Make an Animated Video from Still Photographs with 2.5d Animation

The Polar Classic, by Mark Wickman, was the 1st Place winner in Videomaker's 2005 Short Video contest, in which Mark made an animated video, using still photos. We've received many letters asking "how did he DO that?" So we asked him to create a tutorial on just how the process is done. We discovered that the end results actually depend on the beginning... in the planning stage.

Read the full article 2.5d Animation.

These are the media files for the February 2008 Tutorial: 2.5d Animation. The .zip archive contains 12 files and is 172MB in size.

Watch the Polar Classic

Video Transcript

Hi, this is Mark Wickham for Videomaker Presents. In this tutorial I would like to introduce you to some of the workflow and techniques used to create the 2005 Polar Classic golf video. The Polar Classic was an animated short comprised of about 100 individual three-second animations, each derived from a single still photograph.

It’s a two-step process, so I’ll be taking you through the Photoshop layering work and, subsequently, the After Effects animation work. In the tutorial example we’ll be using three short clips, and I’ll show you the various techniques used to bring those clips alive. Hope you enjoy the tutorial.

Okay, to start the tutorial I would like to show you the output we’re going to try to achieve, so I’ve loaded into PremierPro here a short sequence of three completed animations. Each one of these is three seconds long.

The first one is a golf ball splashing into a trap. The second one is a shot taken from the trap, and the third is a ball going in the hole. So let me play it once and then I’ll commentate on it.

Okay, so, we have a ball approaching the sand trap, and we see it spinning, and we see some motion blur around the radial part of the ball here as it rotates, giving a good moving effect.

As the ball approaches the trap we notice the sand is smooth. There is no indentation. The ball is going to impact the trap. There’s going to be a camera jerk, giving us a good feel of motion there. And then the final shot, as the camera zooms in, is the original photograph of the ball in the trap.

The second shot in the sequence is a gentleman hitting a ball out of the trap. We have a close-up view of the ball rotating away. You can see by the lettering on it there. Basically as the ball approaches the green it is getting smaller.

And then the camera pulls back. We see the ball land on the green and then roll towards the hole showing kind of a contouring effect.

You’ll also notice here the trees are moving slightly left to right relative to the foreground object. That also helps to sell kind of a moving effect.

As we look at the third shot we see the ball rolling towards the green with the camera zooming in. We see a shadow here on the ball, which is actually the original shadow from the photograph.

The ball is computer-generated, and as the ball approaches the hole it is going to hover on the edge and then, of course, drop into the hole. And that is achieved with a combination of Photoshop, layering, and very simple After Effects work.

So let’s move on and take a look at how we achieve those shots in Photoshop and After Effects. We’re looking here at the project directory, and I just wanted to briefly cover the files that we’ll be using as part of the tutorial.

So here are the three Photoshopped files. I have named three individual shots Green, Sand and Shot. These correspond directly to the three photographs we’ve chosen to animate, obviously.

Associated with those there are three After Effects files, also named Green, Sand and Shot. Inside those After Effects project files we will be applying the animation effects to the various layers created inside the Photoshop files.

And then finally I have a couple of ball files which will be used to create, in After Effects, the computer-generated three-dimensional golf ball required by this sequence.

A couple other directories here, just to highlight. I have a pictures directory where I have stored the original pictures, Green, Sand and Shot.

And also I used separate directories for any output renders we’ll be creating and for audio files, which will be applied during the final composition and rendering.

Okay, next I’d like to cover the Photoshop work required to process on these three individual shots. There are basically two steps. One step is the cutting out into layers of the foreground and background elements, and the second step is what we’ll call filling in the hole.

So firstly I’d like to show you the completed Photoshop work on the Green shot. You’ll recall this is the shot where the ball rolls across the green and then slowly drops into the hole.

Let’s take a look at how this looks in Photoshop in the Green.psd file. You’ll see here as it’s open I have four layers in the Photoshop file. I’m just going to click onto the original photograph. So, whenever I do Photoshop work I’ll have the original file and then I will process that into the various layers.

So here’s the original file with the ball and the shadow and the hole, the original photograph. I’m going to turn that off and then show you one by one the completed Photoshop layers.

Here is a layer called Hole, which actually is not the hole, but it’s a piece of grass right in front of the hole, which we will use to obscure the ball to achieve that drop-in effect you saw on the completed sequence.

Here is a layer called Background, which is basically a picture of the green with no ball and no shadow. That’s called the background shot. And then, finally, here is just a layer with just a shadow.

