How we created the Orange Fox holiday advert

By Nicola Bible, Junior Animator at Orange Fox Studios 

Hello there! Thank you for taking the time to join me as I talk through the making of ‘The Orange Fox’ advert for Orange Fox Studios. Firstly (if you haven’t already) please check out the finished advert below:

If you didn’t already know, I joined Orange Fox Studios back in July 2020 as an intern, after using the first lockdown to work towards a portfolio of Motion Graphic work. At the beginning of September, Creative Director Lee Tomes asked me about working on an advert for the studio. The idea being for the advert to promote Orange Fox Studio’s ability to create high quality animation that ‘banished the bland and the boring’ (the studio’s motto and mission statement).

Starting the process

The first step was to get the thinking caps on, jotting down ideas and searching for inspiration (mainly on Pinterest). Lee suggested that the Fox could ‘bring the forest to life’ as a metaphor for Orange Fox being able to take animation to the next level. This was where the idea was born for the fox coming out of hibernation and by doing so, waking up the rest of the forest (by having a bit of a party!). From here we created what we call a ‘story flow’ document which outlined our chosen story. Think of it as a written storyboard of sorts.

Initial mood-board of ideas.

Below is the initial sketch of the fox character. I really liked this, but soon realised there were limitations to the design if I were to make the character walk and dance. When discussing the design with Lee, we agreed that the fox needed to appeal to a different audience as this first design was very child friendly. Back to the drawing board it was!

Some simple and initial storyboard frames

These were created to get a rough idea of what assets and backgrounds would need to be made. The next step was to get into Adobe Illustrator and get creating!

 

Creating assets and the ‘look and feel’

The first thing that I created in Illustrator was the Fox, as this was the star of the show, it was pretty important! This part of the process was a huge learning curve for me. My experience in Illustrator was very minimal at this point so there were a few things that, later on in my process, I had to overcome because of the way in which I designed the fox initially. (But I will talk more about that later).

A snapshot from my Pinterest inspiration board 

There was a lot of experimentation with the backdrops for the film. They are quite different to the final ones for sure! Right at the start of this I drew from the inspiration that I had found and colour palettes I liked on my Pinterest board. I soon realised that what was not working in the early designs was primarily my colour palette, as there were too many and they were also very dull.

I decided to narrow down the colour usage which worked well, making the design much stronger. I then used textures that I made from photoshop brushes, bringing them into Illustrator and used a clipping mask to crop the texture to the shape. I also used the brush tool within the clipping mask to create the snow texture and tree bark textures. As you can see from the final image below, this was a really effective technique and really helped to take the backgrounds to the next level.

Once the backgrounds were done, I designed the other characters with a variety of different colours to choose from so I would have options when I started animating. I also re-visited the fox character, tweaking the assets ready for animation and altering the colour so it was more vibrant.

 

Animating and brining everything to life

The next step was to get into after effects and start animating! I decided to start with the effects that I needed to create, like the snow and the disco ball. I found a variety of different tutorials on YouTube to help me achieve these elements. For example, I used the cc Particle World effect to achieve the snow and get the feeling of depth across (it makes the effect 3D so you can play around with perspective).

The two biggest parts of this whole animation were the fox walk and the dancing scene, so they were the next two things on my list to do. This is where I realised that the way in which I designed my fox character made it a little more difficult to animate as it wasn’t made with the thought that it would be taken into a plug in like Duik Bassel. For anyone that doesn’t know, Duik is a plug in that helps you to animate things like walk cycles. It acts as your characters skeleton, so that when you move the foot for example, the whole leg would follow. A super useful tool (and it is free!) that I set about rigging my character up with straight away. (video shows process before limbs were attached to rig.)

However, what I found was that because the joints of my character were not evenly rounded, when I moved the foot the edges of the limbs would stick out as the leg bent. In case you were wondering – not the look I was going for. So, I realised I had two options: re-design the character so that it would work with Duik (bearing in mind this was 2 different angles for the walk and dance) or do it old-school and animate each limb with rotation and position properties. So, I went for old-school. I got my copies of ‘the illusion of life’ (Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston) and ‘the animator’s survival kit’ (Richard Williams) down from the shelf and began to draw out the key motions needed to achieve a walk cycle.

Keyframe notes

I set about animating my keyframes. And it worked! (I should add I also used the puppet tool and the cc bend it tool for the head/body and tail assets).

But it wasn’t great. I came across a tutorial on Skillshare lead by Motion Designer Jake Bartlett. I used his 2-legged tutorial to help me in understanding what was happening in my own keyframes and it helped a lot.

I felt that something was still a little off about it though so I decided to contact Jake and ask for some advice. He was so helpful, showing me what it was that I needed to focus on (which was my timing and spacing of the legs) and in doing so the walk looked so much better! Thank you Jake, I am so grateful! Check out the final keyframes below.

As for the dancing animation, well, I had to film some super embarrassing footage of me attempting to bust some moves… Let’s say no more!

The rest of the animation was created using different properties to move the characters/assets and where needed the cc bend it tool, for things like the rabbit ears. I made shadows for all the moving characters by duplicating the layer, adding a fill effect, changing the opacity, adding a fast box blur and making the layer 3D.

I worked closely with Lee every step of the way (over video call!) talking through each part of the advert and making sure that it was heading in the right direction. Lee also worked with Michael Tedstone, the Composer and sound Designer for this advert to really bring this piece to life with his music. Thank you Michael!

This project has been a real labour of love, and has pushed me to challenge myself at every turn, which I am grateful for. You don’t learn things without challenge, and I have definitely learnt so much. I’d like to say a huge thank you to Lee, for your continuous support and for giving me this great opportunity!

I hope everyone enjoys the advert!

Nicki.