Final Project: Animatic

The Man and the Tree

Story Synopsis

A poor man chances upon a magical tree that bears jewellery. He sells it for some good money, and realises the profitability of his enterprise. His wealth amasses and he soon forgets his humble roots. Where would his greed take him?


As I worked on a graphic novel layout for the previous project, I did not have any storyboards to work with. While this means that I essentially need to start from scratch, it also means that I could play around with a different mood and style from the one I did for the graphic novel — which I did. But first, I had to trim the story. The original story was way too complicated and the story beats were extremely concise. There was no way I could pull that story off in a limited amount of time. As such, I shortened the story by removing the parts about his relationship with his friends and his transformation after his wealth vaporised.

I drew my storyboards digitally on photoshop. I chose an earthly, warm monochrome colour scheme to reflect the passions of the main character, as well as to establish a subtle relationship to the earth/forest/tree. I also felt that the clay-like, subdued colours also fit well with the idea of an ancient China setting with the 尘土飞扬 feels. On a similar note, I used a sort of chalky brush throughout the storyboards to evoke the same feeling.


The drawing process is straightforward. I usually start with a pinkish canvas, and then work forwards — from the background to the foreground in separate layers. I tried to keep the style consistent throughout by using the same colour palette and brush.

I chose to imply some scenes instead of explicitly drawing them out. This is the case for the part where the protagonist was about the cut the tree down.

I felt that to flesh out the entire scene of repeated chopping of the axe till the felling of the tree would be too drawn out and unnecessary. Thus I wanted to experiment with implied movements here.

To animate the scenes, I used either premiere pro or after effects. Simple keyframes were added for the motion. In the example below, I manipulated the positions of the hands and the fruit to animate the hand reaching out to pick the fruit up.

While premiere pro worked fine for most animations, the excessive layering of assets was cluttering the work space so much that I moved over to after effects sometimes so that I can add the animations into premiere pro as individual video clips that were already pre-animated. This usually applies to scenes that have a foreground, midground and background, which I find to be neater and easier to do on after effects rather than stack three layers on premiere pro.

For example, in the scene where fruits were piling up in the wheelbarrow, it would have been a big headache if I have 10+ layers on premiere pro and have to plough through one by one. It was a lot clearer for me to animate on after effects and then transfer the exported video over to premiere pro.

Panning shots were done by drawing the scenes on a longer/wider canvas.

Example of a panning shot

Audio wise, I first added the sound effects so that the character has a basic expression and movements such as the rustling of clothes can be understood by the viewer. The sound effects also help the viewer integrate into the scene. For instance, an airy forest ambience is added at the start to set up a mysterious forest atmosphere.

After which I sourced for sound tracks to accompany the scenes. This was very difficult for me because the story has many varied moods and it was hard to get the different sound tracks to be compatible with each other and come together as a cohere music accompaniment for the entire video.

Lesson learned

I think the animatic could be more elaborate towards the end; the storyboards are more sparse then. Scenes were switched when they could be fleshed out even further. I am also quite unsatisfied with the music choices as I feel that some sound effects don’t match that well and that some music tracks do not match the scene as well as I would have wanted. Also, perhaps there can be better music transitions other than the basic fade in and fade out.

As I completed bulk of the storyboards in one (very long) sitting, I realise that this can easily cause one to forget to vary the camera angles/ choose interesting compositions. Perhaps this is why there was a storyboard assignment preceding this project — so that we can plan out most of our shots and decide whether those compositions can make it. Working on panel after panel without seeing the whole picture can end you up with less-than-interesting shots. I do feel that I can improve my animatic with more dynamic camera angles, movements and compositions.

It was rather difficult to pace the video and match the audio together. When I did the first cut, it was awkward in every possible way. Some scenes were too fast, some were too slow, some had uncomfortably loud audio,  and some don’t even match the audio at all. I abandoned the first cut, and worked the images/videos in tandem with the audio in the next attempt. This turned out to be better — it seems to be easier to plan and pace the story.

And of course, one other takeaway will be time management. I couldn’t estimate how long it will take to execute what I had in mind and thus I was overly ambitious even when it was clear to anyone else that it will be impossible to finish. While the storyboards were drawn a lot quicker than I thought, it was the audio that I did not anticipate. It was a lot tougher than expected to find suitable sound effects and sound tracks, especially since in many cases I only have an inkling of the mood I want to portray. Having to rush the entire project from scratch in 2 to 3 days also explains why the storyboard become less elaborate towards the end — quite a regret but it was out of my means. Perhaps a simpler story should be chosen next time ?


In all honestly, I am happy with what I made, even though I’m still rather disappointed that I didn’t complete in time. This is my first animatic and its really amazing to see my drawings string together to tell a story. Truly grateful for the very fruitful semester!

Self Portrait — The Story of My Life

The Story of My Life:


With the theme self-portrait, I wanted explore my relation with books and how it has shaped who I am. I’ve always loved to read when I was young, be it English or Chinese books. Some books have left particularly strong impressions on me and I’d revisited them over and over again, always finding something new each time. As such, I wanted to express my lifelong relationship with books — not just a specific phase of my life but the evolution of my relationship with them. Thus, I chose to depict my relationship with books chronologically.

The first stage would of course be to identify the books that I want to use. I came up with the following list:

  1. Piggy Book by Anthony Browne
  2. Lily of the Forest by Brian McConnachie
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  5. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
  6. Perfume by Patrick Suskind
  7. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
  8. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  9. The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin
  10. 金庸武侠小说 by 金庸 (actually a pity that I didn’t add this in hmmm)

Eventually, I settled on 4 books:  Piggy book, The Little Prince, To Kill a Mockingbird and Perfume.