And it’s kind of difficult to see, but down here we have, basically just remaining, the shadow, and that’s how we’re going to animate the shadow in the final composition.

So just turning on the three visible layers we’re going to use in After Effects, Shadow, Background and Hole. In most of these compositions you’ll notice that the original layer is not turned on visible.

So this is the final Photoshop file we’re going to be using to animate this particular sequence in After Effects, and we’ll take a look at how we use those layers in After Effects a bit later.

Looking here at the Photoshopped file for the sand shot, you will notice there are, again, three layers in this particular shot. There’s an original layer, a sand layer and a ball layer. And let’s take a look into what those look like and then I’ll show you how to actually create those.

So, just looking at the original layer only, of course just the original photograph, if we just isolate and look at the sand layer you’ll see that we have removed the ball and the indentation it has created. And if we look at just the ball layer you’ll see that it’s just the ball. So, the three together would look like this.

Now, let’s see how we actually created the ball and the sand layer. So, to do that, I’m just going to go up here and delete those layers. Okay, now we have just our original layer.

We duplicate the layer; make a new layer called Sand. Okay, go back to the original layer and duplicate again, and this one we’ll call Ball.

Now, the sequence is going to be sand on the bottom, original middle, and ball on the top. Now, let’s turn off the original layer and the sand layer and we’ll first work on this ball layer.

Now, we’re going to create a layer here with just the ball so we’re going to use the selection tool. I’m going to zoom in on the layer so we can be a little bit more accurate with our selection. This is the polygon lasso tool.

And I’m basically going to run around the ball, and you’ll notice up in the top I have a one-feather pixel. I find that is usually a good feathering amount just to have not too harsh of an edge.

And I’m going to circle around the ball. It doesn’t have to be too perfect because we’re going to be using a motion-blurrer as this ball spins, and we’re also not going to be too worried about the fact that it’s not exactly round. And there’s some shadowing on the ball because that’s going to be difficult to perceive with the spin.

So I’ve got a selected ball. I’m now going to inverse that selection and I’m going to scale back out on the layer. I am then going to pick the eraser tool. I’m going to pick kind of a large brush here, and I’m basically going to erase the background sand around the ball, okay?

And, you’ll recall, when I showed you the original shot of the ball layer, this is essentially what it looked like, okay? So there’s our ball layer.

Now, to create the sand layer I’m going to turn off the visibility of the ball, turn on the sand. And what we want here is basically a sand trap without a ball and without this hard shadowing and the indentation, so the clone stamp tool is the tool of choice to make these kinds of modifications.

So I’m going to turn up the diameter to about – quite a large amount – about 300 pixels, and I’m just going to process this layer by selecting a sand spot and dragging over the ball and the indentation. And this is a typical operation as we try to process the picture to make the background, okay?

And here there’s kind of a nice contour, so I’m going to grab some of that and smooth it across. And this is a technique you can become very proficient with as you practice.

Basically looking for places in the sand using the clone stamp tool to replicate those smooth areas on top of the indentation, okay? That looks pretty good.

And I’m just going to finish up here on the top part by taking out some of these flying particles so we have a very smooth trap. And let’s take out a couple little particles down here. And I think that looks pretty good. We’ve got kind of a ridge here we’ve simulated and we’ve got some smooth-looking traps.

So that concludes the processing of the second Photoshop file. And we bring this into After Effects. We have all the layers we need to make that splash-down After Effects shot.

Okay, we’re here on the Shot Photoshop file, and I just wanted to show you how we process these layers so that we can animate them later in After Effects.

We have the original layer here. I’m going to duplicate that three times, first time calling it FG for foreground, second time calling it BG for background, and the third duplication called Flag for flag. I’m going to put the background on the bottom and I’m going to put the flag on the top with the foreground in the middle.

Now, I want to process this foreground layer first so I’ll leave it’s visibility on, turning off the others. And I’m going to use the polygon lasso tool just to select the main foreground elements, which are the golfer himself, the green, and, of course, the bunker that he is standing in, separating those elements from the background elements which essentially are going to be the trees.

I’m also going to create a layer for the flag because we might find it useful to animate that later in After Effects, so just using the lasso tool here. I always use a feather of one which gives kind of a smoother edge.

Once we’ve got that selected we can then do a select inverse, pull up the eraser tool, and we’re just going to erase the trees from this particular foreground layer, okay? Very good.

