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

Rough Comp

I created a premiere file with all the scenes linked together. I am doing some rough scene and sound editing and I put together this very rough comp.

To be an editor is.. to cut a long story short.. exactly that

Quote taken from Mark Kermode’s recent blog video on editing.

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.

Buoy – Second Animatic

I created the animatic in adobe premiere. It is based on the storyboard that I created recently in photoshop, as well as the scene that me and Natasha had drawn out on post-it notes. An animatic is essentially a moving storyboard. It can have sound as an added touch, although it is not as important really. However I find that it does add depth and I added some noises using Garageband. I prefer having sound over having a silent animatic.

During the process of creating this animatic I got a better sense of the pacing the story and could tell were I needed to take some parts out or change some parts around. I didn’t exactly stick to using images from the storyboard, I redrew some of the shots and added some extra motions made by the characters in to give a better sense of what is happening in each of the scenes.

I will show this to my team and ask for feedback. I will then use the timing and the shots to divide up the scenes into a detailed shot list, which we can mark during production to know what scenes are completed. I think this will be a very important resource.

I didn’t score any of the animatic because I plan on getting our musician Fiona to come up with a score. I will have a discussion with her soon as well hopefully.

I learnt many new techniques in Adobe Premiere, such as key framing to add movement and how to add a timecode on the footage. Premiere proved to be the quickest software to put together an animatic and make edits along the way. It may not be the best in resolution as all the images are rasterized compared to the previous animatic I did in flash, which looks a great deal smoother. Another problem I had with using premiere was that gave me an error each time I rendered out the footage and saved the file. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong or if this was a bug. I know the only way of resolving it was to save out a new version of the file each time I was making a change, which was annoying but meant that I had a lot versions incase anything went wrong with the file.

Link to storyboard: https://ollyblake.wordpress.com/2015/01/17/storyboard-second-draft/

Very early storyboard(old work): https://ollyblake.wordpress.com/2014/10/13/buoy-animated-short-update-1/

Going live – Storyboard

We are working on our going live brief from Axis Animation and I have done the storyboard. Here is a sample from the storyboard sheets. Two others from our group worked on a script so I was able to use that with short notes. I have learnt from the last time I did storyboarding to include notes. I have a numbering system and page numbers for the storyboards, which also helps when working on a large team project like this one.

Things I may have done better; I put down the shot notes and and dialogue before drawing some of the scenes. I then later regretted this as I had to spread out the storyboards, in order to draw more for the scene!


storyboard page 2

storyboard page 3

Concept for first scene
Concept for first scene