The sheer variety and depth of detail that can be created through text animation in After Effects is one of the aspects of the program I find most appealing, so this particular project was quite exciting. In choosing what text to work with, I knew I wanted to use one of my original poems, as animating my own writing struck me as a fascinating challenge. I began by quickly selecting three of my already written and polished poems for more detailed consideration. Two of the three are slam poems in a very direct, personal, confrontational style. One of these, Bias Society, is a reflective piece on gun violence, and the other is an untitled piece in the style of an open letter, written as an assertion of self-identity in claiming the label autistic. Both of these poems are deeply personal and rather emotionally fraught, and once I determined that I was more interested in working on lighter subject-matter at the time, I decided to work with the third poem, Roses. Roses is a Shakespearean sonnet, written as a playful allegory, and is one of my favorite poems I have ever written, so it was a rather ideal choice overall.
In my ideation process, I began by going through the poem line by line, thinking about how I would visualize the feelings and rhythm that the sonnet evokes in my mind, and making notes on how I might go about animating those things. While brainstorming for the animation of my poem, I focused on emphasizing motifs in the imagery I sought to create. These motifs include that of the sprout effect indicating that text refers to one of the types of flowers, and the background reflecting the shift in seasons over the course of the poem. I was extremely conflicted over what sort of sound to use in this piece. I normally strongly prefer to work with music, but my sonnets have a very definite sound and rhythm in my mind, one with which any music would inevitably conflict. Eventually, I settled on using subtle background sound effects, in order to very gently reinforce the theme of changing seasons, without detracting from the poem’s inherent rhythm.
I personally find that every font feels different to me, and so I put a lot of thought into what fonts I would use. The baseline font, Nueva Std Italic, is meant to be smooth and flowing, like the patterned structure of a sonnet, without being too complex, so as not to distract from animations and other imagery. The two accent fonts, Script MT Bold for emphasis and Courier New for orderliness, are each used very sparingly, in order to better convey the meaning of specific phrases. The roses font, Lucida Calligraphy, is one that I find evocative of aristocratic mannerisms, chosen to subtly convey that the roses in the poem are representative of a ruling class, in the poem’s allegorical structure. As I was unsatisfied with any fonts available on my computer already for the wildflower and weather fonts, I went looking for fonts which are evocative of nature online, eventually deciding on LiveLaughLove for wildflowers, and Virginia Sky for weather. The irregular size and sans-serif letters of LiveLaughLove, along with its slightly rough edges, felt just wild enough to evoke the transgressive feeling of encountering wildflowers, while still being readable. The plentiful loops and feathering of Virginia Sky felt evocative of clouds and the sense of changing weather to me, making this font perfectly suited for weather.
Once I moved from ideation into animating this poem in after effects, I found it was both incredibly time consuming and highly engaging. Most of my time in the software was spent working without sound, as the rhythm of the project is fundamentally independent from the sound elements. Through this process, I noticed that I tend to compress my effects over a shorter amount to time than I initially anticipate, which made my project short but very dense.
Figuring out how to animate text around the path of an irregular image in a way that looked sufficiently smooth, as I did for the phrase “By touch of human hand”, was especially challenging. I first tried to convert the image of the hand to a path in illustrator, but quickly realized that the outline without the image made for a very strange looking animation in after effects. I then made several iterations of the image of the hand in photoshop, eventually determining, through trial and error, that leaving whitespace inside the hand for contrast, and some whitespace between the fingers to smooth the path for animation purposes, worked best.
The animation of the line pictured above was also quite challenging. I knew from the start that I definitely wanted the phrase “The roses’ shadow” to be in ray traced 3D, which was a bit of a pain to work with, but not the main challenge. I originally intended to use the shadow of the actual words “The roses’ shadow” as the shadow element in this scene, before realizing while working with the image that that isn’t how shadows in after effects work. I improvised, making the shadow shapes from inverted, curved star shapes, and lowering the opacity of the shape layer so it looked like a shadow. This improvisation allowed me to layer text on top of and underneath the shadow layer, creating a subtle darkening effect on certain words.
