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Appreciating the Frames: @dimaphew

Disclaimer: I am a very amateur animator appreciating the work of a master. I have no formal education of frame by frame animation. But still please enjoy :)

If you do not know Dima Tkachev, well it’s time to get to know him.

Tkachev goes by @dimaphew on Instagram and Dima Phew on YouTube. Dimaphew is a motion graphic mastermind. Here, just watch this video: (He’s a monster).

I don’t think I could ever describe his work in a way that would give it justice. Every single time I watch any of his animations my jaw is legit on the floor. I’m going to be honest, that video I just shared with you is what fully convinced me to write this piece right now. I’m only 3:08 into the video at the time that I am originally writing this. I will be absolutely honest and say that even though I’ve watched 3 minutes of the video, I have watched that video for at least 10 minutes. I have been just rewatching different projects multiple times, putting that shit at 50% speed, watching the frame by frame in just utter awe. I’m lowkey kinda scared to press play on that video again. Like what else is there to do in the 2nd half?

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this piece is to really appreciate Dima’s complete understanding of speed and physics.

So let’s just start with basic frame by frame animation techniques for speed. In frame by frame animation you draw every frame and they are played consecutively at a fixed frame rate (12 frames per second, 15fps, 30fps, etc.). So if the video speed stays consistently, how do you add variance in the speed of the animation? One way is with the length and size of the object you are drawing.

Left: Constant size

Right: Varying size

Top: Drawing Process

Bottom: End result

In the first example above, you see how the object feels constant? No variance, no personality. In the second example, you see how there’s more life to the object? With just changing the size of the object in each frame you can portray different speeds.

Another thing you can do is change the spacing between the objects and removing frames. Say I take the previous example, but I move the middle frames that are on the left closer to the left and move the middle frames that are on the right closer to the right and remove a couple frames? Now you have a faster line seems to travel through the center faster. Less frames means less time for the object to travel, which in turn speeds up your objects motion.

Top: Process Video

Bottom: Results

Left: Slight position adjustments & frame removal

Right: Original

So these are just very basic examples of speed manipulation in animation. Just to give you some sort of reference.

So let’s get into this piece he did:

In this piece, and basically every single piece in that showcase linked above, he shows mastery in his understanding of speed.

Now, let's put the video to .25 playback speed and focus on any object that is being animated and look at the sizes of the objects and the difference in spacing between where it was and where it is at now. It’s amazing how smooth he maintains the animation. His understanding of speed and flow is next level.

Now, also consider the different elements within this animation that he is portraying. There’s “light”-like objects revealing the text behind. There’s fire-like elements and smoke-like elements. Each one of these elements have proper speeds and motion characteristics that are needed to be portrayed properly in order to convince the viewer that the animated elements in front of them are in fact fire and smoke.

Fire and smoke are very hard elements to properly animate and portray. With fire, typically there’s always a natural wavy motion upwards. Like a campfire. But Dima doesn’t go with that stereotypical motion. It wouldn’t look right in this context. He goes for more of a fire that’s being lit onto a gas cloud. A quick burst of flames that follows the motions of the streaks in the foreground and background. I have watched that animation frame by frame multiple times and I still have a hard time seeing and understanding the motion he sees when drawing frame by frame. It all works out when played, but as individually drawn frames it’s pretty tough to comprehend.

But everything flows with each other. The fire feels organic and feels like it’s following the motion. Each individual “piece” of the fire that is drawn flows into the next without feeling chaotic. Give that same assignment to any amateur animator and there will be jitters, the animation will feel chaotic, and it just wouldn’t work out the same.

Then the complimenting smoke is just so beautiful. Their paths are so smooth and the way the smoke dissipates is so satisfying. Dima just understands that element so well. I wonder how many hours he has spent just looking at smoke. Watching videos on smoke. Watching smoke in real life. Watching different smoke animations. Just compiling information on how the element works and how to manipulate it in the animation process to get the results he wants.

I’m a very amateur animator who has mainly been in keyframe animation. The difference in animation styles is that in keyframe animation you choose the object to be at one point in the video and then choose it to be somewhere else at a different time and the computer interpolates the motion and moves it for you. I just dabble in frame by frame animation for fun. But I have always had an appreciation for the art. The things that Dimephew is able to do with frame by frame are things that you really can’t do in keyframe animation. That smoke would be a pain to do and wouldn’t have the same effect. The whole project wouldn't have the same effect.

Dimaphew's understanding of motion and elemental flow is unmatched and companies see that too. The companies he has worked with range from the show Gravity Falls

to Alfa Romeo Racing

to Lego.

This man’s understanding of animation and his creativity is astounding. His understanding and use of different elements in his work is unmatched. And the flow and rhythm of his animations are world-class. Nothing ever feels over done or chaotic. He has so many different elements going on within these animations where if any of the animations are off, the piece itself can get muddied and clumsy. But everything works perfectly together. Everything compliments each other beautifully. And every piece ends satisfyingly.

Animation is a difficult medium to master. There is so much you need to learn and consider when animating, but when you break everything down there’s always basic concepts that you have to understand in order to level up. Start with animating a line. Teach the line how to “accelerate”. Teach the line how to take its time. Learn how to give that line some kind of personality through motion. Once you get the hang of speed, then you can move on to something else.

There is still so much I have to learn with animation. I love the medium, but only dabble in it every so often. I get amazed with so many pieces that I see. The people that can understand motion and visualize it in such a seamless and authentic way blow my mind.

We all start somewhere and no one will ever start close to where Dimaphew is at. But Dimaphew is a great person to look up to and to study if you want to take your skills to the next level or just learn about new things to consider when animating.


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