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Simple Animations Breathe New Life Into Illustrations

By Brendan Seibel

Long ago, illustrations were the only way to depict people and places in newspapers. Later, photography became the dominant visual language. Today, we see so many photos that they’ve lost some of their former impact, and we’re more likely to read on a screen than on paper. That’s why illustration is making a comeback — with an animated twist. Michael Driver’s animated editorial work is a prime example.

Motion is a relatively new medium for this young English illustrator. He grew up with an appreciation for the arts nurtured by his mother but couldn’t figure out a way to turn his passion into a paycheck. The Nottingham native earned his keep in the food business until a new path was revealed.

“I didn't think it was a viable way of making a living until I got into a lot of alternative music,” says Driver.  “I’d see bands with all sorts of weird bits of merchandising and album art, and I think that’s where I started to get into illustration as a craft.”

Michael Driver created this illustrated animation.
Michael Driver animates his illustrations in Adobe Photoshop

Driver packed away his chef knives and enrolled in London’s Kingston University. Throughout school, he forged connections by working for free and by submitting illustrations to contests and exhibitions. The sacrifice paid off. Driver has amassed a strong portfolio: a book cover for Little, Brown Book Group; greeting cards for cycling brand Godspeed Shop; and editorial assignments with The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Wired, among many other publications.

Each gig has required flexibility and collaboration, especially when it comes to editorial work. Sometimes he receives a rough sketch and is asked to redo it in his own style. Other times he only has the headline and an early draft of an article. Regardless of how things start, the ensuing process involves back-and-forth communication and revisions.

Michael Driver animates his illustrations in Adobe Photoshop

“The best lessons I've learned so far are, don't undersell yourself and don't take on too much work,” he says. “People can get frustrated with you if you struggle to meet deadlines and the work you submit isn't your best.”

Not only have traditional media outlets provided Driver with an impressive portfolio, they’ve served as inspiration for his nascent animation skills. He creates speculative animations to illustrate articles he reads, allowing him to flex his creative muscles within the framework of an editorial assignment. 

To animate his drawings, Driver uses Adobe Photoshop’s Timeline. “My process for animating is pretty simple,” he says. “Firstly I work out what I want to move in the environment. Once I’ve sussed out that, I flatten the background and start adding the moving layers.” As you can see in Driver’s screenshots below, he focuses on animating part of the illustration, such as a limb, rather than drawing a complete character hundreds of times.

As a recent graduate, Driver is still cutting his teeth and figuring out how to nurture his talents and pay rent on time. But he loves animation and is looking forward to a time when he can concentrate on putting together a proper animated short. Who knows — he may even become a leader in a new online imagery trend.