Animation – Behind The Scenes: Diving In A Sea Of Light

In this blog I’m going to share how I made a 7 minute animated music video using a variety of animation styles and techniques.

I worked on this project on and off between March 2015 and February 2016. I didn’t keep track of the hours, but it no doubt took hundreds of hours to finish.  For most of the Summer I took a break from this project to animate Pala Leda’s song Janzilker, so I didn’t work on Diving in a Sea of Light for a couple months. But the concept was gestating in my brain.

Technique and Tools

I used the program TVPaint to make the animation, and composited the scenes in Final Cut. I drew more than 50% of the animation digitally using a Wacom Cintiq 22HD tablet, with the intention of emulating a hand drawn aesthetic.
I also drew certain bits with pencils, markers, and crayons on paper which I scanned into the computer. Many of the backgrounds were painted by hand with watercolors (image below). Overall, about 4,000 images were produced for this video.
The story is simple: a boy swims to the bottom of the sea and gets lost in a crazy underwater dreamworld. Like in a dream, the images flow freely from one scene to the next. The sea animals start out normal, but become more bizzarre and abstract as the boy dives deeper.
diving diving-in-light
Secret Friend suggested I use the lyrics as the primary starting point for the animation. He had written a script of his ideas in detail for me to draw inspiration from. I feel his concept allowed for some fun and experimental visuals. Although I had a huge amount of creative freedom, the most challenging thing for me was trying to interpret what another person had envisioned.
Since the 7 minute song has several different styles in it, Secret Friend wanted me to try different styles of animation to compliment each section of the song. This project was very challenging and pushed me to my physical and mental limits since I had to use a variety of animation techniques. Once I got in the groove of animating one scene, I had to shift my thinking and approach to make the next scene look noticeably different from the previous scene.
The boy (above) was drawn with pencils on paper as he swims into the deep blue, while the environment was animated digitally.
Pens, Markers, and Color Pencils


I drew this scene with pens, markers, and colored pencils on 3 X 5 notecards.

I inverted the colors in post production to make the white of the paper black, so that the creatures appear to be in the deep dark sea. Since the colors are inverted, I originally drew the blue shark with an orange marker. I had to think of the scene in it’s opposite colors as I animated.

Diving In A Sea Of Food Coloring

In this section I filmed food coloring being dropped in water in slow motion. I then messed with the colors in Final Cut and drew some minimal rotoscoped animation over the footage (Rotoscoping is a technique were an animator traces over live footage).
diving-in-a-sea-of-light-6 diving-in-a-sea-of-light-7 diving-in-a-sea-of-light-8

Norman McLaren Inspired Jazz Sequence

Norman McLaren was an innovative animator who was constantly evolving and creating new effects.  He often drew images directly on film, which would move in harmony with the soundtrack. The image below is from A Phantasy in Colors (1949) which consists of an explosion of abstract pictures moving in sync with the music.


Although I didn’t draw directly on film, I tried to imitate the technique during the jazz sequence of the song by animating abstract shapes to match the rhythm and “color” of the instruments.

jazz1 jazz

Final Segment



Diving climax

Diving In A Sea Of Light fish

I’m most happy with the final minute or so of animation. There are a bunch cel-shaded creatures. I never animated shadows and highlights like this before. I animated the dark-tones, mid-tones, and highlights on separate layers to create a cel-shaded look. Including the line-drawings, this meant a minimum of 4 layers needed to be individually animated for each frame of character movement.

Sea Flower Demon diving-in-a-sea-of-light-20

There’s a 3-eyed laughing monster who alone took about 3 weeks to make. He has a fully animated face and complicated movements that took a lot of planning to execute.

Once the loops of the creatures were finished, I panned the creatures all around the screen with the camera tool in TVPaint. Complex camera movements in animation traditionally required several people to operate and was very expensive. Now a single person can use a computer to manipulate the movement of things like backgrounds and animation cycles.  Although planet earth is a chaotic place to be, It’s a very exciting time to be an independent animator.

  • Micah Buzan

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