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.

Semester 3 Presentation_Page_03

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.
Semester 3 Presentation_Page_04


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.
Semester 3 Presentation_Page_05

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.
Semester 3 Presentation_Page_07

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

Semester 3 Presentation_Page_14

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.

Semester 3 Presentation_Page_16


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 – 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.

Storyboard second draft

Having finally come to a conclusion on the story of ‘BUOY’ I have completed the storyboard needed for production. On to colour storyboarding and animatic!

This semester is for reflection on practice so I will be doing posts in more detail to go over what I feel went well, what I could have done differently and what I am going to do next.

  1. I feel that I managed to get a clear visual of each of the scenes and they have tone. The storyboard isn’t going to change much after this.
  2. What I could have done better would be adding notes while I was drawing the scene. When discussing the storyboard with my production manager and lead animator, it wasn’t as obvious to them what was happening.
  3. Next I will look at perhaps improving some scene transitions and do the next storyboard in colour!

storyboard 0 storyboard 1 storyboard 2 storyboard 3 storyboard 4 storyboard 5 storyboard 6 storyboard 7


Me and Slava(Project Manager) worked out a timeline for our project. I used coloured postit notes to mark the start of one process and the another colour to represent the end. We had a descussion on how many weeks it will take to animate each of the scenes and in what order we should animate them.

The timeline for BUOY
The timeline for BUOY
some notes slava has taken
some notes slava has taken
more of Slava's notes
more of Slava’s notes

BUOY animated short – update #2

Lately I have been doing some tests with water colour and gouache for the scenes. I am still learning painting, you may have noticed my water colour sketches. I hope that you see some progress in my learning. I will have more painting and an animatic in a later update for the film. thanks for viewing

character boy

Scan 23

using some gouache to emphasise the dark sky
using some gouache to emphasise the dark sky
experiment of underwater scene
experiment of underwater scene
sun set on sheep island
sun set on sheep island
silhouette of a seagul
silhouette of a seagul
imaging where the line is helped produce some interesting results
imagining where the line is helped produce some interesting results