Elemental Magic – Volume I

This book helped me out greatly while creating the effects for the music video In the Middle of the Nite.

It breaks apart the fundamentals of how and why particles move in a certain way in fire, water or explosions. This gives you a very well reasoned approach to creating effects for animation.

2D effects animation is an artform that seems to be rediscoved through the influences of manga and flat animation. Often these effects are drawn almost out of intuition, but it is nice that you can approach this in a more theoretical way.

Disney veteran Joseph Gilland (great 90-ies website) has finally given us that first book dedicated to 2D effects animation. He’s broken down effects into four broad categories (water/liquids, fire/smoke, props/solid objects and magical effects) and laid out the principles needed to bring them to life on paper.

Since every real-world splash and flame is unique, Elemental Magic isn’t so much of a “how to draw” type book as it is a “how to approach” book. Gilland breaks down the basic behaviors of different types of matter and the working methods needed for an animator to capture the dynamic essence of an effect without being tied to a hyper-real style or getting bogged down in an unmanageable level of detail.

When I first opened this soft cover, rectangular book, and I thought “OMG!” Inside, this book looks like an illustrator’s private sketch book. Hundreds of beautifully hand-drawn, colored sketches: some segregated from the text, others used as a background (watermarked) with the text overlaid. Next to each illustration is a brief, but thorough explanation of the process. And, the key to understanding this message is summed up in one word: energy.

Joseph Gilland presents his topic with examples on his own, complete with tips and common mistakes to avoid. You’ll learn stuff like how animators can remove details and yet keep things realistic. For example, when dealing with liquids, he would talk about the different factors that affect animation, like water density, force, gravity, viscosity, after splash, etc. The various examples include the simple water droplet to creating waves on which surfers surf on. There’s also a chapter on props. These are stuff like breaking branches, falling leaves, moving fabric, crumbling clay, etc. Animating special effects is essentially animating energy. Throughout the book, there are a lot of detailed explanation on how different elements and objects interact with one another. While the book is on classic hand drawn animation, there are also some non-technical writeup on how you can use computers to aid in creating these effects.

Elemental Magic is a tremendously helpful resource that aims to help animators think through their approach before execution, to save time and effort without sacrificing quality. Even if there are other special effects books out there, this one definitely stands on its own.

Animators should find this book very useful.


Purchase: Elemental Magic on Amazon



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