Looking back at some of my earlier work, I can’t help but cringe. I didn’t start with an instruction guide; I just had an opportunity and some enthusiasm for animation.
As I’ll explain, it is all too common for animators to go overboard and produce an animation with energy that’s just wrong for the company they’re creating for.
Take advantage of these five tips and evolve your animated logos from adequate to outstanding.
Request a vector file with layers
Almost all companies these days create their logos from vector objects. Take advantage of this and request that they send them to you as an .ai or .eps file – no .png or .jpg files. When you receive the logo file, open it up and ensure that there is more than one layer. If there is only one layer, make sure that there are sublayers within, that you can then turn into layers that are editable in After Effects. If it is only one layer, talk to your client again and ensure you receive the vector logo with all the original layers. I assure you they have it, you only need to find the right person at the company.
Move each element of the logo into its own layer. For example, I create one layer for each word used in the logo. If the logo I’m working with is a house with two windows and I know I want to animate each window independently, then all elements that make up each window need to go into their own layer. When I turn the layer off in Illustrator it should turn off the entire window and nothing else. Remember to name the layer appropriately. This will help when you bring the file into After Effects so you know which layer is which. In this example I would have one layer called ‘Window Left’ and another called ‘Window Right.’
Finally, save the file as an .ai file and import it into your After Effects project panel. After Effects will prompt you asking if you want to import the file as a layer or composition. Choose a composition so that you receive all the layers in After Effects that you just spent time organising and naming in Illustrator.
Double-click on the composition file it creates and copy all the layers from this composition to paste into your final composition. If you drag all the layers in from the layer folder it automatically created, they will be out-of-place. Copying them from the composition you just imported will keep all layers exactly how they were in Illustrator.
Find a theme that fits the company
If you’re creating a logo for a business, such as a law firm, I can guarantee your chances are low that they will be happy with a high-energy animated logo. Do some research first to figure out how quickly the animations should move, what effects to use and what sound effects to implement.
Explore the company’s website and look at the design they used throughout. Educate yourself on the company’s general aesthetics. Look through to see if they’ve already created any videos in the past. If something is on their website then it represents the creative style the owners are going for.
Get inspiration and creativity from the nature of the company, make sure to plan animations that fit with the style of the business. For instance, in the window logo example if the name of the company was “Wake Up Windows” you could have the two windows on the logo opening like two eyes opening. Have fun with it but don’t forget to keep the theming tied strongly to the nature of the business.
Masks are your friend
One of my favourite ways to animate a logo (and simplest), is to assemble the logo on-screen. All the layers that make up the logo should be in their final position when they’re imported into After Effects. Go to around 3 seconds into your animation and set a position keyframe on all layers. Then move back to 0 seconds and move the position of each element where you would like the animation to begin. Don’t move any layer too far from where it will end up, you generally don’t want layers flying in from all over the place, but rather a nice gentle move.
Starting at 3 seconds, grab the rectangle tool in the After Effects toolbar. Make sure you have the layer selected that you want to draw a mask around (layers with just text on them work well). Drag the rectangle around the edges of the element on the layer, careful not to leave much space on any one side. Now hit the M key and create a keyframe on the mask path. Move back to 0 seconds as the animation begins and move the mask to the same exact spot on-screen as it was at 3 seconds. Using guides can make it very easy to move the mask exactly where you started. The idea is to have the mask stay in the same spot but the element, such as text, move. Then you can see only the text when it’s within the mask, but it will slide in nicely, seemingly from nowhere.
This technique can be used on any of your layers, but remember subtle moves work best. Don’t go overboard, unless it really fits with the theme of the company.
Keep it short and simple
As I alluded to in the beginning of this article, I went a bit overboard on how many effects I used to animate my first few logos. Clients tend to think animations are a bit like magic and it’s easy to get carried away trying to impress them. Twenty years ago, you could have got away with a giant lens flare, drop shadow and a logo twisting up from the ground at 500 repetitions a second while lightning hits it from above.
Modern animation is clean, simple and light on the amount of effects that are used. In fact, I’d challenge you to not use any effects at all.
The other crucial part is how long the animation takes. It’s easy to get carried away and have a logo take 5 to 10 seconds to accomplish everything you set out to animate. In fact, I have never seen a beginner animator create their first animated logo in under 5 seconds, it’s just too tempting to get carried away. I highly recommend never letting your animations last more than 3-4 seconds. You can of course have the logo stay on screen longer or have a camera pan in on the animated logo when it's finished. The actual animation, though, should be very fast. Practice cutting it down and keep it simple. Less really is more.
Add a background
My favourite background is pure white because it puts all the attention on the logo. You don’t want distractions, so solid colours work fantastically.
A silhouette is also a great choice. If you’re starting with a white solid layer for the background make sure you have it selected and then double click the ellipse tool to add a quick circle mask to the layer. The inside circle should be white and the outside will be black. Again, make sure the layer is selected and hit M twice to bring up the mask properties. Raise the mask feather to around 300 pixels and adjust the mask expansion to create the size of silhouette you’re after.
When you’re all wrapped up, render out an mp4 with the settings the client requested but also include a transparent .mov or .avi file with no background. This will impress the client that you thought ahead without being asked. Nine times out of ten they will end up needing a transparent version and they’ll think highly of you when they realise they already have it, so don’t forget.
Author: Jeff Hurd
Jeff Hurd is a video editor and animator based in Chicago. He has been an author of creative courses for Pluralsight since 2014, where he emphasises scenario based learning. His portfolio includes work for: Stouffers, Groupon, Radio Flyer, Porche, Howl at the Moon, Four Loko and State Farm.