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Animating a Signature

Animating a Signature


A CreativeCOW After Effects Tutorial


Animating a Signature by Kevin Kantorski
Kevin Kantorski Kevin Kantorski,
Scoreboard Digital Video Specialist, Chicago White Sox, Chicago, Illinois, USA

Article Focus:
A year ago, Kevin Kantorski needed to create an animated signature. After a lot of research, he came up with the method in this tutorial. You don't need the production bundle for this one -- in fact, you can use AE 4.1 if you don't have 5.0.


Download Movie Project files Download Stuffit Expander for Windows

THE SET UP

The really cool thing I liked about creating this effect, was gain skills in using Illustrator's Pen tools (which are the same as AE's). I started with a signature (or in this case, a word) that was written on a sheet of paper. My personal preference is to use a Sharpie to write the word. This gives you a nice and comfortable thickness to trace along. I also found it easier to work with a larger sized signature, then a small one.

THE TOOLS
  • Adobe After Effects v 4.1 (or later)
  • Scanner & Image editing program
  • Adobe Illustrator v 8.0 (or later)
  • Pinnacle Systems Unmult free plug in (optional)
  • You will need to have Illustrator and After effects open at the same time, Mac users, make adjustments to your RAM usage as needed.


THE PROCESS

1. Choose your favorite (or only) scanning program. You can use the B/W setting since you will only use this as a reference point. I choose to save the image as a TIFF.

2. Open Illustrator and place this image into a new document. At this point, you can make sure your signature is a good size. If you need to adjust the signature size, grab the SCALE tool and make your adjustments. Once you are content with the size, find your Layers palette and lock this layer. Then create a new layer to work on. By creating a second layer, you leave yourself options to hide the original image to see your creation.

3. Now, you should choose the PEN tool, make sure to choose outline with no fill. Also, pick a color that is different then your original image. The color does not matter at this point. You will choose your signature color in the AE program. Before beginning to trace the signature, put some thought into how the word was originally signed (this may be easy if you wrote it, but a bit more difficult it someone else did). When you trace the word, you are actually creating a open path.

4. Now begin tracing the image. Plot your first pen point at the same place you would on the signature. I would not plot too many points. My rule of thumb is a point at every place a curve make a change. Be careful if you need to backtrack over the path not to create a new point on the existing path. (See below)

If you are not familiar with the pen tools... as your are drawing, if you click and drag, the point reacts and gives you a curve dependant on the length of the handles. If you just click each point, you end up with sharp corners. This is okay since you fine tune in the next step.

Next you want to zoom in nice and tight (300% or so) on your new path.

Grab your Convert Anchor Point Tool (Shift C) and click and drag a little on the first point. Now click and drag on the second point. This time watch the path line and try to adjust the curve to the original image. Continue on this way through the rest of the path.

Some other tips... if you have a point selected and want to move the point, use the Direct Selection Tool (A) or your arrow keys. This is helpful in case you plotted a stray point or if you need to adjust the curvature of the path. You may also want to familiarize yourself with the tool shortcut keys. The main thing to remember is to try to make the path flow naturally.

If you are using the provided graphic, you will notice that the word we used was written with one pen stroke. If you have a word that uses more then one stroke (i.e.. crossing of a "t", dotting of an "I", etc.) you will need to create an additional path for each pen stroke. The easiest way I've found to make Illustrator create a new path is to switch tools and then switch back to the pen tool.

5. Once you are happy with your tracing save the Illustrator document.

6. Now switch to your Selection Tool (solid black arrow). Click on the first letter you'd like to create the animation with. You should end up with a bounding box around the path. Now copy the path.

7. Switch over to or open After effects. Create a new project. Import the original illustrator file, when prompted with layer to import, choose Layer 1 (the original scan).

It's important not to use the original TIFF document especially if you resized the scan in illustrator. Create a new comp and call it signature. I used 720x486, 4 seconds. Now create a new solid this size of your comp. If you have lots of pen lifts in your signature, you may want to label each solid you create with the letters that it has. Place the Layer of your Illustrator document in the timeline beneath the new solid. This will serve as a reference point to make sure your paths line up (EXTREMELY helpful if you have more then one path.

8. Now apply the Write-on filter to this solid. In the time line, twirl down the effect options. Click on the Brush Position option. You want to make sure the "I" bar appears on the time line next to that option. Now choose EDIT>Paste. A handful of keyframe should of just appeared. Actually.. every pen point should of transferred as a keyframe, the first and last appeared as Linear, and the rest appear as roving. It also defaults to a 2 second duration. You can adjust this as needed. Click on the Brush Position option in the time line to select all the keyframes, now hold the ALT key and drag the last one to adjust the duration. Use the RAM preview to adjust to your taste.

You also want to make adjustments to your color, brush spacing, brush size and other settings before continuing. I set my brush spacing to ".001", and changed the Paint style to "On Transparent".

If you have other letters (i.e.. other pen lifts) to animate, you can either duplicate the current layer (CTNL+D) and delete the keyframes, or create a new solid, add the filter, and then past your data, and make the setting adjustments.

You will also need to offset the start of each successive pen lift to make sure that each lift starts after the previous one completes.

9. Once you have the signature complete, make sure to either delete or hide the Illustrator layer. If you like, you can use expressions and other filters to simulate/follow your signature.
Add a new solid called "lighting", and add the Render>Lighting effect. Twirl down the effects controls in the timeline. Select the "Start point" control and go to Animation>Add Expression. Using the pick whip, drag and select the Brush position control from the write on effect. (note I moved the end point and left all other settings as the default) Restack the layers so the lighting layer is below the signature layer. Now preview your work.

Now you can add this comp into another one to create a composite. Once in the other comp, you can use time remapping if you need to fine turn the duration of the signature.

Download the final movie.



A couple of other things you can do using this concept:

In the sample project, I've included additional comps with some of these alternatives.

  • If you have a favorite font you'd like to animate, enter your text on a layer, adjust your size. Create a new layer above the text layer. Follow the rest of the steps to trace and animate the word.

  • A slight change to this concept is to create outlines from your text and copy each character and paste it into AE. Remember that you created an outline. Instead of a single line drawing each letter, you will now have the outline of the letter animate out. Be aware, with certain letters (O for example) there are two paths that make that letter, and inner & an outer, so you would need to release the compound path and paste the path data on separate layers or separate instances of the write on effect on the same layer.

  • You can also create an animated map line, or any number of other freehand drawn objects.

--Kevin Kantorski




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