After the short test I was so pleased with how it looked I wanted to get a full 30 second scene totally animated, concerns over whether it would work for a longer section were on my mind, considering the amount of time I would need to put into a full test, but I decided to put the time in as I have ideas of overlaying the digital ‘cell’ animation over separate and different sections of the film, so it should be worth it.

To start with I edited down the section I wanted in premiere pro, this ended up being a 36 second piece from the subway footage. Then I imported that edited section into Photoshop getting it to render every third frame as a separate layer resulting in 300 layers and to each and every layer I undertook the process below.

Stage 1 – layer control

first of all I added a new layer above the layer I wanted to illustrate, so that I can use my digital cell with and without it’s original background, working in a  non-destructive process.


Stage 2 – vector path



Then on this empty layer using the vector pen tool I trace around the area I want to fill with colour, obviously starting with the full outline shape, which will be a lighter colour.



then the inner shadow areas, which are to be filled with a  darker colour. I work with a wacom tablet and pen for this quite precise result and like the clean edges it gives you, you have to make definite decisions about where the light and dark will fall on your digital graphic. I have used this style of vector drawing for years, usually in Illustrator to great effect.

Stage 3 – shade and light fill



Then you select all elements in the path that you want to appear as shadows, make it active in the path tool toolbox and fill it in using your darker colour and the paint bucket tool.



then select the lighter area, make it active, which will switch the areas and fill the outline shape with your lighter colour, occasionally small dart areas didn’t fill and would need to be done with a little more accuracy, but it’s easy to spot.



Stage 4 – save out



Set photoshop up to save as into the same folder, to minimise clicks, and save the ‘cell’ layer with it’s film layer as a single jpeg, bearing in mind the finished number would need to be 3 or 4 digits so start at 001, or 0001, as this will help keep them in the right order when you bring the images into your video editing program to put back together as moving images.

Stage 5 – repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat



I found on average it was taking me 20 minutes to complete this whole process for 10 frames and over the week I managed to fit in the 10 hours it required to digitally ‘cell’ animate my 36 seconds of footage.

I did split the photoshop file into 2 sets of 150 (original layers) at one point as with over 400 layers and 2.3Gb is was making my computer slow a little…

But, once they were all transformed into jpegs, I opened up After Effects and imported the 300 files, selected them all and right clicked to create new comp from selection ( this is where the numbering comes into its own) and after a bit of trial and error with how I selected them all (it did at first run backwards 😦 ) they came in perfectly all on seperate layers and for the right duration and this is how it came out…

During the long hours spent over my wacom I came across a piece of music by Bonobo called a beginning, an ending and it had the right mood, so I placed it over the video to give more of a feel to the piece.