Designing for Animation | Part II


We’re continuing our “Designing for Animation” series on digging into the more “nitty-gritty” details of tips and techniques for creating designs for animation. Be sure to catch up on Part I  of this series where we go over some impressive video statistics as well as a few examples from our own portfolio.

In this post, the software we’re going to focus mainly on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Both Illustrator and Photoshop work pretty well together with After Effects, you can create content in both applications and bring in all your layers as one single work space, better known in After Effects as a “composition”. This process makes the workflow easier since the designer doesn’t need to make a file for every single element, and the animator can easily set up the composition for animation.

Common Tips

There are some overall tips to keep in mind when designing content for animation:


Size is very important to know. The standard HD size is 1920 by 1080 pixels. You should know where the the video is going to be displayed. Is it for social media? Each social media platform has different sizes that show off your video better. Or maybe it’s a video that is going to show on a huge screen, in which 4K would probably be a better choice. Knowing the final size of the video eliminates any problems of low quality images or layout issues.


All video uses RGB colors. This means that anything designed for print, the colors need to be converted from CYMK to RGB. There’s a great site that allows you to plug in different colors (Pantone, CMYK, RGB, etc.) and get the color values you want. It’s always helpful to supply a color palette as well. Especially if it’s for something that needs to stay on brand.


Make sure to share with the animator any fonts that were used. A good amount of fonts that are on Adobe Typekit which makes it really easy to download fonts, just be sure to have a list of the ones needed.


 This doesn’t apply to all projects, but if the design is for something on brand, it’s a great asset to provide. It helps the animator to stay on track and to make creative decisions that will all fit into one cohesive look. If the brand doesn’t have a “motion” or “video brand” section of their guide, we can help them make one.


Raster vs. Vector

This might seem like a common knowledge, so feel free to skip over if so. If not, this is an important element for sure to keep in mind when designing for animation.




Raster graphics are made up of pixels and vector graphics are made up of shapes and paths. It might not seem like a big deal, but if you need to scale up your file by 200%. With a raster graphic, the image at one point would start to pixelate and get blurry. If a vector graphic is used it, it can scale up to any size without looking any resolution.


Sometimes assets might not be created at the right size for animation, so they will have to be scaled. It’s better if possible to work with vector graphics to make sure there won’t be a loss of quality. This is especially important with animation because you may want to zoom in and out of an asset and a raster image may make that impossible without severe losses in image quality.


Naming & Layering Conventions

As mentioned before, you can easily bring in an Illustrator or Photoshop file into After Effects. When doing this it is very important to make sure all layers are named properly. If layers aren’t named, then the animator is going to have to rename everything or scroll through endless “layer names.”




Setting up assets on different layers is another technique that helps speed up the animation process. Basically anything that could be moving on its own should be on its own layer. Let’s use our duck as an example. Below is what the set up in Illustrator would look like if you had all of the assets on one layer. 



We know that we want to animate the beak, hat, and eye. All of those elements should be on their own layer.




That way when the animator brings in the file, the design is set up to be rigged for animation. If this process is skipped, or everything is on one layer, the animator then has to go in and break everything up, adding a lot of additional time to the process.


Keeping Text and Strokes Data

This is another important technique that makes the process easier for animation. Sometimes text has to be expanded in designs, making it no longer editable. Usually when passing along the design for print, it makes it so there isn’t any issue of the end receiver not having the font.




If the text isn’t editable, this can cause a headache for animation. If the text needs to get changed, especially after animation, it adds additional work for the animator to set it up and make the change. It might not seem like a big deal for one word, but if you have a series of words or a paragraph it can become a pain to change.


The same goes for strokes. Sometimes strokes get expanded so there isn’t a scale issue if they are sized up or down. This can be an issue though if the strokes need to be animated. As we talked about in Part I for the HPE videos, stroke data from Illustrator can be brought into After Effects. There is a technique that makes it quick and easy to animate the stroke data.


Animating Stroke Data


When the stroke gets turned into a fill, then it adds an extra step. The animator needs to make an additional stroke that is the same, and use it as a mask to reveal the expanded stroke.


Non Stroke Data


By applying these tips and techniques during design, it will make the animation process a lot smoother. If you’re a designer interested in bringing your designs to life or if you are working with an animator, stay tuned for Part III where we will go over some of the animation principles, best software choices and how to even animate in Photoshop.

Designing for Animation | Part I


This is part 1 of a new series of posts for designers who are not animators about how to design for animation. If you are a web designer who is looking to add some new skills to your repertoire or an illustrator who has been asked to create assets for an animated video, we hope this guide will be helpful. Enjoy!

