BUOY wins best combined animation award at dingle 2016

This year down at dingle there were lots of great animations on display, lots of smoozing with some of the top guys in the irish animation industry, such as John Rice(Jam Media), Barry O’donoghue(Barley Films) and Paul Young(Cartoon Saloon). And on top of all that BUOY walked away with the award for “Best Combined Animation”, Not too shabby! award animation dingle 2016


BUOY – Final production report

Buoy has finally reached completion! this is a final analysis of the production and what I have learnt during it. I suppose it might come in useful for myself in the future to see how I’ve developed my skills but might come in handy for someone else planning to start their own independent short animated film.


Buoy was the biggest animated production undertaken by me, as a novice animator becoming a master qualified animator. Taking on roles, such as director, concept, storyboards, backgrounds, animator, editor and 3d animator. One of the main ambition behind this project has been telling a convincing story. So the important stages for me were

  • storyboarding
  • concept art
  • animatics
  • Editing

The story is told without a narration or dialogue between characters it is purely expression and actions.

The other ambition was to turn watercolour storybook style illustration into 2d animation. So the important stages for this were

  • character design
  • line tests
  • backgrounds
  • 3D texturing
  • compositing

What I learnt so far is that preparation is very important. It helps me in understanding the story so that I can explain the story to others. Because I had a team it was necessary that I could explain what was happening for all stages of production. During preproduction I found that it was never right to lock things down early on because there is always someone there to tell you something that will improve the story. I would sketch the storyboards on my own but also go through them with my other animators to see if they made sense.

Inspiration for the film
Inspiration for the film

Production overview

I want to talk about the production. I decided to use Flash to do my animation early on because of its integration with After Effects and how simple it was to work with SWF in After Effects. This was a great time saver. I know it was less fussy than using other software like TVpaint or toon boom were I’d have to export image sequences and import them to after effects.

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Here is the breakdown of the flash animation. I did the rough animation and then clean lines using the pencil tool. I liked using the pencil tool because of the clean lines and it’s ability to be adjusted after drawing. I would fill the colours on the same layer because there was no need to have them on a separate layer. I chose to use the brush tool to rough in the shadows, this was a style choice, which fitted with the watercolour look. It resembles what happens when colour drys in one area.
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I wanted dynamic backgrounds, which shifted with the camera movement. This was done with a parallax technique of dividing the background mid-ground and foreground and setting them in 3d space within After Effects. I could then place a camera and have it pan across giving the illusion that the environment had more depth to it.
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Here is a good example of one of the underwater backgrounds, which has that parallex effect. I set up the background, mid-ground and foreground as layers in photoshop and imported the PSD into After Effects retaining the layers.  Semester 3 Presentation_Page_06

3D Background (Boat)

I have talked many times about the 3D background. Basically I modelled and UV’d the boat in Maya, then printed off the UV’s and painted the texture by hand using a lightbox.
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There were 2 render passes which I used for all the 3d boat scenes and they are the texture pass and the depth pass for the fog effects in After Effects. You may notice the bright colours; green and magenta, these were keyed out in After Effects so they could be replaced by a 2d Texture. This is a technique I was inspired to use from “Song of the Sea”.Semester 3 Presentation_Page_08

There were many uses for the graph editor in both Maya and After Effects. For instance I created a wave curve in Maya that rocked the boat smoothly like it was on the sea. Semester 3 Presentation_Page_12


Something I learnt from reading about story writing or watching tutorials was how to link actions. Once you understand that the scenes are not just a series of events.

It shouldn’t be…

This happens ‘THEN‘ this happens ‘THEN‘ this happens

Thats too predictable and boring it should be more like..

This happens ‘HOWEVER‘ this happens ‘THEREFORE‘ this happens

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You can see how its working for these connected scenes, without much explaining. In example 1 the boy is looking through the spy glass HOWEVER he drops it THEREFORE he ends up in this scenario were he’s falling off the boat! And because we know that this method works we can make it go faster and link in something else. While that’s going on, in example 2 the wheel spins and releases the buoy THEREFORE the crab pot drops into the water HOWEVER the boy goes in after it. This is because the mind can make these connects quickly when watching the scenes.

 Storyboard Comparison

Here is how some of the storyboarded scenes resemble next to the final shot. At the start I didn’t know exactly what the fog effects would look like.

