'The Puzzled Game-Birds' Animation

Team: Alice Marchant, Nina Longman, Rhianna Grainger, Louise Hampden

Live brief for Wessex Museums

The Brief

In our second live brief with Wessex Museums, we were tasked with creating a minute long animation for the exhibition Hardy’s Wessex, conveying the themes of animal welfare in Hardy’s work. We were pleased that the clients selected our animation to be displayed as part of the museum’s exhibition.

Initial Research

Hardy Collection in Dorset Museum
Visiting Dorset Museum

After already conducting in-depth research into Thomas Hardy’s life and work in the previous project - including visiting Dorset Museum to see the Hardy collection – we already had a good understanding of the target audience and the tone of work we wanted to produce. As our group was assigned to create an animation for Dorset Museum’s section of the exhibition, we needed to explore the themes of either animal welfare or social tensions in Hardy’s work.

We decided early on that focusing on animal welfare would be a more interesting idea, as we found that although these issues were controversial and rarely acknowledged at the time, Hardy continuously discussed them in his work, humanising animals and in turn encouraging their fairer treatment. We researched the novel Far From The Madding Crowd, which helped us to better understand Hardy’s views, and had the storyteller Tim Laycock come in to run a session where he read several pieces of Hardy’s work about animals. We also completed some quick storyboarding workshops, and began to research into the twelve main principles of animation.

Narrative & Storyboard

Final storyboard
Refined Storyboard

Our storyboard is based on Thomas Hardy’s poem ‘The Puzzled Game-Birds’, which was read to us by Tim Laycock in our storytelling workshop. In our final storyboard, we decided to focus on making the story flow by using smooth and inventive transitions to move between each scene, for example the centre of the flower transforming into the pheasant’s eye, which then transforms into the landscape’s sun. We found out after we completed the storyboard that there is a flower called Pheasant’s Eye, where the centre of the flower has the appearance of a pheasant’s eye - working perfectly with the transition between the centre of the flower and the eye that we had planned.

Instead of taking a literal approach to animating the poem - which we thought could become boring and possibly too graphic for a museum audience – we tried to come up with more imaginative ways to communicate the poem, using growing plants to represent the birth and growth of the pheasant. The interpretive approach also proved helpful later when animating, as using simpler imagery allowed us enough time to work on getting the styling coherent.

Click here to see our full storyboard development


Flicking through the pages of a book to create sound effects
Creating a scrolling sound effect

In our sound workshop, we were encouraged to come up with inventive ways to make sound effects for our animation. We used microphones to record water droplets, scratched bark and dropped stones on soil to sound like dropping seeds. We wanted to make a scrolling sound effect that would work well as the numbers scrolled back to 1915, which we created by scrolling through the pages of a book, which you can hear below.

It was important for us that the voiceover we used told our narrative effectively and maintained the audience’s attention, so Nina suggested we use her father to record our voiceover in a Wessex accent, in a theatrical way. The voiceover received lots of positive feedback, which set us up well for the rest of the project. Without the successful voiceover, the animation would lack the strong narrative it needed to work, so we were very happy with the way it came out.


Animatic by Rhianna

Our next step was to ensure our storyboard lined up well with the voiceover, so Rhianna created a simple animatic from our refined storyboard. The animatic was extremely helpful to refer back to later on when we began animating, as we could animate the timing of each scene correctly and were able to split up the workload evenly between the four of us.

Initial Style Ideas

Simple black and white line drawing of landscape
Rhianna's Style Idea
Moodboard of landscapes with limited colour palettes
Louise's Style Idea
Colour palettes taken from pheasant imagery
Nina's Colour Palettes
Three landscape illustrations
Nina's Style Idea

When deciding on a style, Rhianna suggested we used lines to create a simple stop motion effect, a style that we all agreed was effective but would possibly take too long and create an uneven workload, as it would be difficult to all complete sections separately. Louise suggested a style which used a minimal colour palette, which we thought would be successful in making the animation more coherent if we used it throughout.

From these initial style suggestions, Nina created colour palettes and gradients by using imagery of pheasants' eyes, feathers, flowers and a Dorset landscape, as well as showing how the limited colour palette could work with our own landscape.

