The JibJab Blog

Stick Your Face In It!

Anatomy of a Scene

So one of the things we thought might be interesting to post is how a scene evolves from a concept to a finished segment.  As an example we’ll use Obama’s big dance number.  We’ll admit, when this idea was first pitched to us we were not immediately sold on it.  We strive to either get a gag or story point across in every scene so we had concerns that a dance clip might just come across as a cheap time filler.  That is of course until we saw Ian’s first pencil test!  The pencil test is the a roughed out version of the animation that begins to illustrate the timing, poses and layouts.  Here’s a sample…

Once we’ve got a good sense of what we are after we’ll either further refine the poses or go directly to a photo shoot.  Before we shoot we’ll print out all of the key poses for reference and then we’re ready to roll.  Here’s our pose sheet reference and just a handful of the shots of Tim bustin’ a move!  (Believe it or not there are a bunch more!)



After we’ve got all the photo assets we could possibly stand we start to build out the key poses in Photoshop.  You’ll notice that as buff as Tim is, he looks nothing like our final Obama character.  Animation is about more then just copying what’s directly in front of you, it’s about pushing an pulling shapes to get them to FEEL right.  Just look at how absurdly long Obama’s leg is on that kick!


Before we go too far in cleaning up the character poses we’ll bring them back into Flash and further refine our pencil test by drawing in some of the “in-betweens”.  Like the name sounds, “in-betweens” are the drawings between the key poses.  While working on this sequence we found that pose 12 was really distracting and we needed a better transition from pose 11 to 13…

Once we’re feeling pretty good about the movement we’ll return to the character designs and get them all cleaned up.  Next, we take our pencil test and character assets into After Effects for final animation.  As a rule we used to animate everything in Flash but over the past few years we have been slowly shifting to After Effects.  AE allows for much greater control and gives us much cleaner images on final renders.  We still use Flash in the early planning stages but after this is our first project where none of the final animation was produced with Flash.

On every scene in this movie the last step in character animation was to replace Tim’s head with the president’s noggin.  Finding Obama’s head at the right angles with the proper lighting was a time consuming task but well worth the effort.  Here’s a sample of how we searched…


The final step involves compositing in the background and adding lighting effects. Normally the background (or at least a layout drawing) would be handled before animation started but in this case the background was dependent on the animation. In addition to the blue radiating lines we also added a soft cast shadow to connect the character to the space…

8 responses to “Anatomy of a Scene”

  1. This animation alone is so cool that if it were ever made available as a sig and/or avatar with a link back to JibJab – I for one would be sure to use it 🙂

  2. Wow, I love this animation bit.
    I first thought it was 3D, but the fact that you actually made the costume and had someone to wear it and do the poses makes it a lot more original. It’s a lot of hard work on your part.
    Actually the whole animation is awesome, but this is total genius, congratulations fellas!!

  3. I’m in the beginning stages of drawing my first one minute animation. Whew! I had respected the process from afar….but until I was doing it myself had no earthly idea of the time involved! Yowza! My stuff is very low-tech….but this was fun for me to see. You guys are AMAZING!

    Thanks for All the Joy you bring!

  4. I’m from germany, so sometimes I don’t understand all of your gags in the videos despite they are very funny.
    This is the first comment i write here and for me this scene is the best of all.

    big congratulations to this video.
    what I would like to ask if you know the reactions of the persons depicted in your videos i.e. bush from ‘what we call the news’ or ‘this land’ and from obama to this video.

  5. Very impressive work! Thanks for sharing your process with us.

    Why didn’t you shoot Tim against greenscreen instead of black?

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