Semester 3 Presentation_Page_15 I added more to the last shot like the seagull looking at the boy and the crab pots stacked up, to suggest that they had caught a lot of crabs.

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What I have now I am pleased with and I think it has all the strong visual set pieces I wanted to include. I have been able to achieve so much and it’s been a pleasure just learning a lot of new skills.

What I have learnt…

  • Editing starts in preproduction that is just the nature of animation. You have to edit and get timings right from the start. It is too late to be dealing with editing in mid production never mind post!
  • Have a very clear terminology. It might seem simple but I was confused about what: animation vrs keyframing was or inbetweening and rough animation etc. And it’s even more confusing for people that I am dealing with if I use a name for something out of context.
  • There should be more than one solution to anything in production.
  • Don’t end up relying on one person to get one thing done, which is holding up production. In a team of 5 this is never a good situation. People can sometimes not be easy to access and you might be waiting for them to get something done. I have found that in these moments its wise to have something else to get you occupied and just trust that they will get back to you.
  • I have up skilled in the following applications: Maya, After Effects, Premiere, Flash and photoshop

BUOY – Giant crab puppet after effects

To create a believable moving flat giant crab I needed to split up the watercolour illustration within photoshop. I first colour adjusted the image, then I masked out the limbs and body using the pen tool, making sure to leave a bit extra where the limb overlaps with the body*.

The scanned in image, I cleaned and cropped each limb in photoshop.
The scanned in image, I cleaned and cropped each limb in photoshop.

I then bring the PSD file into After Effects retaining layers from composition. The layers are named correctly so its easy to identify each part. Then with layer constrains and the pin tool within After Effects I am able to “rig” the giant crab puppet.

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Here is a video demonstrating the movements of the body I can now perform ready for animation.

*the reason for this is to prevent there being a gap during limb rotation

Rotoscoping dilema!

So to capture more of a 2d look I was planning to rotoscope the 2 scenes of the boat in wide shot. But it is taking a large amount of my time and my desk is a mess because of it!

Look at the crazy mess!
Look at the crazy mess!
adjusting the curve gets rid of some of the paper shadow but I think I'll have to be doing something more than that..
adjusting the curve gets rid of some of the paper shadow but I think I’ll have to be doing something more than that..

I am starting to look at the alternative, which is tracking. I think that both have problems with keeping the lines constrained to the sides and angles of 3d boat. I think that there is a charm to rotoscope that tracking doesn’t have.



Maybe with the animated characters the rotoscope will become distracting? I have a couple of reasons now why I would choose not to use rotoscoping and reasons why I should keep doing it. The last scene is the most complicated being that it has a ‘zoom out’ and rotoscoping that would mean 150 drawings or so. It might be time to take the alternatives a bit more seriously.

Working with a 3D interaction in Flash

We are heading now into the last month of production on this year long film project and it’s all stations a go! Working with 3D animation and combining it with 2D isn’t easy, the only logical way of doing it quickly but in the right way; is using the 3D animation as reference and then animating the 2D on top.

But how would I get a 3D rendered scene into flash, I asked myself. Luckily I made a discovery with flash that it could handle exported image sequences! (This isn’t made obvious at all in the menus within flash)

'Import to stage' is how you import a sequence of images onto your timeline
‘Import to stage’ is how you import a sequence of images onto your timeline
select just the first image in the sequence and then after you've clicked 'Import' it will pop up with a message stating that this image is part of a sequence and do you want to import the sequence.
select just the first image in the sequence and then after you’ve clicked ‘Import’ it will pop up with a message stating that this image is part of a sequence and do you want to import the sequence.

Once I had the 3D as a layer I could animate the 2D character frame by frame. For the scene the old man is turning the wheel and his hands have to look as if he is pulling the 3D object around.

And this is the end result. The 2D layer on top of a 3D reference layer that is exactly like the final 3D rendered scene
And this is the end result. The 2D layer on top of a 3D reference layer that is exactly like the final 3D rendered scene

This is all the layers combined look in flash test

BUOY – Using thumbnails

I have filled several pages of my note book with little thumbnail size shots that design the flow of the visuals. Doing quick thumbnails helped me resolve the story and edit it in a lot of ways. I took a lot out but added scenes to join up a not so clear links between images.
After I had it all worked out I did a storyboard and breakdown which I printed and stuck on a board in the studio. I have a colour system to track the stages of production as well as marking the scenes that are high risk because of the amount of work involved.