While we’re at it I’m going to zoom into the ball in this shot and I’m actually going to use the clone stamp tool, with a diameter of around 55, and I’m just going to erase the ball from this layer. Clone stamp tool, and I’m just going to erase the ball because we’re actually going to use a computer-generated ball so we don’t need that ball in there. Okay, very good.

Now, going up to the flag layer, a similar technique. I’m just going to zoom in a little bit so I can get a better selection. I’m going to do a very crude selection around the flag, and once I have that I’m just going to go in and, like before, do an inverse, pull it back out from the layer, and I’m just going to do an eraser tool and erase everything else in this particular layer.

So I’ll have a layer in After Effects with just the flag, and that will be very useful if I wanted to actually animate the flag by having the ball hit it or some other effect, maybe a windy day, something like that. Okay, so, I’ve got a foreground and a flag.

Now all that remains to process is the background layer. In order to do that, I’m going to go back to my foreground layer. I’m going to use magic wand selection here and I’m basically going to select my foreground elements.

I’m then going to come down to make the background visible and I’m going to erase those foreground elements from my background layer, okay? Essentially the opposite of the process I did before. Let’s zoom in a little bit there.

Now, I need to fill the hole, and I’m going to use the clone stamp tool to do that. And I’m also going to need to erase this flag, so I’m going to call the clone stamp tool here. I’m going to have a fairly large brush size, maybe about 300.

And I’m going to select an area, a clump of trees over here on the right side, shift/left click on the PC, and I’m just going to apply that whole clump of trees to the right side here, essentially replacing the trees behind them and filling in the hole at the same time, so very simple. Trees are much easier than some other complex geometries.

I mentioned the flag here. So, in order to replace that I’m just going to zoom in a little bit and I’m going to use, again, the clone stamp tool from an area around the flag. And I’m just going to take the brush size diameter down a little bit, and I’m just going to drag upwards. And sometimes it’s a little bit tricky as we have some trees and other items there, so I just kind of try to finesse this in a little bit.

And it looks like we’ve got fairly good removal of the flag. I’m not too happy to get a little tree there so let’s just pull down some blue sky. I think that’s going to be sufficient.

And then as we turn on all the layers you’re going to see we have just a slight gap here as the background and foreground intersect, so I’m going to go back to my background layer and I’m going to just extend it a little bit, again with the clone stamp tool.

So use a brush size of about 130, and I’m going to grab some pixels here and just basically increase the lower border there. I think that should give us a pretty seamless photo. Very good. Okay.

So if we actually go to the background and just move it, you’re going to see kind of the effect we’re going to have in After Effects with the moving background against the foreground objects which are stationary. Okay, ready for After Effects.

We’ll now move on to the After Effects work where we will use various effects to animate the layers that we have created in Photoshop files.

I’m showing here the After Effects file for the sand shot, and I have imported as a Photoshop composition the sand.psd file which brings in to After Effects a folder and the three associated layers in that file.

I’ve then dragged those down onto an After Effects timeline and they’re shown here as Ball, Original and Sand with the visibility enabled just as they were in the original Photoshop file.

You can see in my timeline I have a three-second After Effects composition, and I’m just going to scrub across the timeline so you can see how this shot works. There’s three seconds. And at two seconds I’m actually achieving the impact where I transition between the smooth sand background and the indented original picture.

And you can see that’s accomplished here by the use of the original and the sand shots, so sand is my smooth background shot here, layer three, and as I pass the impact point I’m now utilizing the original layer for the image, okay?

A couple of things to note on these three layers, they are three-dimensional layers so I’ve just toggled on the 3D layer switch for these layers, and I also have motion blur switch enabled. That’s going to give us the motion blur effect on the rotating ball.

This is a very simple After Effects animation. The only layer that actually has key-framed animation is the ball, and I’ll just take a look at how I’ve set that up.

As we look at the position keyframe you can see minus 700 in Z, and that’s basically transitioning down to impact point of zero. So that is what simulates the ball, essentially becoming smaller as it moves away from the camera in 3D space.

I also have keyframes on the scale from 209 down to 30 simulating the movement away from the camera of the ball, and I also have the rotation keyframe minus 128 at position zero, T equals zero, to a zero at T equals two seconds.

So that is what actually achieves the rotating effect of the ball, and when we render this out the motion blur will be associated with that rotation movement. So those are the very simple keyframes on the ball layer, and I do not have keyframes on the original and sand layers.

