GIFs and Animating Illustration.

GIF -an acronym for ‘Graphic Interchange Format’ born in the 1980s and describing a file which supports both moving and static images.   They usually comprise of a simple, very short animation and are on a constant loop (great to embedding into emails or websites!).

Ballet Dancer GIF animation Laura Hope Illustration

So GIFs, I’ve been wanting to share my process and thoughts on these for a while and haven’t really known how to but now I have my blog I thought this would be the perfect place to do it.  My fascination with moving images has always been there, I grew up watching all the original Disney films that were created using traditional frame animation after all. I think it’s really what started my love affair with drawing so I suppose it’s only natural that I find myself getting into it now.

A few months ago it dawned on me that, although I hadn’t studied animation at University level, I could learn how to do it myself.  Sounds silly, I know, but animation had always been this illusive, complicated, tech-y thing that only nerdy people who sat in front of computers for hours could master.  I had never really thought about creating GIFs or subtly animating my illustrations, in my head it was always ‘huge feature length Pixar film’ or nothing…

Makeup Illustration GIF Sketch
Makeup Illustration GIF Sketch
Makeup Illustration GIF Sketch

So I started researching like mad, looking at the types of animation and how to go about actually making them.  Turns out there are lots of different ways, which I won’t go into depth about because I’m by no means an expert, but essentially you can either make animations using specific software to move parts of the character you have created, which is what they use for a lot of 3D animation films today, or you can use ‘frames’.  This is what Disney were using way back in the beginning and it isn’t used much anymore because it is extremely time consuming. Each ‘frame’ or tiny movement must be drawn/captured separately and then these still images are then shown in quick succession to give the illusion of movement.  I love animations made in this way because they have a certain quality about them, they aren’t smooth or perfect but they feel alive…

Slicing onions illustrated gif
Gif process Laura Hope Illustration

After researching it was down to business…  And my process has evolved to something like this:

-          I decide on a simple movement or moment to animate.

-          I find a video (usually on Youtube) of this movement.

-          I study it, play it and pause it, sketching from different paused moments.

-          Once I have a few sketches done I then draw them up properly before scanning them and editing them digitally, in the same way I would if I was creating a single illustration.

-          Then, using Photoshop, I layer up the images and using the ‘Transparency’ setting I check that all the illustrations line up. (Animators used to do this manually using a lightbox)…

-          Finally, I use the ‘Animation’ window to put the images/frames together and play around with the amount of time between each frame.  Usually it’s around 0.2 seconds because you need it to be slow enough to see each frame but fast enough to trick your eye into thinking it’s moving.

Frames animation Photoshop

As you can probably tell, creating GIFs is rather a long process and they usually take me a good 2 – 3 days solid work to create a few seconds of movement but it’s such a rewarding result! Sometimes it doesn’t go quite as smoothly as above, in the case of the lady applying lipstick once I put them all together they didn’t quite work so I had to spend a lot of time layering, erasing and merging parts of the image until it resembled what I wanted. I also decided that she needed to blink because it looked odd having her eyes stay open for such a long time so I had to edit in a blink digitally as I hadn’t drawn that originally…

I’m hoping to keep improving and plan to make them gradually more and more complicated.  The first one was the slicing onions, then the lady applying lipstick and finally this ballet dancer with full body movement.  Eventually, I would like to create some full animated scenes with backgrounds or maybe even a little story that lasts a few minutes rather than a few seconds, I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve…  Someone who I really admire, and who’s Berghaus advert you may have seen on the TV recently, is Em Cooper.  She animates slightly differently because she paints directly onto glass panels with oil paints and films that, but the way she expresses movement is just how I try to and uses art in her animations. There is something so special about bringing drawings/paintings/illustration to life. Don’t get me wrong, the 3D animation we have nowadays is much more impressive and ‘believable’ but there should always be a special place in everyone’s heart for traditional animation…

Ballet gif sketches
Ballet gif sketches
Ballet dancer illustration Laura Hope