Upon reflection, while this project has been incredibly time consuming, I am reasonably happy with the result. I was able to produce a satisfactory approximation of what I imagined in my ideation, and did not encounter any problems that I found insurmountable along the way.
Update: Conference Edits
My goal in editing my Kinetic Text project was to refine the composition, making it more fluid in general, and making the transition section smoother and less awkward. The first step I took in doing this was to get feedback on the first version of the composition from several people. This feedback indicated that text transitions were too fast on two of the lines, such that I needed to extend their animation over more time, some of the green text did not contrast enough with the background, the transition section was too long and slow, and the sound transition was not noticeable enough. Implementing changes based on this feedback was straightforward, the challenge coming from learning how to change the timing of one section, while not impacting the timing of subsequent sections. I also realized I could pre-render individual precomps during this process, and this was extremely helpful, as it allowed me to reduce the strain on my computer’s resources from such a large and complex composition, drastically reducing overall time spent rendering, and preventing further After Effects crashes. Overall, I’m quite satisfied with the finished composition. As it was my first time doing detailed text animation work, I’m very pleased at the degree to which the composition resembles what I initially imagined while brainstorming, and look forward to using the skills I learned in future projects.
I am not a writer, but I chose to write text that describes myself so that I would be happy with my words. I decided to explain “where I am from?” through this work because this question has bothered me and my family all the time. I felt awkward, embarrassed, annoyed by answering this question because my answer is so specific and detailed that might put stress on the people who are asking. However, it is necessary to explain myself to meet new people as I move to different places almost every year. I thought creating a video for this question I encounter frequently could be a wise and fun solution.
The title and the palette are representational of the text. I named the piece “Tillandsia”, the Latin name for Air plant, a kind of plant that has no root. I thought I share the similarity of not having a fixative “root”, or a “home”, with the plant. In addition, I had one air plant in my room. I appreciated its accompany, so I want to dedicate this piece to my air plant too. I kept the palette for the piece to be black and white because these colors are either a result of mixing all the colors or having no “color” in it. This is the same as my hometowns. I can from everywhere, but nowhere.
I kept the whole piece the minimalism style because I wanted to try making something “clean” instead of the complex effect combination in the first prompt. I find limiting myself with certain fonts, effects, pattern and motion to be very useful in organizing a long piece. It can make my piece feel more polished and finished instead of a project made by a beginner in after effects who wants to try out all the cool things. I intended to let the audiences to focus on the meaning of the words and the graphics. Moreover, by doing this, the visual effect will incorporate with the music very well. In this video, I used regular and alternating rhythms frequently. I have my words contrasting in the direction of up and down, left and right, clockwise and counter clockwise. I repeated the rotating and typewriter motion throughout the piece. These strategies make reading text in various directions more dynamic.
In the beginning, I organized my text into four sections so that each section will have its own signature motion. The first part is the conversation between the asker and me. Originally, I was planning to use two different colors to distinguish the asker and me, but I gave up the idea because I wanted to keep my video as simple as possible. I decided to layout according to the messages on our phone with the same font. I adjusted the pace of typewriter in “…” to strengthen my hesitation in answering the question, just like how I feel in a normal conversation. For the part where there are multiple detailed questions, I used variations of grey and eight different fonts to suggest that they are asked by different people. Still, I insisted on organizing them into vertical lines and using the same trim line effect while introducing the questions and fading out them. Toward the end of the first part, I changed the reading direction of the text to circular. The crossing and almost unreadable text is to suggest that I am a combination of the answers and the answers are not important to me. It also became the transition to the third part of the piece.
