Framing the Story: Animator Jocie Juritz
London-based animator Jocie Juritz spends her days explaining complicated subjects—for instance, the impact of false memories, the history of the color white, and the science behind nanomolecular genetic switches—all in three minutes or less.
She started out with a few cat GIFs posted on Tumblr, and those led to a call from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)—sort of a British version of TED. In her most recent project for RSA, Juritz’s squiggly cast of characters spells out Simon Sinek’s argument that big, intense acts are rarely as effective as a series of small, seemingly insignificant acts.
DRAWN TO ANIMATION
Juritz wasn’t always sure she would become an animator. When her coursework at Kingston University required that she choose between the illustration track and the animation track, she was stuck: She’d always struggled to pack enough information into a single image, but she didn’t know if she was cut out for the laborious, time-intensive work of animation. Her professors encouraged her to give animation a trial run, and she soon realized that the art form contained many of the things she’d loved even as a child: drama, performance, characters, and storytelling—all with words, music, and sound effects.
Juritz credits her quick rise to plenty of hard work, a bit of luck, and guidance from two of her university professors: Chris Shepherd and Martina Bramkamp helped Juritz find paying projects soon after her graduation, bolstering her confidence and providing the guardrails that a young animator needs, so she can keep a complicated process from going sideways.
A LOVE OF COMPLEX SUBJECTS
And how does that process begin? It all starts with a script—preferably an audio recording rather than words on a page, to ensure that visual elements match the speaker’s timing, tone, and personality. Juritz will also do a bit of her own background research to help with a guiding concept, as she did before starting production on CNN’s Colorscope episode about the color white.
Juritz generally creates a few detailed stills to express the mood and style of the piece; then she plots out a storyboard so the client has an opportunity to offer suggestions. As a final preliminary step, she creates an animatic—a well-worn animation tool that sequences key shots timed to the audio track.
Once that’s approved, Juritz uses the Timeline tool in Adobe Photoshop CC to do the painstaking work of animating each frame, adding layer after layer to isolate each figure, and then drawing, erasing, and redrawing forms to create the illusion of movement. Juritz animates at 25 frames per second (the UK standard). She’ll generally repeat each frame twice, which results in 12 illustrations per second—a process that allows her to complete three to five seconds of animation per day, depending on the complexity of the movements. When budgets allow, she’ll hire a friend to do some of that exacting, monotonous work under her art direction. (See her process, below, in the “Behind the Animation” section.)
Even with approvals at every stage, animators must make hundreds of tiny decisions on their own, which means clients have to trust Juritz; going back to edit a few seconds here and there could set a project back weeks.
“I’ve always really liked working on quite sensitive, psychological topics, and I think taking a light-hearted approach is often a better way to get those ideas across,” she says. “Animation can help with topics like sexual harassment or discrimination, where live action might make a piece feel too specific, or there might be too much going on, or you may even be reminded of someone you know. With animation, that person can just be a blob—and everyone can relate to a blob.”
BEHIND THE ANIMATION
Here, Juritz breaks down her process, using one of her cat animations as an example. This one features her cat Ziggy:
My process starts with a drawing. If I’m at the studio, I create my artwork in Photoshop CC, drawing with a Wacom Cintiq. If I’m at home, I use the Procreate app on the iPad Pro. I sometimes work on roughs in a sketchbook, but these days holding a Cintiq pen feels more natural than a pencil. In Photoshop, I tend to use Kyle T. Webster’s brushes.
Then I create a rough, jerky animation known as an animatic—essentially a storyboard playing along a timeline. I try and capture the movement of the characters with quick drawings, focusing on the most important positions. The original drawing lies underneath as a reference. I use Photoshop’s Timeline tool to animate.
Next, I animated the cat’s body, making sure the weight and timing felt right. I leave secondary actions (for example the cat’s tail) until the next step. Breaking the character into sections helps simplify the process; even the eyes and pupils are animated on their own layers.
I also animated the rough lines of the woman. The hand, book, and face are each animated in separate layers; I worked in different colors for easy distinction. I also added the cat’s tail on a new layer. There is so much attitude and emotion in a cat’s tail that adding it last gives me a chance to properly focus on it; otherwise, I’d be trying to consider the weight of the body, the tilt of the ears, the attention of the pupils, and the tail at the same time.
Below is a screenshot of my Photoshop file. I try to keep things organized, color-code layers, name groups sensibly, and delete anything I don’t need. By the time I’ve finished coloring, I have dozens of video groups and hundreds of layers, and my file has become a chaotic, but cherished, mess.
May 4, 2018
A frequent contributor to Communication Arts, HOW, and Adobe Create, Scott Kirkwood is a freelance copywriter and creative director focused on do-gooders, graphic design, and the great outdoors.