Ah, the logo. The foundation of branding. These coveted symbols are carefully crafted, marketed, and thus pushed out into the world. But how can you keep them feeling fresh, year after year?
One thing that has become tradition here at Vimeo is offering up a seasonal tweak on our logo around the winter holidays. Changing up your logo to match the seasons or specific campaigns is a fast and effective way to align your brand with current events.
This lesson takes that concept one step further. When it comes to working with logos, video editors and animators like me have a fun opportunity to add movement to otherwise static imagery. In the steps below, I’ll show you how I made a windy snowfall out of a still design.
Of course this process can (and should!) be applied to any season, or occasion.
Step 1: it’s all in the layers
The example driving this lesson comes from our lead visual designer, Zack Davenport (check out more of Zack’s work here). Zack designed our wintry logo in Adobe Illustrator. I, too, always create my original graphics in Illustrator as it’s easier to design in, and I can import all the layers to After Effects individually. But this can still be done through Photoshop if you’re more comfortable there.
When I am building something from scratch, I first decide exactly what I want to animate, and how I want it to move. I also make sure that I have each layer separated so I can animate individual elements. If this is your first time working with After Effects — or animation in general — check out our in-depth lesson to get started.
Whenever I work with an existing graphic, I make sure I have access to the original project files. If not, I rebuild it from scratch. This step is necessary, because without the original files I can’t animate my layers individually to create realistic movement. For example, the trees in the Vimeo logo wouldn’t move independently if they were all one layer.
Step 2: design in Illustrator, import to After Effects
This step is all about import settings and project organization. That might seem obvious, but you’ll be kicking yourself later if you ignore it, and find yourself deep in the animating weeds.
First, I open a new After Effects project and organize my folder structure. A well-labeled folder structure is key for After Effects success.
Next, I drag and drop my Illustrator files into their own folders. By selecting Composition for the Import Kind, and Document Size for the Footage Dimensions, After Effects will create a new composition with all the original layers inside, as well as a sub-folder with all the individual elements in the exact resolution they were designed in.
Step 3: let it snow
This is where things get tedious, but also fun!
Now that I have my composition with all its carefully layered elements, it’s time to make this graphic ~~moooove ~~. First, I highlight all the snow — but it could be leaves, hearts, musical notes, or whatever the moving feature will be. In this case, each individual flake has its own layer, so my work was cut out for me. After everything is selected, I then precompose them all into a single layer.
Our Illustrator design includes two white gradients above and below our logo. This allows the snow to dissolve into and out of the air, making it feel continuous instead of chopped up. I also make sure to extend the opaque section so the gradients are covered to the edge of frame.
In the snow pre-comp, go one by one with each individual snowflake at the top of the timeline. I start by dragging my flakes up beyond the white gradient, then scroll to the end of the timeline, and keyframe it below the bottom white gradient. I make those keyframes Easy Ease (our fave name). Easy Ease is a keyframe interpolation which ramps the speed going in and out of a keyframe, making your animation’s movement look smooth and seamless.
For the next part, I split the X & Y axis on my snowflakes. I do this by going into their Transform options, right-clicking on Position, and selecting Separate Dimensions. I repeat this step for each individual snowflake.
Now that I separated the dimensions, and my Easy Ease keyframe is at the top and bottom of my timeline, I select a snowflake and click on Graph Editor.
From here, I use the Value Graph to add realistic movement to the falling snowflakes by keeping my Y value constant, but slightly changing the value on the X axis as each flake falls. By altering these values back and forth, I can simulate the snowflakes floating left to right and back.
I do this for each snowflake, and then duplicate and offset the snow pre-comp until I reach my desired amount of snow.
Step 4: the answer is blowin’ in the wind
The next part is to decide when and where the wind should blow in the scene. First, I create a master composition — this is where all my individual snowflakes live, so I can work on them together and create a cohesive snowfall. I add the looping snow for two cycles, and for the third I copy and paste all the elements in this master comp. This allows me to manipulate a “wind cycle”. This way, if the looping snow composition is four-seconds long, there are eight seconds of falling snow, then the wind blows through around second 13 or 14, leaving us with a 16-second total loop.
For the snow blowing sideways, I simply duplicate the existing snow and the white gradients, and rotate 90 degrees. From there, I stretch the snow to cross the entire animation. The stretched snow adds to the illusion of speed in the graphic. Another way to do this is to use time-remapping to increase the speed of the snow, and then use opacity to fade it in and out, while also fading the vertical snow out and in.
To make the wind appear as realistic as possible, I keyframed the vertical snow to start moving sideways as the horizontal snow comes in, as well as when the loop faded out at the end.
Step 5: see the graphic through the trees
The tree portion of my animation is multi-layered. First, I go back into the original looping composition. One of the nicer details is having those white ornaments on the trees twinkle. But they are separate elements from the trees themselves, so in order to have the ornaments stay on the trees as I animate them, I need to smoosh them together. For each tree, I identify their corresponding ornaments and precompose them into a single layer.
The next step is scaling the ornaments up and down. In order for them to stay in place I move their anchor points over the center of each dot. From there, I determine the smallest (and largest) I want the ornaments to be. I then keyframe the scale of each ornament 75-125% in one-second intervals.
Once all the trees are shimmering with ornaments, it’s time to animate them as if the wind is blowing.
I use the Puppet Pin Tool on the trees’ pre-comps in the wind blowing segment of the master composition (not in the original tree graphic inside the pre-comps). I make three pinpoints: one at the base of the tree, one in the middle, and one at the top.
Keyframe the position of the top pinpoint to bend back and forth as the wind blows in and then stops. Do this for each tree.
In this case, less movement is more. You don’t want to over-exaggerate, just create something subtle that gives the idea of a gust blowing through. It takes some finesse to get the trees to look like they’re bending in the wind and not stretching. A little patience — and trial and error — and you’ll get it!
Step 6: make it a GIF
In order to get the graphic to loop infinitely, I make it into a GIF. Photoshop is an easy, straightforward way to do this.
Export the Master Comp as ProRes 422 (HQ). From there, go into Photoshop and go File > Import > Video Frames to Layers.
Once the video is in there, it’s as simple as going File > Export > Save For Web (Legacy).
Now, I select GIF, make sure my dimensions correct, and that my settings match my needs. Then I save, which exports my GIF. From there you can upload to your favorite image host (I like GIPHY and imgur), and share and embed to your heart’s content.
Summing it up
Animating still graphics can be challenging, but the personality they bring to your images is always worth a little extra effort! If you mix up your logo now and then, and put the right meaning behind it, this can be something people look forward to. So, take my process and apply it to your Valentine’s / Holiday / National Koala Day designs. The key is to plan everything out, layer correctly, and make sure your first and last frames are identical to give it that warm, fuzzy, continuous loop.
Lastly, always remember that when it comes to animation, less can be more. Oh, and have fun with it, peeps!
Looking for a more in-depth dive on design and animation? Check out this lesson on designing in Illustrator and converting to After Effects. Or check out Video School for a trove of handy post-production lessons.