Faking depth in a painted video

I made a video ad of my site, consisting of old paintings that I’ve made for portfolio, as well as some video clips of trailers I’ve captured and edited. It turned out to be quite a mix of techniques so I thought I’d also write a blog post explaining some of the tricks that I used. This is on a surface level without going too much into technical details, but better tutorials on how to do a specific thing can be found elsewhere.

First off, here’s the end result of my short video ad:

Rough frame by frame animated mockup

After deciding which paintings to include in this mini-story, I did a frame-by-frame animations of the scenes in Photoshop, placed them on the timeline in Premiere and found a music track that seemed to have the mood I was after and that I got to fit with the structure.

Using parallax layers

For the slight parallax in the first shot, I placed the layers on different distances from the camera and scaled them so that they still appear in the right size to the camera. On the picture below, notice that the head, the hands and map, and the background are on separate layers.

3D-modeling some form to a painting

To add some form to the shores and trees in the second scene, I followed the idea in this tutorial by Marco Bucci. In short, instead of modeling the objects completely and then projecting the paintings on them as textures, he starts by opening the painted layers in Blender as planes, and shaping the geometry of the planes. With paintings already faking depth to an extent with shading, it doesn’t require much modeling to get the form of the objects to look convincing when the camera passes by, which makes it a very effective technique.

Below is a gif showing the 3d geometry that I added to the painted layers in Blender. Despite the simplicity of the bent planes, the setup fulfills its purpose for the specific camera movement in this shot.

Frame-by-frame animation of the creature in the map

This was a new experiment for me, but I animated the creature in Photoshop by starting with the keyframes and adding in-betweening, until I had about 10 frames per second (the traditional frame rate being 12 fps so I seem to have skimped a few frames). After rendering it in Photoshop as a black and white video on transparent background, it was easy to modify the coloring a bit in After Effects.

3d creature animation

To do the black silhouette version of the creature, I modeled and rigged a 3d model blender and animated it along with the camera to move among the layers of paintings I had aligned. In the end I noticed that the movement of the wings seemed very unnatural without any of the feathers moving. Rigging them separately, and adding a complex setup that would allow them to move with physics would have been laborious, so I ended up using shape keys (AKA blendshapes), with a couple of morphs for the wings that would be used in different positions. After that, I added keyframes to change the blendshapes in sync with the flapping of the wings, which doesn’t really look that convincing as physics but brings enough entropy for the wings to look somewhat natural in motion.

The control rig, made as easy to animate as possible
The two shape keys I did for the extreme positions of the wings, which don’t look like much by themselves but add some natural disarray to the feathers when combined with the flapping of the wings.
On the left: without shape keys in use; on the right: with shape keys in use