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Animation with Adobe Premiere Pro

Saturday, September 19 2009 @ 03:46 PM UTC
Contributed by: Jimbo
Views: 1,771

This article describes the trials and tribulations associated with animating a short film using Adobe Premiere Pro.

Ah frame animation, how I love thee so! One can easily get lost in the process of slowly, carefully assembling 15 individual frames to yield one second of screen time. I think Studio Ghibli must have at least one psychologist on staff to keep the interns from leaping out the windows. But the motion you end up with makes all the effort worthwhile. Take a look at this clip from Ponyo and you'll see what I mean. The water moves like it has a purpose, not like some particle simulation.

Long ago I took on a project that required I hand draw every single frame. When it came time to commit the frames to film I had a stack of cells that was over five feet high. The monumental hassle of dealing with physical cells pretty much convinced me to stick with computer-based animation from that day forward. In the ensuing years a number of 2-D animation programs came and went, but none had the power or control of my favorite program, Adobe Photoshop. Then Adobe came out with Creative Suite 3, a release in which Adobe Photoshop files could finally be integrated into Adobe Premiere Pro projects. Had I finally entered Nirvana?

The integration of Adobe Photoshop into Adobe Premiere is extraordinarily tight. Once a Photoshop image is placed in a Premiere timeline, that image can be clicked on and the Photoshop user-interface will launch. You can then edit the image in Photoshop and see the effects of your work on the movie in real time. So it's kind of a dream come true.

The only drawback to animating in this fashion is that the developers at Adobe never, ever considered that a filmmaker would have thousands of elements in a project. Well, to be fair, there probably were a few developers sitting around saying,"You know if you ship this it will totally blow up at around 10,000 elements." And then some program manager said to the developers,"Get back in your cave! What? You guys talk? I thought we only hired deaf-mutes around here."

In my sample project I have a new element every 2 frames, so the total element count is pretty high. After a few thousand elements Premiere simply will not start up. I literally have to go get coffee and come back 15 minutes later to see if the program has finally opened. There are some ways to work around this. Adobe allows for timelines inside of timelines, so to get around the element limitation you can actually work on a few smaller projects and then assemble them together at the end. The only problem with this is knowing when you've reached the end. Once all the scenes come together you'll want to keep tweaking the animation, but the beast you have stitched together cannot be easily tamed.

There are some tricks for taming the beast. Adobe employ a caching algorithm that allows you to easily work with the elements you have recently seen. So you'll need to watch the section of animation you want to work with a couple of times first, in order to get it loaded into memory. At that point you can make changes and see the results, but only in that section. The rest of the project will still playback in a jittery manner.

If programming key frames is like a soft summer wind then frame by frame animation is a tornado that rips up a trailer park. The sheer scale of the challenge can level whatever resources you throw at it. While Adobe has not created the world's greatest frame animation package, they are certainly getting close. Hopefully in Creative Suite 4 they can start to work some of these kinks out.

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