You've seen the clever and often beautiful animated movie studio logos that open a theatrical presentation, or the title graphics that come to define the brand of a television show or video production company. Many of them are memorable or entertaining. You can apply some of these creative and inspirational animation techniques to an average logo design for your corporate client or small-business production.
Seeing a great movie studio logo animation before the picture starts — from 20th Century Fox or Universal Studios, for example (see below) — is like watching a warm-up act. I've often mentally deconstructed some of them while sitting in the theater, imagining how I would create them myself by combining video, 3D, and motion graphics in Adobe After Effects — often to the point of distraction from the beginning of the feature film.
Almost any static logo design can be easily animated in either 2D or 3D in Adobe After Effects CC with layers created in Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Illustrator CC. This article shows you some examples and concepts as well as three techniques for creating 2D or 3D logo animations. You should have a basic understanding of how Illustrator CC and After Effects CC work, since you'll be able to download and explore some of the project files.
Depending on the logo design you're starting with, you'll need to first determine why you want to animate it and what story you want it to tell. Where will this animation be used? Will it be an animated avatar for a company's online presence or website? Are you creating an animated title for a video production? Or is it for a product or service business? Whatever the case — you want it to convey a message or evoke an emotional response. After all, this is the extension of the logo or title design process. The original logo design was created with purpose and should tell a story — now it's your turn to bring that story to life.
Once you've defined the purpose and the delivery medium for your animation, you can decide how best to approach the animation process.
Oftentimes, simply moving the logo onto the page in a creative way or overlaying other images and graphics is enough. Other methods will require moving individual elements of the logo to create the animation or possibly building a 3D object from a vector logo and rendering it in Raytrace 3D in After Effects.
Understanding how the animation will be used and what message it needs to deliver will help you determine which approach to use.
In this article, I share three very different ways to animate a logo by creating a simple fly-in logo that appears to come from the top of the screen, a multilayered Illustrator logo that's animated to music, and a fully-rendered 3D logo with reflections, lighting, and shadows.
Video 1. In this example, the logo swoops down and lands in front of the background image (click to play).
The fly-in method of animating a logo onto the screen is the simplest to create but can still be effective, depending on the complexity of the design or whether the logo will be overlaying other video, imagery, or graphics (see Video 1). This technique can be performed easily in either After Effects CC or Adobe Premiere Pro CC.
The real-world example of this animation style (shown in Video 1) illustrates how effective and appropriate it can be — especially when there are other moving elements in the background. This was a project I designed for a client's website that was intended for TV broadcast, live visual programs and presentations, and product videos. I created it using Photoshop and After Effects.
The original logo was an embossed-style design created in Photoshop and was exported as a PNG file to retain transparency in the background, as shown in Figure 1.
Starting with the background imagery, the flag was a still image, which was animated to wave slightly beneath the image layer of the photographer above it. Next a series of star shapes were animated in a circle around the photographer image, with a small thumbnail of various images inside each shape. This laid the foundation for flying the logo in from above and created movement and focus on the center of the screen where the logo eventually lands. The entire image then flashes and goes to black with the sound of a camera's shutter. This is where the importance of timing is critical for audio to support the motion and actions in the animation.
Video 2. In this example, the letters slide in from the right, and the falling leaf lands to the left of the letters to complete the arrangement (click to play).
Video 2 shows the most requested type of logo animation I encounter as a professional: taking a client's existing logo and animating it for video productions. Of course, you need the source design in Illustrator or EPS format with all the layer and object information included, or you will need to re-create the logo to match.
In this example, I created a fictitious corporate logo design in Illustrator CC (see Figure 2), using some stock imagery from iStockphoto, and then I animated it in After Effects CC. I set the timing of the logo to a soundtrack I created from the music and sound library at SmartSound.
Download the After Effects vector logo project files (animated-logo-vector.zip, 8.8 MB) and review the contents to see how they are constructed.
The first step in organizing and preparing a multilayer logo is to properly group objects so they can be easily identified and exported for animation (see Figure 3).
In this case, you will not want to directly import the original Illustrator file into After Effects. Instead, organize the objects and layers, and export them as a group so you have fewer layers to manage and can properly apply the correct layer blending mode to each group. Naming the subgroups of each layer will help you on export and when you apply the layer blending mode in your After Effects project (see Figure 4).
When you export the object layer groups you wish to animate, make sure that only the group you've selected is visible, and choose File > Export. I typically use a high-resolution PNG file because it rasterizes the data and retains the transparency, as shown in Figure 5. The rasterized file is easier for After Effects to manage and large enough to scale or zoom in on without encountering any edge artifacts.
Now that the exported PNG files are imported to After Effects CC, they can be placed in a new comp and scaled to fit. Since this project could be used for a standard HD video or on YouTube, my main comp is 1280 x 720 at 30fps. The layers need to be scaled considerably because they were exported from Illustrator at a high resolution.
