Here is my animation on YouTube that I got inspired to create as my first animation project. I shall take you through the journey of creating this animation and explain to you the path I took and why I did that. Watch this animation here - Corona ka Sandesh
So first of all, how do I come across writing an article like this. Like most amateur creative people out there struggling through Coronavirus pandemic trying to find creative things to do from home, I had this urge to revive my old hobby which is actually the beginning of my career as an animator when I was a student. I had this unexplored creative character buried inside wanting to come out and express itself freely. Rarely I gave this guy a chance to show up his head, in the race of building a career and running for money.
But here I am now when the planet earth has said enough is enough, sit in your place and behave! Much like the dog momy, lining up its pups in this video….
Well sort of, the only difference is that planet earth itself is so much in stress by humans, that the impact we see on humanity is just the collateral damage, unfortunately, caused by us. So we can’t blame anyone, but ourselves!
Moving on, the light bulb moment came to me when I was given this sweet poem written in Hindi by B.R. Gandhi moved by the Covid-19 pandemic, like most of us. Here is a short description of the poem from the video.
“The poem is narrated as Coronavirus itself. The pandemic (COVID-19) causing virus, that has taken its grip over the entire world in a very short span of time explains its journey, teases the audience with its wit and finally gives a very important message for humanity.”
At the time, the poem was in its infancy when I heard it, there was just this handwritten note and an audio version of the poem given to me. Immediately it sparked an idea in me to create a video that will convey his message across the whole world that will overcome language barriers. What better than an animation can it be!
Thus begins the search of how to create animation quickly. Of course I had this hair raising moment that Oh my god, I haven’t done this in a long time and I don’t even know where to start. But YouTube was my friend. I started with trying to find different techniques to create the animation as a base. Should I go flipbook animation style creating it with bare minimum hand-drawn character transitions, page by page that will take forever to create even with a software. Or should I use a 2D animation tool that will do everything for me? The answer wasn’t easy. So I started doing my research. Believe me, the internet is littered with different techniques on animation and each one has a different approach to it.
The first thing that I came across was Adobe Character builder. What a great animation tool I must admit. It does exactly what I was looking for in terms of having a character defined and later lip-synching it to my live performance. The beauty of the tool is that once you set up the character, you hardly ever have to draw the character face moments again, unless you missed some facial expressions in the character build process. All you have to do now is read the dialogues with facial expressions.
This was such an intelligent approach as it did not require me to draw a character frame by frame for the whole duration of the animation. That would have certainly taken a couple of months to finish. The Character Builder does that very smartly. On the surface, it looked like a very appealing tool to use but there were some catches in it that I was not ready to invest in.
I discovered these things, as I kept exploring this tool in greater depth. I found out that the lip sync is just that lip-sync. If I have to move the whole character, it's not that simple as me moving around and doing hand actions. I have to use keyframe animation techniques to do that in the software itself. That was a bit of additional work. Also, character-building means, I had to define each emotion and facial expression of the character before I could effectively use it in my lip-syncing. Now the problem with my job at hand was that I did not know how many characters I need and how many of them will be lip-synced with body movements.
Then came the pressing issue of having to pay for a tool that I am not sure how long I am going to use, or how many animations I will make using it. Often you start with a tool and find yourself sort of married to it as by the time you realize that you need to move on to a different tool, you have invested a lot in it, in terms of artifacts like characters, scenes, sounds, backgrounds, storyline, moment, animations etc. I did not want to lock myself in a paid tool although subscription-based, that I will not be able to get out of. Once the subscription stops, it means your work is now locked and cannot be recovered unless you want to pay again. This is me being a bit pedantic, of course, it makes sense to buy someone's service if you are using it. But in my case, I wasn’t just sure yet that I wanted to go down this rabbit hole.
Yes in future if my animation business picks up, I will use any tool that fulfils my demand and these petty issues will be ignored. But for making this particular animation, I want something that is free and doesn’t lock me up, giving me the motivation to start looking for free animation tools out there.
For me the decision was sort of already made, I was told that this animation needs to be created quickly, considering the need of the hour. So I had to find a way to make animation that I can make easily without wasting a lot of time on character building, creating scenes, object motion, sound effects and so on.
Another important aspect of my search was to have a tool that is online, that I can share with others and ask fellow creative people to join in, or at least share that with my client as it is being developed. In this modern era where Android and iPhone apps dominate, I was sure I will find something that meets this criterion of mine.
Then I came across this talented vlogger YouTube channel Jenn Jagger, who has reviewed some animation tools and one of which was Animaker. Although there are others, I was specifically intrigued by this tool due to my criteria. There were a lot of things in this tool that fit my needs. It ticked most of the boxes for me and the biggest of all was its online presence. I can create the whole animation from start to finish online, in this very tool. When I say start to finish I mean it, I don't have to upload any artifact other than voice over of the poem. The tool comes with numerous characters, scenes, sound effects, scene transitions and character animations. This was one tool that sounded like a perfect fit for my needs.
However as I went through Jenn's video, some of the harsh realities of the tool became apparent. The tool had a few flaws as described by Jenn. At the time she made this video, things like auto-save was missing due to which she lost some work and had to recreate her animation. There were issues with delays and server hangups and ultimately she gave the tool thumbs down for the level of frustration she had experienced while using this tool.
This turned me off a little bit and all my hopes and excitement of finally having found something that fits in my ideal tool came crashing down. I did look into other tools like Powtoon, Toonley and similar, but nothing came closer to Animaker as the ideal tool I was looking for, only if it was what they made it sound like.
