Art/Motion Comic Magic: Animatics and the Puppet Tool

I just started a new workshop at the youth center I work at featuring one of my favorite applications, Adobe After Effects (as well as Photoshop and Illustrator too). I love After Effects since there is so much versatility in what you can do. The program is also great since it can accommodate huge differences in artistic styles and accepts lots of  different digital media (even flash movies) which is perfect for a wide range of young artists.

The goal is for the students to plan short scenes or sequences and work towards having them in some final form. But I feel it’s important to take on the same challenges I give the students myself, so I gave myself the goal of doing a short project in the last few weeks. It’s important to do since it can help me to understand what they are attempting better and I can trouble shoot better ways to teach different techniques.

So the first week we learned the very basics of the software and drew short sequences as storyboards. We then scanned and placed the art in After Effects as an animatic (can also be called a story reel). A lot of our techniques are very low tech in part due to the equipment is not always available to the students. For my project I decided to do a sort of an animated holiday card.

Here is the first test with some minimal animation in it. This test is the first pass to see if it will actually work as a story in real time. I could have added some sound on top of it too, but decided that could wait for now due to a tight schedule.

After letting this Animatic sit in my mind for a while, I decided to add some rough animation in the ‘Sketchbook’ style into my animatic that I experimented earlier this year. The style is really fun to do and can be very expressive and fast to do. I scanned in the drawings and timed it out, mixing it into the original Animatic to get a stronger look of what it might look like. Here is what I came up with.

Here are some of the animation drawings I used for the test in the animatic.

Loose mouse animation drawings.

While the drawings are less then perfect, it’s amazing how much life you can easily throw into your project. But now I had to decided what techniques to use for the final animation. I could create sequences of drawings like classic ‘cel’ animation or I could use less art and just manipulate the drawings in more of a limited cut out style or even do a mix of both.

I decided that I would explore how I could use a fairly new feature of After Effects, the Puppet Tool. The tool allows you to take an image and add ‘pins’ to it and then bend the figures where those are placed.

AFX puppet tool exampleHere you can see above the yellow ‘pins’ on the neck of the bear. The empty square are null objects that control each pin and allow them to be parented to each other.

Here is my first attempt with the bear character in the story, mind you I was only testing technique and not going for giving an actual animated performance. To help set-up the animation I used a great After Effects script called GG_PuppetTools, which saved me a lot of time.

The character is made up of 3 layers of art, the neck, head and arm/hand. There is also two different faces to give the bear a change in expression.

Below is my second attempt at the technique with 4 layers of art, but no changes in the bears expressions. Here I attempted to give the bear a ‘bone’ structure and set up ways for the different parts to move together. Here the body, neck and arm are all using the Puppet Tool and the head is static for now.

The head is a bit off, but I decided to leave it as-is for now.

I have a feeling that I might use the ‘sketchbook’ technique that I mentioned above since it’s actually a bit more fun for me to do and very expressive, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Stay tuned to see the final results in the next two weeks!


  1. Fun and cool stuff and it makes me want to animate again. That puppet tool is interesting. I seem to recall there was a similar tool in Flash I forget the name of it now. Man I need more hours in the day to have some fun like this.

    • Brian on December 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I think Flash does have a similar tool, but I am not familiar with it.

    I am doing a big chunk of this for or during work which is how I manage it.

    We need to get together and do an animation jam Rick.

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