How To Animate on the JR

With the second animation complete, I thought it would be a nice idea to answer all the ‘how’d you do that?’ questions. I will assure it, it’s made to look more spontaneous than it actually is. But in terms of animating in a limited space, this method seems to work really well. It’s quick and dirty, but effective and fun.

My animations all start out with the same process: I realize that I am confused about something and I figure out that there is a need to explain the concept in another way. The first days on board the JR we were in meetings talking about concepts I didn’t quite understand, and I thought that if I couldn’t understand it odds are pretty good someone else wouldn’t either.

These images are notes from my sketchbook:


Half way through the talk about the significance of Hess Deep, I thought this ‘basic’ concept would be a good one for a new animation. So, I started to write out a really rough outline. My initial outlines are very basic: they help me get my thoughts together regarding what aspects I want to include in the animation, what I know already and what parts I need to do more research on.

This image is my basic outline: “this is what we know”, “what we are expecting to find”, “models/theories”, and “problems with the theories.”


Once I have a rough idea of the elements I want to include, I start to write out a script…very very rough. But this helps me figure out the flow and determine the order of each element. Depending on what other things I have going on, and how clear my head is, these steps take a day or so. Some days the writing comes easy, and other days it’s a struggle.


The next step is to type up my rough outline/script so that other people can read it, and I can edit the flow much easier. You can see in the next image, my outline was pretty short. But the basic flow was there. One of the really wonderful things about this experience is that I get to immediately interact with so many scientists. This image is from my conversation with Katin who looked over my outline and…made a few corrections 🙂 and explained some things to me I was still a little unsure of.


After my talk with her, I revised my outline.  I had her look at it again (the black ink) and since there are 30 scientists here I had 2 others look at it as well: Benoit (the red ink) and Andrew. Again, a few more adjustments. This process takes a little longer because I was interacting with so many different people. We had to coordinate our schedules and I’d meet with them one at a time and then separate their personal bias from what the real science was and what parts were most important for you to know.


Then, I revised again. Once it gets to this level of corrections…you can stop. When you work with people, they will always find something to change. At a certain point, you need to just move on. But you can see from the next image compared to the last two the science was all there.


Then comes the real fun part. I read through each line over and over again to find where breaks would be appropriate. This is mostly determined by how much imagery will go on each page. I had to chop up paragraph 4 quite a bit because the diagrams needed to go on those pages would take up too much space. It’s all a balance.


These are my storyboards. I start drawing a rough idea to go along with each paragraph. Sorry, I didn’t keep the mess ups. Also, during this time, I sent the script off to my brother Brian in Ohio and had him record his voice and I contacted my friend Robert Thorndike to compose some special nautical music. It was a really nice ship to shore collaboration, and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.

Again, depending on schedules and things, this process can take another few days.


Once I’ve decided what I want each page to look like, I start to draw them at their actual scale. Bill, the photographer on board, let me borrow a rig that attached my camera to a shelf so that I could point the lens down and record from overhead. I should have taken a picture of it, that sounds a little confusing.

But anyway, every pages gets drawn and redrawn a number of times. As I’m drawing I find spacing issues, or the order I draw things on the page needs to be redone, or I just didn’t like the way the character looked. Here’s just one page…it would take forever to scan in all of the mess ups.


I record myself doing each version and I cut out the mess ups in a program called Premiere Pro. At this point, I didn’t have the audio from my brother yet, so I was just checking out the timing and flow and making sure things made sense…and then continued to revise.


After he sent me the audio, I incorporate it into the video editing program and adjust the timing once again. I think for this animation there were only about 4 different drafts, which honestly isn’t too bad. I’ve had some animations get into the double digits in terms of revisions. But that has a lot to do with who you work with 🙂


Once I’m happy with the animation, I export a QuickTime movie and show the 3 scientists who helped write the script. I make sure they are satisfied with the animation as well, and then I show it to the co-chiefs to make sure they approve it and then I release it to the world.

So there you have it. A down and dirty animation style that’s pretty fun to watch if I do say so myself:

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