Somehow I couldn't convince myself to give up on this tool. I noticed that Jenn had reviewed and published Animaker in early July 2019. Though from then and now, this wasn't a lot of time for the tool developers to come up with drastic improvements, but I wanted to give it a shot. So I decided to create my very first Animaker animation. I signed up to a free account and started exploring the platform and its features. To my surprise, the tool works on a tablet as well, however a PC gives full-fledged experience of all the components.
I must say this tool has a modern look and feel to the user interface and easy to find components. I was impressed by the way things were neatly laid out in panels so I can focus on creating content. There were tons of artefacts as mentioned by Jenn and designers really had done a great job in creating artwork ready for you to consume.
With my poem's story line, I was always going to struggle with finding the right characters, backgrounds, sound effects and scene composition. I had spent my first few hours trying to find all the characters and artefacts that would fit in my storyline. Afterall, that's where the ingenuity of an artist comes into play. Rather than customising everything that is specifically designed for the storyline, I had to play a puzzle game where I would try to think out of the box and make use of what I have and somehow relate that to the storyline. Its like rather than replicating a photo with paint brush, you find simple shapes and effects that reflect the idea behind that painting, so it conveys right message and is an ideal representation of the picture.
This was my biggest challenge. So I decided to break down the poem into animation scenes, where each scene is distinct and representing a line from the poem. This technique worked for me as my scenes did not need to be one long continuous shot. Breaking down in multiple scenes does means fair bit of work as I had to find artifacts for each scene, but I started with my first scene and took the risk of creating scenes as I go. It was thrilling and a rewarding experience of the unknown venture I had embarked on. All I knew is I had a plan and have to create one scene at a time.
With persistence and dedication I was able to compile my first scene and was so relieved it came out nice and rather quick to make. And that is how I learnt the Animaker tool itself. When said that I always had these after thoughts of improvising on my scenes, but I pulled myself together and stopped the urge to do so. I knew I had an unknown journey ahead and I didn't want to overdo it and leave this animation halfway unfinished.
As I kept working on my animation scenes, I kept learning new things and features, like scene transitions, ability to add multiple sound effects and connecting scenes with one voiceover which was all coming together like a treat. At this point I remember Jenn mentioning in her video that auto save feature doesn't work. To my surprise, Animaker team has added this feature now. It was only looking positive from here on and I was building confidence that I can complete this animation.
However as I kept adding scenes, the glitches Jenn mentioned started becoming obvious. The scenes would freeze or take longer to load as my animation grew in size and complexity. Previewing the scenes was not as watching the real video. There is lag in animation rendering, mismatching sound with the animation or skipping some animations all together. This was sort of expected. For someone who has some sort of IT experience and knows the difference between online software and on PC software, things that happen are relatable.
Its not that the tool developers have not done a good job of packaging the tool or its buggy, its the mismatch of network resources that causes delays and glitches in the online tool. Since the tool is a browser based tool, it relies on memory available for your web browser to render the animation. Also your internet speed comes into play. These things are obvious as they are not consistent. So the animation is not failing to play all the time, but every time I preview it, it shows it slightly different and sometimes it just runs smoothly. When said that, my scenes were small 6sec each and having glitches rendering these small scenes does put a boulder in your work.
There are so many instances where you think if this tool was installed on your PC, none of these issues would have occured. But having an online tool was my first choice, and not having a superfast internet or PC was my limitation, so I had to deal with it.
The only instance I would say the tool was actually buggy was when deleting sound from a scene. If for a reason I had to delete a sound from a scene, I noticed that the scene jumped and swapped its position in timeline with some other scene. Initially I didn't pick it up and as I was playing the whole animation I was surprised to notice my scenes went missing. This happened a few times like Deja-vu and I was a bit taken aback and couldn't figure out what was happening. But eventually I confirmed that its an actual bug and it was frustrating, but recoverable. I just had to work with this new found limitation.
Finally with the free version that gives you no more than two custom characters, a clearly marked free or paid library of artefacts, I was able to complete my animation. It took me about a week to do so properly, of course with breaks and time to think through. I must say had I used any other tool I couldn't have made the animation this quick.
Now comes the time to export it into actual video that I can put on YouTube. Note that you can play the animation online without exporting, but that did not render correctly, no matter how much I tried. There was always a lag, delay and mismatch in sound and animation effects. Because its rendering all the scenes, scene transitions sometimes do not play well either.
As per Jenn's video, export is not allowed on free version, but I was able to, as this is definitely an improved version. When exporting, I did encounter errors in export process and export failed a few times, after which I asked Animaker team for help. They were not the quickest, but responded back within a few hours and confirmed to rectify the issue. In the mean time I decided to upload on YouTube instead. Surprisingly it worked and my video was up on YouTube channel. That was a great moment for me as I had not expected to reach that far within a week. I was so relieved that I had finished it.
Finally in a day, Animaker team responded that my export is ready and I was able to download the video as well. Although the video had Animaker logo on both YouTube and downloaded version, I don't mind giving credits to them as they deserve it. I was overall very satisfied with this tool. It does have its drawbacks but as an online tool, it does what it says although brings with it the challenges of using an online tool.
Will I use this tool for all my future animations?
Well it depends. I certainly am impressed by the simplicity and easy to use User Interface. The extensive library of artefacts has certainly helped me achieve what I wanted in shortest time frame. But limitation of the tool being online is one of its biggest boon and curse at the same time. I don't see myself making long animations in this online tool, but certainly simple and short animations are a breeze to make in Animaker. Overall I am looking forward to using this tool in future.
Note: This article is not a sponsored content.