The second part is the explanation of places that are important to me. I struggled about the layout for the text for the origins of my family members. At first, I wanted to create paths with outlines of provinces on the map, or making a shape of the map of china, or using signs that marks locations on google map, or making a family tree. Yet, I reminded myself not to over design the video, so I continued using the same effect from the last section and modified a bit. I varied the fonts and changed the size and pattern of the circle to keep the piece connected and moving. It was difficult to layout the circles on a diagonal in rectangle too. I’ve thought of multiple ways in putting them. When it comes to introducing my story, I brought back the typewriter effect and enlarged the locations to fill the screen. This was inspired by Young Hae Chang. It should be noted that each line with the typewriter effect follows order throughout the video. The asker is always on the left. I am always on the right. The latest sentence is always closer to the bottom of the screen than the previous one.
The third part is my reflection on the experience. I kept the keywords, Home and 家, large because they appear frequently in the text of this section. I incorporated rotation on 3d layers to bring in some changes. The keywords rotate by themselves instead of following a path of a circle. Toward to the end of this section, I introduced the particle effect to create changes on the background. I lost some patience in keeping the text graphical so I just threw in a number of animation presets that follow the meaning of some words. The last part is my own ultimate answer to where my home is. I laid them out on the central axis, kept each word far away and used three languages.
The only other two difficulties I haven’t mentioned are deciding where to use masks and adjusting the speed of key frames on the text. Especially, at the end of the third section, I rushed on some lines. I am planning to make my video smoother this week.
I revised my kinetic text piece as part of my conference work. For this revision, I made small adjustments throughout the piece and assessed the music that I picked. I took the ‘surrender’s’ off-screen more carefully. I changed the transition from ‘basketball shorts’ to the line about 8th grade so that if was smoother and just continued the bouncing of ‘basketball shorts’. Something happened with my software, so the bouncing is no longer there, but I will put it back eventually. This piece is still not completely perfected to how I want it to be, but it is complete for the purposes of this class. I took out the tile effect on the ‘baby dykes’ because I felt like it was too chaotic and brought too much focus to this piece when the core of this piece is not about being queer. After watching videos in class, I noticed the value of not filling up the entire screen and leaving time to appreciate each text animation, so I took of some of the lines in the stanza that begins with ‘I hate’ off screen and then put brought them on screen more slowly. Besides mechanical adjustments, I had some qualms with the music I chose for this piece. Many of these qualms came from wanting to re-create my spoken word poem. When I perform this piece, I feel so empowered because while parts of it are sad, there are other parts that touch on working towards a place of accepting my body and vision loss. The music I chose is incredibly sad, but my class thought that it fit the piece. I worried that the music didn’t fit the beginning of the piece when I’m talking about being a gay and wearing ‘boys’ clothes. However, I now like this music at the beginning because it provides a foreshadow and a warning sign.
For my kinetic text piece, I animated a short narrative about how I put a word to my gay and trans identity, focusing on my young crush on Freddie Mercury.
For this piece my main focus was simply the text. Because in previous years I have only used visual forms to represent concepts, the use of text as graphics was new and foreign to me, especially since all my life it has been drilled into me that the only use of text and letters was for extremely rigid writing.
Because of the exact nature of the project, I found that using primarily text was liberating. I focused on aesthetics, how the letters looked and felt with different fonts, and also keeping everything cohesive.
Because of the subject matter, I wanted to allude to two time periods: my youth in 2011 and the glam rock era of the late 70s. Because I wanted to focus solely on the text, I kept my visuals at a minimum. In fact I only used two effects: fractal and noise HLS on the wild layers, used glowing trim paths, and only changed the colors on the soil layer every 30 seconds to a minuet. In fact I relied on visual repetition for the trim paths and just remixed the same key frames manually. My only other visual component was live footage from a Queen concert, which I put put a mirror effect on so it would only “open” when Freddie Mercury was on screen.
The text itself is a mix of 3D and 2D animated text.
