Duke of Uke: My GIF

Although I’ve never desired to throw myself head first into the deep end of animation, I had always fully intended to dip my toes a little, so, naturally, making my first GIF seemed like a good way to get a feel for animation techniques without needing a dedicated team of staff to animate around the key frames. Heaven forbid I ever do it all myself! I went online and searched for GIFs and how to make them. After watching quite a few of them, I decided it was essential to have a GIF that looped in on itself.

I had intended to use the crow-man mascot as a key character and wanted to take the opportunity to use my inherent illustration style, which isn’t always visible in my work (at least how I perceive my ‘style’). I figured the crow should play a ukulele to a small gathering of people, promoting inclusiveness and fun and all that, and that, as he was playing, the camera would go down his throat and all the way at the end of the tunnel would be the original scene of the crow-guy playing the ukulele to a small gathering of people.

It was something of a gamble going in for this. Simple knowledge of photoshop will familiarise you with the concept of layers, which when I explain what they are, I usually compare them to the acetate layers used in traditional hand drawn animation. I presumed, with my moderate knowledge of the program, that I could use that infrastructure in such a way, and after establishing the key frames, as one does in animation, fill in the gaps in movement using photoshop’s opacity options as a makeshift light-box.

My assumptions bore fruit and I was able to end up with a GIF which was not so far off what I had imagined in my head. It is worth noting that in photoshop, solid foundations bare the heaviest loads; the way I constructed the characters and applied block black was not optimal. As a result, I had to redraw several key frames to facilitate the slight movements I had planned. And as always, failure to ensure that you’re working on the right layer at all times will lead to disaster.

I had always intended that the GIF be black and white, perhaps with a hint of red for the bow tie. This would have suited the existing representations of crow men on the Duke of Uke website. I believe it also dramatically simplified the corrections I had to make when something needed to be redrawn. It would have been great to offer a full colour alternative, since presenting a variety of options is good professional practice, but there’s what you want to do and what you have the time and skill to do before the deadline.

At the end of the project, Matt and Paul from the Duke of Uke came into the university to see what all the students had done. After seeing mine, they gave me some helpful feedback. Firstly, the frame by frame speed was perhaps too long and should be shortened. Matt said that he was really looking forward to where this thing was going to end up, once the camera went down the crow’s throat, but was a little disappointed to see it just loop back on itself. To the first comment I would reply that I animated the whole thing out of photoshop, so I suspect my frame by frame options were more limited than if I had animated it in another program. That said, since photoshop is one of the core programs I use, I reason it was worth using this old war horse in a new way, for my own future reference. Of course, I’m not against changing the speed or anything, you can only do your first thing once, right? As for  Matt’s comments, I had really only conceived of the GIF as a technical test. The core parameters for success were that the animation frames were all in the right order and that it looped back on itself seamlessly. His idea that it should lead somewhere else opens up the possibility of turning the GIF into a series of sorts, with the destination always being different, like linking to a new product on sale, or to the same scene, but with variations, like more crow guys, or more people in the crowd.

My Duke of Uke GIF
My Duke of Uke GIF

The absenteeism which plagued some other projects took its tool here as well. Had I been present regularly, I would have been able to make those improvements instead of just talk about them. I still can, of course, but just not in time to be marked on them.

All in all, a very useful, enjoyable project, which helped me achieve one of the primary goals I had, when I enrolled on this illustration course: to do a little animation and not die of exhaustion in the process. This is definitely something to revisit in the future.