Effects animation is a mysterious beast. When it’s done well it seems as if the animator has this perfect and wildly complicated simulation of reality that they can run in their head. But as my animation tutor once said “animation is lots of little things happening all at once”. When you break anything in animation down to its constituent parts, you will find you can animate seemingly complex things with relative ease (ok, it is still difficult but this approach will make things way easier)!
The main advice when it comes to effects animation is organised chaos. The overall shapes of the move should animate with a purpose. However each individual frame can have its own chaos. Roughly animate the major shapes but add randomness in the clean up.
Here I will run through some of my thought processes when animating different types of electricity for our Just Cause 3 – Mech Land Assault trailer.
I start off by creating a strong key drawing. Here is a page with some great advice about the anatomy of electricity. Variation is absolutely key for awesome looking electricity. Once I’ve got that I animate into it. Electricity grows from one point as it searches for a place to strike and this can be pretty erratic, so long as it is always making progress. After it has hit its key drawing the electricity dissipates, breaking apart along the strike. Simple!
In this example, when the electricity finds its mark it pulsates before dissipating. The movement follows a distorted wave cycle. This makes it look like energy is flowing down the electricity. The waves are constantly moving towards the strike point with big leaps every 2 frames.
This is a more stylised approach to animating electricity and is very quick and effective. Simply draw the electricity and flash it on and off! For some variance you can add another key drawing and put one inbetween as the electricty jumps from one shape to the next.
So there are a few simple tips for animating and analysing electricity. And here is a great collection of reference for effects animation! Now go… animate!!!