I started off by setting up three looping frames of deep background, using some soft pencils and a layer of gray. It's a pretty repetitive loop, but I felt it was okay because it'll have a lot of unique 16-frame animation on top of it. Here's what that looks like on its own (1.4 MB animated .gif, might take a moment to load, depending on your connection speed!):
Next, I wanted it to be snowing in this little loop, so first I looked at some animated gifs of actual falling snow. I noticed right off the bat that there is a little bit of parallax going on, so I decided to create my snow in two layers: 1) foreground snow, which moves very quickly (close up) and 2) background snow which moves a little slower (farther away).
The only way I could think of to do this was to mark out the picture plane and then make some "paths" that I could animate the snow down. Here's what that template looks like:
The top box is for the background snow and the bottom box is for the foreground snow. Along the top and right edge you can see various marks - this was me trying to stagger the entrance of the snowflakes. In the top box, I tried to make a snowflake take 16 frames to go from top to bottom, in the bottom, it only takes 8 frames for a snowflake to go from top to bottom. So in the top animation, once a snowflake was halfway down, I started another one on the same path. In the bottom animation, I just had a new flake start as soon as the other one was done. So with 19 paths in the top animation, with two passes on each, I did about 40 passes on 16 frames, or about 650 snowflakes. 11 paths on the bottom, getting approximately two snowflakes each (the shorter ends get more), on 16 frames that's about 350 snowflakes. More than 1,000 total! Enough stats, let's see how they move! Here's the slower, background snowflakes:
At first, I had about half of the paths start in the same frame, so there is sort of a horizontal gap at one point, but I'm happy enough with this that I don't feel like I need to redo anything. This was a crazy amount of work, but it really helped me wrap my head around the looping concept. If a path had a snowflake introduced on frame 2 and 9 I would just reorganize the stack of paper so that loop started on the top. Here's what the faster moving foreground snowflakes looked like:
The other thing I worked on by doing all of this manually was my sense of timing/spacing. Just having to animate a dot moving along a path was a great exercise for this. You can watch any one flake (easier to do with the background flakes), and it slows down slightly if it's moving horizontally (drawn closer together) and faster if it's falling down (drawn further apart).
The final step was to composite all of these things together. This isn't perfect, because these are just pencil tests, but at least you can see what I'm going for. In the final, the foreground flakes will be white in their centers, with a black stroke around the flakes, whereas the background flakes will just be white dots (as they are here). Again, this animated .gif is 1.4MB so it might take a little while to load, depending on your connection:
Now all I need to do is drop in Argus! I still need to do one more round of cleanups on his pencils, which I'll post here before putting everything together in the final animation.
The L'employé du Moi fundraiser is currently about 75% of the way to meeting its goal! If you are enjoying these posts, please consider donating a Euro or two. They've got about three weeks left to raise the last 25% so that this animation can be displayed in L'employé do Moi's exhibit at Angoulemê next year, along with all the other animations by the rest of their authors.