Animate an Isometric Vector Island With Adobe After Effects and Illustrator

n a previous tutorial, we created an isometric island, and today we will animate key elements of that island. We'll use Adobe Illustrator to prepare the files and After Effects to animate. The purpose of this tutorial is to take an illustration and breathe some life into it by adding animation.
I've prepared some files as well to help you follow the tutorial. Once downloaded, open Illustrator so we can prepare the files for After Effects.
With Illustrator open, the animations for this tutorial are:
  • ripple of the water and ball
  • loop of the fish
  • wind blowing on the trees and parasol
This helps us focus our animation and have a clear target for what we want to achieve.
To import an ai. file into After Effects, we have to make some adjustments in the Layers panel. To make it clearer, we separate the still elements from the elements we are animating. Open (Command-O) the file "" and the file "".

Before and After the files are cleaned

First, select one fish in the file "", Copy (Command-C) and Paste In Front (Command-F) in the Layer Fish in the file "".
Now, change the Transparency (Window > Transparency) to 100% Normal and check the color (#652C90).

Result clean flish

The reason for this step is that we will convert all our elements to vector shapes, and it get trickier to clean the files in After Effects, rather than in Illustrator.
This task being tedious, you can use the file "" to start with the animation.
Open After Effects and the file "Animation_island.aep", and import the file "" as a composition. Retain Layer Sizes and drag and drop it into the resource folder.

Importing Ai File into After Effect

Create a New Composition (Command-N) with the settings shown below.

Composition for Ripple Animation

Double-click on the composition, and add the layer "Ripple" found in the "Ressources" folder.
Then, convert the layer to a vector shape (Layer > Convert to Vector Shape).
Add the Modifier Offset (Add > Offset) and set the Offset to pixel. While we're at it, change the Layer Ripple_water Blend Mode to Overlay and Opacity (T) to 40%.

Ripple Effect

To add a keyframe, click on the stopwatch icon, then 1 second later add another keyframe with the value px.
Finish the animation with a loop. Create a New Composition, "Loop_ripple", and drag and drop the composition "Ripple_water".
Now, activate Temporal Remapping (Command-Option-R) on the composition Ripple.
Alt-click on the Stop Watch Icon to add a LoopOut Expression as shown below
The Pingpong Method does a back and forth loop between two keyframes, in our case between 1 and 8.
You may notice that the animation disappears at 1 second. To fix it, extend (click and drag) the lifetime of the composition Ripple. Then add a keyframe before the last keyframe and delete the last frame.

Loop pingpong

Create a New Composition and set the settings as shown in the picture below.

Composition setting for Fish animation

Double-click on the composition, and add the Layer Fish found in the resource folder.
Then, Convert the Layer into Vector Shape and change the anchor point of the fish using the Anchor Tool (Y).
Use the Pen Tool (G) to create a path for the fish. Make sure to include at least three vertex points for the path.

Example of a path

Add a keyframe on the Attributes Position and Rotation of group 1, not the layer Fish.
Select the path you created before, unfold and select the Attribute Path, and Copy and Paste into the Attribute Position of group 1.
The fish now follows the path you drew, so Extend the keyframes to six seconds. Duplicate (Command-D) group 1.
Select the path from before, and double-click to select a vertex point far from the first fish. Left-click to change its first corner (Path Mask and Forms > Define first corner).
Select the path, unfold and select the Attribute PathCopy and Paste into the Attribute Position of group 2.
Repeat the previous actions for a third fish.

Animation fish

Now, tweak the rotation every two seconds to match the path they follow.
Click on the Graph Editor, drag and select all keyframes.
Change the Interpolation to Bezier and drag the yellow handle to match the curve between each keyframe. Add keyframes if you feel that tweening is not enough.
You can repeat that step for as many paths as you want—I stopped at three paths. Once satisfied with your school of fish, move on to animate the tree.

Curve fish animation

Create a New Composition and set the settings as shown in the picture below.

Composition settings for tree animation

Add the Layer Tree and then Convert the Layer into Vector Shape.
Add two groups, one for the trunk (shape and light) and one for the leaf (shape and light), and drag the different elements to clean your file. Drag the leaf group within the trunk group.
Then copy the layer, delete everything but the trunk, and create an Alpha Matte with the Trunk_texture on top.
Finally, change  the Anchor Point (Y) of both groups and layers, and adjust the Blending Mode of the light (both tree and leaf) to Overlay 60%.

Layout of layers for tree animation

Add a keyframe to the Attribute Skew, and add another keyframe at 1 second with the value -8 for Skew on the Trunk group and 12 on the Leaf group.
Copy the value of the trunk into the Attribute Skew of both Mask_texture and Trunk_texture.

Atttributes of Tree Animation

Finish the animation with a loop. Create a New Composition, "Loop_tree", and drag and drop the composition "Tree".
Now, activate the Temporal Remapping on the composition "Tree".
Alt-click on the Stop Watch Icon to add a LoopOut Expression as shown below.
Now, use the Graphic Editor to tween the motion to your liking.
To populate the scene, Copy and Paste the trees. You can use "background_top.png" and "background_bot.png" as references for positioning.
Follow the same step for the parasol. Once you're done, we can adjust the animation.

Loop pingpong

Create a New Composition (Command-N) and set the settings as shown in the picture below.

Composition settings for Final animation

Add each animation and "background_top.png" and "background_bot.png" to complete the scene. Then add each beach towel into the scene.
Then, add every ball into the scene, convert them and change their Blend Mode—the shadow to Multiply 40% and the light to Overlay 60%. Add a mask, use the Pen Tool, and modify the type to mask and draw a path following the shadow underwater.
Duplicate each ball (Command-D), invert the mask of the duplicates, and drag and drop the first batch below the Loop_ripple composition.

Layout for Ball layers

Add a Solid (Command-Y) and a Ramp Effect (Effect > Generate) on top of it to create a mood.
Change the gradient to a start color (#D3E169) and an end color (#091098) and a Blending mode set to Overlay with an Opacity (T) to 80%.

Before and After adding a mood

Add to the Render File (Command-M) and Render as .FLV (Output Module > FLV) or watch a RAM preview depending on your PC. Take this opportunity to look at the animation and make adjustments to the looping GIF.
Once you're satisfied with your loop, add to another Render File (Command-M) and export as a PNG sequence.

Outpust settings for PNG Sequences

Open Photoshop, and Open your PNG sequence.
Use the Adjustment Panel (Window > Adjustment), Brightness and Contrast for example, to tune your GIF.

Adjustement Panel
Then, Export your GIF (Command-Alt-Shift-E) to save your GIF. Toggle on looping and adjust the quality of the GIF. This step is very important if you want to share you work. A GIF must be under 8MB to be uploaded in Dribbble.
GIF preset
Here's an example of my settings that work: Selective, Pattern, Colors: 256, No Transparency Dither, and Bicubic.
In this tutorial, you took a step further at an environment by animating a couple of elements and adjusting the tone and animation of the scene.
Feel free to comment and show me your results—I'd be happy to see yours.


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