Having decided on the gist, I decided to express the chronology by presenting them in a literal picture of a timeline — where I walk through scenes and through time.The motifs of the books are deliberately drawn out in an absurd and almost surrealist style— to symbolize the fact that while they may have shaped me, I have retained my own unique understanding and takeaways from them. The constructed book world becomes a literal representation of my internalisation of the books. This is seen in the repeated emphasis of peculiar items, such as the nose in Perfume. The background was layered in space to provide depth and an illusion of parallax scrolling when moved to the left.

inspiration and reference

At the beginning when I was still undecided on the style and mood and presentation of the video, I chanced upon @thegalshir instagram, whose simple animated illustrations really caught my eye. It was then that I decided to make my video in a similar sort of surreal, quiet atmosphere.  However, I didn’t quite manage to get the minimalist feel.

I was inspired by the way the video “Community Standards – Facebook” convincingly presented a parallax scrolling effect. Some inspirations that I added include the scrolling “text” floor to make the characters look like they are actually walking across ‘something’, as well as indications of a ground (eg rocks) here and there.

Community Standards – Facebook

My colour scheme was heavily inspired by “Supergirl”. I also really liked the animation and transitions :”)



Storyboards were more loosely drawn because there is no need for a clear visual image of each frame since the placement of individual motifs are isolated and unrelated. I was more interested in identifying the main motifs and deciding the position of particularly important ones.

Drawing process

I drew each book world on 7880 x 1080 px canvas on photoshop and layered each element so that I can animate them individually when I move over to after effects.

You can see that each asset has a separate layer here

Each world has a distinct dominant colour. More than just a transition in hue, it also represents how I feel about it. For instance, I chose green for To Kill a Mockingbird because I read it as a coming of age novel and it had a very formative influence on me in terms of shaping my moral view. Thus, it symbolises a period of personal growth and maturity, and green resonates best with that.

I placed bookshelves to mark the transition between books and phases of my life. Each shelve is different in that it depicts stuff that I was engaged with at that point in time (eg diapers, Pri 1 math book or JC Physics). It also foretells the mood of the next scene.

For the scrolling text on the ground, it was literally a long stretch of text that was scrolled past. Excerpts were chosen from each book.

Here is one example of an excerpt I extracted from Perfume. It’s amazingly descriptive and I can’t imagine how the original text is like when the translated version is already so exquisite:

His discerning nose unraveled the knot of vapor and stench into single strands of unitary odors that could not be unthreaded further. Unwinding and spinning out these threads gave him unspeakable joy. He would often just stand there, leaning against a wall or crouching in a dark corner, his eyes closed, his mouth half open and nostrils flaring wide, quiet as a feeding pike in a great, dark, slowly moving current. And when at last a puff of air would toss a delicate thread of scent his way, he would lunge at it and not let go. Then he would smell at only this one odor, holding it tight, pulling it into himself and preserving it for all time.

Moving on to character design, there were actually 7 characters initially (I was crazy).

I outfitted them based on what I wore during that point of my life, e.g. 3rd and 4th girl in Tao Nan School pinafore, 5th girl in Nanyang Girls’ uniform, and 6th girl in Hwa Chong uniform.

The crawling baby was animated using the puppet tool. Pins were added to her torso, head and limbs and then individually keyframed. This took way longer than I thought because she was just flopping around with arms at weird angles at the start. It only started to make more sense after I studied some baby crawling videos online (which I really should have done first). 

The walk cycles for the other characters were created using Adobe Character Animator which I happen to see its tutorial on when I was learning the puppet tool. It was a lot more straightforward than I thought — match the part of the body to the software’s preset and the software will animate the walk cycle for you. However, I think this is a tool that should be seen as a short cut when you don’t have enough time because honestly the walks are still quite awkward even after experimenting many times with different placement of the pins and manipulating the behaviour. On a different note, the dynamic link between photoshop and character animator and after effects was extremely helpful when I had to go back and edit the character for whatever reasons.

When I transferred the photoshop files to after effects, I’m not sure why but the sequence of the layers will be reversed. As such, I could only resolve that by adopting this weird naming convention of ‘front’, ‘mid’, and ‘back’ so I roughly know how to resequence them in the right format.

To achieve the illusion of space and the parallax scrolling effect, I arranged the individual assets such that some are nearer to us and some are further. As seen from the top view, the elements are all spaced out. I then used the 3D cameral tool to scroll from left to right. However, this was an extremely tedious process as I had to rearrange the elements again, and because the elements near the front will scroll past faster (hence need to space out even more).

The scrolling text was actually a big headache because I couldn’t bare to leave the words unreadable for the viewer but at the same time I didn’t want it to be occupying even more attention when there is already a lot of things happening. As such, there were a million attempts of the same text but in different font, different colour, different font size, different width of the entire text box, and different orientation on the 3d plane. I’m just glad I found what I wanted.

Music wise, it was straightforward — I chose them based on the mood of the book.


I am very satisfied with the final product, especially since it was very tedious and time-consuming. It was really cool to see stuff that you drew coming to life. I particularly like the little prince sequence as it looks really surreal and the sense of space is stronger. The music was a good choice too. That said, if I were to improve this further, I will improve the pacing of the scenes — seems too long (almost boringly so) at the front before transiting into the book world, and the assets nearer the front flash by too fast in some cases. I will also introduce simple animation to the assets surrounding the character so that it is more interactive and immersive.

And also, thanks Erwin for the ultra-clear and helpful lessons this semester!!!