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  • Shaikha Al Thani

Starry Night. A short animation.

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Where do I begin? This project was truly a rollercoaster, one that I enjoyed every second of. Starry Night follows Vincent Van Gogh as he embarks on a trip through Starry Night during which he reunites with a girl. It is a fleeting meeting that ends just as she forms the moon in Starry Night (the actual painting).

There are a lot of vague elements - was it a dream? a memory? his imagination? Is the girl the one that rejected Van Gogh, according to legend? Is it a deceased loved one? This vagueness was not accidental, far from it. I wanted to leave it open to interpretation. It is what you make of it. After all, Van Gogh's life is one that is certainly shrouded in mystery.

Character Design and Color Scheme

I wanted the character to be sketched in order to have this very hand drawn, artistic, and incomplete feel to it. I did this so that it is juxtaposed with the colored in version that is xomnehwta more detailed, but certainly more complete. I did so to create this idea that life is a painting, and his memory his canvas. Furthering this metaphor, he is simply an unfinished sketch without the girl and that it is because of her that color is injected into his life. I wanted to build upon this idea that with this memory, or dream, he is spurred on to create Starry Night. (Yes this is a very sappy and cheesy approach, but I felt it would translate well with the narrative I was forming.)


Within the 3.5 minutes that is this animation, there is a total of 218 layers. I'm not counting the layers that are null objects and cameras. All of the layers are originally illustrated assets except for the hills and, of course, Starry Night by Van Gogh. With this in mind, I can't breakdown the process in which I made this animation as I normally would have since I would illustrate then animate each consecutive sequence before repeating this. I did this for every pre-composed layer

It is difficult to focus on one technical element utilized when I had to use so many. But if I had to single out one thing it would be the puppet pin tool. I used this for almost everything. Van Gogh's expression in the extreme closeup towards the beginning of the animation, the backgrounds taken from Starry Night itself, the swirling elements of the paintings, and clothing like the flying coat and the girl's dress.

What was probably the most challenging and time consuming (but most satisfying) use of the puppet pin tool is in the girls' hair during the shot in which both she and Van Gogh are in frame.

To the left is a screenshot that illustrates the number of pins I made for the hair alone. I placed the starch pins around the girl's head to minimize unwanted warping where the head is. I did so because there are distinct shadows behind the head I did not want to show. This was a technique I utilized throughout the animation.

On the right I did the exact same thing for Van Gogh's legs. I wanted to minimize warping around the natural joints of the leg to ensure the most natural movement possible without using a plug in fo character animation.


Interestingly, I did try to use a plugin. Duik Bassel. And this was probably the first major challenge I faced with the animation. This plug in is quite popular as a character animator plug in. It does have a lot of potential, however I found it too challenging to tackle within. short time frame. Below is the skeleton I tried to form with the plug in. Needless to say, it was unsuccessful and I ended up doing the walking cycle natively with AE.

This is where the second challenge arose. Character rigging and generally keeping track of all the movements I was making. Naming every layer (yes each layer of the total 218 layers is named :) and precomposing each "shot" and character helped tackle this issue.

What could've been better

Two words: Walking. Cycle. If there's one thing I would go back and work on is the walking cycle. This is probably where the Duik Bassel plugin would've helped if I had the time to properly learn (so, apparently you can't learn complex software within a few minutes. Who would've thought! :')

Of course there are countless other things that I would have liked to fix. One thing is the temporal editing of the animation itself. Although I did export the barebones animation unto premiere pro to work on final edits, I still feel like there were a lot of things that were too slow or too fast. Another thing, I feel the animation would benefit from more "shots" for instance, when he opens his eyes after the dream/ imagination sequence it would've been better if there were a few more static shots. We jumped straight into the painting which felt too rushed.

What's next?

Who knows? I could go back and clean up this animation. Maybe extend it a little. I was toying around with the idea of creating mini animations that center around famous paintings ( I'm thinking Mona Lisa, Woman in Gold, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Persistence of Memory, and American Gothic). I really enjoyed creating a fabricated story that centers around a very concrete thing. Or maybe the chapter in paintings ends here. But what I do know is that I definitely want to continue animating and furthering the skills I picked up in class and taking it to the next level.

I hope you enjoyed the animation as much as I've enjoyed making it :)

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