One of the first major challenges you'll face when animating is to make sure your product's movement looks smooth.
There's always the question of just how much you need to move your object per frame to achieve buttery results. Thankfully, Dragonframe has an increment editor that eliminates some guesswork when animating products.
At its core, the increment editor is just a line or a shape with notches that mark the spots where you need to move an object, as seen in the image below.
The increment editor appears as an overlay in your live view, so you can see it in real-time as you animate.
How does the increment editor work?
The increment editor works using the slow-in slow-out principle. The concept pertains to the fact that a moving object doesn't abruptly start or stop. Instead, it gradually gains or loses momentum like a car would take a few seconds to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour and vice versa.
The increment editor helps you see how much you need to move an object per frame. That way, you have precise control over how your animated product speeds up or slows down.
Back when we had no idea that dedicated stop motion apps existed, we used to connect our camera to a computer monitor, and physically write lines and Xs on the screen with a marker. We thought it was a genius solution to animating precise movements, until of course, Dragonframe came into the picture.
We were quite surprised that Dragonframe had a feature similar to the technique we thought we developed. It was pretty much like adding lines to a computer screen, except that it was now all done digitally!
So how do you use the Increment Editor?
Step 1: Draw a Line or a Shape
Once Dragonframe launches, hover your mouse on the left side of the Live View space.
When you see a floating box appear, click the pencil icon in the toolbar. Under Drawing Layers, you can select between Line Tool, Cubic Spline Tool, Polyline Tool, Rectangle Tool, and Ellipse Tool.
What you choose will depend on the type of movement you want to do. Select between the Line Tool if you want your object to move in a straight line. And if you're going to connect several points, consider using the Polyline Tool instead.
If you want your object to move in a closed circuit, you should consider choosing either the Rectangle Tool or the Ellipse Tool.
Our bottle of vitamins only needed to go from Point A to Point B for our animation. That's why we selected the straight line.
Step 2: Change the width and color of your line or shape.
By default, the color of the line or shape you add to your Dragonframe screen is white, and it's pretty thin. Consequently, it can be challenging to see on screen, especially if your animation set is mostly white.
To increase your line or shape's visibility, you must click on your preferred line width and color under Drawing Layers. Once you make your selections, you'll see your line's appearance change.
Step 3: Turn on the Increment Editor.
Adding a line alone isn't enough to create smooth animation. You'll need to add notches and be able to adjust them as well. And you can only do that by clicking on the line to activate it, then return to the floating box and select the Increment Editor at the bottom of the Drawing Layers tool.
Once you activate the Increment Editor, you'll see a dialog box appear. This is where you can add notches to your line or shape and make the necessary adjustment which we'll discuss next.
Step 4: Add the increments.
Now, this is the part that gets a bit confusing. Just how many increments do you need to get an object from Point A to Point B? 10, 12, 24, 50?
Well, the secret is to time the movement of your object using a stop watch.
In our case, we needed our vitamins bottle to slide a few inches from off-screen until it was beside the other vitamins bottle. To figure out the time it would take the bottle to get from Point A to Point B, we pushed it across the table with our hands and recorded the time it took with the stopwatch.
Pushing the bottle across the table took more or less 50 seconds. Since we were shooting at 12 frames per second, we knew we needed to do the animation in ten increments.
So how did we figure out we needed ten increments?
To help make it all easier for us (and for you!), we created this simple formula:
# of Increments = Time of movement (in seconds) x 5 (milliseconds equivalent to one frame)
Note: If you're using 24 frames per second, simply change the milliseconds from 5 to 10.
Once the Increment Editor dialog box appeared, we clicked on the line to select it, went back to the box, and typed 10 (as you can see in the video clip). After that, the notches immediately appeared across the line.
Step 5: Adjust the increments.
When you add the increments to your line or shape, you'll notice them spaced evenly.
If you follow the even increments, the result will look quite robotic since you're letting your object move at a constant speed. Remember that smooth motion is all about using the slow-in slow-out principle.
Move the toggles on either end of the Increment Editor's line graph to alter the spaces between the increments. In our case, we only needed to move the lower part of the line because we only had to do a "slow-out."
Step 6: Change the increment's direction.
Remember that you don't always have to use a straight line when working with the Increment Editor. You can also do curves or points.
Unfortunately, straight notches don't always align with curves or points. So you may need to select an increment direction that's more appropriate to the shape you're using. You can choose notches that sway to either left or right, or horizontally or vertically!
Step 7: Test your increments.
So how would you know if your increments will produce smooth animation? Well, you can test it!
Press the Play button in the Increment Editor box, and an animated ball will move across the line (or your selected shape). You can use the slider at the bottom of the box to make the ball either smaller or bigger.
Click the Loop button if you want the animation to keep playing as you make further adjustments.
Once you're satisfied with the speed and the smoothness of the ball's movement, you can finally start animating!
Step 8: Animate your product!
Once you finish adding and adjusting the increments, animating becomes a breeze.
All you have to do at this point is move the object you're animating so that it aligns with a notch. Repeat the process until you reach the end of the line!
Note: We shot this animation in reverse to make sure the bottle landed in the right spot once we played it back.
It may seem like there's a lot of steps involved when using the Increment Editor. But in reality, you can go through the entire process in less than a minute. Once you become familiar with the feature, working with it becomes intuitive.
The Increment Editor is most useful in flat lays and patterns that require you to place objects in precise positions. You can also add multiple shapes and lines at the same time when you're animating several products. Just remember to color-code them so it doesn't get confusing!