We interact daily with content that is designed. Everything from the label on your morning coffee cup to your favorite social media sites. When something is well designed, it communicates a clear level of idea or function. When that content is animated, it really takes the design to another dimension. Specifically the fourth dimension: time! Just take a look at what a difference animation makes in our logo.


Logo - Biggerlogo_animated


Video in general is an amazing medium to communicate information, and these stats back it up.

  • On Facebook, the average organic video reach is around 8.7%, whereas just an image only reaches 3.7% (That’s a 135% increase!).
  • Videos on Twitter are 6X more likely to be re-tweeted than photos.
  • 4X as many consumers would rather watch a video about a product than reading about it.

Think about how you interact with animated content. Is it more fun to express yourself by sharing a static image, or an animated GIF?


This collaboration of design and animation is something that we’ve done quite a bit at The Duke & The Duck. While each video we work on can have a different process, here are a few examples that we’ve done in which we’ve taken content that was designed for a certain purpose, and we used that to create an animation to accompany it.

Example 1 : Science of Science Communication

We were contracted by the National Academies of Sciences to make an animated video. This video was to be based off the cover for The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS).




A lot of the videos that we create, assets are usually provided, but for this video all we had to go off of was the cover. Using it as the source for the artistic direction, and combined with a stellar script we wrote, we created storyboards to visually show how we planned to tackle the animation.

One of the first challenges when taking already designed content, is thinking “How does this move?”. Obviously there is reference to look at for how the video could look visually, but taking that and thinking what the motion will be like is a challenge. Something that helped was having the designer and our animator sit down for a quick chat. Going over the design, what the elements meant, and talking about possible motion choices helped start the project off on the right foot.



Example 2: HPE Social GIFs

The animated GIF series we have done for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) in partnership with Edelman is another great example of showing design turned into motion. This GIF was made from a design on an HPE article.hpe_imageWith this process, putting together the pre-production work was a bit easier since the client had provided an huge asset library. This included not only the graphic assets, but color palettes, fonts, as wells as “do’s” and “don’ts” on branding. But critically, these assets were not designed with animation in mind, which would cause problems later. For the GIF in question there was no script, and the storyboard process mostly entailed recreating the original image.




How we came up with the motion direction for this video relied heavily on the stroke-styled assets. This allowed us to in a sense “build in” the assets in animation. We did have a few hurdles with this video. The main hurdle was how the asset content was created in Adobe Illustrator. In the video, the main motion of the design is the lines basically animating themselves on. In Adobe After Effects there’s a technique that makes animating lines very easy, but it relies on having the stroke data. The assets that were provided, even though they looked like strokes, were really solid shapes. That meant that we had to add an additional step in the animating process since there was no stroke data. We’ll go over more tips and techniques in Part II  of this series that are similar to this.

Using motion to bring life to design is a no-brainer online, especially on social media. It lifts the restrictions of seeing a design solely as a two dimensional layout, and allowing it to have depth, story, and feeling. Be sure to stay tuned for the second part of this series where we’ll go into more depths about the do’s and don’ts of setting up design files for animation.

Top 5 Animated Films to Watch on Earth Day

Celebrating this year’s Earth Day is more important than ever. Today, thousands of people are expected to join the March for Science in DC and other cities all over the country. Whether or not you’re out planting a tree, campaigning for Green Peace, or just simply making an effort to be more conscious about recycling… here’s a list of our favorite environmental animated films that you should watch over the weekend. Enjoy!


1. Princess Mononoke

This is a classic Miyazaki fantasy period film about nature’s revenge against man’s recklessness with consuming natural resources. and In the film, a villager who is poisoned by a demonic virus, encounters a “princess” who was raised by wolves. They’re both caught in the middle of a war in between nature gods and the men of Irontown. It’s beautifully drawn and also the first Miyazaki film that utilized CGI (demon worm scene).
2. Ferngully: The Last Rainforest

This scene from Ferngully that features Tim Curry as Hexxus should be more than enough to convince you to watch this film. Hexxus embodies fossil fuels, greed, toxicity, and all things destructive against nature.


3. Lorax

This is a film adaptation on Dr. Seuss’s book, that follows a boy who tries to find a real tree in order to impress his crush. However, he lives in an artificial world and must confront the Lorax, guardian of the forest.

4. Bambi



5. Pocahontas

Definitely watch this movie just for the Colors of the Wind sequence. It beautifully shows the Native American perspective of the nature around us and how everything is connected.

Thanks for watching, and Happy Earth Day!

Friday Faves – April 21, 2017


This week, we present another wide sample from the animation community. Some are rather…odd. Most are perfectly normal. All, however, are strikingly beautiful in their own unique way.


Ferrofluid – Magnetic pattern I
Who would have thought you could animate with chemistry and physics? This macro-scale view of a ferrofluid in action demonstrates how beautiful science can be.


