April Animators Roundtable Illuminates and Inspires
by Kathy Dismukes
The Animators Roundtable is a picture-perfect example of how WIFV helps to advance the technical expertise of both beginners and long-time industry pros and facilitates their creative process. It’s coordinated by Kristin Harris, an animator, illustrator, designer, and educator whose passion is to use art to connect kids to science.
About 20 people attended the April 23rd program in the Interface Media Group conference room, where two artist-animators, Jackie Lay and Kathy Wilson, walked us through the artistic and technical processes they employ when creating animation. Jackie Lay was the first animator hired by The Atlantic, the venerable-yet-still-hip political, literary, and cultural magazine and multi-platform publisher. The Atlantic not only committed to a big, open-access online presence; they hired four full-time animators who enliven and elucidate their content. Jackie focuses on magazine cover stories, series, and maps/charts, and usually has a very fast turnaround time (three weeks for three minutes!). She has also successfully pitched ideas and taken the lead on features like the Visual Histories to editors.
For The Atlantic’s 160th anniversary, the organization decided to animate some of their iconic stories, and Lay was asked to animate Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” 1915 poem. She showed the group the animation in its entirety, then reviewed her process and techniques in detail. She usually starts with paper, then storyboards (looking for visual metaphors) using Wacom’s Cintiq. She does all kinds of research—historical, image, and footage—and experiments with color gradation and mood boards along the way. She then adds texture in Photoshop to Illustrator files. For the walk cycle in the piece, she used the After Effects Rubber Hose plugin. For a flying butterfly, she demoed how to use After Effects (AE Tuts is a useful tutorial series here) to give a natural, camera feel. We then watched Lay’s moving, inspiring piece, “The Making of a Black President,” set to the audio of an interview Ta-Nehisi Coates did with President Obama for the magazine’s January 2017 cover story.
Screenshot from The Atlantic’s The Making of a Black President animation, by Jackie Lay
Next, Kathy Wilson talked to us about her career as a cartographer for Nat Geo, as an illustrator and animator for Westat, and as a freelance animator. She is also a resident artist at Artists & Makers Studios in Rockville. She walked us through her “Discover” animation, which was inspired by a mural at the Westat building. “Discover” incorporates scientific content (e.g., double-helix of DNA, physics symbols) along with the natural world (the silhouette of a tree, the spiral of a shell). She used After Effects and, for rigging, the Newton 2 plugin. We also watched her imaginative, animated title sequence to Hitchcock’s iconic Rear Window. Wilson also does beautiful watercolors, sometimes using Corel Paint for digital painting, then animating those paintings in After Effects. She sometimes creates animations using Photoshop, and there are some terrific tutorials on how to do this on School of Motion: https://www.schoolofmotion.com/collection/photoshop-animation-series.
Screenshot from Rear Window, by Kathy Moore Wilson
Throughout the presentations, there were questions on techniques and tools. All agreed that the best tutorials were School of Motion, AE Tuts, Lynda, and SkillsShare. A short discussion on how animators get work reconfirmed the tried and true: 1) Network and get exposure—WIFV events are especially helpful here—and get to know and use community sites like Behance and Dribbble (yes, with three Bs); 2) Participate in social media, especially Twitter and Instagram, where it’s smart to follow artists you like.
June’s Animators Roundtable will feature Rhed Pixel’s Rich Harrington, and July’s will feature Hannah Churn from The Duke & the Duck. Everyone in the WIFV community should attend a roundtable event or five. We can all benefit by staying current on the latest trends and technology. Plus, roundtables recharge your own creativity!
Jackie Lay is an art director and 2D animator who makes short editorial animations within quick deadlines for The Atlantic on race, gender, climate change, and animals, among other topics. She got her MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York, before settling in DC. Recent films include a Brief History of Sports and an interview with comedian W. Kamau Bell. You can see more of her work at jackielay.com.
Kathy Moore Wilson is an illustrator, painter, animator, motion media designer, graphic designer, and cartographer who received Masters Degree in Motion Media Design at SCAD. At her company, Pendragon Art Studios, she creates paintings, illustrations, and animations. Some of her favorite animations include: DISCOVER, an animated painting, and Rear Window, an animated version of the opening credits for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie. You can see more of her work at kathymoorewilson.com.
Kathy Dismukes is the founder of Pintail Productions, a new enterprise focused on creating hella cool video content for companies and organizations. She is also an impact producer and consultant specializing in fundraising, partnership building, and community outreach for films and nonprofits. A WIFV member since 2007, Kathy served for two terms on the board of directors, including as Treasurer and VP of Development.