Animal Project

This was a project assigned to me for my Design Lab class at CMU in my Freshman year which required me to research an extinct or endangered animal and then model it using recycled materials.

Part 1

I decided to study and model a Carolina parakeet because they were found in the Midwest where I grew up and a bird would be an interesting challenge. Above are some notes and sketches that I took on these birds as well as an image of a Mounted specimen in the Field Museum.

I originally wanted to make my model with foldable wings, but I decided instead to focus more on making the bird as accurate as possible instead of making a complicated mechanic. There weren’t many pictures of the Carolina parakeet with its wings out so I used the sun conure as a reference for the wing structure. Above is my first model. I had a lot of trouble getting the pieces to glue together due to the plastic I chose, so I opted for tape. Hot glue just puts holes in the thin plastic and other glues don’t seem to grip it. I had a difficult time with the beak too because it was so small compared to the rest of the bird. I put the wings on hinges so they could flap up and down as my interaction. I think this plastic adds to making the bird seem light and airy and like it could actually fly.

I decided to lose the feathers for my model and instead focus more on the form of the bird. I tried to create both the implication of the feathers and the correct thickness for the wings by layering plastic. I also switched all of my white masking tape to clear tape or glue to keep the white tape from taking away from the form. I looked at some images of bird wing anatomy and created a new stencil for me to use for my wings.

The above images are my final Carolina parakeet model. I took the time to make a new tail without the cuts that I previously implemented as they were too detailed for the rest of the bird. I also remade the beak so that it was cleaner and matched the rest of the bird better. I struggled with the beak since it is so small to get the proportions and the shape right. Overall I’m pretty happy with how my parakeet turned out, my main focus for most of the project was trying not to focus on the details and the feathers and instead make shapes that are accurate for a Carolina parakeet. I also spent a lot of time making the wings the right shape and representing feathers without making each individual feather.

Part 2

The second part of this project required me to make an illustrative poster about my animal.

I thought it would be interesting to have one main larger bird that is closer to the viewer and then more birds behind it. My first thought was to do a forest since it’s the Carolina Parakeet’s natural habitat. I could also potentially work in a farmer or an orchard somewhere to convey that they were hunted to extinction. Above are some of the initial thumbnails that I made for this project as well as my first design.

I moved this sketch into Adobe Illustrator and started going over it with the pen tool. Then I began deciding what colors I wanted to use, which is a challenge in itself due to the 7 color limit of the assignment. I had not yet written my text, but the box in the corner of the page was where I was intending on putting it.

I tried to make the birds their true colors and the background something more monotone to emphasize how these birds look tropical but lived in the Midwest. Above are some of the color combinations I tried. I ended up simplifying the head of my parakeet to just yellow and removing the orange since it allowed me to have more shades to show depth in my trees. When I asked some of my peers, I got the best response from the color scheme with the blue background and brown trees. I used a color pallet generator website to suggest some colors that matched with the green and yellow of the parakeet.

I continued to add detail to my bird and started adding text in. The unfortunate part of this design was that it left little open space for text which I should've considered more when designing it. I wanted to frame my main flying bird a little better and add some depth to my poster so I added some shrubbery on the top and bottom of the screen. I also moved around the closest tree a bit so that I could fit the text on the left of the poster. I wanted to play with adding some texture or shading to my trees which is what I was working on in the iteration on the right.

I received some strong feedback from a professor and this mixed with my own dislike of my poster led to me restarting. I talked to one of my peers a bit and she taught me some helpful tools on photoshop as well as some tips for making a successful composition which both of those helped me a lot. I came up with these potential new compositions.

The benefit of restarting is that this poster was much easier and faster to develop since I now had more experience with Illustrator. The bird is the most important part of this poster, so I wanted to use multiple colors on it. I also wanted to keep the true bright colors of the bird since I felt this was one of their most distinguishable characteristics. I then went on to take some of the branches from my last poster and apply them to the trees in this new poster to make them more realistic. I wanted to add in some detail to the tree in the front, so I took the time to play around with textures.