Government Worked! Rape Kit Backlog Part 2 | Full Frontal with Samantha Bee | TBS
Comedian Samantha Bee and her show used animation to tell a compelling story of actual cooperation in the senate! We love it when videos use unscripted, candid interviews to drive a story forward.


This video is a compliation of graphics work made for the live action movie “Ghost in the Shell” from the legendary Ash Thorp. This body of work showcases a strange marriage of Japanese haute couture and Tron. We quite enjoy the result.


Sometimes, it’s difficult to find the proper visual metaphor for an abstract concept. The creator of this video, Pedro Allevato, found a really succinct embodiment of a stutter and how it effects someone who has to deal with it growing up.

Double King
This one is a little long, but tells a great story. There is not really any dialogue through out it, but you won’t notice it due to the beautiful animation.


That’s all folks! We hope you enjoyed this week’s inspiration list.
Have a great weekend.

Friday Faves – March 24, 2017

This week, we’ve gathered an eclectic mix of animation and live action work that features a wide range of talented animators! Sit back and enjoy this playlist filled with nostalgia, unique storytelling, and education about learning disorders.


Frances – Grow
This beautiful and sophisticated music video, created by Le Cube, follows a woman who is slowly fading away while she ventures around the city. In the end, it has an important message about domestic violence. Making Of video:


Longing for Wilderness
360 videos are usually a hit or miss, but this piece stands out in particular with its immersive grittiness and moody atmosphere. This piece takes you on a ride through a noisy city and into a deep dark forest with rich sound design.


Toonami 20th Anniversary
Simon Wilches-Castro brought together a bunch of stellar animators together to create a tribute to Toonami, the network that brought over Japanese anime to Cartoon Network. It’s eclectic with many surprises and a joy to watch. We’re a big fan of these collaborative animations, and even participated in one that centered around one of Obama’s most infamous speeches:


This is perhaps one of the must unique animated shorts that we’ve seen in recent memory. It’s about a cow tipping the balance of destiny.

Dyslexia PSA
Wendy Eduarte made this PSA that shows what it’s like to read while having Dyslexia. She masterfully choreographs the text to fragment apart and somehow link to the next phrase. Definitely check this one out.


That’s all folks! We hope you enjoyed this week’s inspiration list.
Have a great weekend.

2017 Studio Reel

Music: “Little Lily Swing” by Tri-Tachyon (

List of projects (in order of appearance):
– National Trust for Historic Preservation (
– YMCA Basketball (
– Atlantic, “Fired Up” Obama Speech (
– Volkswagen, Agency: iStrategy Labs (
– Stages Smart Headphones (
– Mobile Year in Review (
– Invest Americas
– Funk Parade DC (
– Samuel Adams Beer, Agency: iStrategy Labs (
– IFC SME Ventures
– Thomson Reuters
– (
– CuidadoDeSalud Campaign – Catastrophes! (
– Edelman
– Partners in Preservation
– YMCA (
– TGIF, Internal Video
– National Academy of Science, Anti-bullying PSA (
– The Science of Science Communication


Follow/like us on the following channels for more great video content:

Friday Favorites – March 17, 2017

Welcome to Friday Favorites, our new weekly blog post that highlights some of our favorite animation, film, and motion graphics work that we’ve recently stumbled upon. It’s a short and sweet curated collection with the goal of inspiring others to get their creative juices flowing. Enjoy!

1. PowerPuff Girls “Arm Rasslin”
Kicking off this week’s playlist is Benjy Brooke’s TV spot for the 2017 season of Powerpuff Girls. It begins with Buttercup arm wrestling a forklift truck… and then all of the sudden, Brooke reveals many more fearsome opponents with a long tracking wide shot that juxtaposes with the beginning anime-esque quick cuts. Diggin’ how each baddie has their own unique character design and animation.


2. MTV Ident
Directed by Masanobu Hiraoka, this crazy abstract/organic 2D animation reminds me of this horrifying ending scene in the movie, Akira. Enjoy!


3. Hikkikomori Infinity Room
Oscar Hudson and Pulse Films created this mesmerizing “one-take” music video for Bonobo’s “No Reason” song. Hudson draws us in by making the video into one long dolly shot. The camera goes through an infinite series of Japanese rooms that bend reality and perception. This behind the scenes video blew us away with how they constructed the set. Spectacular.


4. Ruben Leaves
Frederic Siegel’s animated short film is a psychological thriller that follow’s Ruben’s road to insanity that merges reality with “increasingly absurd scenarios.” Really diggin’ the minimalism here with the 2D animation style and simple sound design.


5. Dunk Flip Run
Once again, Radio kills it with another fun sports-heavy animation that contains their signature dynamic angles and fluid transitions.