So you’re probably asking about the camera effect and the camera shake. Now, I’ve added a second composition here, which I call Polar Sand Parent, and into that composition I have simply drug the first polar sand composition basically, like, doing a pre-comp but I tend to keep them separate like this.

And in the second composition I added some of the camera movement so you can see a scale keyframe here which moves from 103 at T equals zero to 150. That is effectively the camera zoom-in effect.

And then I have here some position keyframes which are applying that camera shake effect when the ball impacts. And I’m essentially using the position of the layer to achieve this kind of shaking thing. So it’s just a few pixel movement of the entire layer that gives it that sort of camera shake effect. And that’s it.

To render this out it’s basically just adding it to the render queue and then selecting the various options and doing a render of the three-second animation.

We have here the second After Effects file of the shot. I have imported the Photoshop file and I have the associated layers here, Flag, Foreground and Background.

I have inserted another layer at the top of the sequence called ball.jpeg, which is just a jpeg file of a golf ball, and we’re using that to create our CG golf ball with the cc sphere effect. And I’ll talk more about that in the next sequence of green – the green shot.

You can see here there are some keyframes on the CG ball, basically position and scale keyframes and opacity keyframes. The opacity keyframe helps to obscure the ball and then make it more clear with an opacity of 100 as it emerges from the splashing sand here.

And then these position and scale keyframes help to simulate flying and dropping motion. You can see there at the apex of the ball we have an ease in/ease out keyframe, and then the ball comes down and essentially drops onto the green right here with this keyframe.

And, of course, the scale keyframe gives us that effect of reduction in the size as the ball travels further away. So that’s the key After Effects work on this layer.

There are some keyframes on the background layer and these are used to achieve this motion of the trees relative to the foreground elements as the sequence progresses. Those are the keyframe elements of this shot.

Just a comment about the layers in general: Because I have six mega-pixel photographs, I’m using a scale of about 30 percent. In these compositions I’m working in a PAL 720 by 576. So because of that large amount of pixel space, we have a lot of flexibility to move these layers to get the look that we want to achieve.

Okay, so, given those keyframe settings just a matter of creating a second composition, which I call the parent one, importing the first into it. And then I’m using a little bit of simulated camera work here by setting up position and scale keyframes, starting out with a zoom effect with a scale of 200.

And then this comes to a point here where the ball is in focus. I’m actually at a scale of 300 now, and I’ve got the flag and the ball, and then we’re going to achieve that camera pull-back effect here as the scale returns to 100. And then it remains that way for the rest of the shot. So this would be the composition we actually render out to get our three-second shot which we saw in the original composition.

Okay, we have here the After Effects composition for the final shot in the sequence, which is the ball rolling into the green. I’ve imported it into After Effects as a Photoshop composition, and you can see here the three layers, Hole, Shadow and Background have come into the timeline.

Again, it’s a three-second timeline in After Effects. And there’s an additional layer here, which is ball.jpeg, and that is our computer-generated ball. So to start with I’m just going to click off visibility, and we just look at the ball. And I’ll scrub the timeline here.

And you can see that this is essentially a golf ball, and it’s rolling away from the camera and then dropping. And I’d like to just cover the keyframes on this golf ball layer and show you how that works.

But first let’s take a look at the jpeg file I used to represent this computer-generated golf ball. We have here the ball.jpeg file. I created this simple jpeg file in Photoshop, and the texture of the golf ball actually extracted from the photograph we used of the ball in the trap, and I replicated it many times across.

So this is just kind of a two-by-one aspect ratio tile of a golf ball surface, and I’ve just inserted a number and my name here on the ball. And this will be used in After Effects with the cc sphere effect to create a rolling golf ball.

Just twirling down on the ball.jpeg file, I have used the cc sphere effect to create this three dimensional golf ball which can rotate. And you see here the rotation is achieved by keyframing the rotation X parameter.

So, starting at a negative 140, as the timeline progresses the rotation changes. Here we see it at minus 22 and then finally to smaller value where it stops, hovering on top of the hole. And at T-equals-two-seconds the ball then drops and we see it rotate again further down.

So cc sphere is a very useful effect to take a flat, two-dimensional jpeg file and turn it into a round object which can roll – a golf ball in our case.

Also, some keyframes on the position scale – down below here – you can see these actually achieve the reduction in size associated with the ball moving away from the camera and also the dropping motion of the ball, okay? So that covers the ball.

Let’s go back out and look at the higher level layers. We have Hole, Shadow and Background. Shadow obviously is the shadow of the ball. Let’s twirl down and just take a look at the keyframes on the shadow.

