In this post I will cover the two weeks we spent on special effects animation. Any animation that is not a character is considered effects animation. It usually refers to water, fire, smoke, and explosions. Special Effects animation is very different from character animation, yet follows the same principles. The first thing we covered was a flag waving in the wind. In this exercise we animated the wind, as seen by its effect on the flag. The flag follows a wave pattern. This is important because that pattern comes up again and again in special effects. The waves are created by eddies of air as it pushes the flag. To animate the wave, animate the eddies and draw the wave on top of it. Here is my flag waving cycle. The mistake I made here is having the eddies shrink in size further down the flag. This means the trough and peak of the wave are less pronounced further towards the down wind end. These should be the same size as they are on the upwind side, giving the end a snap to it.
Next we animated a water splash. Special effects animation can be very detailed. It is important to start by animating very general shapes to get the motion down before adding the detail. For this splash, I studied a slow-motion video of a rock being thrown in a lake. Also, as in all my special effects studies, I referenced Joe Gilland's great books: Elemental Magic both Volumes one and two. A splash creates sheets of water, in a shape determined by the shape of the object causing the splash, and said object's angle and rotation. When the object first hits, the water is propelled with a lot of force. This force begins as a hydrological explosion and quickly forms the shape of the splash. As the force dissipates the splash slows at the top of it's arc. Next, the water shape breaks apart as the splash falls back to earth. A secondary splash occurs as the water displaced by the object rushes back into the air pocket created by the object breaking the surface. In many cases, including the splash I studied, this is actually larger than the primary splash. It follows the same pattern of movement as the primary splash, shooting up quickly, slowing at the top of it's arc, then breaking up as it falls. Animating water is difficult because in order to make it work, it must be abstracted yet still look like water. I feel that the biggest flaw in my splash animation is failing to make the splash really look like water.
Our final special effects project was left up to us. The following clip is my project. To animate the fire, I first animated the air currents. Then I created a layer of fire shapes on top. Next, I animated red and yellow soft layers above and below those fire shapes, based on where I thought the heat would be, to flesh out the flame. The process lead to a very stylized fire. I feel my skill were not up to creating a realistic one. The motion of the explosion is similar to the splash. The initial force is very strong and creates the smoke shape quickly. The smoke shape slows down and then breaks up. It dissipates and flows upwards instead of falling back down like the splash. The smoke follows the exact same pattern as the flag wave.
I enjoyed special effects, but I am glad to be done with it and back to character animation. If I were to really devote myself to effects animation I would study fire, smoke, water, and explosions, both in motion and still images. It would take years to really learn to draw these forces, even longer to animate them. I will not be doing this study because it will not make me any better at character animation, which is my goal. However, I do feel like it is important to have at least an understanding of how special effects animation works. In the future, if I am called upon to produce effects animation, I will have some idea of how to do it. Also, there is something useful, as well as beautiful in studying the pure physics of these elements and the forces behind them.