That is all for our weekly inspiration so far! We hope you enjoyed this first collection of many.
What are some of your favorite videos and animations that you have stumbled across this past week? Aside from our Anti-Bullying PSAof course!

You’re Not Helpless (Anti-Bullying PSA)


Most of us have some experience with bullying either as a victim, a bystander, or a perpetrator. The National Academies of Science conducted the most comprehensive scientific review of the evidence behind why bullying happens and how to effectively intervene or prevent it. They put all that into an impressive report but they wanted to do more to get the message out there. That’s why they partnered with us to create the video above. In it, we put viewers into the shoes of a teacher who has to stand by and watch one of his favorite students fade under the harsh glare of bullying.bully-dark-gif-3After interviewing several teachers about their experiences with bullying, we wrote different versions of a one minute script that follows a helpless teacher who witnesses one of his best students being bullied. We worked with local dancer Lauren De Vera and composer Chris Carlone, to create original music and dance choreography that we filmed and transformed through rotoscoping into the finished animation. For the final look of the animation, we used visceral chalk style to accompany the emotional content of the script and subject matter.

For a peek behind the curtain, check out this behind the scenes video and a little more description of the process from our artists.



Figuring out choreography at Bahay Base dance studio with Lauren De Vera.



Before (live action footage) and after (rotoscope animation).


2017-03-10 15_22_28-bully-IG-timelapse-rotoscope-V1.mp4 - VLC media player

Over 1000 frames were drawn while using the live action dance footage as a reference for some scenes.


This was probably one of our most experimental projects in recent memory and we’re proud to have worked with many different talented creatives to spread this message.


Client: National Academy of Sciences (
Dance Studio: Bahay Base (

Ric Cunningham, Producer
Alex Herder, Creative Director & Writer
Joseph Le, Art Director & Director of Photography & Animator
Dave Ellington, Animator
Alex Au, 2nd Camera
Lauren De Vera, Choreographer & Principal Dancer
Chris Carlone, Music Composer
Daniel Howard Àlásong, Assistant Music Composer
Bryan Kopta, Voice Actor

Amy Phan
Charles H. Boyer
Cindy Hoang
Jarell Mique
Vinh Si Ngo



Inspiring women in animation, 2017 edition

Happy International Women’s Day! All around the world people are celebrating the achievements of women, as well as bringing attention to issues still present.

In film and animation, women make up only a small percentage of the industry. In film, only 17% of women filled the roles of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers (source). Animation is slightly higher with around 20% filling the creative roles (source) but that’s still not nearly enough. Going one more level into motion graphics, the stats are about the same. The Motionographer last year published a great article highlighting the gender gap in the industry that you should read.


We asked around the office for people’s top creative women who influence them and got some pretty awesome results.

Kei Acedera is a beyond-talented independent artist who does concept art, visual development and character design for film. Her work is so enchanting, expressive and sophisticated. When asked what she enjoys most about being an independent artist, her response is the “The creative freedom…it allows an artist to have the courage to explore and therefore become even more creative.”

Follow Kei here:

Mingjue Helen Chen: Another talented visual development artist is Mingjue Helen Chen. Her artwork is full of vibrant colors and beautiful designs. A lot of the scenes she creates for feature films such as Wreck it Ralph and Big Hero 6, really bring the worlds to life.  

Follow Mingjue here:

Rebecca Sugar: Most widely known for her show Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar is another awesome women to highlight. She became Cartoon Network’s first solo women show creator. Not only is she a talented animator and story artist, but she’s a pretty great musician as well.

Follow Rebecca here:

Cindy Suen: Happy, vibrant and cats are all words that describe the work of Cindy Suen. She is a talented illustrator, animator and GIF artist, whose work has been seen across the interwebs. Her GIFs are mesmerizing, as her animation style is so fluid. Let’s see how long it takes you to look away from this adorable GIF.


Follow Cindy here:

Linn Fritz: Another talented animator and designer is Linn Fritz. Her artwork is the perfect example that less is more. The fluid movement of her animation, and her bold vibrant colors (and the addition of some cats…we may be cat biased…) leaves you wanting to see more of her art.

Follow Linn here:


And last but not least we want to highlight our very own animator/illustrator/art director, Hannah Churn! She has a positive and playful mind which is reflected in her work.

Follow Hannah here:

Having diversity, not only in gender, in the creative process is important on so many levels. It allows the story to be told in a different light and from different perspectives. We obviously didn’t highlight all the awesome talent that is out there, and would love to hear your favorite! Tweet us or send us a note telling us which creative women inspire you.

Happy International Women’s Day to all the awesome creatives out there!

Duck School #6 – Bear, Buff, and kitty cat