I’ve been experimenting with the graphic novel format to see how it might be used to tell a story about science. The application I used is called MotionArtist, which is available for free (as the public beta version) until early next year (January 15, 2013) when the retail version will be offered for about $60–70. You can watch a video here that shows what MotionArtist does and how it works:
As you can see, with MotionArtist you can create a graphic novel or web comic relatively easily. There is a slightly steep learning curve, but the tutorials offered on the MotionArtist website provide enough information that most people can get started and then learn by playing around with the application. It does help to already have some experience with other animation software, but most of the tools are fairly intuitive.
I decided to learn as much as I could about the various tools, panel options, workflow, etc. by creating a short project. That has been my approach to learning videography: pick a project that requires some new technique or software that I want to master and then learn by trial and error in the process of creating my project.
In this case, I wanted to use a science topic but one that I could have a bit of fun with and that would be complimentary with the graphic novel/web comic format. So for my project, I chose an environmental phenomenon known as “brown marsh”, which refers to sudden dieback of coastal marshes. Instead of telling the story from the viewpoint of scientists, however, I decided to use marsh snails as the protagonists in my story. Although I set out to tell quite a different story, once I “created” the snail characters, they took over and told a very different story from the one I had initially envisioned (funny how that happens).
I used MotionArtist to set up the panels, import images and some video clips, and add text boxes. If you want to animate, you will need to set up layers so that individual components can be moved independently. I wanted to animate the snails and have them moving around. I started with photographs of marsh snails and removed the image backgrounds as I’ve shown in a previous tutorial. I used Photoshop to develop layered images of snails, marsh grass, and backgrounds. These could then be imported as individual layers in MotionArtist or as a composite image. I also used Photoshop to “cartoonize” some of the images prior to importing them into MotionArtist.
Once complete, the project can be exported as a video or as HTML5. However, I exported as a video because the HTML5 did not seem to work with my content (except for the opening scene); perhaps this glitch will be “fixed” in the retail version of MotionArtist. Although you can add audio and voiceover in MotionArtist, I used iMovie to add some sound effects and music and then to render the video.
Here is the final version, which I titled “Brown Marsh Apocalypse”:
I see a lot of potential for creating interactive graphics with this software to illustrate science concepts and will be giving this a try in the future.