We have position, scale and opacity keyframes. The scale keyframe is fixed, so not actually changing in scale of the shadow. But we’ll see the position keyframes are moving, and these reflect the position of the shadow.

If I go back to the first frame and just move the position you can see this is the shadow from the original photograph, which was a layer in Photoshop, okay? And I’m just setting up the keyframes so it moves with the ball.

And then finally this opacity keyframe here is responsible for taking the shadow invisible. So we have an opacity of 100 percent before the ball drops into the hole, and an opacity of zero percent after. So opacity is used just to turn off the shadow.

Okay, if we look at the background layer, that is just basically the putting green surface itself. And finally, the importance of this hole layer, you’ll notice as the ball drops it is obscured, and that is accomplished by usage of the hole layer here, we call in Photoshop. This layer is actually the bit of green in front of the hole.

So by including this on the top of this composition, we can achieve that fake effect of the ball actually dropping in the hole. It’s really being obscured by the hole layer as it drops down below.

And you’ll notice here some keyframes on that, just to make this work, are the opacity. So the hole layer is not visible until the ball begins to drop and then it slowly comes in up to 100 at this point when the ball is just on the verge of dropping. Then, of course, it will obscure the ball at all points past this keyframe, okay? So that’s the ball-dropping-in-the-hole effect.

Okay, so we’ve taken a look at how to create the three three-second animations that comprise that initial sequence. I’d like now to just show you one other shot and how it can be created.

This is the original title sequence from the Polar Classic that wasn’t part of the Videomaker submission so let me just play it for you and then I’ll show you how we pulled this shot off in After Effects.

So you’re seeing here the title spelled out by a number of golfers putting golf balls across the putting green, and there’s a couple other things. There’s a shine effect and a flag waving as well.

But what I wanted to cover – and let’s play it again – is just the golf ball sequence. So we’re seeing here putters swinging from these gentlemen and golf balls being projected across the putting surface to form the title of Polar Classic, okay? So let’s take a look at that in After Effects and Photoshop and see how to achieve that shot.

Okay, we’re here in Photoshop following the same process as before. Step 1 is to set up the layers in Photoshop. We have the picture here, and you can see the layers I’ve created. And basically the background layer is the picture, and I’ve created a layer for each of the putters that is swinging in this picture as well as a layer for one of the balls.

And let me zoom in and we can take a closer look at those layers. Now, I’ll turn off the background and you can see we have hands and the putter extracted into separate layers, each putter and set of hands on its own layer.

And then we also have a ball which is a little bit difficult to see, but if I pull all the way back and turn off the background we should be able to – and turn off the ball – we should be able to see the ball. It’s right here, close to the hole. You’ll see that disappearing as I click on and off.

So that is the one ball we’re going to use and replicate many times to spell out the title. So that’s the Photoshop file, very simple to set up.

Inside After Effects we’re going to set up this shot with balls and swings compositions, so all of the golf balls on one composition, all of the swings on the others.

As I scrub the timeline you can see the balls are positioning themselves to form the letters of the title. And the reason I separated the swings from the balls is that at the end I’m using this effect called CC Page Turn to actually take the title off the screen. And that allows me to just isolate that effect to the ball layer. So those are the two parent layers.

If I drill down into the ball layer we can see here all of the balls are keyframed to move into position as we scrub through this timeline. So basically there are many layers here, I think more than 80 – 70 – approximately 73 ball layers.

I’m just going to open the very first one and have a look at how that’s set up, and that is the first ball which forms the first part of the P.

And essentially we’re setting the final keyframe position for that particular object, so it’s a matter of setting starting and ending positions for each of the ball objects.

As we pop over to the swings layer we see in this layer just the swings and the background, so if I turn off the background layer we can see just the clubs. I’ll zoom in a little bit to get a closer view of that, and you can see these are actually swinging.

And I’m going to open up one of these swings here, swing layers, and looking for that specific keyframe – it’s over here – and as I zoom in on the timeline to that you can see it’s just a keyframe on the rotation from approximately negative two to positive two achieves that particular swing for that particular club.

So it’s just a matter of keyframing the swings and the balls to create this overall interesting title effect.

That concludes this video tutorial. I hope that you have found it very useful and that some of the workflow discussions and the animation techniques could be useful to your own projects.

If you do create something interesting and cool, please post it online and drop me a note. I would love to check out your content creations. Thank you very much.

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