The Pet Project Series: 2D Cel Animation

At the intersection of challenging and fun, you’ll find our designers and developers working on some pretty interesting personal projects. Today, I’ve asked two of our motion designers, Rob and Chris, for some insight into a 2D Cel animation project they just completed; and how they put their minds together to successfully produce their video.



Chris first proposed the idea to do a short digital cel animation to our creative director, Brent. I had expressed thoughts of trying something similar on my own as well. So we decided to join forces and work together on producing a short animation, the bulk of which would use a frame-by-frame technique. We brainstormed and eventually came up with a simple narrative around which we could build storyboards. We drew up a plan for production hours and pitched the idea to key stakeholders in CGI Interactive. Shortly thereafter, we got approval to start working


[Rob & Chris]

This was uncharted territory and coming up with hours was not easy. We had to devote some time to training and instructional work, plus a big block of time to complete the process of tracing the video frames. In addition we needed to begin coming up with a story, visuals and compositing the elements together. We faced the task of determining the time needed to accomplish our goals balanced against the needs of our client work. After realizing that we needed more hours than initially thought, the importance of setting limits and incremental goals was something we appreciated the further we progressed. Fortunately, we have great project managers, and they did their best to accommodate our vision.

The approach


I initially had trouble deciding on the best approach for creating the artwork, and which tools we would use. We did some research online, and found various methods that people recommended, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some like to draw in photoshop and use onion-skinning, some swear by Flash, and some can jump right into After Effects and use shape layers, paint or masks. Chris primarily used Photoshop to draw the frames, and I mainly used After Effects along with some Cinema 4D for the 3D work. Another tool that helped was Chris’ Wacom Cintiq, which made tracing the frames a lot easier. I think the project would’ve been difficult at best without that hardware.

More knowledge

[Rob & Chris]

During our search for visual inspiration, we were captivated by the fluid, liquid transitions and effects that we saw being used in cel-style animations. It would be neat to include that in concert with our paint streak graphical theme that ties the whole story together.


I had drawn simple versions of the paint splashes for the storyboards, but creating it by hand for the actual animation proved to be tedious and not super realistic. I decided to jump into Cinema 4D and leverage XParticles, in combination with a Sketch ’N Toon material, to create life-like fluids with cartoon-like style. That had a learning curve as well, as I hadn’t really used either tool in any major way. After some trial and error, tutorials and experimentation, I was pretty happy with the results. The liquid transitions are seamlessly integrated with the hand-drawn elements

Technology used

MS PowerPoint (concept and storyboard presentation)

Adobe Photoshop (frame creation)

Wacom Cintiq (hand sketched assets)

After Effects (animation)

Cinema 4D (dimensional assets)

XParticles and Sketch ‘N Toom (fluid animations with cartoon style)

The take-away

More often than not, good things come from taking the chance to try something new. Knowing what they do now, would Rob and Chris take on a project like this again? You bet they would. Stay tuned to hear about the next Pet Project our creatives at CGI Interactive get their hands on!