Creating art/animation for reading apps...Anyone done these before?

  • I was reading an article for one of my classes on reading apps that are basically interactive children's books. It was an interesting read and left me wondering...

    How does that work for the artist?

    Does the artist create the work and someone else animates it?

    Or do animators create the whole thing?

    I have seen some that look like the original art has been modified to look animated. For example, in the Kindle app for iPad, the Fantastic Beasts Book and Where to Find Them looks like regular art with some animation added to it.

    Does anyone have any experience in creating these things? If so, what does it involve?

    Is there software that needs to be learned besides Photoshop/Procreate? I am thinking this may be more the way things might go in the future rather than only traditional books.

    Am I wrong?

    Feel free to answer all my questions! Thanks!

  • Pro

    @chrisaakins So I actually have experience in this haha.. I studied 2D animation and after graduation, I worked 3 years for a mobile games studio that made apps for kids 🙂 I never thought this knowledge would ever be relevant here in the forums!

    When I started there they had 2 kinds of artists: illustrators who drew art assets, and animators who drew art assets, but also animated them (basically did everything). From what I understood, this was set up by the 2 lead artists of the studio, when they were hired and came up with the structure for the art teams, they wanted to be given a lot of different art tasks to keep it interesting. I've heard that in other studios jobs are sometimes way more specific - one character designer, one UI designer, one animator, one FX designer, etc. In my studio, I could design a character in the morning, rig it at noon and finish the day by animating it. It was really fun!

    Eventually about a year after I was hired, they decided to fire all the illustrators. It was pretty hard scheduling around their lack of animation skills, when the animators could do everything. They replaced all the illustrators with animators.

    Anyway, what we did is we would create an character "puppet" in Photoshop. Every body part on a separate layer. One layer for the torso, one for the arm, one for the forearm, one for the hand, etc. Then we'd import the PSD into After Effects. We would rig the puppet character in there. This means creating a hierarchy of parenting for the layers (hand parented to the forearm, parented to the arm, parented to the torso, etc) and placing the rotation points of each layer at the correct place. Then we could place animation keys on each layer and animate the character by changing the values of position, rotation and scale across the timeline. For something like blinking, we'd create a layer of open eyes and a layer of closed eyes. Then we'd change the opacity between 0% or 100% to switch between the two.

    We also created markers to indicate the start and end of each animation. A marker for an idle animation. Another marker for a walk animation, another for a jump animation, etc.

    Afterwards, we had to export this in a way the programmers could input this into the game. Some studios just export a PNG sequence and that does the trick, but it's very heavy. At my studio the programmers developed a really ingenious method. We exported the animation as an XML, which is a text file with all the animation information coded. We gave this to the programmers along with the PSD. Then using Unity, the programmers would do their magic, inputting the XML information and the PSD puppet, combine together to recreate the animation. They used the markers to call the correct animation at the right moment. The code would say "when the player taps this button, we trigger the jump animation for the character". They were able to call the right one because of the markers we placed down.

    It is a pretty complex process, I never understood the programming part of it obviously. I can do all the steps up until the export. Then, I'd need help.

    One funny thing to note: my studio used to do these interactive reading apps, but they stopped at least a year before I joined. According to the employees that had been at the studio at the time, these apps used to bomb pretty bad! The kids did not like them for some reason. I think a real book you can touch is still what children prefer for their stories...

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