I changed the patterning on the tree to be less geometric and more representative of what a tree’s texture really is. Next, I added in some feathers onto my bird. This was my most difficult part of making this poster because I had trouble taking something so flat and representing it without using straight lines. I attempted to use shadows to show the shapes as much as possible. I also added a hunter into the background to show how these birds were tragically wiped out. I then moved the bird in the background to align with the hunter’s gun and show more of a story.

This is my final composition. I added some texture to the trees to keep them from becoming too geometric looking, especially the ones in the back which seemed very stick-like. I added some more detail to the branch in the front through a twig, some more shading, and some stripes/bark. I elaborated on the detail that I was working on establishing on the bird through more shadows and defining more edges of the bird’s feathers.

Overall I’m pretty happy with how this turned out, especially for most of it being made in 2–3 days and my discomfort with Adobe Illustrator from the start. I’ve definitely learned a lot about this kind of illustrative technique and making a composition, on top of all of the technical skills that I developed with Illustrator.

Part 3

The third part of this project required me to make a short animation of my animal using Adobe Aftereffects.

This project really interested me, but I was also nervous due to having to learn a new program especially after just getting comfortable with Illustrator. The storyboard on the left is my first, but I ended up going with my storyboard on the right since it would be difficult for me to animate both the bird taking off and landing, since this has a lot of frames from the birds small movements. The general storyline is starting off with trees from above, my bird flies in and then there’s a shot of a plum before the bird takes a bite of the plum and then there’s a gunshot and the bird flies away.

This is what I made for my opening scene which is decent, but the quality doesn’t reflect how much work I put into it. Instead of an orchard it looks more like a cabbage field due the difficulty I had showing depth. I decided to put the intro text onto a feather because it would make this scene more dynamic and help the text to not blend into the background.

I moved on to making my next scene which is a plum glimmering in a forest before my bird swoops down and takes a bite. I changed the scenery from the original on the left to the final on the right to feel more like it’s in an orchard and to make the change from the last scene to this one less abrupt. I had modeled this scene from my poster, so it makes sense that it looks more like a forest and not enough like an orchard. I also decided to go with an apple orchard instead of a plum due to most people recognizing an apple before a plum. I changed the colors and looked at what apple trees look like to change the shape of the trees. The trees that I used in my poster for part 2 of this project were sycamore trees while apple trees are much more curvy and have more condensed leaves and fruit.

This is my second attempt at an orchard from above which is much more successful at showing depth and looks less like a cabbage field. I also attempted to start figuring out After Effects at this point and I was able to make my feather move across the scene.

The biggest animation I did was making my bird fly away at the end because I had to draw every frame in Illustrator before then sequencing and animating it in After Effects. I got the posing of the bird in each frame by taking a video of a sun conure flying and slowing it down and taking screenshots of key points in the bird flapping its wings. I then went back in and added in details and the eyes and beak in every frame. Then in After Effects I used the puppet tool to make the frames flow together better. Above are a couple of my frames.

My next step was to animate the bird flying across the orchard. I made the bird's wings appear to flap by shortening and then lengthening them. The tought part of this scene was making the background scroll by with the bird because I had to line up all of the trees and shadows perfectly.

My last step was to record and add in sounds. I walked around my neighborhood and recorded birds chirping and singing. The difficult part was finding spots without car noises too. I played around with a loud noise to make the gunshot, originally I wanted to bang a pan but that sound echoed too much. Instead, I dropped one of my kitchen chairs on my tile floor and it made a pretty convincing gunshot. I also recorded my friend biting into an apple to use for when the bird bites into the apple in the animation. For the wind, I whistled gently and for the bird flapping its wings I swung a skirt up and down.

Most of the final work in the animation I did was little touch ups: making the bird bite into the apple, making the bird walk across the branch instead of hop, making the background move in the gliding scene, etc. For being uncomfortable with Adobe software and graphic design in general, I’m pretty happy with the end result of my animation. I learned a lot about how to use these softwares as well as how to compose a short film and tell a story with so little time. I also developed my compositional skills when it came to each individual scene after my introduction to these skills with Part 2 of this project. Above is my final animation.