Inspirations: A Conversation with Michal Janowski, Stage2

Inspirations Jun 30, 2014 at 11:04 AM

Michal Janowski is a director at Stage2 Post and talks about one of their most recent projects, ‘Lemmings’, created for Metro. Check out the cool project and get some GREAT workflow tips for working with vectors from in After Effects.

If the name Michal Janowski sounds familiar, you may have seen the cool piece I featured in March 2014, Inspirations: Inherent Noise Title Sequence with Trapcode, which won a bronze award for Best Film Credits at the 2014 BassAwards. This piece is wildly different in style, but again, very interesting and stylish work. This one simply uses After Effects and Illustrator to create and animate very simplistic, yet complex scenes. 

Michele Yamazaki: Hi Michal. This animation is fantastic! First, can you tell me a little about your client, Metro, and what they wanted to achieve with the ad?

Michal Janowski: Metro is the third most read daily newspaper in Poland. It is free, handed out to commuters on streets, near subway stations or bus stops.

The goal of our promo was to communicate a lot of news about the brand:

Click for larger image (opens in new window)

example of Lemmings
example of Lemmings
example of Lemmings
example of Lemmings
  • the paper has now a wider distribution which expanded to shopping centres, cafes, fitness clubs, universities
  • it has mobile versions for tablets and smartphones
  • a new free, quarterly lifestyle magazine for women was recently introduced

All that information had to be told in a video no longer than 20 seconds, done in less than 2 weeks.

MY: Wow, that's a pretty quick turnover!

MJ: We had to find a way to make the animation process as fast as possible, without compromising the visual appeal. 

MY: Can you talk a bit about how you went from the concept to the design and how you were able to make so many characters and scenes so quickly?

MJ: Our idea was to create some kind of an urban timelapse, to show that Metro is with you the whole day, not only on your way to work or school. The character animation is based on a simple stick figure, much like those we see on traffic signs. It fitt the urban theme and was very easy to animate.

Presence on mobile devices was also very important theme for our client, so our stylistic choice wasn't far away from what we see everyday on a screen full of app icons.

Even with the simplest form we've tried to create as much character and variations as possible, to populate our tiny vector city with a lot of Metro readers. Sticking to a flat 2-color look was also a huge timesaver.

MY: I love this big graphic you sent over to describe your character rig!


Character Rig

MY: How big of team did you have on the project?

MJ: The job was done by a team of 3 persons, each one with a specific task. The first was to create all elements in Illustrator and prep them for animating in After Effects. About 30% of the vector assets were from various stock vectors, the rest was created in Illustrator from scratch, like the university or the mall. One animator was responsible just for the character animations, creating a huge library of over a 100 different citizens. They were prepared as loops on separate comps, so they could fit anywhere in the timeline. This library allowed the lead animator/compositor to place them in each scene with minimal adjustments.

Finally 3 videos were made. The main 20 second cut wasmade exclusively for cinemas, taking advantage of the large screen estate.

The second is an extended 30 second cut for web, with close-ups that reveal details on a smaller screen.

Then, there's a 10 second jingle with various character animations.

MY: I love it. It's just so much fun. Do you have any tips for After Effects users who want to try and create their own projects like this?

MJ: Here's a bonus workflow tip for animating Illustrator graphics in After Effects:

Layers work differently in Illustrator than in Photoshop or After Effects. They are more like a group in Photoshop, or a precomp in After Effects. Because every single object in Illustrator is in fact on its own layer, people tend to work in a single layer all the time. But when you import that layer into After Effects it becomes literally just one layer in AE, even if the Illustrator document has thousands of objects inside that layer.

Since After Effects CS6, there is an option to convert all contents of a single AI layer into shape layers. You might want to work with regular AE layers though. For that, you need a neat script described in this topic on Adobe Forums: How to convert groups into layers by retaining groups names. With this script at hand, you can start to think of groups as layers. Separate your artwork into groups, name your groups properly (for example head, left arm, right arm), then run the script. Every group in the active layer has been moved to a separate layer. Your AI document is ready to properly import as a comp in After Effects.

MY: That is a fantastic tip! Also, thank you for the wonderful info graphic on character rigging you sent along. 

Check out the Stage2 website to see more of their work.


Posted by Michele Yamazaki



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