While I would have loved to render all my text layers in 3D, in truth I was scared that the file would take too long to render and that my computer would overheat, leading me to 3D animate any text sparingly. However I know with the right equipment, 3D rendering all the text would have been possible, and would have led to a more compelling reading and viewing experience. However within the film, I male use of animated text intros and decoder effects to keep viewers interested in the screen. I animated different parts of text to change color, as if it were rainbow for the very obvious reason: this film is about being gay. In fact, as a gay man, I make use of a censored LGBTQ+ slur targeted at gay men, and make change to all colors of the rainbow. In this way I am simultaneously reclaiming and asserting my identity with a slur which is in relation to this story of putting words to my identity. I also stuck with a prose style for this film, namely because I wanted the work to feel personable, as if I am talking to you at a coffee shop about this, and thus take away a layer of accessibility. I also found that as prose, the narrative flowed more easily than not. I also tried to use a loose narrative structure,the film has a clear beginning and end, even though both do not amount to much and they shouldn’t, to me my attraction to other men and only men is part of my everyday life and at this point, normal, why should’t I portray it as normal in my work?
This film also deals with the beginnings of something that I currently cannot explain any better with language: the fact that men who love men (gay, bi, pan men) experience love and attraction differently from straight women. I have no idea how else to go into detail about it but one of the reasons I know why its different is this: I have not met a straight woman who was attracted to Freddie Mercury ever in my life. Are there women who are attracted to queer men? Yes, and they sometimes get into relationships if the man is also attacked to women as well. However, for some reason, no straight women has ever expressed her attraction to Freddie Mercury while many queer men have. Through my personal experience, and hopefully through more art, I hope to explain how the phenomenon of love between men and lust between men works.
In all this project challenged me to think very differently from my usual. I am used to thinking in form, color, and shape in a the context of pictures, never in fonts, words, or text in general. I truly tried to tone down my use of imagery to three main components and use repetition as an effective visual device and keep the mood of my piece effective and consistent throughout the film. Awakening is probably one of the firsts of unknown firsts of many more works of art to come that explicitly deal with identity, gender nonconformity, attraction, and love that come with being a gay man, especially a gay trans man in 2018.
The song Wait by M83 is from an experimental series of music videos that I have hardly watched. They tell a surrealist story involving industrial America, folk lore and space. I haven’t watched it in years, not since the song was featured on the ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ movie soundtrack (no matter the film movie soundtracks are goldmines for sound). At the time I saw the movie I was having trouble developing emotional attachments to pieces of art. The medication I was taking for depression/anxiety had a numbing effect that made seeing movies and hearing music frustratingly dry. This song plays at the very end of the film when the main character goes through a transformative experience which leads her and her family to accept a harsh situation. The song made the end of TFIOS into something powerful enough that I felt satisfied when I exited the theater. Powerful enough that I could feel a lot when I listened to it on repeat after I got home and 5 years later when I listen to it now.
I am on better medication now. Art effects me and the song has lost none of its beauty. So for this process I did not make any sketches. I listened to the song on repeat and kept it as simple as I could. Particle and Scatter are good for this. I slowed them down and lowered the opacity very slightly. I timed the scatter of the first two “Sings” at the beginning of the video catch the viewer’s attention in the beginning so they would be more inclined to stay on. The rest of the video is, however, fairly low-key apart from the Kaleida effects. The opacity on those were also played with. The word “Wait” which stays in place for the entire video goes in and out of focus as an additional eye-catching motion. I could not decide how fast or slow to make it and I have submitted it with uncertainty.
I created a pink particle layer and added three masks over top it to give peeks at its slow journey into a twist. I also included the words, Wait and Sing. The moving kaleidoscopic effect was the result of me applying Kaleida to a text layer that read:
I think adding those subtleties to the work helps it to match the song. There are so many layers to it and slow turns. The Kaleida adds the unexpected to ready the viewer for the end which is when the climax of the song occurs and it makes all kinds of turns. My worry for this was making it too languid. My own attention span is very short. I have to be in the right headspace to even listen to the song completely, though I enjoy it so much. However, in the end, I feel the particles and extra additions made it interesting enough.