Making Videos, Animating Graphics

I consider the video below a partial success. I managed to do what I set out to do, but frankly it didn’t end up meeting my minimum standards to call it good. But I have been humming and hawing for days now and finally decided to just post it and move on, because anything else would mean starting from scratch and I think it would be a waste to toss the whole thing. So check out the first of a series of planned sailing itineraries:

Method

The first thing I need was a map. The problem is that maps aren’t free despite what you might think given Google’s presence online. And I wanted something I could manipulate the way I wanted to. So I started with a bunch of base maps that I stitched together and started tracing.

Layer one was the base map that was a not-so-simple outline. Back in my book publishing days, I made a ton of these, oddly enough  mostly of BC. But that was when I was still using Freehand before it disappeared and Illustrator became the de facto standard. And I really hate Illustrator. Well, I don’t so much hate it as resent the fact that all those years of learning Freehand now work against me. But such is life in the design community: move on and keep learning.  At least the hours spent working on this map have helped get my Illustrator skills a little more polished. would have liked to add even more detail but the file was starting to balloon in size and it wasn’t actually necessary to have that much accuracy — so I started to slack a bit in places like the west coast of the Island. 

Then I added in coloured layers, borders, labels and whipped up a quick compass rose. After that was done I started building a series of layers with smaller area maps that I could use later to highlight the cruising grounds.

With that done I saved the file and I fired up a new project in Adobe After Effects, then imported the Illustrator file into it. One of the great things about after Effects is that it imports the files with the layering intact and, even better, maintains a hot link to the original file so if you have to go back and change something it updates automatically (which I did several times). In After Effects I proceeded to divide the project into two main sections: the Salish Sea intro and the first planned itinerary, add some more labels and build in animations. I had an idea of what I wanted to do but no idea of how to do it. YouTube to the rescue. All the graphic animations of the map were done in After Effects including the zooms and the move pathways of the route itself. 

Once those were done I exported it as two videos so I could move on to Premiere. After Effects and Premiere do support the a method of hot linking files but some of the effects I used were not supported so I was forced to render the After Effects files. This just meant that any changes that needed to be done would mean re-rendering the files and updating them in Premiere — a matter of  something like 15 minutes work for each video, each time I did it. So I tried not to do it. And pretty much failed.

In Premiere imported the two videos, a selection of still images from my archives and my intros/outros. Then I proceeded to build the initial text graphics and started breaking the videos down into a rough cut. 

Once the rough cut was done I stared animating the text, fine tuning the timing and playing with the narrative to try and get my point across. Although by this time I was starting to wonder what my point was —which was a huge learning lesson in itself.

Eventually I got it to some place that wasn’t particularly horrible and brought in some music. Originally I wanted to do the project with a scripted voice-over but finally decided that was too much additional work for what it was looking like I was going to be able to produce as a final product. I will likely revisit that decision on the next video (if I go ahead with the project) and be able to better anticipate what I will need to have done in what order to support that sort of narrative. And then I unfortunately got carried away laying the audio track and managed to box myself into a few more corners that would take too much work to back out of. 

Lessons Learned

At this point I essentially gave up on trying to improve deficiencies and focussed on completing something. I’d spent a little over a month on this so far and it was increasingly looking like I would have to go back and start from scratch (well, not quite from scratch, as the Illustrator map was perfect) in order to be able to get the result I was looking for. So I decided to get it to good enough and move on. And that’s what you see here.

Preplanning

I learned a few things about planning such an extensive media project. The first thing —which I already knew, or thought I did — is that eh more pre planning you do the less pain  and problems you  will encounter further down the road. I don’t think I truly appreciated how much I have learned about graphic and print production over the years that has allowed me to work fairly smoothly and problem solve on the fly without excessive documentation. Not so for motion graphics; I have a lot to learn and until I do, working out the kinks before I go into production is going to have to be the rule of the day.

Editing yourself

Again, less is more is a graphic design mantra I have long since internalized but it didn’t manage to make the transition to motion graphics. The amount of time I wasted on fancy-dancy effects that ultimately got left on the digital cutting room floor accounted for a huge percentage of the effort I have put into this. With every iteration I found myself cutting and editing things to try and simply the narrative. And frankly I still think I could have done a lot more.

Shortcuts, shortcuts, shortcuts

Know your tools. I have a personal rule that states if you do a set of actions more than three times in one session then take the time to learn shortcuts. Whether it is keyboard shortcuts, macros or simply a more efficient way of achieving your goal it almost always pays dividends when you take some time to explore your toolkit.

And organization helps a lot. I started out with a free for all of files and eventually found myself making more and more bins and folders to organize image, title bars, video clips and sequences. Next time I will start out with a whole lot of empty folders and keep it tidy as I go.

Teams

One of the reasons graphic designers can work alone and filmmakers generally don’t is that it take a huge set of disparate skills and talents to bring together motion graphics. Simply melding the audio and visual components is a massive sideways shift in perspective and I have a renewed respect for those who are auditorially skilled — I’m certainly not. As an audience we experience video differently than we do a static page and there is a whole language I am learning to describe how viewers interact with the screen. A lot of it comes from how we read and view the printed page, but a lot it does not. I am going to have to learn more than a few software programs if if I want to get better at this.

In conclusion

Anyway, I have called this project a wrap and will move on to the next and hopefully do a better job. Because every time I look at this particular video I still want to go in and change something — and I think it’s time to stop looking.

If you have any interest in seeing more sailing related video, my youtube channel can be found here:

Never for Ever YouTube Channel