Style Development

My initial test animation

From here, I wanted to see how the styling could work in motion, seeing what animation techniques I could add to make it more visually interesting. After watching a series of tutorials, I learnt about adding texture, drop shadows and wiggle effects, which I thought would work well with a limited colour palette to create the impression of cut out paper having a stop motion effect. I created a short clip using these techniques, which took a surprisingly long time as I parented the texture of paper to each layer to make it look more realistic that each layer was its own piece of cut out paper.

My second test animation

Although I was happy with the result of my initial test, it would’ve been unrealistic to continue the texture pairing in each scene, so we decided to instead have one layer of texture across the whole video, but to keep the wiggle and drop shadow. In our interim crit, we received feedback that the simple shapes and light colour palette could be perceived as too childish to fit the themes of our animation, and they wanted to see how we could incorporate Rhianna’s line ideas into the style. From this feedback I created another test animation using Nina’s illustration of the landscape using a slightly darker landscape, gradient background and lines on the hills. We all agreed that this style was more effective for telling our narrative.

Animating Sections

Animating the transition between the flower and pheasant

When it came to splitting up who would animate what, we all started on different scenes, beginning with what we thought would be the most complicated sections, and then worked together to piece them together smoothly. After initially starting on the first landscape scene, I handed this over to Rhianna who improved the type scroll, and added the lines to the hills. I then started working on two transitions I had come up with: following the stem grow and the centre of the flower becoming the pheasant’s eye.

I wasn’t sure at first how I would animate either of these scenes, as although I enjoyed using After Effects last year, I was only using it to animate type rather than imagery. I used lots of problem-solving to come up with ways to animate the two sections, using the path tool to make a smooth transition between the outline of the flower and the shape surrounding the pheasants eye.

Animating the growing stem

I used a path and mask tool to give the appearance of a growing stem, transforming the position to follow the stem as it moved and the scale tool to make the bulb grow. I also created layers for each petal and used different rotations to look like a bulb and then an opened flower. I made the bulb stretch and bounce before blooming in order to add anticipation, one of the principles of animation.

After creating the two transitions, I had to perfectly line up the pheasant in my scene to the start of Nina’s scene to keep the animation running smoothly. I also had to figure out a way to move between the side view and front view of the flower, which I overcame by creating a series of interval drawings and fading them in and out.

Feedback & Final Touches

Adding final touches to style
Adding lines, shadows and texture

After we had all animated our sections and pieced them together, I went in to add a drop shadow and bevel effect to each layer. Although it was a long process, it added depth to a very flat animation and brought the style together. I also added a paper texture over the animation.

In our final crit, it was suggested that we add more lines throughout the animation to make the style more coherent and to add a clearer contrast between the starting and ending landscape to emphasise the absence of the pheasants. The clients suggested we had the years already rolling back as we panned down from the clouds in order to make the animation more timeless rather than only working for 2022, which is something we hadn’t considered. We took onboard all of this feedback and incorporated lines into each scene, as well as changing the audio in the last scene to eerie wind sounds to contrast with the birdsong in the first scene.

We received positive feedback from the clients, praising our ‘clear voiceover and strong visual storytelling', with visual and audio stories matching up well’, and we were pleased that they selected our animation to feature in Dorset Museum as part of the Hardy’s Wessex exhibition.

This project was my first opportunity creating an animated story, and as someone who mainly tries to avoid drawing and using imagery, I initially struggled to come up with any ideas for the storyboard.

As a group, we had minimal experience using After Effects, but we supported each other, contributed ideas and split the workload based on our individual skills, with some people focusing more on narrative, some on drawing and some on animating. After my initial struggle to find ideas, we came together to improve my first storyboard, and having a clear and interesting narrative set us up well for the rest of the project. We also kept the storyboard realistic to our abilities, and using simpler imagery helped us to maintain the style throughout the animation.

Usually in group projects I tend to take a more leading role and pick up where other people leave things out, but working in a team where everyone contributed equally enabled me to focus on perfecting my own sections instead of rushing to put everything together. I believe that the way that the group worked so well together is proven by the coherence of our work. If I were to change anything about the project, I would’ve taken a more practical approach when developing the style, especially as I was trying to mimic paper.

Making this animation has been the most enjoyable collaborative experience I’ve had at university so far, and I’m proud of what we achieved due to the good dynamic of the team. It was so rewarding to receive positive feedback from the clients and for our animation to be chosen for the exhibition. Throughout the project I have gained many new skills in After Effects, and I’ve enjoyed stepping out of my comfort zone to work with imagery much more than I usually do. I am looking forward to developing my motion design skills further in the future.