A few years ago I was given a theme, a prop, and an action requirement that had to appear in an original video – oh, and 24 hours to create said video. For those of you familiar with the production process, you know this is no walk in the park. It’s hard enough to work within a 24-day production schedule let alone 24 hours.
No, it wasn't the theme (“One”), the prop (the number one), or the action (listening to music) that caused the vein in my forehead to bulge out a few hours into the competition – it was that I decided to try my hand at something I had little to no experience in: Animation.
Maybe it was the stress of the clock winding down, or maybe it was simply a stroke of genius, but I figured this would be a great opportunity to put all of my Adobe Creative Suite experience on the line and to “binge learn” on what tools and features I might be missing out on. In case you decide to make an animated video in one day with minimal prior experience, I’ll save you some time by giving you a few tips on concept and storyboard, production, and post-production so that you too can learn how to make an animated video in 24 hours or less.
To preface, if you have absolutely zero knowledge of film editing and animation, it will be extremely difficult to complete a video in 24 hours. I started experimenting with the video production process around the age of five using two VCRs to re-edit and mix up my favorite TV shows and movies. About 10 years later I got my hands on my first computer-based video editing software. Actually seeing the sound waves underneath the video on a digital timeline and being able to add titles and images over the video was exhilarating. The technology was pretty flimsy, but it was a huge leap for prosumers in being able to affordably and semi-professionally edit their analog videos using the precision of a digital editing suite.
Over the next 15 years the digital editing world would become more reliable, more affordable, and more enabling. With the invention of DSLRs and software such as Adobe After Effects and the rest of the Creative Suite, the creative floodgates opened for everyday people to create media and compete on a professional level – which is exactly what I did.
Here's how I created my first animated video in less than 24 hours...
CONCEPT AND STORYBOARD
As with any project, the first phase should always be planning. What’s your timeline? What tools do you have access to? What’s your goal? The great thing about a 24-hour project limit is that it forces you to stay on schedule.
For this particular challenge, contestants received an email at 10 p.m. with the theme, prop, and action that needed to appear in the video. I allotted myself two hours to brainstorm and storyboard my ideas while keeping in mind that I’d need some leeway to make up for my inexperience in animation.
Limitations in mind, I knew that complex animations were out of the question. I also don’t consider myself that great of an artist, so I’d have to try to create the illusion that my art was “stylized.” On the plus side, I’ve watched enough movies in my time to have a sense of how to emulate common movie tropes and I’m relatively decent as far as musical composition goes.
Nearing the two-hour strategy and storyboarding limit, I decided I’d have enough of the right elements to throw together a relatively decent video. I’ve always tried to stick to these rules when creating videos:
- The video needs to move quickly (the editing should be tight).
- The aesthetic needs to stay consistent (lighting, color-filters, and overall look should be a constant theme).
- The video needs quality music and sound (the sound and soundtrack needs to be professional and set the mood of the video).
Regardless of budget, production quality, equipment, or various other limiting factors, I’ve always followed the philosophy that if a video succeeds at accomplishing these three rules of thumb, it will serve its purpose adequately.
You’d be surprised what you can come up with using a few shapes and filters in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. For this particular project I primarily used Photoshop to create layered scenes that I could easily export as PNGs and animate accordingly in After Effects. Storyboard in hand (sloppily drawn in a notebook), I created quick versions of each scene, imported them into After Effects, created the general key framed animations, then imported the After Effects files into Adobe Premier Pro to roughly edit the scenes over a scratch track.
This workflow between Photoshop/Illustrator, After Effects, and Premiere Pro is fantastic in terms of being able to create and update aesthetics in one program, animate in another, and then piece together the end product on the fly. Overall, I spent about 10 uninterrupted hours creating assets, animating, editing, then re-creating the assets over and over until I reached a base point where I thought the video could stand on its own.
At this point, I had scheduled a two-hour break into my timeline to give me some time to step back, reset, and take a look at the project as a whole again with (moderately) fresh eyes. For me, this was an important step as to not get too immersed and caught up in any single step of the project. Brains can only handle so much without a break, and, if not taken into consideration, chances are you’ll miss something if you’re obsessing over a few select elements.
After the break, it was time to work on some touch-ups and add proper music and sound effects. The video was able to stand on its own by this point, but it needed some finessing to really bring it to the next level. I had an original music composition I recorded earlier (in accordance with the contest’s rules, of course) that I could easily sync to the animations, which saved some time. Additional edits included changing the aesthetic of the video all together to make it look more grimy and creepy in hopes that it’d add a comical element to its already ridiculous concept.
Four hours later, I decided to call it a night/day. With six hours to spare before hitting the 24-hour deadline, I figured that any extra work at this point wouldn’t add any real value. From concept to final product, I completed the animation in about 18 hours.
The Dark Horse
A few weeks after submitting my short animation, I received an email saying that I had been selected as a finalist along with a dozen or so other films. The final screenings were held in Denver’s historic Mayan Theater and were judged both by the audience and a panel.
The competition was fierce as all the film submissions were great. In an almost packed theater, audience members filled out their top three movie choices. Some of the films were so good that they convinced me I didn’t have a chance. My only advantage was that I had been the only person to submit an animated short.
The votes were in, and the second and third place winners were announced. To my surprise they were the films that I thought had the best shot at first place. A few moments later I was astounded when they called my name as the first place winner.
In my ecstatic state, I did the only thing one could do in such a situation: I used the prize winnings to buy everybody in the competition drinks.
There’s something uniquely gratifying about successfully completing a 24-hour film festival. Having been involved with freelance video production (among other freelance projects) for many years, condensing the entire project management mentality into a day’s worth of work and staying on schedule is a feat all on its own.
Although the technology has become infinitely better for creating professional quality videos, the concept and methods behind production has remained relatively the same. I’m still applying some of the same techniques I experimented with in 1989 in 2014 – it’s just a hell of a lot easier and faster these days.
It’s no secret that carefully planning and defining goals, tools, capabilities, and timelines helps any project run smoother and more efficiently. We just have to be sure to practice what we preach. In the end, the real question is: who’s buying the beer?