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How to use Smooth Transitions to Boost Your Animation

by The Katapult team on 19-Jan-2016 15:19:28

Using Smooth Transitions to Boost Your Animation 

In motion graphics, well considered transitions are a great way to create a visually engaging animation. When you engineer a good transition, you take the viewer through a visual journey that is easier to process and understand.

What distinguishes a good transition from a poor one? 

A transition should aim to redirect the viewer’s concentration from one visual instance to another, in a way that is both smooth easy to follow. Transitions could introduce, take away or change an existing asset, or invoke a shift in visual hierarchy. Bad transitions are characterised by harsh, jerky and sluggish movements, which are harder for the viewer to interpret. Take a look at these animations below, they both contain some great examples of transitions. 


Directing the Viewers Attention

As an animator there are some conditions to consider that could help you to generate smoother transitions. The first is how to direct the viewer's attention. How can you highlight where the viewer should be looking on-screen, without physically pointing or telling them? This is where adjusting size, opacity or colour can be really valuable. In the simplest form, the example below shows how you can use these variables to redirect a visual engagement. As the opacity and size increases, your attention is shifted towards the larger, more opaque circle. 

Animation hierarchy

Applying Easing

Another great technique to think about is Easing; a technique used to prevent a change looking too linear. It controls the acceleration and deacceleration between two states to create a more dynamic movement. In Adobe's After Effects, there is a lot to understand when it comes to easing key-frames; the use of speed graphs will give you complete control over the easing effect. But for now, we will look at the pre-set easing options and save speed-graphs for a later blog. Take a look at the two animations below; the first animation shows a basic position change over 4 seconds.

Applying easing in After effects

The speed of movement when the bus is travelling is constant, even just before it comes to a stop. This feels unatural to watch because in reality, it would take time for objects to gain or lose speed. The graphic below shows the same animation but with easing applied to the keyframes.

Applying easing in After effects

You can see as the bus comes to a stop, the movement 'eases-out' and comes to a stop gradually. As it sets off again, it picks up speed over time. This variation in speed allows our eyes to process the motion more clearly, immitating a more natural movement.

Using Easy Ease in After effects

By right clicking a key-frame in your After Effect's timeline, you can choose the option to Easy Ease, Ease In or Ease Out. Easing in will accelerate gradually into a change, and easing out will decellerate from a change.

The Easy-Ease function applies easing to both the in and out states. Using easing in your animation is a fundamental tool, it will add clarity to movements and guide the viewer through a transition. 

Creating Visual Links

Another component to consider is visual links. Can you see any visual similarities between the transitioning items? This is best considered during the storyboarding stage, so you can design connections into your assets before you go about animating them. For example, let’s say we want to transition between two iconic London graphics, a double-decker bus and a Queens Guard.

Creating visual links in animation

When designing these assets, I intentionally inserted visual comparisons between the two drawings. I looked at image references to identify opportunities for creating a visual link. For example, the headlights could be used to create the buttons on the guard's jacket, or the wing mirrors could form the collar. A resemblance in colour, size or shape could develop a starting point for your transition sequence. It may take some practice, but once you learn how to identify these visual links, you can quickly build a visual evolution.

Here is my animated result from this basic example. What looks like an effortless transition, is in fact the result of forward-thinking. 

Animating visual comparisons
To summarise, you can greatly improve your animations with well executed transitions. When animating, remember to think about these three key points:

  • Directing the viewer's attention
  • Easing your key-frames
  • Creating visual links

Applying these techniques can help maximise the flow of your animation and maintain the engagement of your viewer. It will take some practice, but you will soon be animating slick transitions to impress!

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This post was written by The Katapult team

We’re Katapult, a marketing agency where creative ideas and commercial thinking help our clients to build brands, hit targets, drive growth and deliver a better experience for customers.

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