In some cases, you may need to create an animation inside an animation. In this example, the water droplets on the leaf move while the leaf is falling (see Figure 6).
This effect is accomplished using a sub-comp, where the motion of the water droplets is first created on a static image of the leaf in a single small comp (see Figure 7). This sub-comp is then imported into the main comp like a piece of footage where the leaf can be animated to float into the scene.
Note: When animating a logo, there is room for a lot of subjectivity in deciding what should move, how it should animate onto the screen, or how it should move once it's there. The only limitation is your creativity.
Since the dimensions and aspect ratio of the original logo were square and the comp is widescreen HD, I decided to stretch the background layer and animate it across the screen, right to left, to give it more depth and character. I then animated the circular "blades" by position to appear to fan out to the center of the screen. In most cases, I will use an Easy Ease In keyframe assistant on the end keyframes on the Timeline to give the animated object a smooth transition (see Figure 8).
For the ECO text, I created a simple right-to-left slide-in animation by keyframing the position, adding an Easy Ease In keyframe assistant on the end keyframe, and enabling Motion Blur for the layer (see Figure 9).
I animated the leaf sub-comp that I created earlier by adjusting the position over time and using the Bézier handles on the motion path to create an S curve to simulate a falling leaf. I also added a couple keyframes of rotation to help the leaf appear to slowly glide into position (see Figure 10).
To simulate a 3D drop shadow on the leaf, I applied a Drop Shadow layer style to the leaf sub-comp layer, adjusted the Opacity, Size, and Distance keyframes over the Timeline, and timed it to fade out when the glow and lens flare appear in the animation (see Figure 11).
I then animated the four different lens flare layers so I could independently control opacity, scale, and rotation to create an interesting and dynamic lens flare glow effect behind the leaf, as shown in Figure 12. Adjusting keyframes along the Timeline and adding Ease In and Ease Out will help to smooth the animation and make it more pleasing to the viewer. It's also important to make sure that each layer's blend mode matches what was defined in the Illustrator file.
Finally, I created a seven-second soundtrack in SmartSound that I could adjust my animation timing to, so the major movements would coordinate with the key musical events in the soundtrack (see Figure 13). Sometimes opening the specular data on the imported audio track will help guide you to louder events like piano key strikes, drums, or sound effects.
In this project, I moved the leaf down to land right at the beginning of the second piano part and had the lens flares glow on cue as well.
Video 3. In this example, the camera moves around a spotlighted 3D Adobe logo that’s suspended in space (click to play).
Probably the most sophisticated and time-consuming method of animating a logo is to convert it to a 3D extrusion and render the scene in Raytrace 3D. After Effects CC enables you to convert any vector shape or text layer in the Raytrace 3D comp mode to an extruded 3D layer with geometry and rendering options that go beyond just moving things around in 3D space (see Figure 14). You can also use Cinema 4D Lite (available with After Effects CC) to create 3D logos and objects and then render them through After Effects with the new Cineware effect.
Download the After Effects 3D logo project files (animated-logo-3d.zip; 16 MB) and review the contents to see how they are constructed.
You can apply two types of geometry to layers in After Effects CC in Raytrace 3D mode, based on the type of layer you've selected. For shape and text layers, you can choose extrusion geometry and material effects that appear to give volumetric mass to the objects. Other layers such as photos and images, graphics like Adobe Illustrator files, video, and sub-comps will all be treated like flat, bendable layers, where you can apply curvature to the layer as if it were printed on a piece of acetate and then bent.
For this example, I created a simple extrusion of the Adobe logo in Raytrace 3D and made a sweeping camera move around it. It has a single spotlight and a bit of ambient light to fill-in some of the shadows and enhance some of the Raytrace 3D reflections on the letter surfaces (see Figure 15).
Caution: Keep in mind that Raytrace 3D effects with reflections and radiocity enabled will greatly increase your render times.
I started by converting the Adobe Illustrator logo layer to a shape layer in After Effects CC and making it a 3D layer. I could then apply geometry such as bevel style and extrusion depth, as well as material options such as cast shadows, reflections, transparency, refraction, and much more. I also added a flat wall in the scene behind the logo to have something to cast the shadows on and add a frame around the logo for the spotlight.
Adding a 3D camera (see Figure 16) enabled me to pan around the scene in 3D space. I could treat this like a physical camera in the real world, with lens characteristics like size, zoom, and aperture controls for shallow depth of field. Most of these settings can also be animated over time on the Timeline with keyframes to create some amazing effects.
As you've seen in these examples, there are many ways you can creatively animate an existing logo to bring it to life. To explore the animation and 3D capabilities in After Effects CC further, including Cinema 4D Lite, watch these videos on Adobe TV:
Jeff Foster is a published author of several animation and production books and videos, and has been an instructor at creativeLIVE, Photoshop World, Macworld, Adobe MAX, and NAB. He's been a producer, creator, and trainer in the print, video, and film production industries for more than 25 years. Follow his blog at PixelPainter.com.